Message – to consecrated woman and men gathered at Cuisle, Dunamon, Co. Roscommon, Saturday 3rd October 2015 (Bishop Kevin Doran)
I welcome you to this gathering, in the name of all the people of the diocese. I could begin by thanking you for all that you do in the diocese, in education, in the care of the sick, in parish ministry, in working with migrants and in supporting prayer ministry. But this is just what you do. I also want to thank you. – and to give thanks to God for WHO YOU ARE, women and men whose lives are consecrated to him. Your lives are a reminder to all of us that what we DO has to flow from who we ARE.
Each one of us is called by name as an individual, but through Baptism we become members of the body of Christ, the community of faith. For each Christian this takes a unique shape as life unfolds and as we respond to the call of God. For some it is the religious community, while for others it is the Christian family or some other form of community, all within the wider community of the parish. There is no Christianity without Community.
We have promises to keep. The challenge for all of us is to live our commitments generously, rather than in a minimalist way. I think the vows associated with consecrated life have to be understood not just in terms of being free FROM undue attachments, but in terms of being free FOR what God wants us to be.
In a world which has both a very materialistic culture, and a lot of very real poverty, the religious vow of poverty is about the freedom that comes from living simply, sharing what we have and not needing to own anything. There is a richness in poverty generously lived.
In a world where the agenda of the individual seems to dominate a lot of the time, obedience also has the capacity to be prophetic. Obedience, as Jesus said, is not about having anything taken from you, it is about giving freely the gift of your life in the service of the community rather than of your own personal agenda. There is a real freedom in obedience, which is not the same as conformism.
In a world in which people are frequently treated as possessions, the idea of people living a life in community, without the need to possess or control one another, has the capacity to be prophetic. One practical expression of this is the excellent work which religious sisters have been doing for many years in the service of women who have been trafficked for the purposes of exploitation. Chastity, is not about isolation or the absence of relationship; it is about real relationships of love for and service of the other.
I am aware that, for many of you, the experience of religious life has been radically transformed in recent years. Some of your ministries have been handed over to others. Some of your structures are gone. Relatively few of you are young. Against that background, you punch way above your weight in the diocese of Elphin. Nonetheless, there is a sense that, in human terms, the future is uncertain. It only makes sense when our lives are rooted in relationship with Jesus.
A colleague told me a few years ago about two Italian sisters he met in a remote area in Turkey. They lived among Muslims, far from any parish and had no regular access to the Eucharist. “Why do you stay here”, he asked them. “This is our way of bearing witness to Jesus”, they replied. In much the same way, one might ask why the monks of Tibherine in Algeria insisted on staying there in their community, even when people urged them to leave and seek a safer location for their monastery. Their witness was not primarily in their deaths, but in their lives as religious, even in a world where their commitment was not understood by the majority of the people.
Our Gospel passage today included the invitation from Jesus to the two disciples of John the Baptist to “come and see” where he lived. “Come and see” was often associated with the promotion of vocations. I don’t know how you feel about inviting people to join you as consecrated religious these days. It is certainly challenging. There is no way that we can even attempt to recruit people just to fill empty convents. It may be time for new forms of consecrated life to spring up. But if you believe that the life you live is worth living; that you have received a gift that is worth sharing, then I would encourage you to invite people to “come and see”, in that spirit of sharing the wealth. That is what the year of Consecrated Life is all about.