Last summer, when I gave a talk to a curious Theology on Tap group in Burlington, Vermont, I decided to delve into the subject of religious life. My intention was to speak from the heart of my own journey as an Edmundite priest, and to open the room up for candid discussion about what I do, and about the role of consecrated people in the Church. One question caught me off guard; I was asked if I was happy. I replied, “What is the point of living a life that does not bring you joy?”
Which illustrates the important celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life on Feb. 2! It is also Candlemas Day. In 1997, Saint John Paul II instituted the World Day for consecrated Life on Candlemas for a special reason, his message connects Jesus’ consecration to the father and the consecration that all of us in consecrated life make to God. It is a day for all of us to celebrate our consecration to God and the gospel.
What we learn about Jesus in Luke Chapter 2 is why we celebrate Candlemas Day. It is a Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple:
"When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him." (Luke 2:39-40)
I assume the question about my happiness from the Theology on Tap crew came out of my explanation of the requirements of religious life. We, following the example of Jesus, who is the epitome of the one that is poor, chaste, and obedient, leave our homes, families, and jobs behind to dedicate our life to bring the Good News wherever we go through the example of our lives. Through our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, we not only imitate Christ, but also free ourselves to dedicate our lives to the service of God and others.
These vows that can seem as a sacrifice are intrinsically part of our lives and are woven into the fabric of what we do. As religious, we are our vows. We free ourselves from any distraction to be available, as Pope Francis mentioned in his homily on 2016, to encounter the other.
“Consecrated men and women are called first and foremost to be men and women of encounter. Indeed, the vocation does not originate from a plan we have designed ‘on the drawing board,’ but from a grace of the Lord, which touches us, through a life-changing encounter." ~Pope Francis, 2016
Our vocation comes out of the encounter with Jesus. After meeting Jesus, our lives are transformed. As the Pope affirms, after meeting Jesus, our lives cannot continue to be the same. Once we have that encounter with Jesus, we are ready to encounter others to be witnesses of Jesus.
Traditionally, on Candlemas, candles are blessed at Mass to symbolize the Light Jesus brought to the world. Consecrated people are called to reflect the light Jesus gave us to all the world. So, as you quiet your mind and reflect on Candlemas this year, especially if you are discerning your vocation, remember that each of us has a role in the Church.
As you celebrate with us this day, it is a great opportunity to discern your role in the Church. It can be an opportunity to discover ways to bring the Light of Christ to the world. It can be an opportunity to encounter and discover your brothers and sisters.
For more information, please visit SSE.org.