Consecrated Life: Religious are leading us into the Year of Mercy
By Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez
The Year of Consecrated Life continues until Feb. 2, 2016, so let us go on contemplating the blessedness of this year. All the consecrated men and women in our midst are a gift to us and to the church. “I ask the whole Christian people to be increasingly aware of the gift which is the presence of our many consecrated men and women, heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity,” Pope Francis writes in his apostolic letter for the Year of Consecrated Life.
In the U.S., religious men and women forged our nation’s history and Christian roots. In the 1600s St. Isaac Jogues and companion martyrs founded missions in present day New York State among the Huron and the Mohawk Indians, while in the 1700s, Blessed (soon to be Saint) Junípero Serra founded missions from Mexico to California among the Chumash, Acjachemen and Kumeyaay Indians. In the 1800s St. Katherine Drexel founded 49 schools for African Americans and Native Americans while St. Frances Cabrini founded 67 schools and orphanages for Italian immigrants.
The apparition of Our Lady of Good Success points out the inestimable value of consecrated life, and the many problems and evils that it resolves for humanity, “Woe to the world should it lack monasteries and convents! Men do not comprehend their importance, for, if they understood, they would do all in their power to multiply them, because in them can be found the remedy for all physical and moral evils... No one on the face of the earth is aware whence comes the salvation of souls, the conversion of great sinners, the end of great scourges, the fertility of the land, the end of pestilence and wars, and the harmony between nations. All this is due to the prayers that rise up from monasteries and convents.”
Before the church concludes the Year of Consecrated Life, we will begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy. How fitting this is because mercy flows to humanity through the religious who have committed their lives to God and the church. They live the evangelical radicalness of the Gospel through the total consecration of their lives, as did St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Théodore Guérin, and other founders of religious orders in the U.S. These saints lived heaven on earth by being a total and perfect sacrifice to the Heavenly Father by their example.
“Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. This is the priority that is needed right now: ‘to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth,’” Pope Francis says in his letter on the Year of Consecrated Life. American saints, such as St. John Neumann, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Kateri Tekakwitha were indeed true prophets among the Native Americans, slaves, and immigrants, demonstrating by their lives, the abundant fruits of total consecration to God.
In recent years, the U.S. has had a growth spurt in the number of new religious orders, consecrated (virgins and hermits), and secular institutes which are the three main types of consecrated life. These consecrated men and women, like the early missionaries, preach with their very presence and by example, and many are former engineers, architects and doctors who have given up everything to fully live the kingdom of God here on earth as prophets.
In his letter proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis writes, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”
In a very real sense, the dawning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is entrusted first and foremost to all consecrated men and women who are the first to move God’s heart to pour out an ocean of mercy on humanity. If we do not live it, teach it and preach it, the world will not see or hear it.
It has been my experience that religious men and women are witnesses to God’s mercy on a daily basis. Therefore, we have much to learn from our consecrated men and women, and we will continue to pray for them and for more of them as we prepare for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.