Every human venture is ultimately in the pursuit of happiness. As a joyful religious once remarked, “If the world knows what truly awaits in consecrated life, there would be crowds knocking at its door”. Myriads of saintly men and women and experienced consecrated persons testify that theirs is one of the most fulfilling forms of life. But it calls for breaking open the transcendent horizon of life. Paradoxically we also come across examples of unhappy religious who wobble like eagles with cropped wings.
Pope Francis has pointed out the contradiction of a religious with a vinegary face (Italian aceto-vinegar) or sisters living as unhappy spinsters rather than joyful mothers. One can be a miserable religious when he/she lives it at a lower mindset and with mundane values. The actual struggle of many religious is about digging deep to find the hidden treasure in the field which one has bought after selling all that he/she had (Mt. 13.44).
How can a religious retrieve the true joy of being a consecrated person? How do look at your own life of consecration? Do you value it as a precious gift? It is helpful survey what Church teaches about religious life.
Lumen Gentium presents consecrated life as a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart (Cf. LG 42). “Finding within her bosom men and women who very closely follow their Saviour”, the Mother church “rejoices” (LG 42d), “receives” and “safe guards” the gift given by the Lord (Cf. LG 43a). The authority of the church with regard to various forms of religious life is of interpreting these evangelical counsels, regulating their practice and finally to build on them stable forms of living (Cf. LG 43a).
In Vita Consecrata Pope John Paul II speaks of consecrated life as “deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit (Cf. VC 1; 17). All along the history of the Church we find this gift continuously being received and responded generously in the life of great saints and founders of religious orders and bearing great fruits in the life and mission of the Church. As Pope Francis once said, “Imagine the Church without the sisters, it is inconceivable!”.
The Council of Vatican II, after an enriching debate on whether consecrated life belongs to the structure of the church, has deepened the understanding of religious life and opened up further reflections which would mature in the post conciliar era. The council stated that this state of life constituted by the profession of evangelical counsels undeniably belong to the life and holiness of the Church without being part of the hierarchical structure. Consecrated life, therefore, is not the fruit of human initiative or ecclesiastical promotion. It is a precious gift from God received with joy and preserved and protected for its fruitfulness in the Church.
Points to ponder
There are important consequences for this fact in your lived life as a consecrated person. The consecrated life makes no sense for those who have not received this gift. The role of the Church and the religious Institute is in facilitating the reception and flowering of this gift. As it is a gift from God, mere human interests and initiatives cannot produce nor promote it. It is important for the religious to embrace consecrated life as a gift received from the Lord for the good of the Church. It cannot be an escape from the struggles of life, nor a way of self promotion.
Sadly we come across situations when some religious easily relinquish this gift when there are difficulties in community life or when better opportunities are found outside in an urban context or in the first world. A gift is always a gift. Reception of it and making the best out of it depends on the maturity of the receiver and the receiver’s relationship to the giver of the gift.