An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord…An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
With these words, which we heard in today’s second reading, St. Paul lays out for us the charter, so to speak, for consecrated or “religious” life. By “religious” or “consecrated” life is meant that state of life where a man or a women, responding to a call from God, consecrates themselves completely to Him, binding themselves to Him with the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, spending their lives in prayer and contemplation and in the service of the Church. They are religious priests or brothers, or nuns. Pope Francis has designated this year a year dedicated to religious or consecrated life, in which he asks all of us to reflect on this vocation within the Church, to thank God for it (for it’s a gift to His Church) and to pray for vocations to this state of life.
When we consecrate something—like a church building, for instance—we separate it from other buildings so that it can be dedicated entirely to God. So, when we say that someone leads a consecrated life, we mean that he or she has, to a certain extent, cut themselves off from this world and the things of this world in order to give themselves completely to God.
By the vow of poverty religious cut themselves off from the care of all material goods. This does not mean that they vow to live in absolute destitution, but it does mean that, like the Apostles, they have personal ownership of nothing, that share all they have with their community, and that they strive to live as simply as possible. This is the one vow that seems to take on many different forms according to time, place and the apostolate; but the principle is always the same: no personal ownership, and the simpler the life, the better.
By the vow of chastity religious cut themselves off not only from the good of marriage, but even from any kind of close personal relationship, in order that they might offer to God a completely undivided heart, giving all their attention to and finding all their joy in Christ, the object of all of their love.
And by the vow of obedience religious cut themselves off, so to speak, even from their own will, surrendering it to God, submitting their every action to His will as made known to them by their superiors.
By these three vows religious men and women live what has been called a “dry” or “white” martyrdom: dying to the world in order to live soli Deo, “for God alone”. They offer themselves up as a living holocaust on the altar of God, allowing not just part, but all of their life to be consumed in His sight.
Many today, in fact ever since the so-called Enlightenment of the 18th century, question the value of such a life. It all seems so worthless, unproductive for society, a waste of time, a waste of your life. Such an attitude has even taken on concrete action against religious life throughout the past 300 years or so, when, under certain anti-Catholic governments, all religious communities that were not also engaged in teaching or hospitals were closed down, since those with a more contemplative life were seen as useless for the common good of society. What a foolish mistake!
Like St. John the Baptist (the first religious) and the Apostles, consecrated men and women by their words and actions point the world toward its Creator and God, towards its Redeemer and Lord. Ecce Agnus Dei, “Behold the Lamb of God”, is what the religious says with his or her life. By their consecrated life they remind others: that this material world is passing away and you can’t take it with you; that, as our Lord Himself said about us all, At the resurrection of the dead they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be as the angels; and that in heaven all are perfectly obedient to God’s holy will in all things. In other words, the religious, even while still here on earth, begins to live the life that all will lead in heaven. Maybe no one ever told you, but in heaven we will all be poor, chaste and obedient: no marriage, no one possessing anything for themselves but all sharing God, and everyone perfectly obedient to God’s will. And in so doing these consecrated souls give glory to God, save their own soul, and help lead others to heaven.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story taken from the life of St. Francis of Assisi. One day St. Francis asked one of his brothers to come along with him to go preaching. The brother agreed and followed St. Francis as he walked through the town. Continued along walking, not saying anything, eyes downcast; they walked through the whole town, through the marketplace, past all the people, and then came home. Upon their arrival the confused brother asked St. Francis, “I thought we were going out to preach to the people.” St. Francis replied, “We just did.” The greatest sermon religious can give is their fidelity to their vows and their way of life.
St. Thomas Aquinas and many others call the religious life the greatest state of life. This does not mean that all religious are superior to married people or single people. By no means does it mean that! But it does mean that this state of life, one given entirely to Christ, where, because of their consecration to God, because of their vows, every good act they perform, no matter how small, is also an act of the virtue of religion, an act dedicated to the worship of God; and hence, this state of life, objectively speaking, is greater than all others.
“But those poor men and women, no freedom, no happiness, what a life!,” some might say. St. Francis De Sales has a response. He said, How happy are the hearts of religious, in having given up some years of the false liberty of the world in order to enjoy eternally that desirable slavery in which no liberty is taken away except that which hinders us from being truly free. There is no person more free than a good religious. There is no person more happy than a good religious. To live for God alone, every moment of your life! To want nothing else than to think about, pray to, live for Christ! It is a truly blessed life.
Pray for all religious, for all men and women who have consecrated themselves to God in poverty, chastity and obedience, that they might be forever faithful to those vows; and pray that many young men and women will say “yes” to God when He calls them to this life which is so important for the life of the Church; so that by the prayers and example of consecrated souls we all might be reminded of our true home and our hearts might be prepared to receive the Lamb of God, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally reigns. Amen.
● Mr. Andy Portka, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
● Mrs. Donna Loeffler, who is fighting cancer.
● For all the benefactors of St. Michael’s Preparatory School, living and deceased.