Catherine McAuley’s Option for the Poor

Catherine McAuley (foundress of the Sisters of Mercy) grounded her option for the poor in her special devotion to Christ’s passion. For Catherine, the crucified Christ was identified with the poor. Christ’s complete self-divestment on the cross in the name of love deeply inspired her to follow Him in living in solidarity with the poor.

Catherine expressed her preferential love of the poor by embracing a life of simplicity. She Catherine McAuleyinsisted, for instance, that she be the last to be served at meals in her community. This action demonstrated her desire to identify with the poor who seldom if ever are first to be seated at table and then have to accept whatever is left to eat. Catherine’s way of viewing dress demonstrated her resolve to live out her option for the poor. She often “deprived herself of articles of dress. . . to relieve the necessities of her neighbors.”[1] Regarding dress, Catherine advised her Sisters:

Let us even love to want what is convenient and necessary to us, and rejoice, if possible, when we are not supplied with everything we require or wish for, since we are poor Religious who, like the poor, must be satisfied to want conveniences.[2]

Prayer was a central part of Catherine’s reaching out in love to the unemployed, illiterate, sick and dying poor. She began and ended her works of Mercy with prayer. She urged her Sisters to live out their option for the poor in a similar contemplative fashion. In so doing, she and her Sisters acknowledged
doing Mercy is God’s work, i.e., that God seeks to be present to the needy through others’ love of them.

Catherine considered herself privileged to love the poor of her day. She instructed her Sisters: “What an ineffable consolation to serve Christ himself in the person of the poor and to walk in the very same path which he trod!”[3] In the faces and lives of the poor, sick, and uneducated, Catherine met Christ. She sought out the poor to pour out Christ’s love upon them, writing in her Rule for her sisters:

Mercy, the principal path pointed out by Jesus Christ to those who are desirous of following Him, has in all ages of the Church elicited the faithful in a particular manner to instruct and comfort the sick and dying poor. (Original Rule, Chapter 3, Article 1)

Sr. Marilyn Sunderman, R.S.M., teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College. The preceding is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The MAST Journal (Vol. 8, No.1 Fall 1997), and is shared here with permission from the author.

[1] A Sister of Mercy of the Diocese of Oklahoma, The Spirit of M. Catherine McAuley (Oklahoma City: Sisters of Mercy, Mt. St. Mary’s Academy, 1922), 8.

[2] Catherine McAuley, Familiar Instructions (St. Louis: Vincentian Press, 1927), 34.

[3] Ibid., 16.

Monastery of St. Clare: My Sisters, Our Sisters

ClareI was going to write this as a reflection on the life of Saint Clare, given her feast day is this week (August 11) and that there are so many interesting facts and stories about her life. Then a different, but related, reflection came to mind…

Seven years ago, being a relatively recent convert to Catholicism, I had no idea who the Poor Clares were. However, I gained some new “sisters” when I started a diocesan two-year faith development program that year and was fortunate enough to have two Poor Clare nuns of the Order of St. Clare (OSC) in my class. The Poor Clares take vows of poverty, obedience, chastity, and enclosure and are followers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, living the simple, Gospel life in an enclosed contemplative community. The variety of Poor Clare expressions includes the Order of St. Clare (OSC), the Colettine Poor Clares (PCC), Capuchin Poor Clares (OSC Cap), and Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA). No matter the expression though, the Poor Clare life of prayer is possible because they do live in community. I am now profoundly involved with the Monastery of St. Clare in Great Falls, Montana and count the nuns of the Poor Clares of Montana, who I affectionately call my sisters, amongst my dearest friends. My sisters have taught me a few things…

SistersSisters Maryalice, Catherine, Jane, and Judith Ann all came to Great Falls 16 years ago at the invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, who wanted to bring a monastic presence to the state of Montana. Each sister came from a separate monastery of the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares along the eastern seaboard. I did not know the sisters then, but I am in awe at their courage, tenacity, and conviction to pull-up their roots and move west to this beautiful, but unknown land, to start the first monastic presence in Montana. They did not know each other well, had never lived in Montana, and had no monastery to occupy. I have moved around a lot in my life, but my horizon was never as uncertain and rocky as was the horizon for these four amazing women. Their story on starting the first monastery in Montana echoes St. Clare, who ran away from her familiar surroundings, wealthy family, and pending marriage in 1212 to join St. Francis in a life dedicated to God. My sisters, you have taught me to trust God’s providence, discern God’s call, and follow that call with all my heart no matter how difficult the road ahead seems.

PCMIn the time that I have known them, the Poor Clares of Montana have faced numerous, varying tribulations, and in each of those situations, they relied on the power of prayer (ok, no surprise there, that is their vocation – to pray, to pray with and for all of God’s people). Witnessing the sisters’ trials brings to mind St. Clare herself who faced many struggles including years of difficulty in obtaining papal approval of the form of life she and her sisters lived, a life she called “the privilege of highest poverty.” The effect of St. Clare’s prayers also come to mind as her prayers are credited with obtaining victories in turning back invaders of Assisi as well as numerous healings. My sisters, your witness to the power of prayer and reliance on Divine Providence have helped me to deepen my prayer life and ultimately my relationship with Christ.

StClareEach Poor Clare community is unique as each monastery is autonomous while expressing the Poor Clare spirit of evangelical poverty, prayer, and contemplation, and t he nuns of the Poor Clares of Montana reflect St. Clare’s charisms in their own exceptional way . As a small community (the same four who were the foundresses here 16 years ago are the same four who are the community today), each nun has an enormous workload to keep the monastery running as well as to try to grow her community all while keeping her emphasis on enclosure and prayer. You would think enclosure would ensure a level of certainty, but each day is distinctive for these women. Yet, somehow, the sisters maintain their prayerful focus. What they encounter in the work of each day, likely, is not very different from what St. Clare went through in starting the Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano over 800 years ago – all the responsibility initially falls on a few until the community can grow. My sisters, you have taught me no matter what each day brings to rely on Christ and persevere through prayer.

The Poor Clares of Montana recently started offering contemplative prayer workshops and Christian meditation prayer groups, bringing the Catholic Church’s rich Desert tradition of prayer to the local laity. I am amazed that these women (all who have been involved with prayer for decades longer than I have) continue to expand and deepen their relationship with Christ by embracing various expressions of prayer, adding to their repertoire of vocal and silent prayer methods. I am reminded of St. Clare’s words, “Gaze upon Christ, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.” My sisters, you have shown me the power of praying silently in a group as a way of cultivating my relationship with Holy Trinity, as a way of responding to God’s presence in the world.

My sisters live for God alone, dedicating their whole being to God in a life expressed in community, silence, solitude, and prayer. I am grateful for their prayer, their presence, and the peace that they bring me as well as the whole community of God’s people. The Monastery of St. Clare in Great Falls is the only monastery in the state of Montana, but like the dozens of Poor Clare Monasteries in North America and the over 900 in the world, the Poor Clare nuns, following in the footsteps of St. Clare, are here for all of us – my sisters are our sisters. Thanks be to God.

Fawn Waranauskas teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.


About Our Foundress: The Educational Vision of Catherine McAuley

The educational vision of Venerable Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuleyis rooted in Christian ideals and values. For Catherine, the ministry of education is, in essence, a work of Mercy, that is, a wholehearted, compassionate, and integral response to people’s learning needs. In her writings, Catherine views educational endeavors as a way to live out Jesus’ mandate to love others through enabling their personal and professional development, including attuning them to the importance of social responsibility.

Catherine grew up in an Irish society rampant with poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and religious bigotry against Catholics. In response to the needs of her day, she developed educational opportunities ranging from pre-school to the adult level. Thus, she sought to provide others, especially poor young women and children, the chance to improve their human situation. Clearly, Catherine understood that education is essential to the process of the betterment of both individuals and society.

Catherine McAuley possessed various personal qualities that enabled her to become an excellent educator. She was a visionary woman of keen intellect who inherited a propensity for independent thinking from her mother, Elinor. Catherine was open-minded and flexible. She readily adapted to changing circumstances and possessed a remarkable ability to be practically oriented. Her very way of being reflected her profound commitment to Christian values.

Catherine was consummately human and in her humanness is found her holiness. She looked upon love as the cardinal virtue and reminded her Sisters that charity refreshes and enlivens and that love of one’s neighbor is living proof of the love of God.[2] Catherine’s loving nature was visible in the compassionate way in which she welcomed poor persons into her life. She literally spent herself, her time, energy, talents, and financial resources, to enable the poor to live dignified lives. Throughout cities and villages in Ireland and England, Catherine and her Sisters provided economically disadvantaged persons food, clothing, shelter, and educational experiences rooted in Christian principles.

Daily, Catherine spent substantial time in prayer. Oftentimes, she rose early in the morning to eke out a segment from her busy schedule to rest in God’s presence. Such experiences taught her to trust God completely. In a letter to Sister M. Angela Dunne, for example, Catherine queries and then advises: “Tell me all the news you have about your school, sick poor, and your little children. … Put your whole confidence in God. He will never let you want necessities for yourself or your children.”[4]

According to Catherine, to be genuine, the work of the Mercy educator needs to be rooted in an ever deepening communion with God, the source of one’s generosity and courage in carrying out the tasks of one’s profession. Catherine viewed teaching as an act of prayer and praise of God. For her, to teach is to express in word and deed that God is Love. In essence, according to Catherine, the work of the Mercy educator is meant to be a potent expression of the love of God and others.

Referring to the cross of trials or opposition in life, Catherine perceptively notes that “Some great things which God designs to accomplish would be too much joy without a dash of bitterness in the cup.”[5] This reflection is applicable to the educator who experiences diminishments such as misunderstandings, the inability to respond to the needs of some students, or overwork. The educator understands, with Catherine, that experiences like these can occasion the birthing of some form of new life – a spirit of patience and humility, prayerfulness, acceptance of the cross, an attitude of mercy and love, and enthusiasm for service.         

In and through her abiding respect, love, and concern for the neediest of her day, Catherine demonstrated her commitment to the social justice dimension of her educational vision. She understood that to be merciful is to act justly by being in solidarity with poor persons. She was convinced that to live mercy entails extending practical, active love to starving, homeless, sick, uneducated, and unemployed persons. Catherine’s statement: “The poor need help today, not next week,”[6] conveys the urgency she felt for the neediest. She insisted that loving poor persons means empowering them, especially through education, to become the architects and agents of their own future. While consistently responding to people’s immediate needs for food, shelter and clothing, Catherine sought to effect systemic change by establishing educational institutions. Integral to her strategy for fostering such change, she not only established schools for the economically disadvantaged, but also founded pension schools in which middle-class students learned the importance of social responsibility.

Present-day Mercy educators, like those of us at Saint Joseph’s College, are called to follow in the footsteps of Catherine and her Sisters, who wholeheartedly committed themselves to live out an ethic of social justice. Today, such educators extend Catherine’s legacy in this regard by means of creative, innovative responses to the signs of our times.

In 1993, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas adopted the following statement concerning the mission of Mercy higher education

The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas recognizes that higher education is integral to the mission of the Church and is an effective expression of the Mercy mission. The ministry expresses commitment to the pursuit of truth and knowledge and to the furtherance of the social, political, economic, and spiritual well-being of the human community.

Advancing this mission in the 21st century entails providing students rigorous, academically excellent liberal arts and professional preparation that promotes students’ holistic development within the context of the theological and ethical principles and values that Catherine embraced and embodied, including

  • The teachings of Jesus Christ and the heritage of the Catholic Church;
  • God’s Mercy and the call to live mercy;
  • Commitment to serving the needs of poor, sick, and uneducated persons;
  • A spirit of hospitality;
  • Reverence for each person and all other forms of creation;
  • Special sensitivity to the needs and status of women and children;
  • Active concern for and response to the needs of those who suffer material poverty;
  • Ecumenicity in embracing all persons who seek truth and moral values;
  • The primacy of life-impacting Christian learning and spiritual formation; and
  • An understanding of and response to local, national and global issues of social justice

Those of us who share in the ministry of Mercy higher education are called to uphold the values of mercy and justice that were uppermost in Catherine’s lived spirituality. In Catherine’s footsteps, we are commissioned to be heralds and agents of God’s good news of mercy and justice.

Sr. Marilyn Sunderman, R.S.M. teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College.

[1] A Sister of Mercy of the Diocese of Oklahoma, The Spirit of M. Catherine McAuley (Oklahoma City: Sisters of Mercy – Mt. St. Mary’s Academy, 1922), 15.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 46, quoting Catherine McAuley.

[4] Roland Burke Savage, S.J., Catherine McAuley: The First Sister of Mercy (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd., 1949), 238, quoting Catherine McAuley.

[5] Familiar Instructions collected by first Sisters of Mercy (St. Louis: Vincentian Press, 192), 136.

[6] Bolster, 11, quoting Catherine McAuley.

“Do I have a vocation?” Yes!

The Church places great emphasis on “praying for vocations” with good reason. In order to carry out Christ’s mission on earth we need strong families, faithful lay people and, of course, priests, deacons and religious to care for our sacramental and spiritual needs. There is, however, a part of any discussion of vocations that is often left out: what is a vocation? This is an important question to answer because knowing what a vocation is will tell us who has one.

Before I met my husband people would ask me if I was married, or seeing someone. As the years went by and my twenties turned to thirties and beyond, the question came with a twist: “Well, have you considered a vocation?” That really bothered me, I guess because it felt like a reminder that I was “alone.” But it’s actually a question based on a misunderstanding – namely that as a single person I should only consider the religious life because I didn’t already have a vocation. The truth is that each one of us has a vocation, and it is activated at our baptism.

Pope TweetThe Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2013) quotes Vatican II, saying: “’All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.’ All are called to holiness….” The word vocation means a call, and this call comes from God and requires our response. The call to holiness is our responsibility and task as Christians. What does it mean to be holy? Scripture says God is holy, and that we are to be like God. According to St. John, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8). If being holy is to be like God, and God is love, then our call from God – our vocation – is to love! The answer to the question I heard repeated as a single person– “Have you considered a vocation?” – is, “I already have one. And so do you!”

The specific way we carry out our vocation to holiness and love is called our state of life. The states of life generally refer to marriage, priesthood and the consecrated life (religious sisters and brothers). We can spend many more articles just on the states of life, but the important point is that each one of us is called to holiness, to become like God: to love. Love is not a feeling, but a decision to do what’s good for another. If love were simply a feeling we couldn’t count on it, because our emotions change all the time. As persons made in the image and likeness of the God who is Love, it’s possible for us to love even when it’s difficult – or when we don’t particularly like someone. The way we love each day is enacted in our words, our actions, and in our very presence to another. We do this within our families, at work and school, at church, and in all of the encounters we have throughout our day.

Each of us is called to live out our vocation, regardless of our age or ability. For example, we wouldn’t think an infant “has a vocation,” because he can’t enact love in the ways we mentioned, much less make a decision to do so. Yet even the baby of the family is living his vocation by his very presence in the home. Next time you’re at church sitting behind a family with a baby, or see a mom or dad with a baby in a shopping cart, note your reaction. It’s only natural to coo, make faces and try to make him laugh. His presence alone is enough to draw out our love! God’s love is made present to us through the innocence (and cuteness!) of a child, and that child draws us out of ourselves. The same thing happens when we care for a family member who is ill, or non-responsive. She may not be able to say the words “I love you,” but her presence, her vulnerability and her need for us draw out love. We forget ourselves and we desire only the good of someone else. Our vocation to love is enacted in the care for a loved one – or fussing over the baby. Their vocations are enacted when they provoke in us a response of love. This provocation comes directly through the grace and loving presence of God.

We should “pray for vocations” every day; that each one of us enacts his or her vocation to love as spouses, parents and grandparents, children, priests and religious, and single persons, regardless of our age or capabilities. How is God calling you to carry out your vocation to love?

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. This article first appeared in Eastern Catholic Life, the official publication of rhe Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.



“Where there are religious, there is joy,” says Pope Francis in his letter beginning the Year of Consecrated Life. And while he is addressing members of Consecrated Life, his message is for all of us – where there are Christians, there is joy! “We are called to know final_ycl_logo_en_newand show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere …” (II.1) What a challenge! And yet, this is not new! In the first letter of Peter, he tells us to always be ready to account for the hope that is within us (see 1 Pt 3:15), and in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke speaks of how we are impelled to reveal the source of our joy, “for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

This is not to deny the trials and difficulties of daily life, “But in all these things we should be able to discover ‘perfect joy,’” says Pope Francis. He continues, “In a society which exalts the cult of efficiency, fitness and success, one which ignores the poor and dismisses ‘losers,’ we can witness by our lives to the truth of the words of Scripture: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Co 12:10)” (II. 1)

Contrary to what we hear day-in-and-day-out, efficiency and success are not our goals; a life of joy inspired by the Gospel and the following Jesus Christ which then radiates and inspires others to experience that same joy, peace, and love for God and one another, this is our goal and one that can clearly change the world, “wake up the world” (II.2) one person at a time, beginning with ourselves.

Success, at least how we are led to believe it is in our current society, is a form of ‘winning,’ at the cost of someone else ‘losing’ or not succeeding as well. We define success by comparisons to others – I am better off than this one but not as well off as someone else; only when I have bested everyone else can I say I am successful. This was also true in the time of Jesus and he turned this belief upside down: “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk 18:13)

Jesus presents success as humility and hospitality (see Lk 14:7-14), simplicity and dispossession (see Mt 19:13-15 and 16-30), generosity (see Mt 20:1-16), and ultimately the recognition of the communion of the human family as the measure by which we will be judged (see Mt 25:31-46). “Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone,” Francis reminds us. (II.2) In this, he calls us to be “experts in communion,” (II.3) this communion which calls us out of ourselves to seek the good, the best, for our sisters and brothers.

“The path of charity open before us is almost infinite … No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her efforts alone, but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance. Such a communion inoculates us from the disease of self-absorption.” (II.3) Pope Francis continues, “don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.” (II.4)

wakeup callThis advice is so simple. So clear. So true. Yet so utterly challenging and radical it shakes the ground under our feet and cries: “WAKE UP!” Let us be awake and answer the challenge to wake up the world!

Sr. Kelly Connors, pm teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

A Vision for a New Year!

YCL Logo-1It is the Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis and begun on November 30, 2014. It is actually more than a year … extending until February 2, 2016! In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted February 2nd as World Day for Consecrated Life, which is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

This year is to be along the lines of the Year of the Priest a few years ago or the Year of Faith of more recent memory – a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, this makes it pretty exciting! In Pope Francis’ video message that was viewed at the Vigil to begin the Year of Consecrated Life, he set the stage, “My first words, on this occasion, are of gratitude to the Lord for the precious gift of consecrated life to the Church and to the world. May this Year of Consecrated Life be an occasion for all members of the People of God to thank the Lord, from whom every good comes, for the gift of consecrated life, appreciating it appropriately.” It is the Year OF Consecrated Life and FOR the whole Church.

Much of the content connected with this celebratory Year is directed to Consecrated persons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for everyone. Since it is the season when we might start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, I thought the three “aims” of the Year of Consecrated Life might give us food for thought.

Pope Francis issued a letter – his full message – for the Year, issued on November 29, 2014, the eve of the Year and directed to his “Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life.” (If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can find it here.)

The first aim of the Year of Consecrated life “is to look at the past with gratitude.” (Introduction) In a couple of weeks we will start to see all of the “year in review” programs and news captions. Do we have our own manner of reviewing our year or several years? Do I tend to focus on my mistakes or bad things that happened? Pope Francis starts us off with the disposition of gratitude as we look back. He invites Consecrated persons to claim the richness of their Institute’s history, charism, and action of the Spirit which brings us to the point where we are today.

This is a valuable activity because, as Pope Francis explains, “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging.  More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.” (1.1) Advent calls us to the same kind of remembering. In the readings of last Sunday, Peter asks us “what sort of person ought you to be?” Looking at our past can help remind us of our goals, values, and ideal, and recognize how we live consistently with this vision and where we might do better.

final_ycl_logo_en_newThe second aim of the Year of Consecrated Life gives us some concrete follow-through from the first aim: “This Year also calls us to live the present with passion.  Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.” (1.2) Recalling those things most important to me, the things innate to my identity, I can claim them as my own (again or for the first time) and live out of them, anew, with passion!

The challenge to Consecrated persons is no less the same for all believers. “For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full…. The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.” (1.2) Does this fit into our plan for the New Year? It is a nice idea, but what does it look like? Pope Francis continues,

“Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion,”… In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters….So, be men and women of communion!  Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21).” (1.2)

As in all things Catholic, there are never two without three! The third aim should come as no surprise: to embrace the future with hope. Hope for the future makes the past both meaningful and bearable, and the passion for the present possible. This is not meant to be a wishful-thinking hope, but a leap of faith. How can I embrace that which is not yet here? Pope Francis explains, “This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).  This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.  It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.” (1.3) How am I writing my own history? Can I trust in the God for whom all things are possible? If I resolve to the live the present with passion, can I add that next layer of commitment to embrace the future with hope?

The Year of Consecrated Life is just beginning; may the blessings and graces of this Year be enjoyed by you and all People of Good Will!

Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online and is member of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.

The Joy of Consecrated Life

“In the world there is often a lack of joy. We are not called to accomplish epic feats or to proclaim high-sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing we are loved, from the confidence that we are saved”
(Rejoice! (Letter in Preparation for the Year of Consecrated Life), n. 3)

Pope Francis LaughingLast month, on the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis went for lunch at the Generalate of the Jesuits. As I reviewed the pictures from his visit, joy and happiness are very evident. He appears very comfortable and relaxed with them, even though he may not know them well individually. Why is he comfortable? As a member of a religious community, I think that I can venture an answer. He is among those who shared a similar formation as he did as a member of the Society of Jesus. Technically, he formally ended his time as a Jesuit when he became a bishop. Bishops cannot be under the authority of the superior of a religious community. They can, though, ask to continue to use the religious initials of their community as well as wear the habit. Cardinal O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, continues to use the initials of the religious community that he came from, the Capuchin Franciscans, as well as wear the habit. Many religious communities even officially continue to count bishops among their membership. Some might think this strange, but the reality is that once a person is part of a religious community, it is part of who that person is and how the person approaches God, life, ministry.

When you share a common formation and lifestyle from a relatively young age, that formation does not simply go away. It is a lifestyle that one freely chooses and it forms and informs the person. Once committed to, consecrated life (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 913-933) is not something that can easily be cast aside. Even those who have left religious communities often continue to live the spirituality of that community as a single or married person or diocesan priest. I have seen it time and time again.

Twenty-eight years ago today, I made my First Consecration of Promises as a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). Our six promises of poverty, chastity, obedience, sharing of resources, spirit of service, and perseverance have provided me with a way, within the context of our community life, to live the charity of Christ. I make no claim to live it perfectly, but I try to live it as authentically as possible. The way that I live more authentically is through the assistance of the members of my community who “urge me on” to live more fully in Christ’s love.

This summer, more than most, I have had to even more deeply reflect on the quality of my life as a member of the Society. Am I living as an apostle, as St. Vincent Pallotti called all to do, reviving faith and rekindling charity? Have I fully surrendered, given, and offered myself to God, as the form of consecration of my religious community challenges me to do? If not, then why not? These questions have been very much on my mind as I form, with the help of God, a new member of the Society who began Postulancy only a few days ago. Thirty years ago last month, I did the same and have grown and developed spiritually and otherwise in ways that I would have never thought or imagined. As I work in formation with our Postulant, Brandon, I try to teach, but once again God causes me to learn and for that I am full of gratitude and joy.

Pray for those in consecrated life, especially as the Church prepares for the Year of Consecrated Life that will begin this coming Advent!

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Gift of Celibacy

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood and on the same day the first Mass of a newly ordained priest. Both were so filled with joy. In one, the joys of a lifetime of service to the church, in the other the joy of embarking on a new life. I was struck by how grateful both men are for the gift of their priesthood.

This juxtaposition also made me think about a recent article I read on the results of a survey that the Pew research company did on Catholics’ attitude on priestly celibacy. The study reported that 7 in 10 Americans think priests should be able to marry. I think this ordinationreflects a misunderstanding of the vow of celibacy and the ministry of the priest. Celibacy is indeed a sacrifice; it is however a sacrifice rooted in love.

Celibacy is not an end in and of itself, some sort of life-long chastity battle, but rather it is a means to an end. It is a means to love freely, generously and fully, not one other person– as in a marriage– but to love all God’s people and to be free to extend that love in whatever way people need it; hospital rooms in the middle of the night, funerals on holiday weekends, Mass at 7:00 am before work. Availability is one end of celibacy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that celibacy “[I]s … a giving of oneself entirely to God and to the Church, a ‘sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Kingdom of God’” (1579).

Another end of celibacy is to be a sign to the world that we are made for union with God, that even marriage is a means—a way of learning to love– in preparation for an eternal union with God. A friend of mine who served as a priest chaplain in the Air Force observed that often he was called to the hospital at the request of an injured airman, an airman who was not a Catholic, but asked specifically for the priest thinking he was somehow closer to God, perhaps holier! My friend was always quick to point out that priests are not by default holier. Rather, the witness of the celibate life is a sign of a desire and a discipline to live one’s life first and foremost for God and with God and people perceive that in some way. This kind of experience in these visits were both a grace for my friend and a reminder that he is called and people expect him to live differently because of his priesthood.

I have the privilege to work with many priests and most of them are very happy men. They speak honestly about how celibacy can be hard sometimes and life can feel lonely (what married person would not say the same). What they appreciate is the grace that comes with faithfully living a celibate life and the moments of grace they experience bringing God’s love into people’s lives in moments of great joy and moments of total despair. Priests have a very privileged place in the lives of the people they serve and that, many of them would not trade for the world!

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us

Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pompeo Batoni

Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pompeo Batoni

The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated each year by the Universal Church 19 days after Pentecost Sunday. This year, the feast day falls on June 27. Since June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us take some time this month to reflect on this wonderful gift given to the Church through the private revelation of Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque in the small village of Paray-le-Monial, France in 1673.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply one devotion among many – it is the subject of all other devotions to Jesus Christ.

We know that private prayer is essential to growth in the spiritual life. Often, this includes particular devotions, whether to particular saints, to Our Lady in her many apparitions and with her many titles, or to the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. When we pray to Jesus, we might do so with particular devotion to Him as the Healer, the Miracle Worker, the King, or the Good Shepherd. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply one devotion among many – it is the subject of all other devotions to Jesus Christ. It is the person of Jesus Himself.

Many people came to Jesus during his earthly ministry, drawn to him by his immense love for them. He healed them, taught them, and showed his power over nature and over the evil that had entrapped them. When we encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus in prayer, we encounter the person who heals, teaches, and conquers evil in his essential being as the person who, first and foremost, loves. He is able to heal, to teach, and to conquer only with the love that he willingly pours forth from His Sacred Heart. It is not a devotion to one aspect of Jesus’ ministry. The Sacred Heart is His very person.

Christ offers us an intimate union with his Sacred Heart through the sacramental life of the Church. By the grace of our baptism, we can love as Christ loves. We are capable of a love that is infinite, if only we cooperate with the sacramental graces to remain united to His Sacred Heart. Frequent confession and reverent reception of Holy Communion offer the most intimate of encounters with His Sacred Heart, which is truly the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.

The intimacy between Jesus and his priests is an intimate union of the heart.

Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, describes the priesthood as the “love of the heart of Jesus.” The object of devotion of the Sacred Heart is the real, physical heart of Jesus, which is sacramentally present, really and truly, in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood given for us on the cross, the body that contained His Sacred Heart.

For the priest, then, devotion to the Sacred Heart is a most certain meditation on his own identity, given to him on his ordination day. The intimacy between Jesus and his priest is an intimate union of the heart. The ontological change that occurs as a result of the sacrament is one of being – not of physical appearance or personality, but of the heart. This change in the heart gives it the capacity to love as Jesus loves, with an omnipotent love, because he is loving with the Eucharistic heart of Jesus.

The capacity for love and the way it manifests itself in ministry will reveal itself over and over again throughout a priest’s lifetime, and will often surprise him. The priest is called upon to minister in a wide variety of ways, but the one source of all these ministries is the heart. The priest teaches, heals, counsels, and absolves sin first and foremost as one who loves with the love of Jesus. He has a responsibility to be ever mindful of this heart he now has, and to be in constant and conscious relationship with this Sacred Heart of Jesus so he will remain aware of its capabilities and use them fully.

When people see a priest, they expect to meet Christ. If they don’t, they may move away from the Church, or feel justified that they already have. The priest must be an embodiment of the Sacred Heart. It is not by accident that the words of consecration and the words of absolution are in the first person. It is at these moments when the priest is most himself in his ontological being, in his heart. In these moments, he is Jesus saving souls with his omnipotent love, reuniting them to God the Father in heaven as the Sole Mediator.

We can bring this presence of Jesus into every aspect of our lives by being especially conscious of the presence of Jesus in His Sacred Heart and the means by which we encounter it. Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home, the Nine Consecutive First Friday Masses, the Consecration to the Sacred Heart, and reception of Holy Communion in reparation for those who do not love Him, are but a few ways to show love to the Sacred Heart, who loves us so much, and whose love gives us life itself.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.