“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.