by Katleho Khang, SNJM
For over twenty years the Catholic Church has been celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life on 2 February. It was instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1997 as a special day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. It highlights the gift and beauty of consecrated persons and their vocation in the Church. For religious communities, parishes and the greater Church this day is observed by deep reflection, evaluation, and celebration of those who said “yes” to following Jesus and the gospel and this particular way of serving the Church. It is also a time in which consecrated persons are asked to examine their fidelity to the mission entrusted to them.
Many would agree that the role played by consecrated persons through their total self-giving to the church is significant. In Southern Africa, consecrated men and women have served the Church and society for around 200 years. This has been expressed through preaching of the gospel, catechesis and pastoral care, through education and healthcare, service to the poor, and their passion for justice during the apartheid era. Recently many consecrated persons minister by welcoming refugees. Their prophetic voice has been heard in many times of crisis.
In his letter to consecrated men and women Pope Francis says, “religious need to be serious with the religious calling and live it joyfully in the Lord”. Joyful living requires commitment, responsibility, and sharing the mission. Joyful living calls for doing things differently, being prophetic, and reading the signs of the times. Today we might ask: how might consecrated men and women shift, where necessary, from the traditional way of living the mission? With them, the entire Christian community is challenged to live the gospel and respond more effectively and creatively to the needs of the Church and the world.
Consecrated men and women come from a society riddled with many challenges. In living out their vocations they have sometimes failed to reflect their Christ-centred witness. Sadly, there have even been cases of sexual abuse, power abuse, personal misuse of resources, and addictions. This is a source of great sadness and disappointment for consecrated men and women who seek to create and maintain lifestyles that at the very least inspire people to grow spiritually.
Despite the challenges and failures, there remains a conviction that consecrated men and women are called to be women and men for others. Theresa of Avila captures this succinctly: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”
Please pray for all those who have made commitments in the consecrated life, support their ministries, offer guidance and encourage them as they continue to be inspired by Christ in responding generously to God’s gift of their vocation.