In 2013, Pope Francis declared that a Year of Consecrated Life would be celebrated throughout the world, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014. In doing so, he chose the theme: “Wake up the world!” This is a fitting time to honor and celebrate the gifts of so many women religious who in the past touched our lives and who served the Church — some still serving — so well. I thank God for how they have “waked up the world” to the love of Jesus Christ.
St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Vita Consecrata, from March 25, 1996, addresses the witness of poverty, chastity, and obedience as qualities that point the way to something more in life. In this witness of women and men religious, we see our earthly journey as an important prelude to our life in heaven, and we are attracted to choose a path and virtues that will be lasting. Beautifully he writes in number 40, “From the standpoint of the Christian life as a whole, the vocation to the consecrated life is, despite its renunciations and trials, and indeed because of them, a path ‘of light’ over which the
Redeemer keeps constant watch: ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ ”
This is a good time to remember the role women religious had on our lives. As I reflect on my own life journey, I remember September of 1955, which seems so long ago. During this year, as I entered fourth grade, I went to St. Canicus School in the small coal town of Mahanoy City and met the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart for the first time. My little parish school of St. Mary had closed its doors because of dwindling enrollment, and I and my nine classmates had to find a new school home.
At St. Canicus School, just a block from my home, I enjoyed five years rich in Catholic formation. Looking back, I was fortunate to have wonderful religious who taught me from first to 12th grade, but I especially remember Sister Mary Denis Woods, GNSH, who served as both the principal and seventh-grade teacher at St. Canicus School. She and I still correspond, and she continues to inspire me. This year marks her 70th year of consecrated life! Looking back, I remember my 6th grade year when the idea of serving Christ and His Church first came to me. Sister Mary Denis was a great support and champion as I began this quest to find God’s purpose in my life.
Of course, there have been so many others who have influenced my life and faith; there are too many to name here. I can’t fail to remember the Sisters of Ss. Cyril & Methodius, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, the Trinitarians, Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity, and the St. Joseph Sisters. May they all know how vital has been their witness to the faith!
It is good for us to recall the great influence of women religious — those who dedicate their lives to following Jesus — for I am finding that it is the rare Catholic who has not been positively influenced by someone from the consecrated life.
Their faithful witness through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience spur all of us to encounter and follow Jesus Christ. The first words of Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” reflect the lived reality of the lives of women religious: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of those who encounter Jesus.”
Each of us, through baptism, has a vocation. In order to respond to this vocational call, we need God’s grace as well as the help of others in our life who help us recognize how our gifts can be put to God’s service. How great is the witness of sisters like my friend, Sister Mary Denis. Please pray for all those who have made commitments in the consecrated life and be sure to thank them. May they continue to be inspired by Jesus Christ and respond generously to God’s gift of their vocations.
In a homily on the Feast of the Assumption in 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict described our Blessed Mother Mary as “the ark.” Recall that in Moses’ day the ark led the pilgrim people on the way to freedom. So as May approaches, we call on Mary to be the one who leads us in our vocation through life to the promised land.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz