Day for Consecrated Life

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord


Homily notes of

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock, 2 February 2020

”When I was in Rome for the Ad Limina visit of-the Irish Bishops some years ago, I was surprised that in many of the different Vatican Offices that wevisited I was immediately asked the same question:  Is it really true that you have so many religious in your diocese”.  In fact, there are about two and half thousand consecrated women and almost five hundred male religious, ordained or otherwise, in the Archdiocese. It is a number that surprises many.  

There is no doubt but that for generations consecrated life flourished within and enormously enriched the Irish Church.  What can we say today?  One of the problems is if we thought that in the past our strength was in numbers, people will begin to say today that smaller numbers indicate a reduction in the strength and the significance of religious lifeitself.

The problem is that we err when we think that numerical strength is the measurement of the significance of consecrated life at any moment.  The strength of religious life depends on the manner and the vitality with which consecrated men or men respond to their call and how they become effective witnesses to the transcendent and loving God, in a society where more and more people no longer know where to seek or to find God.  The strength of consecrated life lies in faithful witness.

The true witness of consecrated life does not depend on numbers nor on the age of its members.    Indeed numerical strength can even lead to a weakening of witness.  Numerical strength can lead to an unhealthy institutionalisation, whereby the creativity and freedom which charism entails are numbed and institution and conformity enter centre stage.

Am I being critical of past history of religious life in Ireland?  I am.  However, I feel that many of you here will agree with that criticism, because you experienced it in the conformity that was imposed in novitiates and seminaries.  I may be critical but I am also hopeful.  We need religious life with a new vitality and creativity.  We need to ensure that the charisms of individual religious are allowed to flourish, from the humblest to the extraordinarily gifted.  

Consecrated life must be lived authentically.  It must also speak.  It must say something to others even in the secularised society around us.  Ourwitness and not just our words must lead people to understand and be more open, even if only inch by inch, to the message of Jesus Christ and to what following Jesus means.

The Church calls consecrated men and women together on this Feast of the Purification of the Lord.  In accordance with the Law of Moses, the Holy Family come to the Temple to present the new born Jesus to the Lord. The candlelight procession at the beginning of our celebration remind us of this entry into the Temple.  It is a procession of light, a sign of our calling to be led by the light of Jesus into the Temple and through our lives to purify our Church and to fill the Church anew with the authentic light of Christ.

In the responsorial psalm, we recalled the psalmist’s words about the king of glory entering in, the Lord, mighty in battle.  The fulfilment of that promise now takes place, the powerful God enters into the Temple and into the world but, however, as a new-born child.

Simeon and Anna, come to the Temple and inspired by God recognize who this child is andinterpret for us the significance of what is taking place.  The child is the long-awaited Messiah around whom the future history and deliverance of God’s people and indeed of humankind would be played out.  The two prophets also realise that the deliverance of God’s people would involve suffering and rejection.

Consecrated life is a way of living in which we place ourselves lovingly and without reserve in the hands of Jesus Christ.   That unwavering love of Jesus constitutes the first service that you offer to the Church and to the world. You are called to be beacons of light who proclaim the constant presence of the new light of Christ in our ever-changing world.

At moments of darkness and turbulence, even a small light is a sign that we are moving out of darkness into light.  The dedicated religious can be the lifeline of hope for many who are lost and troubled in the storm and darkness of our world.  Light is a reminder that hope is still possible in the darkness of distress.

Many religious may be tempted to feel that they are the ones in darkness, in the darkness of the aggressive hostility of a secularised world.  Others are insecure and disheartened by the darkness that had found its way into religious life itself and had led to abuse and disillusionment.    

The worst thing that can occur is that religious decide that they are just victims and that there is nothing to do but retreat into a safe secure worldaway from the real world.  The real world needs consecrated life, but committed, authentic and enthusiastic consecrated  life. Do not be afraid.  Fear can paralyse.  Fear can really be cowardice.

On this day for consecrated life, brothers and sisters, let the light of Christ take hold of you and renew you personally. Let the light of Christ renew your original youthful dream of love for Jesus Christ.  Do not be afraid to throw away the things that impede your dedication, even if you were led to look on some of them as being signs of religious life.  Ensure that the channels that bring the reforming light of Christ reach into your own hearts.  Learn every day to pray more intensely and teach others to pray.  Bring the light of Jesus to others as a kindly light, a light that you carry but never own.

The procession of light in this liturgy recognises that consecrated life is represented by many different lights but part of its strength is when these lights coalesce together not as a sign of earthly power but as a sign of working together in the communion of the Church.  In a world dominated in many ways by individualism and consumerism, the common life of sobriety, poverty and charity are part of your witness.  

The Church needs consecrated life because consecrated life is a living sign of the holiness to which we are all called.  We give thanks to God for your witness and pray that you will go away this evening bringing renewed vigour and joy to your love of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for each other and do not forget to pray for your bishop.”