Day for Consecrated Life

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Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin


Terenure College, Dublin, 3rd February 2014


“When the Superiors General of the male Religious Orders, resident in Rome, asked for a meeting to greet the new Pope last November, they imagined that the session would involve a few words of greeting by one of their own, a prepared speech to be read by the Holy Father and that, all in all, they would be back home well in time for lunch, happy with the event and hopefully with an individual photo with new Pope.  That was the pattern in the past.


Pope Francis, as is his way, surprised them. He told them not to bother preparing the words of greeting, because he would himself not be making a speech.  He wanted to have an open dialogue about the place of religious life in the Church today and rather than spend the best part of one hour with them, he wanted to dialogue with them for the best part of the entire morning.  The end result was that the superiors did not get back home in time for lunch.  They came away with much to think about.  Sometime later, a fascinating article would be published in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica setting out something of the tone and the context of what became an extraordinary meeting.


The Pope also took the opportunity on that occasion to announce that he would be proclaiming a Year for Consecrated Life for the entire Church, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Decree of Vatican II Perfectae Caritatis, beginning probably in November next, as well as a review of the document on the mutual relations between bishops and religious.


I would recommend that you read the interview, which is available in English on the web. The meeting was with the male Superiors General and some parts of it were about the specific challenges of male religious. But it touches on so many fundamental questions about religious life. 


It shows especially that Pope Francis – the first Pope to be chosen from a religious congregation since the election of Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 – has no mean expectations of religious and religious life today.  The title chosen for the article in La Civiltà Cattolica was “Wake up the world” and the Pope, without hesitation or qualification, said that his hope was that “religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up”.


Religious life can wake up the world by living and communicating the message of Jesus Christ.   Religious life is part of that communication of the Word, of how our humanity was saved through God’s loving action and how the way we live our humanity must reflect the loving kindness of God.  Religious life is missionary: formation to religious life should not be oriented only towards personal growth but about how religious are called to care for the People of God.  The Pope stresses that religious life is not there to produce administrators or managers, but men and women who are brothers and sisters and “travelling companions”. 


Travelling companions” – what does that mean?  Religious are called to a prophetic life.  Pope Francis says that religious must speak to people through their lives.   Religious are called to be prophets “by demonstrating how Jesus lived in this earth”.   Religious are men and women who light the way to the future and walk with others on that way. Religious life is not an end in itself, but a service to God’s people on their journey.


The call to wake up the world is not just about making the news headlines.  The call to wake up the world is not like a message proclaimed anonymously from a minaret for anyone to hear or ignore.  It always involves encounter and personal contact.   It is about being alongside the men and women of our times in their own struggles in life, especially the men and women – as Pope Francis continually reminds us – who live on the periphery of society.  When the Pope talks about “the periphery” he is not talking just about the geographical or economic peripheries of society – though this is also vital – but of the profound peripheries of alienation and hopelessness and suffering and search for meaning that exists among the men and women of our time.   Religious are to be travelling companions who journey with others step by step in their search, not lecturers or moralisers who simply tell other  people where they should be.


Religious life is not just about doing things.  It is about doing things is a different way; it is about leading through witness and attraction.  In the current situation in which the numbers of religious are declining and we are all getting older, we can easily be tempted to think that we have made our contribution and there is little we can do now except to keep something of the show still on the road.  Pope Francis says a religious must never tire of prophesising.  You are called to live religious life authentically in whatever circumstances you find yourself; smaller numbers and increased age should never distract from the fact that religious life is a never-ending challenge.


In Ireland religious congregations dedicated over the years a great amount of their time to the education of young people.  Today, the number of religious directly involved in teaching and management in schools is minimal.  How do you reactivate in your lives today that passion for caring for young people that your founders and foundresses had?  When we talk about meaning and hope, about the fundamentals about what life is about, the sense of goodness and truth and where young people anchor the values of their lives, there is a vast challenge which the wisdom of age and experience and a depth of faith can bring to young people.


Just think of the pressures that young people, especially vulnerable young people, face today: from their peers, from the complex culture of social media, from a culture of drink and how even one mistake can possibly ruin a life.  Examples abound as we have seen tragically in these days.  

Good religious were never just managers and administrators of schools: the good religious teacher was someone who played a vital role in the life of a young person, a name that the young person remembered fondly for their entire life.  The Church urgently needs to find new ways not just of denouncing what is wrong, but of being – within all those in society – of being travelling companions with young people in their search for their true selves, for values which transcend and for the ability of how to say no.


One vital thing that religious can do is to pray:  not just pray for someone but show what prayer means in a world where doing and having and possessing seem to be the sole order of the day.  Your life of prayer is always a prophecy.  It is witnessing to the mystery of God’s presence among us.  It is witnessing to the fact that God cares, that God loves, that God reaches out to us, even if his ways are mysterious.  Religious have to learn to share their prayer life with others and guide people in prayer.  Religious life cannot be privatised; your prayer is a service for the whole Church and cannot be enclosed within the four walls of your house.  


Wake up the world!  Pope Francis has a great gift of characteristically simple and striking language.  His language is earthy:  it is not earthy for our entertainment, but is profoundly provocative and challenging.   Perhaps my favourite comment of Pope Francis, in his meeting with the religious superiors, was when he said:  “religious life is not a bottle of distilled water”.  What does that mean?  It means that we do not need a religious life that is crystal clear, tasteless, insipid and safe.   The Pope says outright that religious life must make noise, uproar and even a mess.   They are his words and I like them.   That is certainly not what you were told by your novice masters and mistresses.   Noise and uproar and making a mess were not high on the instruction-list in Clonliffe College, at least in my time.  We were taught not to stand out; we were formed in conformity.  But the charism of religious life is not one of conformity.  It is like yeast which even when you are not aware is always causing ferment and changing and developing.  That is what the prophecy of religious life is like.  That is what the great religious were always like. 


God called each one of us by name and still challenges us by name to respond and to find in our commitment to Jesus the fullness of our humanity.  We need renewal in the Church.  The Church will never renew itself by introversion.  The Church can never be just an inward-looking society, preoccupied by its own challenges.  The moment the Church becomes over concerned by its internal challenges the more it will actually become more inward looking and never the out-going reflection of the challenging and prophetic message of Jesus who cares.


In our prayer this evening we have reflected on the various stages and dimensions that religious life has had over the centuries. We have seen how religious life was a special gift to the Church at difficult moments in its history and how religious life, lived authentically, was a key factor in bringing change and conversion and renewal at critical moments.


In thanking each of you for your work and witness in this Diocese of Dublin, I look forward with you to the Year for Consecrated Life and to all of us becoming travelling companions seeking to live our Christian life more authentically and with renewed enthusiasm.  Just as with those disciples on the road to Emmaus, may the Lord be our travelling companion and our guide as we reflect on the Word and break the bread of communion.  ENDS