In A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh and Piglet take an evening walk. For a long time they walk in silence. Silence like only best friends can share. Finally Piglet breaks the silence and asks, "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what's the first thing you say to yourself?" "What's for breakfast?" answers Pooh, and then asks, "And what do you say, Piglet?" Piglet says, "I say, I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today?"
Like Piglet, we never really know when or where the Lord is going to show up. But you can be sure of this: He will show up!
In the Scriptures, people encountered God in unexpected ways. Running from his troubles, Jacob laid his head on a stone and while he slept and saw a stairway to heaven. He is presented as wrestling all night with a manifestation of God in the flesh. Moses turned aside from his flock of sheep to see why a bush would burn and not be consumed, and from it heard the voice of God. Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus got his attention by knocking him to the ground and striking him blind. In yet another instance, the depressed disciples were on the road to Emmaus when they unexpectedly discovered the 'road of companionship' with Jesus. Through these scripture passages, Jesus shows us that he desires to walk with each of us.
Pope Francis, at what was expected to be a short visit with the Union of Religious Superiors in Rome in 2013, turned the event into a three hours conversation, during which he announced that 2015 was to be a year dedicated to consecrated life.
Pope Francis stressed that religious life does not exist to produce administrators or managers, but rather, men and women who are brothers and sisters and "travelling companions."
He went on to say that religious must speak to people through their lives. Religious are called to be prophets "by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth." Religious are called to light the way to the future and walk with others on the way. Religious life is not an end in itself but a service to God's people on their journey.
Among the many highlights, a number of points, deserve special emphasis:
- Today's religious men and women need to be prophetic, "capable of waking up the world," of showing they are a special breed who "have something to say" to the world today.
- Religious men and women need to live and behave in a truly different way, recognizing one's weakness and sins, but acting with "generosity, detachment, sacrifice, forgetting oneself in order to take care of others."
- "It's necessary to spend time in real contact with the poor. For me this is really important: it's necessary to know from experience what's real, to dedicate time going to the periphery to truly know the situation and life of the people." When Pope Francis talks about the "periphery" he is not just talking about economic peripheries but of the profound experiences of alienation and hopelessness, suffering and the 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, not lecturers or moralists who simply tell other people where they should be.
- Religious are to be prayers who witness to the mystery of God's presence among us, and show us that God cares, that God loves, that God reaches out to us.
As part of our observance of the Year for Consecrated Life, we have been blessed with some new travelling companions, i.e. the Seeds of the Word Community and the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Merciful Jesus, who have accepted our invitation to establish a presence in our diocese.
The Community "Seeds of the Word" was founded in Palmos Brazil by Archbishop Dom Alberto Correa. It is a new community that gathers to its heart members of diverse walks of life – single people, couples families, those consecrated and priests in a life given entirely in service to the mission: for the life of the world. Contemplative and Missionary, the community seeks to discover and nurture the Seeds of the Word of Life and promote its growth in each person through human dignity and vocation for sons and daughters of God, disciples of Christ. Through the liturgy, the Word of God, fraternal life and the mission to teach the poorest of the poor. The community resides and works out of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Calgary.
The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Merciful Jesus was founded in 1947 by Fr. Michael Sopocko as the answer for the apparition of Jesus, who ordered St. Faustian among other things, to found the new religious community. The members of this congregation begin each activity renewing the message of: "Jesus I trust in You." The spirituality of the congregation consists in surrendering to God's activity and in trustful acceptance of all the consequences of such trust. In their apostolic activity the congregation tries to meet the actual needs of the Church. The Sisters work in 17 monastic houses in Poland and in 16 houses abroad. They are involved in many acts of mercy in and beyond parishes. They are opening a Divine Mercy Centre in "The Ranch" – the former rectory of St. John the Evangelist parish in Balzac.
May the Year for Consecrated Life further engage all of us as travelling companions seeking to live our Christian life more authentically and with renewed enthusiasm.
☩ Frederick Henry
Re-reading Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" reminded me of the story about a business man who had lost his sense of inner joy. He was struggling to find meaning in his life.
Work had taken over, he was very successful and he was constantly jet-setting from city to city on business, but all of this activity was taking precious time from his family and parish life.
On one business tip, he found himself sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He couldn't believe the opportunity! He was quite nervous, but he was sure that if he could get up enough courage to speak to her, she could help him through his spiritual crisis.
Not knowing how to start the conversation, he decided bluntly to ask, "How do I find joy in my life?" Mother said you have to have joy. He interrupted, thinking that she didn't understand the question, "Yes, but what I need to find is - joy"
Kindly, she continued, "You must make J.O.Y. your priority in this order - Jesus, Others, and You - and only this order. Then you will find the spiritual joy you are looking for and the joy that God wants for you."
Joy makes a difference in the life of any person, whatever his or her vocation might be. It is not the emotional joy, which is occasional and superficial, but the joy that floods the soul and makes the person radiant, transparent, a messenger of transcendent beauty.
This joy arises from our encounter with the Gospel and with Jesus. Jesus invites us all:"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mt.11:28-30).
He brings joy to our lives and we cannot live without proclaiming it to others. This is the dynamic of evangelization and the way to convey our faith: "It is not by proselytizing that the church grows but by attraction" (EG 14). A personal relationship with Jesus finds its natural expression in service of others.
Vocations are multiplied "by attraction."
In the case of the ministerial priesthood, the overwhelming majority of priests are extremely happy in their vocations. Why? Most priests will cite administering the Sacraments, preaching the Word, and helping people and their families as great sources of satisfaction. The priest is given the privilege of acting in the person of Christ at key moments in the life of the Church.
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, in "Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests", reports that 92% of priests say they are happy in the ministry. Other studies corroborate his findings on priests' happiness. A 2006 National Opinion Research Center survey of 27,000 Americans reported clergy enjoy the highest level of job satisfaction in America.
Ultimately, the source of happiness for any child of God - whether their call is to priesthood, the consecrated life, marriage or the single life - is his or her relationship with Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis understands that: "Many places are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise. Even in parishes where priests are not particularly committed or joyful, the fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration"(EG 107).
Pope Francis also addresses the question of the vocation of women in the Church. He acknowledges that the ministerial priesthood is reserved to males "as a sign of Christ the Spouse"(EG 104).
But rather than focus on what is not possible, he says: "I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church. Because the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures." (EG 103).
"The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism. Which is accessible for all" (EG 104).
And J.O.Y., in that order and only in that order, must be our priority.
☩ Frederick Henry