Opening Mass For Year Of Consecrated Life 29-NOV-2014
SCRIPTURE READINGS: ZECHARIAH 2:14-17; MATTHEW 12:46-50
THEME: REDISCOVERING OUR JOY OF CONSECRATION TO THE LORD
Today, the world has lost direction, meaning and purpose. This is a fragmented world we are living in as we lack common values and the foundations for building unity. This is because the world has left God out of the picture as He is absent and no longer felt or experienced. This has led to agnosticism, secularism, materialism and relativism. Hence, the thrust of the Universal Church is the work of the New Evangelization. This is the key to save ourselves and the world.
This call for the New Evangelization was started and initiated by St John Paul II. What is this New Evangelization? New Evangelization entails a rediscovery of our faith and the passion for Evangelization. This call was taken up by Pope Benedict who convoked the synod of the New Evangelization and started a dicastery to deal with the challenges of the New Evangelization. The synod spells out what the New Evangelization entails. It begins with an invitation to rediscover and re-appropriate our faith and then to witness the Good news in words and charity. It requires us to permeate the Christian faith in all areas of life, culture, economy, business, politics, education, family and ecology. Pope Benedict also wrote the apostolic letter on the occasion of the declaration of year of faith.
Then when Pope Francis took over, he gave an added dimension to this work of the New Evangelization by underscoring the joy of the gospel and the joy of proclamation. Joy is the constant theme of Pope Francis in his teaching on faith, mission and evangelization. He wrote, “I want to say one word to you and this word is “joy”. Wherever there are consecrated people, seminarians, men and women religious, young people, there is joy, there is always joy! It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus; the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us, not the joy of the world."
Is this joy true and reflective of our priests and religious? Do we see joy in their faces and hearts? Or do we see them burdened, overworked, lonely and bitter? Are we consistent in our declaration that priestly and religious vocation is a great joy? If it were so, how come we are not attracting new vocations? Isn’t this due to the lack of consistency and authenticity? Our lives perhaps often do not exude joy!
Without joy we cannot proclaim the gospel of joy. This is the theme of today’s scripture readings. The tone of joy is reflected throughout the readings. In the first reading, the prophet said, “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion.” Mary in the magnificat says, “My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my saviour. He looks on his servant in her nothingness. Henceforth all ages will call be blessed. The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy is his name!” As Pope Francis said, “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’”.
Consequently, we must ask ourselves as priests and religious, do we have this contagious and infectious joy? How do you know whether you have joy?
Firstly, do we have the joy of being at peace and satisfied with the presence of God in our lives? Are we so in love with God and do we bask in His love and mercy? If we have not yet encountered the great joy of being in intimacy with the Lord, then we really do not know Him.
Secondly, are we convinced that our lives would be worse off without Him as our Savior and Lord? Indeed, rediscovering Jesus as our Lord and Savior who makes a difference in my life is the beginning of joy. Pope Francis says, “It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to do so. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything”. Until we are convinced that Jesus makes a real difference to our lives, and that He has brought us joy and meaning to our lives, we cannot yet evangelize.
Thirdly, are we anxious to proclaim the world or do we put our personal interests and needs before that of Christ? The truth is that some of us are so comfortable with our lives that we do not wish to live out or venture beyond the community that we are in. If we feel the restlessness of love and the need to go out to share with others, then indeed God is our Lord. A living faith always brings about the desire to transform the world. If there is no restlessness of wanting to share our relationship with Christ with others, then we are not yet filled with joy.
Why is it that we have lost this joy? Firstly, we have lost the joy of vocation, of being called. Initially when we joined religious life we felt so privileged, but that has been lost, forgotten. It has turned into mourning and tears instead! We got used to our new lifestyle as religious. Instead of being grateful to be a religious, we have become demanding and exacting. That is why we need to recall our vocation story and remember how we were called to religious life and how happy we were then. Indeed, the feeling of privilege is a necessary component. The response of Mary being called by the Lord was this, “The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy is his name!” Are we grateful that the Lord has called us even though we cannot be considered to be holy?
Secondly, we have lost the joy of living out the evangelical counsels. They are called evangelical counsels because they are meant to help us experience the Good News. We were then so happy to live a life of poverty and total trust in the Lord. But over time, we have become more concerned about our interests and having a good life. We took the evangelical vow because we did not want to worry about money or health, etc, because we wanted the Lord and the community to take care of us. Like Mary, we trust in God alone. “He cast the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.”
We were then so happy to live a life of obedience, knowing that obedience is the will of God especially spoken through our superiors. But then we have no more respect for authority and often speak against our superiors. We fail to practice humility. “His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him. He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.” Obedience is expressed in fidelity to Christ and His church. Pope Francis says, “Faithful discipleship is grace and love in action; it is the practice of sacrificial charity. When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”.
Thirdly, we too were happy to live a live a life of chastity and total virginal consecration to the Lord and the community. But today our love is exclusive, centering on our friends, not on the Lord or the community. We spend more time outside our community than within. Our confreres become our enemies and spiritual benefactors and benefactresses. Instead of being totally devoted to the Lord, we are distracted by worldly activities and social life.
As a consequence, vocation has become ambition or a thankless duty or worse still, a comfortable life of pleasure and socializing. Indeed, when there is no joy in ministry we see worldly happiness based on success and on the pleasures of life.
How, then, can we regain the joy? "There is joy! but – where is joy born?” This is what the Holy Father is asking us? Joy comes from the experience of the nearness of God. It is the joy of being with the Lord. Most of all, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit which is the consequence of bearing all trials patiently and bravely and manifest in a life of charity, prayer and thanksgiving. Only when there is this encounter with the love of God and an intimate friendship with Him, can we be liberated from our insecurity, narrow-mindedness and fears of reaching out to others in love and service. “Perhaps it is not unwarranted to say that the crisis of consecrated life results from the inability to recognize such a profound call, even in those who are already living this vocation.”
Hence, the only way to find back our joy is to enter into the interior pilgrimage of prayer. Pope Francis says, “The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and to learn from him. This is always true, and it is true at every moment of our lives. If the warmth of God, of his love, of his tenderness is not in our own hearts, then how can we, who are poor sinners, warm the heart of others. This is a life-long journey, as in the humility of prayer the Holy Spirit convinces us of the Lordship of Christ within us.”
Secondly, we need to grow in intimacy with the Lord like Jesus who spent hours in intense prayer before His mission. “If we look towards Jesus, we see that prior to any important decision or event, He recollected himself in intense and prolonged prayer. The more the mission calls out to you to go out to the margins of existence, let your hearts be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love. Herein lies the secret of pastoral fruitfulness, of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord.” Truly, only God can give us meaning and joy because we are made for God and our hearts are restless until we rest in Him.
Christ is the true vine and we are the branches. Remaining in His love, we share in the life of Christ. The more the Lord fills our hearts, the more we can move out of ourselves. “Because when we put Christ at the centre of our life, we ourselves don’t become the centre! The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the centre of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you from making yourself the centre and opens you to others. We are not at the centre; we are, so to speak, ‘relocated’. We are at the service of Christ and of the Church”.
The Pope identifies prayer as the source of the fruitfulness of the mission. “Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and heavy duties. And the more the mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love”. Only with Christ can we become sensitive to the needs of others. Only with Christ, can we look at life from the perspective of faith, especially in moments of trials and sufferings. Indeed, without the insight of faith, we cannot see Christ in our brothers and sisters and most of all hope in the face of sufferings and injustices. For that reason, ccontemplation presupposes a prophetic life. “It is the Word of God that inspires faith and nourishes and revitalizes it. And it is the Word of God that touches hearts, converting them to God and to his logic which is so different from our own. It is the Word of God that continually renews our communities”.
Thirdly, we need to share the joy of community life. Do we recognize those whom we live with and minister as truly brothers and sisters in the Lord? "But to the man who told him this Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ and stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’"
Unless we regain the joy of being loved by the Lord and by our community, we cannot find the strength to reach out to the world. This is what the evangelical counsels intend to do so that we can live and love as a community of brothers and sisters dependent on the Lord. Since we are called to be witnesses of love and communion, we must show that we are happy in community life. It would be so sad that our religious houses have become more like a purgatory than a family. A joyless community means that the community is dying out. When we are a joyful community, we will attract new vocations for joy is always attractive.
Of course, like any family, there will be frictions and problems and misunderstanding. This is inevitable. But we must avoid competition. We must go back to the spirituality of communion that Pope John Paul II taught us. We need to take care of each other. Your brother or sister’s pain is our pain. Let us be patient and forgiving towards each other. Let us accept each other’s human frailties and most of all, forgiving. As a family we need to work things out and find a solution with love and compassion. We do not seek to destroy each other. We do not gossip about each other too. Pope Francis said when we have problems, “Tell the superior, tell the Bishop, who can rectify them. Do not tell a person who cannot help. This is important: brotherhood! But tell me, would you speak badly of your mother, your father, your siblings? Never. So why do you do so in the consecrated life, in the seminary, in your priestly life? Only this: think, think... Brotherhood! This brotherly love.” That is why gossiping about our fellow brothers and sisters and worse still, our superiors, will only destroy communion.
Today more than ever, people are looking for community. Society which has become very individualistic destroys community. That is why people are lonely and are unable to find life. But people are seeking for community. But there is no way to build community, not through social and human means. Community happens only when we find our community in our common love for the Lord and His church. Only the love of the Trinity can heal us and bring us all together in love. What better way to build community than to be nourished by the same Word of God and the same Eucharist? When we gather to pray together and worship together, there the Lord will unite us and seal our community. The Eucharist builds community and celebrates the joy of living as a community. Hence, the highlight of community life must be a fervent and conscious celebration of the Eucharist, not as a duty or a routine aspect of community life. We need to celebrate the Eucharist intensely, pray the Divine Office and the receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as Pope John Paul tells us in the letter at the Beginning of the new millennium. Unity in diversity is possible only because of fraternal love.
We have our mentor and inspiration, our Blessed Mother. She is called the daughter of Zion, the mother of the Church. In her, the prophecy in the first reading is realized. She is the dwelling place of God. “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion; for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you - it is the Lord who speaks.” Hence, she experienced great joy. She felt loved in a special way. “But the Lord will hold Judah as his portion in the Holy land, and again make Jerusalem his very own. Let all mankind be silent before the Lord!. For he is awaking and is coming from his holy dwelling place.” Through Mary, the mother of God, Christ comes to dwell with us too. Indeed, “many nations will join the Lord, on that day; they will become his people. But he will remain among you, and you will know that the Lord of host has sent me to you.” She encountered God's marvelous love and mercy in her life. Hence, her life is one of joy. She sang, “My soul glorifies the Lord, My spirit rejoices in God, my saviour. He looks on his servant in her nothingness; Hence forth all ages will call me blessed. The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy is his name.” Together with the early Christian community, she asks for a refilling of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, only because of the joy in her heart, the joy that comes from the Lord and the Holy Spirit dwelling in her, she became an instrument and messenger of joy to others, beginning with Elizabeth and St John the Baptist. Her joy is contagious. She went in haste to announce the Good News.
With her, the Church must journey together too. We need to bring the Good News of joy we have received to others, beginning with our family and those who are near to us. We need to accompany them in this journey. With Mary, we bear witness to Christ’s love and mercy for the poor and the weak. With Mary, restless in love, let us reach out to the world. The Pope invites us not to privatise love, but with the restlessness of the seeker: “Tirelessly seeking the good of the other, of the beloved”.
Hence, it is urgent that we renew our vocation and re-consecrate ourselves to the Lord so that as religious and priests, we can live radical lives. Pope Francis said, “It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not want to say ‘radical’. Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women able to wake the world up.” Let us live our lives and ministry with joy so that we can become not just proclaimers in words but in our very being. Let us fill our lives with joy and passion, bearing in mind as Pope Francis wrote, “the increase in loving activity is a continuous process –“it matures, matures, matures” – in a permanent development in which the ‘yes’ of our will to God’s will unite our will, intellect and feeling. Love is never finished and complete; throughout life it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. So with courage and fidelity to the Lord, let us proclaim with joy that Christ is risen in our lives.