... said Redemptorist Fr Francis Vijayan during the World Day for Consecrated Life Mass

Religious hold lighted candles during the World Day for Consecrated Life Mass at Novena Church.

By Christopher Khoo

The Religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are all rooted in family life, and Religious life will never die as long as it remains relevant to the present.

Redemptorist Fr Francis Vijayan made these observations during his homily during the World Day for Consecrated Life Mass on Feb 2.

Fr Vijayan, who was ordained in 2016, acknowledged that he was one of the youngest among the crowd of 200 or so Religious priests, nuns and Brothers gathered at Novena Church, but nevertheless was chosen to speak to them.

“I have up to now lived Religious life for about seven years since my first profession but the strange thing is that the deeper I dig for wisdom in living out my Religious life, I find the answers in family,” he said.

Elaborating on the parallels between the Religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and family living, he noted that chastity in the married state “is the glue that keeps the family together”. “The moment children cannot see their parents’ love for each other, their security and esteem weakens. A child’s identity is found in his parents before anything else.”

Furthermore, without husband and wife listening to each other, and parent and child listening to one another in mutual dialogue, there can be no real harmony. “This is obedience,” he said.

Poverty is also most evident in any family. Everything that a father and mother owns does not just belong to them alone.

“It has to be shared in such a way that the whole family benefits and ideally even their larger community around them,” he said.

“In this way, family life inspires Religious life and Religious living in turn witnesses to family living. We are taking the ideals in family as the foundation for loving the wider community in the world.”

Fr Francis Vijayan: Family life inspires Religious life and Religious living in turn witnesses to family living.

Addressing the perceived decline in Religious vocations today, he felt that “we are far from the death of Religious life”.

“It will always have its witness value because it finds its inspiration at the heart of any family. It will never die as long as it remains relevant to the present.”

The Mass saw representatives from the various Religious congregations in Singapore praying Prayers of the Faithful that are connected to their charisms.

For example, a Missionaries of Charity nun prayed for the abandoned, the poor and the sick; a Franciscan friar prayed for respect for the environment; while a Daughters of St Paul nun prayed for media practitioners.

A video of newly-ordained Malaysian Carmelite priest, Fr Nicholas Hoh, was also shown before Mass, in which he and his father shared about his vocation.

Religious that Catholic News spoke to said they fully agreed with Fr Vijayan making the connection between the family and Religious life.

“The family releases the person, frees him to be a Religious,” said De La Salle Br Collin Wee. “In return, the Religious also serve the family. So it’s a two-way process.”

Representatives of various Religious congregations praying the Prayer of the Faithful.

Good Shepherd Sr Elizabeth Lim said that a Religious vocation “comes from the relationship you have with the family.

Then you realise that you want to share this kind of love relationship with others.”

However, she also noted the lack of communication among families today, which could be a reason for the decline in vocations.

“You look at families today, they hardly have family lives, they hardly speak to one another. They speak to their videos and their handphones,” she said.

“You go to the dinners, the family reunions, what happens?” Each person is on the handphone, she said.

Jesuit Fr Christopher Soh said he feels that the drop in Religious vocations is a result of a decline in people who see Christian life itself as a vocation.

“I think the first way to address the issue of vocations to the Religious life is to address the issue of the vocation to holiness that is the Christian life,” he said.

Cenacle Sr Francisca Tan, on the other hand, feels that vocations are ultimately “a gift from God”.

“And if it’s a gift of God, it will continue if God so desires. And with that attitude we just do our mission as good missionaries, as good Christians,” she said. “God will call no matter how. We have to do our part in living our charism, in living our ministry, and people will see the value.”

Br Collin is of the same view. “I believe God provides,” he said.

Nevertheless, in a situation where vocations are slow in coming, his congregation, whose charism is in education, has been training laypeople in Lasallian values and spirituality to run their schools, he said. 

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