The gift of consecrated life: Hope & healing in the worldBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
Pope Saint John Paul II designated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to also be the annual World Day of Consecrated Life. World Day for Consecrated Life is a day of prayer for vowed religious women and men. I love this feast!
My first assignment as a priest was to Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Overland, MO, near the airport. So, the Feast of the Presentation was always a highlight of the year!
It’s a rather obscure feast, however, certainly not as high-profile as some other feasts in the Church. In the Eastern Church, it is called the “encounter” or the “meeting,” referring to the encounter of the Christ Child with Simeon and Anna.
But what is going on at this encounter in the Temple? Simeon not only saw the Christ Child, but was also privileged to hold him as the long-awaited hope of Israel. Outwardly, Mary and Joseph were fulfilling the law in presenting Christ in a gesture of obedience to the law, but in reality Jesus was coming to meet his believing people and take possession of the Temple. Of course, in this meeting the promise of God made to Simeon was fulfilled. He was not to face death until he had met the Anointed One of the Lord. So in that moment of embrace of Jesus in the Temple, all his hopes and dreams were fulfilled, all the hopes and dreams of the nation of Israel were fulfilled. They had been promised a Messiah for ages.
A hallmark of the people of Israel was their clinging to the promise of a Savior. In times of persecution and exile, their hope was always the promise of God to “raise up a mighty Savior born of the house of His servant David.” In that little Child was the fulfillment of the promise of God.
Jesus is “the light to the nations and the people Israel.” As we recite nightly, “Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen your salvation … a light to reveal you to the nations, the glory of your people, Israel.” Thus, we also bless candles on the Feast of the Presentation to highlight the powerful symbol of light, shining in the darkness.
Both Simeon and Anna remind us that when we hope in God, we are never disappointed. God never deceives us. In their encounters with the Child Jesus, Simeon and Anna were saying that Jesus was enough for them. And Jesus is enough for us today. He is our fulfillment and hope, as He is in every generation.
Thrive, don’t just survive
In celebrating the World Day of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reminds all the religious of the world that they bring the hope of Jesus to the world today! This attitude of hope makes the consecrated life more fruitful and protects us from the temptation that can make consecrated life barren. What is the temptation? It is the temptation to merely exist in “survival mode.” There can be that temptation to see all the darkness around us in the world today and just sort of decide to hold on with “white knuckles” and just to survive. As disciples, we are meant for more than that. Jesus does not call us to just “survive” or to do just “ok.” He wants us to thrive; He calls us to the fullness of life.
When we are in survival mode we become reactionary and fearful, shutting ourselves off from others in our own preconceived ideas and fears. In survival mode, we fail to look to the future with hope and we lose opportunities. We end up protecting what little we have instead of going out in faith to a future unknown. Survival mode forgets the role of God’s grace, turning us into “professional” religious, but with no hope and with no witness to Jesus.
The encounter of Simeon and Anna was one of hope, a hope that sustained them into their old age, a hope that was rewarded when they finally did encounter Jesus. They recognized Him because their hearts had always anticipated the coming of the Messiah.
Pope Francis has stated how important it is that men and women religious be “one with Jesus,” especially in the midst of the challenges of today. Vowed religious place Jesus in the midst of the people. Vowed religious bring the light of hope to others. How is that accomplished? Pope Francis explained how important it is that religious today have “contemplative hearts.” With contemplative hearts, our religious help their brothers and sisters carry their crosses. With contemplative hearts, our religious touch the wounds of Jesus in those they serve. With contemplative hearts, our religious hear those who cry in this world of pain and bring healing. That is the relevance of the religious life in our world today. To a world of pain, religious men and women bring the hope and healing of Jesus.
Let us pray in thanksgiving for our vowed women and men religious that they be sustained in their service to God, the Church, and her people. May they be blessed with the gifts of the Spirit so as to be “the light to illuminate people.”
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the gift of the consecrated life
Brothers and sisters,
On this feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
I invite you all to join with me in thanking the Lord
For the gift of the consecrated life
That the Holy Spirit has raised up in the Church.
You who are consecrated to the service of God,
In a stupendous form of ecclesial vocation
Renew the pledge to follow the
Obedient, poor and chaste Christ,
Until, through your evangelical witness,
Christ the Lord, light of the people,
Shines in the church and illuminates the world.
Look benignly Lord on
These your sons and daughters
Firm in faith and happy in hope.
Let them be, through your grace,
A reflection of your light,
An instrument of your Spirit of peace,
An extension among men of the presence of Christ.
Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.