As the Catholic Church worldwide begins to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life as proclaimed by Pope Francis, religious priests, sisters and others in consecrated life are preparing to share their vocation stories and renew their faith commitments, and lay people are anticipating a fresh opportunity to offer gratitude and to investigate consecrated life more fully and intimately.
The Year of Consecrated Life, which will last throughout 2015, begins on the First Sunday of Advent, the weekend of Nov. 29, and ends on Feb. 2, 2016, on the annual World Day of Consecrated Life. The year also marks the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, and Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church.
The purpose of the year, according to the Vatican, is threefold:
- To offer an opportunity for renewal for men and women in consecrated life.
- To offer thanksgiving among the faithful for the service of brothers, priests and sisters.
- To extend an invitation to young Catholics to consider a religious vocation.
“A lot of people of a certain age—certainly anyone over 40—would have been familiar with consecrated religious at some point in their formation, in elementary school, high school, college, in a hospital. A lot of them have those memories, but that’s the only memory of religious that they have, and now they don’t have that connection,” says Sister Eymard Flood, O.S.C., the Vicar for Consecrated Life for the Diocese of Orange. “The coming year is a way of getting to know the religious, the men and women, in a general setting and in their home settings, because some of the activities will be where they live. In September 2015 there will also be opportunities to pray with them.
“Consecrated life is a gift to the Church and we are blessed in this diocese with many religious priests, sisters, brothers and secular institutes.”
The religious “open houses” and the opportunities for prayer with religious are part of a series of special events organized through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, dioceses and local religious congregations. Three principal nationwide events are planned in the winter, summer and fall of 2015:
- 8: Religious Open House. Events will be coordinated to also celebrate the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia and will include tours, open houses, receptions, family activities, and presentations on the history of religious communities at convents, abbeys, monasteries and religious houses.
- Summer 2015: Day of Mission and Service with Religious. Events will include joining religious in their apostolates or special service projects, such as assisting the elderly, ministering to the poor and homeless, and caring for the less fortunate.
Sept. 13: Day of Prayer with Religious. Events will include vespers, rosary or holy hours in convents, monasteries, religious houses, parishes and churches.
Other events will be offered in the Diocese of Orange by many of the local religious congregations of men and women, says Sister Eymard, who adds that anyone interested in learning more about any religious congregation in the diocese may contact her at the diocesan Office of Consecrated Life at (714) 282-3114.
There also will be prayerful reminders of the vital place of consecrated life in the Church during weekend Masses throughout the year, she adds. A special prayer for those living or contemplating consecrated life will be encouraged at all weekend Masses, and a special intention will be read each week during the Prayer of the Faithful. Pastors also will be encouraged to invite members of religious congregations to tell their vocation stories during Masses and at other occasions such as school and youth group visits.
The opportunities to get to know the religious life up close is “certainly something desirable,” says Father Gordon Moreland, S.J., the Director of the House of Prayer for Priests in the Diocese of Orange. “A lot of people, younger people generally, have fairly limited contact with religious today. So this kind of exposure is very, very important and very helpful, particularly the whole contemplative dimension of religious life. Looking into that is important in terms of the support system that helps to cultivate a personal relationship with God. Everyone’s called to that, but it’s much more difficult to do that in a big way on one’s own. The structures of religious congregations help one to cultivate that life of prayer and union with God, and it’s something wonderful and something to be aware of.”