Consecrated Religious Today
February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This is the day the church celebrates Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus, their firstborn, to the temple to present him to the Lord. It is here that the wise old Simeon and Anna declare that their light and redemption have come.
Since 1997 this feast has also been declared the World Day of Consecrated Life. It is day of prayer and celebration for male and female religious communities. Religious communities are called to reflect the light of Jesus and bring his light to all the world.
We asked Brother Benjamin Ripley, O.F.M. to share his thoughts on being a consecrated religious today.
What does it mean to me to be a consecrated religious today?
Being a consecrated religious gives me a unique way to live the joy of the Gospel and bringing it to the world in my own, little way. It gives me the opportunity to bring joy in a world where there is often a lack of joy. Consecrated life for me is the way to bring God’s compassion, mercy, healing, and the Gospel message of salvation. My vocation to consecrated life is an assurance to me that I am loved by God, I am important to Him and he is calling me to bring that message of joy to others. Consecrated life is an ongoing spiritual journey where I am continually transformed within in my interactions and ministry with my fellow Franciscan brothers and to all those I meet in my ministry. It means a renewal and continued growth in my relationship with Jesus Christ, myself and my relationships with others and the world.
Consecrated life challenges me to go beyond myself and meet the issues which are affecting my local community and beyond. My vocation has given me a desire and restlessness to share the joy of God’s love to others, to perhaps transform the world and people’s lives in my small, humble way.
Living out my vows of living without property, obedience, and chastity also helps me to live the joy of the Gospel life by giving complete trust to the Lord. I have the joy of knowing that I do not have to rely on material things that have the power to control me, but that God will provide me with what truly matters. My vow of obedience allows me to give of myself and sacrifice my personal pride and ego and allow God to work within me. My vow of chastity allows me to center my love towards Jesus Christ and others.
What do I love most about being part of a Religious Community?
The thing that I love most about belonging to the Franciscan Friars is the gift of living in fraternity with such a diverse mixture of people who are also desiring to live the Franciscan way of life. There is such a variety of personalities and perspectives within each community which work together towards a common mission. This diversity manifests itself in sometimes humorous or infuriating ways—I believe this is the beauty of living in community. I can be myself and am accepted by the community—imperfections and all. Community challenges me to grow and know that I have value and gifts that I bring to the table and contribute to the life of the community and its mission of spreading the Gospel joy to the world.
We humbly ask for your continued prayers for all consecrated men and women, that we may indeed by bearers of the light of Christ and go forth with the Good News.
Article by: Michael Perras, OFM
A few months ago Michelle Garlinski asked if I would share a reflection on my experience of leadership as a younger religious. I’m happy to offer a few thoughts, but before I do I’ll point out the obvious; I’m not really a young religious. I made my first profession a little over 25 years ago; some of my friends from high school are already grandparents, and others are considering their retirement; and when I travel to countries where religious vocations are plentiful, they consider me an elder! So, these reflections on my experience of leadership are those of an Oblate in his early 50’s, in leadership in a province where the average age is close to 80! In addition, the ideas presented here are not meant to be a systematic piece, but are preliminary thoughts on a few areas of our ministry and community life.
Challenge and Change
Five and a half years of leadership and administration has brought it’s fair share of challenge and change: diminishing numbers (we were about 230 Oblates in our province in 2013, today we are about 165); the lack of new membership and the place of religious life in the Canadian church today; managing the blessings and tensions of our increasingly international communities; the important issues emerging around accountability and transparency of religious leadership regarding our handling of historic abuse cases; our Oblate response to the TRC Calls to Action. And yet, in the midst of challenge and perpetual change, I find myself hopeful in the face of this uncertain future, and grateful to go forward with Oblates, Oblate Associates, and the many others who share in our charism, life and work today.
Leadership is ministry too!
Shortly after my appointment as one of the two vicars for my Oblate province, I travelled to Rome for leadership formation along with about fifteen other Oblates newly appointed as provincial and vicars provincial. Playfully referred to as charm school, the workshops and reflections offered there by our congregational leadership and others were consoling and practical. One of the most helpful pieces of advice we were given over those two weeks was this: to remember that leadership and administration (managing change, encouraging and assisting other leaders, facilitating and organising various meetings and initiatives, and ensuring the obligations of the Province and Congregation are met, etc.) is in fact, ministry. Our new ministry would be a service to the Oblates (ad intra rather than ad extra), and a necessary part of our corporate mission. Over the last five years I’ve made the same point when encouraging Oblates to be open to the internal ministries of the community, something most of us are reluctant to take on.
Make decisions and move!
As religious we learn that discernment precedes decision, and that decisions should be made at the most appropriate level. This is true, but as religious (like other groups of people I suppose) we get lost in process and discussions about subsidiarity, and important decisions are delayed, or not made at all.
When we began our first term as Provincial Council back in 2013, our Provincial, Fr. Ken Forster said that as a provincial he intended to take significant decisions in a number of areas of our Oblate life. He was clear that we would gather good information, consult appropriately, and in a spirit of prayer make decisions and act on them. I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of this. Over almost six years we’ve made a good number of bad decisions, but I’ll take that over a lack of direction any day; and so it seems, will most Oblates. A bad decision can be changed and learned from, but a lack direction takes us nowhere.
Committing to ongoing formation…
When I entered the Oblates in the early 90’s, our Oblate province (one of five provinces that would amalgamate to become OMI Lacombe in 2003) held a community retreat just after Easter each year, then in late August we’d gather for Study Days. Today I have warm memories of these and other smaller gatherings as opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth, but even more as time taken together to learn and grow as a community. There were also programs and gatherings organized at regional and international levels of the congregation; all of which was part of the intentional commitment of the Oblates to ongoing formation.
In recent years the attention given to ongoing formation has diminished due to many reasons; an aging membership; reluctance to free ourselves from ministry commitments (especially priests); the time away for these events is seen by some as an indulgence; lack of personnel to organise gatherings, to name just a few. This diminishment in attention to our ongoing formation can have consequences : a lack of communal reflection on our life together; a diminished consistency in our Oblate pastoral practice (I.e. What distinguishes our pastoral presence as Oblates?); a lack of depth in our homilies, teaching, or talks.
The Oblates in Canada and the US are are taking steps towards shared ongoing formation programs, especially with our younger members in the area of leadership training, and hopefully these efforts will lead to other initiatives.
Grateful for our gatherings…
This is why I’m grateful for our gatherings in Saskatoon over the last two summers, and that there is third retreat planned for July. For me these retreats were at least in part experiences of ongoing formation, where we pondered together the signs of the times, and began to explore what God might be asking of younger Canadian religious today, and into the future. This can only be a good thing for us, our communities, and for the wider church.
Written by Fr. Ken Thorson, OMI
Come Into My Heart
Yes, Christ Child come into my heart,
open me up to see you in the manger
and see that simplicity.
Open me up to see
your gift of trust,
your gift of abandonment,
your gift of hope and joy.
Yes, Christ Child come into my heart,
again this Christmas,
so that with Mary & Joseph
I may prepare a room for you
as small as my heart and as big as the world
so I may ponder all you fill my life with
and embrace you more and more.
Yes, Christ Child come into my heart,
so I may be filled with wonder and awe
like the shepherds and magi,
so I may give praise to you for all your goodness,
so I may be strengthened to build the kingdom,
so I may proclaim:
God is With Us Always until the End of Time!
Yes, Christ Child come into my heart,
Oh Christ Child you have come again… Thank You!
- Br. Michael Perras, OFM
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Visiting the Nativity Church in Bethlehem- the star marks the place of Jesus’ birth
Each year Advent has a different tone for me. This year from the very beginning of the Advent season, the word ‘Conversion of Heart’ has been present. Initially I was a bit confused as to why there was a call to conversion in my prayer and reflections- turning back to God and repentance of sin seems to be more fitting for the Lenten season.
Nevertheless, as I ponder on the celebration of Christ’s birth and the invitation to prepare a way for the Lord, I perceive the winding roads and rough ways that are present in my heart.
Here in Brazil (the Southern Hemisphere) where the closing of the academic year aligns with the end of the civil year, I need to make a heroic effort to not be swept away by the frenzy of yearend activities, closing projects, last minute meetings and endless Christmas parties.
Truly, the voice crying in the desert needs to be heard in my prayer, each day. Am I making God’s entrance into my life easier, smoother, clearer? How can I raise up and rise above the deep valleys of frustration, impatience and activism?
The voice in the desert draws me towards the empty manger, inviting me to silence and conversion of heart. I want to be ready to welcome the Salvation that is to come and, at the same time, is present among us.
Pictures and Article by: Kate O’Connor. She is a member of the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, a Society of Apostolic Life. Originally from Stratford, Ontario, she currently carries out pastoral ministry with adults in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Last year at a Vocations event in Calgary, a habited Religious Sister I know shared an anecdote about a morning which saw her engaging in the routine task of taking out the garbage. A man happened to be walking by. He saw her and stopped, staring at her for some moments. He then approached her to say “I hadn’t thought of God today until I saw you.” I was deeply touched by this story. Imagine inspiring another to contemplate God by the simple act of dressing for the day and putting the garbage out!
I’m often moved by these moments that we, as Religious, are so fortunate to witness to just by the gift of being Religious. I ‘gave testimony’ at a Charismatic event in June, and was approached afterwards by a man who had listened to me speak, in part, about the Ignatian Examen. He had with him a creased and well-worn book of Ignatian Examens that he used frequently himself. It struck me that he should have been the one speaking to the group about the value of this particular style of prayer, as he seemed more devoted to it than anyone I’d ever met. I was touched by his faithfulness to it and by the sense that he wanted to share his love for this particular style of worship with me, who as a Religious Sister in an Ignatian Congregation, he knew would uniquely understand.
When we read in the Gospel of Luke about Mary treasuring the events of the Christmas story and pondering them in her heart, I think that this is an integral part of what we are called to do as Religious: to see God at work in the ordinary unfolding of our day and to make time to inwardly sit with these moments, letting their joy permeate our very being. I think it is part of our gift as Religious that we can uniquely witness these moments, for we are called to live the Gospel in a more public, corporate way than others. People perceive that we will appreciate these ‘God-moments’ in ways that many others may not. Many recognize us as a safe-haven with whom they can share these precious gems.
I am a teacher/chaplain in a junior high school and was recently walking behind a group of students in the hallway. I saw one of the students briefly turn his head to catch sight of me in his peripheral vision. Then, in a strong voice, he said to his friend walking with him, “Don’t you just love God? I just love God!” With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he suddenly turned around to greet me with pretend surprise and a big grin: “Oh, hey Sister Michelle!”
For me, this was a moment to cherish, not unlike that of the story of the Sister taking out the garbage. Here was a young person who had thought of God at the sight of me that day, albeit probably in a less reverent way than the anecdote above. Nevertheless, what a place of privilege to witness these small, ordinary God-moments that unfold before us! Let us try to make time to ponder them as we travel this Advent journey together.
Article and pictures by: Sr. Michelle Langlois, fcJ
Sr. Michelle has now professed 2 years of temporary vows with the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (fcJ). She lives in Edmonton, AB and was born in Winnipeg, MB.
For any human being relationships are a significant part of who we are and how we come to discover a bit more of how we want to be. Relationships are fundamental to our development. How often do we reflection on our relationships? How often do we look at the relationships we have beyond our comfort zone? How often do we consider the dignity of our relationships?
“To recognize the Other is to recognize a hunger. To recognize the Other is to give. …I can recognize the gaze of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan only in giving or in refusing.” – Emmanuel Levinas
Where in our lives do we allow this hunger to feed our heart and soul?Where are the stranger, widows, and orphans in our lives as religious?How are we giving of ourselves? Where are we refusing? Looking for an Advent tune up with these thoughts?
I recommend seeing the film Green Book in theatres now. It offers much for reflection on relationship, human dignity, family dynamics and friendship as we head into the Advent Season. Can we see Jesus our Emmanuel – God with us – in our every day? In our relationships?
“Every person, from the first moment of life in the womb, has an inviolable dignity, because from all eternity God willed, loved, created, and redeemed that person and destined that person for eternal happiness. “ – CCC 1699-1715
Written by: Br. Michael Perras, OFM
The question used to be why do you want to be a nun (a religious). The answer was easy – because I love Jesus… Then it became why do you choose to say yes everyday to being a nun (religious)? The answer still seemed easy – because I still love Jesus and I can do good work with Him and my sisters.
Then the work required a teenager living with us for 4 long years, and the question from the teenager became, what makes you different than anyone else who goes to church? Then answer became: Because, you live here!!
Who would have ever imagined that a teenager would be the one to solidify my vocation!? Not me!
Rebecca came to live with us 4 years ago. As a 14-year-old in need of stability, rules, and some uncomplicated love. She sure did make my prayer life an active one. From someone who was once described as uncontrollable- hiding under desks, doing whatever she wanted, not being up to speed academically, to a well composed, almost poised, academically strong first year university student. And we (Sr. Lise & I) were witness, punching bag, mother, father, teacher, and partner to her success.
So, why I am telling you this? Because as crazy as she made me (and it was a daily crazy) she solidified my vocation. Without Rebecca in my life I would not be able to say with conviction that I AM A SISTER OF THE HOLY NAMES OF JESUS & MARY. Without my community Rebecca would not be where she is today- The University of Carleton in Ottawa.
Rebecca at her High School Grad
When I brought Rebecca home Sr. Lise said yes- sight unseen. People asked, “Why”? and the only answer I have is, “It’s what we do”. We serve, we help, we love unconditionally – which I have come to learn doesn’t mean it is without frustration.
So, if you are ever looking for a way to re-commit to your vocation, I recommend taking in a teenager or consider making the summer retreat with the younger-“ish” Canadian Religious. Stay Tuned for details about the retreat… not getting a teenager – you have to get your own!
Article and photo by: Sr. Connie Harrington, SNJM
Recently, Ed Sikora (right) professed his first vows and Raphael Ma (left) renewed his vows at Resurrection College in Waterloo, Ontario. I have been part of a team of Resurrectionists and lay people that have supported them and offered suggestions along the way to help them discern their fit potential fit with our community.
4 years ago I remember the knock on the door as a vocation director with nobody in formation. It was Raphael, or “Raph” as we now call him. He came across the question “Why not religious life?” in his discernment and knew some Resurrectionists whom he admired that could perhaps help him find out more about this path. I was just just happy to have someone knock on the door. He looked a little heavier with serious decisions to make. He had to leave a lot behind, his parents perception of their son’s future was challenged, and the less than robust formation plan in religious communities these days made things more than a little confusing for him and for us all. We had many questions like: Where was God leading this young man? What would it mean for his future and the future of the community? How can we all “get out of the way” and let the Holy Spirit do what she does best? When he renewed his vows that day I simply admired his perseverance, his family’s perseverance, and God’s perseverance in them and in our religious community. The ceremony lead to many moments of pure joy and continues to give us all hope for the present and future of religious life.
Ed was a different story. He was a photocopy repair person in Bermuda visiting the various parishes that our community ministered at. Over a 10 year period he was quietly deepening his prayer life and feeling drawn ever closer to these priests whom he served as customers. I think he was spying on us – in a good way! It wasn’t until one of our men was installed as the next Bishop of Bermuda that he decided to take a leap and apply to begin as a postulant. He has since completed a one-year novitiate in Chicago and his radiant face in the photo above reveals the happiness he continues to experience discerning with us.
All of this is to simply express some gratitude to God for being with our community, all those discerning religious life, and those for whom the discernment affects the most. I have noticed over the years that discernment can be a bit of a grind for candidates and those walking with them at times, but perseverance really does pay off. I think our constant efforts to embrace this beautiful vocation for today let God know that we are serious about the future of religious life and that we see it as a partnership with God where we both promise to never give up. Perhaps that’s why nobody can really say that God desires a community to grow or go out of existence. Perhaps it more of a relational thing where we all get to have a say in whether or not our community lives or dies.
Written by: Fr. Toby Collins, CR