Global celebration shines spotlight on religious life

During this Year of Consecrated Life, Father J.D. Jaffe has noticed a buzz around men and women religious.

“When a sister comes to an event, people want to see who she is,” said Father Jaffe, the director of vocations for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. “When they see a religious brother, they want to know who this person is, what it is about them, and they become more interested in learning about Christ. The very life of the religious becomes a witness to us that inspires us.”

In the Diocese of Arlington, there are communities or representations of 31 groups of religious women and 15 groups of religious men.

“They bring to the diocese, first and foremost, the history,” Father Jaffe said. “Our Church would not be the Church that it is today if it wasn’t for the consecrated men and women who throughout history established hospitals, schools and parishes, and served the poor. The impact of the religious on any society is immeasurable. As the Holy Father says, we are to look backward and celebrate in gratitude the amazing impact they have in our dioceses, in our parishes and in our communities.”

Vocation and discernment camps are scheduled for young men and women considering religious life, and people in the Arlington Diocese are praying for the 24 men and 50 women who are in formation for the consecrated life in different orders.

“We are really working on promoting them, and we are praying for them by name,” Father Jaffe said. “The way they are living becomes the very hope for our future. They become the testimony of how we are supposed to be living, and they are a witness to a life of heaven right here on earth. Other young men and women will see that and be inspired to make gifts of themselves to Christ, the way that these men and women have shown us.”

‘It’s a good life’

Marist Brothers
The charism of the Marist Brothers in Queens, N.Y., is the education of young people. Courtesy photo

The Marist Brothers in Queens, New York, have 13 college-age men in the accompaniment program, which means that they’re mentored by the vocations director and are involved in service projects. Six are in discernment with spiritual direction, and three are novices.

“At this point, we are seeing a slight increase in interest in our vocations, and I believe the Year of Consecrated Life will yield more in time,” said Brother Mike Sheerin, who works with Brother Dan O’Riordan as vocations directors.

The Marist Brothers’ charism is to make Jesus known and loved through the Christian education of youth, especially those who are neglected. They have a retreat center in upstate New York, where they hold a Foundation Stones weeklong retreat for recent high school graduates and college students. That includes daily prayer, conferences and service projects.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience the Marist Brothers’ vocation, especially during this Year of Consecrated Life,” Brother Mike said. “The Year of Consecrated Life is especially valuable for the vocation of brothers, who are smaller in numbers and less known, and we realize that we have to work to proclaim who we are. We are such a viable way for a young man to live out his Christian witness to Gospel values. It’s a good life. If it’s for you, it’s a wonderful life. If you feel called to it, you will be able to live to your best potential, to be your best self, and we help people to come to that decision.”

‘God is still speaking’

Franciscan Father Anthony Baetzold calls the papal proclamation a time of grace that, through awareness, is showing people the beauty of consecrated life.

“The year is relevant because John Paul II considered consecrated life not only a beacon for the Church, but for the whole world,” he said. “That’s what Pope Francis says as well, that it’s a prophetic sign that God is still speaking and is very active in our world today.”

Father Baetzold is vicar for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal based in the Bronx, New York, and superior of the seminary house in Yonkers. There are 120 men in the community, 20 in formation to be part of the community and 18 in formation to be priests. Their charism is the spiritual works of mercy and evangelization.

“When somebody sees a consecrated person, it shows that God does have a purpose for every individual,” he said. “The second part of that is that while we do spend a little time here on earth, there’s something much greater in heaven. A consecrated person will give up material goods, their own personal freedom and the goods of their own family because they feel called by the Lord to be a prophetic witness that the heavenly goods are awaiting us.”

The papal proclamation for the year is bringing an increased awareness of the beauty of consecrated life, he added, and can lead people to the question, “Where does God want me, and what does he want me to do with my life?”

‘Sign of unity, joy, hope’

Sisters of St. Benedict
Women visit during an open house with the Sisters of St. Benedict in Beech Grove, Ind. Courtesy photo

Observances in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will include a focus on the life of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana.

“That shrine and the history of St. Theodore are part of the contributions that women and men in consecrated life have contributed to the life of our archdiocese in the past, what they are contributing now and what they will contribute in the future,” said Father Eric Augenstein, director of vocations.

The archdiocese has six communities with motherhouses and several other religious orders have houses or members who are present with their ministries.

“We are blessed to have an extraordinary diversity of consecrated life, from monastic life to apostolic,” Father Augenstein said. “They bring a real joyful presence of prayers and ministry to the parishes, schools and agencies that shows forth the breadth of religious expression in the Church. One of the greatest gifts we have is the variety of their spirituality and their ways of living a consecrated life.”

Dominican Sister Marie Bernadette Thompson, council coordinator for the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, sees the Year of Consecrated Life as a perfect time to celebrate the sign of the union with God in love to which each person is called.

“It draws our attention to men and women religious whose very life call is to be a sign of unity, joy and hope in the midst of a world torn by darkness and division — to be a sign of the kingdom of God which begins here and now,” she said. “This is the Christian message: God entered into time when he sent his son, Jesus, and so the kingdom is among us, and even as God calls us to eternal life with him.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Pope Francis' Goals
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