Advent is a season of rejoicing in the state of watchfulness which anticipates the coming of the Lord among us. How fitting it is that the First Sunday of Advent begins a Year of Consecrated Life within the Church invoked by Pope Francis. The year will conclude on February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on the World Day for Consecrated Life. As we begin the season of Advent, men and women who live consecrated life in our midst are living reminders of what this season is all about. We truly rejoice and find joy in looking forward to the presence of God among us and in discovering that presence each day.
In a letter to consecrated men and women from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, a message from the teachings of Pope Francis on consecrated life is presented for this Year of Consecrated Life. The letter is entitled, "Rejoice," reflecting the words of Pope Francis to persons in consecrated life, "I want to say one word to you and this word is joy. Wherever consecrated people are, there is always joy!" The letter also reflects the words of Pope Francis to religious, "Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women able to wake up the world." Hence the logo for the 2015 Year of Consecrated Life is the earth with the shadow of the Cross cast over it from the rays of the sun with the words, "Wake up the World."
We are so blessed in our Diocese of Palm Beach with outstanding men and women who live consecrated life. Each one of us has stories of how we have been affected by religious in our lives who made a lasting impact of faith, hope and love upon us. Those stories can be recounted today by men and women in our Diocese who experience the fruits of consecrated life in their lives in so many different ways.
There are ninety-three religious women currently ministering within our Diocese who include two consecrated virgins and one hermit. They represent thirty-one different religious congregations and carry out their apostolate in a myriad of ways which include: preschool and elementary school education, religious education, seminary education, health care in nursing homes and hospitals, parish work, pastoral care, retreat work, contemplative life, shelter for the homeless, visiting the sick and homebound, ministry to various ethnic cultures, ministry to immigrants and many, many others. We have four religious brothers within our Diocese who represent three different congregations and their ministry includes youth work, retreat work and high school ministry. There are forty-two religious priests within our Diocese who represent fourteen different religious congregations and who carry out many different ministries which include parish work, seminary education, chaplaincy, retreat work, ministry to immigrants and many others.
Men and women of consecrated life point out to us the call which God makes to each of us in our lives. They have been called to live the Gospel of Christ in a radical manner by the profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, while we all do not receive this same call from God, He calls each of us to live the Gospel of Christ in different ways – in our families, in our jobs, in the witness that we give to our communities, in the various events that we face in life and most especially in realizing that each of us is called to an individual relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. Religious help us to live our call by the example and support that they give to us in the witness of their lives. They also help us live our call by providing us with so many ministries and apostolates that touch our lives and build up the Church.
Consecrated life is at the very essence of what the Church is all about. Without the witness of consecrated life, the Church is not able to proclaim the Gospel in its fullest form and to make the presence of Christ visible among us. During this season of Advent, we prepare for the Birth of Christ which we will celebrate at Christmas. This preparation is something which is meant to assist us in realizing that Christ is among us each and every day precisely because He became incarnate among us when He came into this world. So many times the demands and challenges that face us each day distract us from His presence among us as we tend to think that we can find Him away from our lives and not in them. It is in the daily encounters and events which we experience in that God reveals Himself to us. We need to "wake up" to this presence through the example of those in consecrated life who help us to do this in a concrete way. They exude joy to us which comes from recognizing the presence of God and living in a real relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the great joys of my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach is to encounter the wonderful men and women in consecrated life that we have among us. I have the opportunity to experience them in the ministries that they carry out and I see firsthand how they make the reality of Jesus and His Gospel present among us. There is never an opportunity when I have been with our religious that I do not experience the great joy that they have from their relationship with Christ and in following His call. They truly wake me up to the reality of Christ. I also have the great privilege of being with all of them together on a couple of occasions during the year to celebrate Mass and to celebrate their lives. I always come away from these celebrations with a great sense of joy and gratitude for the extraordinary religious in our Diocese. In a particular way I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for who they are and for all that they do to inspire all of us. I also thank Sister Joan Dawson, OSF, and Father Michael Driscoll, O. Carm., who carry out a wonderful ministry in assisting our religious as my delegates.
There are a few weeks ahead of us in which the Lord will speak to us of His coming to us as we celebrate Christmas and as He comes to us each and every day. Let us all "wake up" to His presence among us and find a joy which only He can give. The season of Advent brings many busy days of preparing for Christmas. May we find in these days true joy by concentrating on Christ and may our men and women in consecrated life be a continuing example to us in this regard.
A blessed Advent to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 5, 2014