February 2, 2024
Consecrated Life – the Heart of the Church
This particular month of February holds for us many different perspectives and celebrations. This is leap year, and so there is an extra day to the month and year. We have an early Lent this year, which begins on Wednesday, Feb. 14, which is also Valentine’s Day. February is Black History Month as well as the month in which we celebrate our presidents. No one will forget that it is the month of the Super Bowl! February begins with the Feast of the Presentation on Feb. 2 and then the Feast of St. Blaise on Feb. 3. The Feast of the Presentation also commemorates the World Day for Consecrated Life, which this year is celebrated on Sunday, Feb. 4.
The World Day for Consecrated Life is a significant one for all of us. We will gather with our women and men in consecrated life of the Diocese of Palm Beach, as we do every year, at Mary Immaculate Church in West Palm Beach for a Holy Hour and a general reception to celebrate consecrated life. We are blessed in the Diocese of Palm Beach with extraordinary men and women of consecrated life, not only religious, but also virgins and hermits. All of us most likely remember a person in consecrated life — sister, brother or priest — who was influential in our lives. Whether it was in school, in the parish or through some other association, a consecrated person who made a difference stands out in our mind. We are grateful to that person as we are to all women and men in consecrated life, especially within our Diocese of Palm Beach.
Just as that one religious sister, brother or priest made a difference in our lives, so all of consecrated life makes a difference in the Church. In fact, that is precisely what consecrated life is all about. Consecrated life represents what the life of the Church is all about, to live the call of Christ and to follow Him in this world. A religious sister, brother or priest heeds that call in the fullest manner by their perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. By their witness, they remind all of us, no matter what our particular vocation may be, of living in conformity with the Gospel. Consecrated persons not only contribute to the life of the Church but witness to its very nature. Consecrated life is truly the heart of the Church. It is fitting to celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life in February as we celebrate the heart on Valentine’s Day.
So essential is the life of consecrated persons to the Church that St. Pope John Paul II rooted consecrated life in the very life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In his apostolic exhortation, Vita Consecrata, he explained how a consecrated person, living the Gospel in the most radical manner, proclaims, “what the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, brings about by His love, His goodness and His beauty.” The chastity of consecrated persons reflects the infinite love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The poverty which consecrated persons live reflects the total gift of themselves which the Persons of the Trinity make to one another. The obedience of consecrated persons mirrors the loving harmony between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Being rooted in the very life of the Trinity, consecrated life becomes a sign of the Trinity, revealing the depths of its inner life and a living reminder of Christ’s way of living as the Son of God made man.
The evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience have something to say to all of us in our daily way of life. Whether we are married or single, a priest or a deacon, consecrated life reminds us of what we are all about. Consecrated persons live chastity, poverty and obedience in the fullest manner in imitation of Christ. However, their living of these counsels reminds us that we all live these virtues as followers of Christ.
Chastity reminds us that God is love and that He created us to love Him and one another. He created man and woman in His image and likeness to cooperate with Him in His creation by their giving life and forming a family. Consecrated persons, who renounce marriage, actually show its sacredness by bestowing the totality of their love on God, for whom all life exists. The virtue of chastity is so much needed in our society today which has lost the sense of what love, marriage and sexuality are all about. No one gives witness to that virtue more than consecrated women and men living chastity to the fullest.
Poverty reminds us that all depends on God. It also reminds us of the need we have to share this world’s goods and riches with one another. All the material goods which God has given us are meant to bring us closer to Him. This message is so important in a society driven by materialism. It is not what we own that defines who we are but our attitude in how we use this world’s goods in our daily lives. By renouncing material possessions in a radical manner, the consecrated person reminds us that it is God who is our ultimate goal and most cherished possession.
Obedience reminds us of the need we all have to submit to the will of God, especially in our particular vocation. Obedience also reminds us of the need we have to listen to each other in respect and in tolerance. The word obedience in Latin actually means to listen to. Listening to God means listening to our parents, children, legitimate superiors and all those who deserve our respect as persons made in God’s image. Listening to another also means giving another what is most precious to us, our time. By being obedient to God in the fullest manner, consecrated persons show all of us that we need to be more silent and to listen to God in the various ways He speaks. This is one of the reasons for the Synod currently taking place in the Church.
It continues to be my joy to be with so many women and men of consecrated life in the Diocese of Palm Beach who are the heart of the Church. In varied settings and ministries, they reflect the meaning of God’s very life and that of the Church by living chastity, poverty and obedience in imitation of Christ. In the name of all of us, I thank them for their example and for inspiring us to follow and love the vocation to which God has called us.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito