Today in the Church we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life. It is the day we set aside each year to give thanks for all the many religious sisters, brothers, and priests who through their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience have consecrated themselves to the Lord and His service. But, as Fr. Jim Gallagher, C.S.C., Director of the Office of Vocations, pointed out in his homily today, it is also the day that we renew our efforts -- all of our efforts -- to pray and work for the next generation of consecrated women and men who will serve our Church and world. Enjoy his homily!
Brothers and sisters, I have to tell you, I really love winter. It is not just because with winter, come snow storms and with snow storms, come snow days. No, I love the invigorating feel of a cold day, the beauty of the ground blanketed in white, and the majesty of the great mounds of snow that are formed. To my eyes, it is just plain beautiful. I love it.
Now, I do realize that I may be in the minority, that many people do not like the winter. There are many good reasons not to like the season. For one, it is a dangerous time of year. There are the slick roads, the low visibility, and the ice that forms. With those dangers come the car accidents, twisted ankles, and hard falls. There are also the long, grey days that can bring people down. It is a difficult time of year for many.
With some of these dangers and drawbacks of the winter weather upon us, it is quite timely that today’s Gospel reading speaks of salt and light. They are both powerful elements that combat the problems of this season. Salt is a wonderful tool against the dangers of ice. The other day I was over at my sister’s house and due to the snow melting off of her roof, there was quite the ice slick forming on her front stoop. She was concerned for the safety of her mail carrier, so we set about clearing it. I could have gone at it with a pick and some hot water, but that would have taken forever. Instead, we went out and picked up some road salt. With one handful scattered on the ice, right way it started to pop and crack and eat away at that danger covering the step. Amazing, you just scatter it over the ice, and it goes right to work. Light too is a powerful tool in the battle against the gloom of winter. One of the most uplifting things in the middle of these winter months is a bright, clear, sunny day. With the light reflecting off of the snow and the warm sun coming in through the window, one’s whole mood can take a turn for the better. These two elements from our Gospel, salt and light, are two of the great means for safety and joy in these long winter months.
Of course, there are so many other good purposes that that salt and light serve in our life. Salt is one of the most basic preservatives, and at the right amount in our diet, it helps to keep proper body chemistry. We are also well aware of the great illuminating good that light provides. Good luck living without it. Among many things, its illumination provides vision, safety, and beauty. These two elements then, salt and light, provide balance, safety, preservation, and illumination in our lives.
Now then, think about this with regard to these two powerful elements: In the Gospel, Christ tells his disciples that they are the salt of earth; they are the light of the world. Brothers and sisters, it goes the same for us as Disciples of Christ. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We are the salt that the Lord scatters across the earth to break apart danger, to preserve those in need, to draw the world into a healthy balance. We are the light that the Lord sends out to the world to illuminate those in darkness, to give comfort to those who dwell in fear, to uplift those who are brought low. You are the good that the Lord sends out for the sake of the world. This discipleship of yours then is meant to be active, one that is meant to have an effect on the world. Your discipleship does not just place you in relationship with the Lord. Your discipleship places you in a relationship with the Lord so that you may then become the salt and light that He then spreads across the earth for the good of all.
The amazing thing is that even in the face of this powerful element of religious life in our Church, there are many Catholics who do not understand the vocation to religious life. This comes out clearly in a question that I am often asked: “What is a brother?” They can look at me as a religious priest and feel that they have a sense of who I am and what I do. But a brother is a religious pure and simple, and they struggle to understand what that reflects about who he is or what he does. The key is that it is more to do with who he is than what he does. A brother is one who has consecrated his life through the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience to a life in community. His vocation is lived out through uniting his life, his work, and his prayer to that of his community. For the sake of the Church and the Kingdom of God, brothers have given over their lives in service to the Gospel. This too is the reality of religious women or sisters. They too give freely and completely of their lives in loving service to the entire Body of Christ. And why? Why would they do this? Because the One who first loved them invited them to do so. They came to understand the extent of God’s love for them, they heard Christ’s call, and they freely and generously responded.
And thank God they did. Think about this: think about the Catholic school systems here in the US and around the world, if it were not for the millions of religious sisters, brothers, and priests who set out from their homelands to labor we would not have that extensive system of schools rooted in the faith. Without Fr. Sorin and the six Holy Cross brothers who set out from France for the frozen wilderness of Northern Indiana, you would not be sitting here today. What is more, think of the many Catholic hospitals that are spread across this land. The vast majority of them came from brave religious women who set out into the wilderness or in to the poor sections of town where there were no health care systems. There they set up those systems to bind up the wounded and give care to those in need. Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg. The light of the Gospel has spread to all corners of this world due in large part to the selfless and heroic efforts of religious men and women throughout the history of the Church. Thank God these men and women gave freely of their life and their life’s work for the sake of the Gospel. The world would not be the same if they had not.
Yet this World Day for Consecrated Life is not just about looking back to all the good that has been done, it is a day to also look ahead to all the good work that is to come. There has been a long history of men and women giving selflessly and as long as this world is turning, there will continue to be the need for men and women to make that same commitment to religious life. What is more, the work of making sure that there are those religious of tomorrow is the work of us all. Yes, there are those who are called by the Lord to enter the consecrated life, and it is up to them to answer that call. Yet there are many more who are not called, but benefit from their presence and so have a responsibility to encourage them to answer the call. We all have the responsibility to pray for and encourage vocations among peers and family, now and in the years to come. I don’t just say this because I am in and I want to make sure there are others that will join me. It is because I can look at the history of the Church and I can look at a world that is desperately in need of brilliant lights and active salt and remain confident that there is a place and a need for men and women to consecrate their lives out of love for the Lord.
Yes, we are all the salt and the light of the Lord to be spread out for the life of the world. Yet there have been and always will be those who are called to take a further step. For our sake and for the sake of the world of today and the world of tomorrow, we strive to find and live well our personal vocation and encourage one another to do the same.
Why? That they may see the good that you do and give glory to God. What greater gift is there to give to the world than an awareness of the Lord of Heaven and Earth such that they see His glory and rejoice.