I am in a privileged position where the secular and religious intersect. I’m a married woman, but many of my peers, due to the nature of my tertiary studies and interests, are in consecrated religious life. While there are occasions of tension where schedules and lifestyles clash, especially now that I’m no longer at college, I nevertheless accept and embrace the challenges of such relationship, because let’s face it: whether you’re single, in a de facto relationship, married, professed in the consecrated life, in ordained ministry or undecided (still searching!), you’re a person created and loved into being by God, and by that virtue, we’re all the same.
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Today a group of young men I’ve known for a few years formally committed themselves to the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and to the Church in their Profession of Final Vows. This means that they promise before God and the rest of the community, to live according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, in accordance with the constitutions of the Order and of course, the gospel.
I’ve been to quite a few of these ceremonies and not uncommon in the homily or reflection is the reference made to the courage in which these people stand, by accepting the call to consecrated life. Yes, I agree with this, especially in an age where the lure of fortune and certain material freedoms that come with that are incredibly attractive. Depending on which part of the world you are in, these might even be reasonably easy to attain. But it’s nevertheless true that a profession of faith and lifelong commitment to a particular way proves to be counter-cultural, even if it is widely accepted.
Or is it, really? Is it inherently so contrary to everyday life? The answers to these questions will vary. Of course there are vast differences between one state of life and another, yet having said that, I’m also of the belief that much is shared in common between my ‘secular’ self and my ‘religious’ brothers and sisters. One of these is the call to love, and to devote one’s life in a response of love.
I was originally going to quote a romantic song by Andrea Bocelli called Il Mistero dell’Amore (The Mystery of Love), but instead here’s one better – a song written by one of the professed candidates, which they all preformed during Mass:
Late I’ve found you, beauty ever ancient
Late I’ve found you, beauty ever new
Here I am now
Burning for your love.*
Are these not words of a person in love? Yet how fitting it is, how natural that those who are called to celibacy express such feelings we normally equate with that stirring of desire called eros! And from listening to the stories of my friends, their call to religious life was much like a falling-in-love experience. I believe the reason for this lies somewhere in the generous and generative nature of God’s love, which is always an invitation into intimacy and deepening friendship. In this fundamental starting point, we all are one.
Living a religious life is a vocation. Marriage too, is a vocation. But one need not be subject or subservient to the other. Rather than a hierarchy of states, I prefer to see things as a complement of vocations, all from a resolve and response to love.
Today was another encounter with the graces of religious life. Today three more young people pledged their lives to God. Today hundreds in attendance witnessed and celebrated this. How fitting and timely it is that in marking the first anniversary of his papacy, Pope Francis tweeted such simple words: Please pray for me.**
*The song (Alive in You) is an adaptation of the prayer from St Augustine, “Late Have I Found You”. Music by Bernadinus Tertius Asmon SVD.
** In juxtaposition are the words of my grandmother, whose experience of those in consecrated life and the priesthood reflect the culture of her time. She once told me about how she refused to pray for those in religious life even though the Church called for it. Her logic was that these group of people did not need her prayers as a lay woman, seeing that they’re already “holy”, as if a class above. A smile formed across my face, in part horror and amusement, as she burst into laughter, “Now I know better! How stupid your Mama was!”
G. Anderson. 15 March 2014.