Why Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church, and why should we celebrate it?
Every 2nd of February the Catholic Church celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, which is equally the celebration of the consecrated life. This celebration is often limited to men and women who have devoted their lives to serve God as religious. In a few dioceses this particular day for the religious is celebrated, though often with a minimal participation of the laity. One could ask: is the feast of the consecrated life ‘something’ only for the religious? How should the entire Church celebrate this feast and, in this way, feel part of this all-important celebration of the Church when it is generally seen as a feast for just a group of people?
Pope John Paul II on the Consecrated Life
Pope St. John-Paul II in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, succinctly defined the consecrated life as “a life “deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord and a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one – are made constantly “visible” in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realisation in heaven” (Vita Consecrata 1).
Pope John-Paul II, after having convened this synod, wrote this Apostolic Exhortation to remind all the faithful of what consecrated life means, not just for the religious considered as consecrated men and women, but also to make everyone understand profoundly that the consecrated life is a gift to the whole universal Church.
The Consecrated Life: a Gift to the Church
The consecrated life according to John Paul-II is first of all a gift. It is a gift because “its universal presence and the evangelical nature of its witness are clear evidence, if any were needed, that the consecrated life is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality which affects the whole Church.” The gift is special to the Church because it is a “life which has not only proved a help and support for the Church in the past, but is also a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission.”
The religious life is a precious gift of inestimable value in the Church because of its uniqueness, indeed it is a treasure enriching the Church. Thus, by its various charisms and apostolates, the kingdom of God is made alive, visible and present in our world today. Just as Jesus was offered in the temple, the consecrated life is celebrated by the Church as the self-giving of all consecrated persons (in particular), but also of all the faithful by virtue of their baptism.
Today the Church celebrates the consecrated men and women who, over the years, have played immeasurable roles in the mission of the Church. John-Paul II stated that the faithful in the Church are reassured because they know that they can draw, from the contribution of these generous souls, powerful support for their journey towards the heavenly home.
Why do we Celebrate the Feast of Consecrated Life?
Though on the 2nd of February we celebrate especially the men and women who have said ‘Yes’ to the Lord in a unique form of life valued by the Church, it is, at the same time, a universal feast of the Church and therefore the whole Church is celebrating. This feast enables the Church to celebrate the gift of God to the Church through charisms, apostolates, and pastoral activities in education, health, orphanage homes, Internally displaced people (IDPs), care for the marginalized and victims of trafficking etc., for the sake of the proclamation of God’s Kingdom. As a Missionary of Africa, we do not only celebrate our identity that day, we also celebrate our commitment to the Mission in Africa, promotion of justice and peace and the integrity of creation, appreciating the human values we share with our Muslim brothers and sisters as well as striving for Christian unity.
Who should Celebrate the Feast of the Consecrated Life?
The celebration of the 2nd of February should be an event for the whole community since the consecrated life is a gift to the Church. It should enable the faithful to understand deeply what this gift entails. Hence, it should be celebrated at different levels, diocesan, deanery, parishes, schools and community. This is a celebration that enables the people of God to be informed because we bring to their knowledge the various missionary activities of the consecrated men and women in the Church and how the Church is enriched by their presence. It is an opportunity for interaction with them, thereby creating an awareness of the need for more labourers in the vineyard. This celebration fosters proximity with the faithful and broadens their knowledge of the consecrated life, making them understand how they too can support and collaborate in the mission.
Just like the ministerial priesthood, celebrated on Holy Thursday, is a gift not just to priests only, but to the universal Church because it is a ministry of service enjoyed by the entire Church, so in like manner on the 2nd of February the entire Church celebrates the gift of men and women who have consecrated their lives for the sake of the kingdom. It is a universal celebration, because these men and women are committed to various kinds of missionary activities through the spread of the gospel of Christ.
By: Toby NDIUKWU (M.Afr.)