New and special consecration
Journeying towards wholeness and holiness
In the last module we have reflected about “new and special” and “particular” consecration which we are gifted when we said “yes” to the call of God. We shall now see the same from the perspective of our life journey as a consecrated person.
Do you find, at times, the teachings and discourses on consecrated life and evangelical vows as fine rhetoric than true life experience? Do they sound like a good funeral sermon or a farewell speech which shower praise and homage which the person himself/herself and his/her closest relatives and friends would enjoy listening but doubt their truth? As a religious you may, perhaps, wonder whether what you read about consecrated life, evangelical counsels and community is really about the life you and your community members live. The bitter memories of certain events in your story and bleeding emotional wounds collected on your journey may make you doubt whether all the beautiful things spoken and written about consecrated life were a humbug!
The “funeral” faces of some religious and those joyless “spinsters” in convents are certainly not the best specimen of the “brides” of Christ celebrating the “new and special” consecration. Are they, perhaps, those brides who managed to get in ‘without oil in their lamps’ (Mt 25.3)? Certainly, you would not normally count yourself among them, even though all of us would be in the ‘list of bad religious’ in the mind of one or the other persons closer to us. Could the “sour faces” among the consecrated be like those unruly strokes of a great painter on his unfinished masterpieceeyed by an amateur onlooker when the work is on progress? It is too early to judge the finale of a work when it is only half way through. Often, the people whom we harshly judge are God’s fine pieces of art in the making!
What does Jesus promise when he calls?
If you are serious about your consecrated life, you will know that the promises of consecrated life are truly realized in our lived life. Jesus does not call someone with the false promisesof unlimited success, gleaming bonus gifts, effortless gain, 100% satisfaction guaranteed and 24/7 customer care. He calls people to follow him to repent and believe in the gospel (Mk 1.15), to give up family, kith and kin and carry their own cross (Lk 14-15-27), sell all possessions and give to the poor (Mt 19: 16-22) and lay down one’s life for others (Jn.15.13). There is no lure and no coercion to follow him. He only invites, “If you want … “ (Mt 16.24; 19.21). He presents himself as the son of man who has nowhere to lay his head (Lk 9.58), who has to suffer many things and be rejected by elders, priests and scribes and be killed (Mk: 8.31). He chose to be present at the peripheries of human existence where the real drama of human life is acted out in the midst of betrayal, suffering and death. He invites his followers to walk with him to these existential peripheries both within them and out in the society. Yet his call is unmistakably special and precious. From there he teaches us the “secret” of transforming the worst of the world into the best of life through the shower of true Love.
Love that endures to the very end (Jn 13.1) ) breaks open the door to new life in his rising to life on the third day (Mk 8.31). Through him, with him and in him, we have the secure route that leads to the true treasure in life which no thief can steal, no moth can eat (Mt 6.19). People who have taken the route testify to the blessedness he promised to the poor, to those who mourn, to the meek, to those who hunger and thirst for justice, to the merciful, to the pure of heart, to the peace makers and the persecuted for righteousness (Mt 5,1-12). Those who follow his way find true joy, abiding love and everlasting life.
The whisper of a call
There is already something “special” and “particular”, when a young man or a woman considers consecrated life for himself/herself rather than dreaming of romantic adventures or promising future careers. It can be that “special” lure of the Spirit from within to take the challenge of the crucified, which the heart knows at least vaguely, but reason does not comprehend. It can also be moved by other spirits such as fear, anxiety, temporary religious fads etc., due to “particular” situations such as issues of sexual identity or “special” family situations. In the complexity of many spirits and the maze of mixed motivations, one can get badly caught up. It is important to unambiguously present the challenge of the Gospel before the young peopleso that they can differentiate the voice of the multitude of hovering mundane spirits and listen to the whisper of the Spirit of Truth who calls each one by name.
Consecrated life already begins on a slippery ground when vocation promotion borrows from the wisdom of the world using publicity tactics and seductive advertisements to invite young men/women to consider an “exciting journey of life”. It may water down the challenge of the crosswhich is central to consecrated life. Ambiguous advertisements can confuse unsettled seekers who start their vocational journey as one who hastily jumped into a train to find himself travelling to the opposite of the direction he was hoping for. The person who has found the way of the crucified Lord attractive either before or at least after starting this “special and particular” journey in life, will hopefully stick to the chosen way. Others will have to fall out sooner or later or remain “nesting” joylessly as in a cage. The task of vocation promotion is to help people to listen to the whisper of the Lord in the midst of clamorous calls of a seductive world. The fragrance of the joy of a consecrated person and the attractiveness of the authenticity of his/her consecration are more effective to evoke the divine seduction in the heart of the young people.
Preparing for the journey
The journey of “special and particular consecration” becomes all the more complex because of the confusion of the pushes and pulls in the heart of people today. We have access to almost everything a “click away”, if you are among the blessed few who have “the secret of attracting money, love and anything you want”. The media revolution assisted by the bolstered information technology seems to mesmerize people into believing in the magic world of images. The young people who come to religious life also come with the ethos of our times with many elements in it which stick out against their conscious choice of following the crucified Lord.
Contemporary society seems to be going through a transitional stage. I find it exciting to live in our times as a consecrated person as I fully participate in its evolution and at the same time observe it from a distance. We also need to keep awake to the truth of the Gospel so as not to fall into the temptation of falling for easy solutions “one click away”.Often we are not aware of ourselves being “brain washed” by the subtle ideologies of the consumer world and its promises of “eternal happiness” here on earth, even though we watch the fall of goliaths one after the other.
We cannot move ahead in a vehicle when its back wheels pull backwards, though the front wheels try forward. Perhaps more than ever we need to sharpen the spiritual tool of discernmentto harness and direct the forces within us in the path proper to consecrated life. It needs clear options and courageous decisions in order to renounce freely what we have chosen to give up (marriage, family, possessions, power) so as to follow “the form of life Christ chose for himself” without looking for “digital solutions” of imaginary substitutes through various forms of media abuse possible today.
The take off
You cannot build the third floor to live in a magnificent room with a Lakeview without first laying foundations and constructing the lower floors. Consecrated life is built on the baptismal consecration. If it does not make a difference for you to be a baptized person, consecrated life will be like a milestone tied to your neck. Is it that you happened to be a Christian because you were born in a Catholic family? Have you come to value your Christian life and the difference it makes on you?Encountering Jesus in one’s life is the beginning of a “love affair” from which is born the invitation to follow his way of life. Then we will know from personal experience what Pope Francis told us to ponder:
“ Itisnotthesamethingtohave knownJesusasnottohaveknownhim,notthe same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him,toworshiphim,tofindourpeaceinhim, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by ourownlights. WeknowwellthatwithJesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier tofindmeaningineverything” (Evangelium Gaudium. 266).
Perhaps many ailing consecrated lives are causalities of the collapse of a spiritual structure constructed on the sand of mundane motivations rather than on baptismal foundations. How much attention do we give to consolidate the baptismal consecration in the candidates in our formation houses? What do we do to enkindle the yearning of the young hearts for their Lord and master? It is much more than making them to parrot the catechism lessons to get through exams in the first year of initiation. Without the foundation of an experiential faith, formation would turn out to be merely intellectual gymnastics, breeding “little monsters” rather than zealous disciples.
The route towards fullness of life and love proper to Christian life and particularly to consecrated life is that of the Pasqual mystery of dying to oneself and rising to new life. This logic seems to be embedded in all forms of growth in nature. One has to give up the comfort of the womb to be born into the world, giving up the security of childhood and then adolescence to welcome adulthood with the accompanying loss of the comfort of dependency (and less responsibility) and the gain of access to new possibilities and responsibilities. In psychological and spiritual growth the cycle of breaking and building, dying and rising is inevitable to move to higher levels of consciousness and greater flow of love. Failure to break the infantile mental structures proper to younger age and the refusal to give up early ego-identifications as a person advances in age may delay or defeat the journey towards wholeness and holiness. Consecrated life calls for higher levels of human maturity and personal transcendence to live its freedom meaningfully, especially that of evangelical vows. If formation does not stimulate the growth of persons in freedom and self-giving love, we will have to settle with a company of “adult children” playing out a wonderful religious drama. They enjoy wearing the habits and rehearsing the dialogues. Superiors will have a hard time ‘babysitting’, if they cannot enjoy the drama.
Growing in consecrated life takes the route of the “special and particular” way of the cross, the dynamics of dying and rising. Naïve religious soon get disillusioned when they start the journey with the idea of consecrated life as a static form of ‘living happily ever after’ the first profession. If they do not learn to confront difficulties of life through the transforming power of the mystery of the cross, they may not survive even mild storms of life. The current philosophy of life prevalent in the society has easy solutions in painkillers, cosmetic surgeries, all sorts of quick fixes (even spiritual ones) that tend to boost an ailing market economy rather than aiding the human potential to face and grow through the struggles of life.
In an authentic journey of life difficulties become opportunities of grace and growth. The crisis moments are indeed the precious moments of spiritual emergence and awakening. As one grows closer and closer to the sentiments of Christ, sporadically experienced unconditional love, pure joy and abiding peace become a more stable state of the heart. Of course a crisis is to be distinguished from a calamity. The pangs of a woman in childbirth is different from the anguish of a woman dying of cancer. The bruise on the knee of a toddler who slipped on the floor while attempting to walk is different from the broken bones of a drunken driver who recklessly hit against a lamp post. The muddy waters in a pristine river after a heavy storm is different from the stinking waters of a polluted river carrying irresponsible deposit of a factory waste. The first is the healthy groaning of birth and growth while the second is the tragic angst of death and decay. A crisis needs patient waiting and accompaniment proper to the process of birthing. There is joy and hope in that pain. But a calamity needs courageous interventions to protect life and prevent death and destruction. It is marked by the pervading sadness with no joy or hope around it. The route to recover joy and hope is through conversion, healing and recuperation of the meaning in life.
In you want to grow in consecrated life, you will have to allow many “crises”, in the form of a tension with your superiors, a conflict in the community or workplace, a fascinating “infatuation” for a beautiful face, a tryst with your mood swings or other challenges. They may be “happy sins” (felix culpa) of salvific leaps . You need to learn to be patient like a midwife assisting your own birthing with the help of the Holy Spirit as you grow into someone better and newer. Your new unfolding will surely bring you closer to the Love that is willing to suffer to give birth to Life. But pervading sadness, persisting aggressiveness or paralyzing negativity in the life of a consecrated person could be urgent calls for an emergency spiritual or psychiatric ambulanceservice. An event of Spiritual emergence contains a deep sense of joy and peace within the heart of the person even when one is wriggling in the pain of birthing.
Points to ponder
How do you deal with your crisis moments? What is the place of paschal mystery in your life?
How do you tackle conflicts in your community? Do you tend to question your vocation when you face difficulties? If so, what does it tell you about yourself?
Review your life and see how you have confronted some of the difficult moments in your recent past. If they were to occur again, how differently would you face them?