We know that all Catholics are called to witness to the Gospel and to tell others of their Catholic faith.[i] However, religious could be said to be prime witnesses to the faith:
‘those who are called to the consecrated life have a special experience of the light which shines forth from the Incarnate Word... “How good it is to be with you” (Matt.17:4), to devote ourselves to you, to make you the one focus of our lives!’[ii]
They have (or should have!) the time to ‘imbibe’ Christ, so-to-speak, to sit at his feet so that they can go out, reflecting this light of the Incarnate Word.
The Goal of Charity
This light of Christ grows brighter through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience - and in my own Dominican tradition, it grows brighter also through the assiduous study of sacred truth and through the monastic observances. Through these observances we endeavour to give something back to God, to ‘praise Him, to bless Him and to preach His Gospel’. Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare is the motto for the Dominicans. And how appropriate is the motto for the work of catechesis, for in catechesis we are surely assisting others to respond to his grace so as to praise, bless and preach Him.
For everyone, the goal of life is charity. In religious life, the observances, the classical structure of our lives, lead us to grow into a contemplative attitude, precisely so that we may be in communion with the God of charity and with one another. The light of Christ is not ‘put under a tub’[iii] and kept just for personal comfort and direction – it is given so that we may share it with others.
Catechesis on Religious Life
Priests and religious, who are often directly involved in catechesis, have a ‘pre-eminent field for their apostolate’[iv] and so can explain the priesthood and religious vocations and their value in the Church. And our catechesis on religious and priestly vocations can be well-informed if we draw especially on the Sacred Scriptures, the documents of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
A catechesis on the Church can be a prime moment to consider the religious vocation. If we are to understand the Church, in fact, then it is essential that the consecrated life has its place in our topics for catechesis. Our starting point should be that ‘Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church’ and ‘in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time.’[v] Religious life ‘belongs undeniably to the Church’s life and holiness’.[vi] All catechesis has as its thrust the call of all to the Beatific Vision. And the religious ‘pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, signifies and proclaims in the Church the glory of the world to come.’[vii] By informed catechesis on religious vocation parents will be encouraged to foster vocations and younger persons will be more open to a religious or priestly vocation.
Witnessing to the Value of Religious Life
Too often, religious are not easily recognizable - so this means that many lay people do not even have an awareness that religious still exist today! That many religious do not wear outward signs of their consecration is, in my opinion, a great pity. In my experience, the argument that individuals will not approach a ‘habited’ religious is not borne out. Rather, the witness value of the habit is undeniable.
Similarly, the witness of a common regular life, the dying to oneself that is needed to live out religious life authentically, is also essential. Our life in common is a sharing in Christ’s self-emptying and so equips us to ‘preach Christ and Him crucified.’[viii] Building on this witness, all in the Church can be helped to understand the value of the state of life of those called to tread in the footsteps of Christ in his poverty, chastity and obedience.
Our catechesis should help participants to see that religious have given their over their lives completely, and in a special way to God – ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will’[ix] – so that they can be available to all in the Church, no matter what the cost or inconvenience. After all, God does not take a day off - especially not on Sundays!
Let our witness and our catechesis concerning religious and priestly vocations radiate the light of Christ!
[i] ‘All the Christian faithful have the duty and right to work so that the divine message of salvation may increasingly reach the whole of humankind in every age and in every land.’ (The Code of Canon Law, Canon 211).
[ii] Vita Consecrata 15.
[iv] Catechesi Tradendae 16.
[v] Catechism of the Catholic Church 926.
[vi] Lumen Gentium 44.
[vii] Cf. The Code of Canon Law, Canon 573.
[viii] Cf. 1 Cor. 23.
[ix] Heb. 10:17.
This article is originally found on page 18 of the printed edition.