I am most happy to celebrate this Mass with the Religious Sisters who serve so selflessly here in the Diocese of Orlando. As Bishop, this Mass gives me the opportunity not only to congratulate the jubilarians for their years of consecrated life but also to thank them and all of you for all that you do – but more importantly to thank you for who you are.
If we in the Church were only to acknowledge you for the things you do, we would be sorely remiss. That’s not to say you, in all the various ministries and particular charisms you represent, do not do wonderful and important things. And we are grateful; however, who you are, as consecrated religious, is the real gift. Pope John Paul II said it so well in Vita Consecrata: “Consecrated life is the gift of the Father to the Church through the Holy Spirit.”
The other day, I was reviewing a vocation video on religious life, and one sister was said that one day when walking in some downtown area, a little girl saw her, pointed to her and said to her mother: Mommy, look there goes the Church… She said this, because of her habit – and not because of her size.
But the little girl grasped a profound truth about the nature of consecrated life. You “consecrated” are the Church “concentrated” – as it were. Your lives as consecrated religious is at the very heart of the Church – because your radical embrace of the gospel makes manifest the inner nature of every Christian’s calling. Or, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the ultimate norm of religious life is the following of Christ (vitae religiosae ultima norma sequela Christi). You are vowed to live the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience which the world – and too often the faithful – see as simply renunciations. However, they are more than that – for each counsel in its own unique way is a specific acceptance of the Mystery of Christ lived within the Church. As I said, you are the Church concentrated. And through you and your witness, the evangelical counsels – “characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, poor, obedient one, are made constantly visible in the midst of the world.
Behind the altar here at St. James Cathedral, we have depicted the Transfiguration of Christ in the presence of three chosen disciples. In John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata, an apostolic exhortation delivered after the Synod on Consecrated Life in 1995, he describes religious life as an “Icon of the Transfigured Christ” – for the vowed life does proclaim and anticipate the future age when we will experience the fullness of the Kingdom.
Vatican II rightly emphasized all the baptized are called to holiness. Thus, all are equally called to follow Christ, to discover in him the ultimate meaning of our existence. However, like those chosen disciples, those whose baptismal consecration has developed into a radical response to the following of Christ expressed in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience have a “special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word”.
The words spoken by Peter: “Lord, it is well that we are here” (Mt 17:4) can be appropriated most fittingly by you in your response to your vocation to the consecrated life. You too can say: how good it is for us to be with you, Lord; to devote ourselves to you, to make you the one focus of our lives!
As the Church “concentrated”, you give us a unique witness to the implication of our own baptismal call to holiness. Your consecrated life is a gift to the Church that makes manifest the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.
And for this reason, we say, and I say this in the name of all the people of God here in this diocese, how good it is for us that you chose to be with the Lord, to devote yourselves to the Lord, to make him the one focus of your lives.