joy-consecrated-lifeAn excerpt from Pope Francis' Letter to Consecrate Men and Women.

"This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy, joy...". The joy of bringing God's consolation to all. These are the words spoken by Pope Francis during his meeting with seminarians and novices. "There is no holiness in sadness", the Holy Father continued. Do not grieve like others who have no hope, wrote St. Paul (1Thess 4:13).

Joy is not a useless ornament. It is a necessity, the foundation of human life. In their daily struggles, every man and woman tries to attain joy and abide in it with the totality of their being.

In the world there is often a lack of joy. We are not called to accomplish epic feats or to proclaim high-sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing we are loved, from the confidence that we are saved.

Our short memories and flimsy experiences often prevent us from searching for the 'lands of joy' where we can relish God's reflection. We have a thousand reasons for remaining in joy. Its roots are nourished by listening with faith and perseverance to the Word of God. In the school of the Master we hear: may my joy be in you and may your joy be complete (Jn 15:11) and we are taught how to practise perfect joy.

"Sadness and fear must give way to joy: Rejoice... be glad... rejoice with her in joy, says the prophet (Is 66:10). It is a great invitation to joy. [...] Every Christian, and especially you and I, we are called to be bearers of this message of hope giving serenity and joy, God's consolation, his tenderness towards all. But if we first experience the joy of being consoled by him, of being loved by him, then we can bring that joy to others. [...] I have occasionally met consecrated persons who are afraid of the consolations of God. They were tormented, because they were afraid of this divine tenderness. But be not afraid. Do not be afraid, because the Lord is the Lord of consolation, the Lord of tenderness. The Lord is a Father and he says that he will be for us like a mother with her baby, with a mother's tenderness. Do not be afraid of the consolations of the Lord."(9)

Your calling

4. "In calling you God says to you: 'You are important to me, I love you, I am counting on you'. Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from that! The joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me. Understanding and hearing this is the secret of our joy. Feeling loved by God, feeling that for him we are not numbers but people; and we know that it is he who is calling us."(10)

Pope Francis directs our attention to the spiritual foundations of our humanity, to see what is given to us gratuitously by free divine sovereignty and free human response: Then Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Mk 10:21).

The Pope recalls: "Jesus, at the Last Supper, turns to the Apostles with these words: You did not choose me, but I chose you (Jn 15:16). They remind us all, not only those of us who are priests, that vocation is always an initiative of God. It is Christ who called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means continuously making an 'exodus' from yourselves in order to centre your life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).(11)

The Pope invites us on a pilgrimage in reverse, a pathway of knowledge to discover ourselves on the streets of Palestine or near the boat of the humble fisherman of Galilee. He invites us to contemplate the beginnings of a journey or rather, of an event initiated by Christ, when the nets were left on the lake shore, the taxcollector's desk by the side of the road, the ambitions of the zealot among discarded plans. All are inappropriate means for staying with him.

He invites us to remain for a long time, on an interior pilgrimage, before the dawn, when, in a warm environment of friendly relationships, the intellect is led to open itself to mystery, the decision is made that it is good to set out to follow this Master who alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68). He invites us to make our whole "life a pilgrimage of loving transformation." (12)

Pope Francis calls us to pause at that opening scene: "The joy of the moment when Jesus looked at me"(13) and to recall the important and demanding, underlying meaning of our vocation: "It is a response to a call, a call of love".(14) To stay with Christ requires us to share our lives, our choices, the obedience of faith, the happiness of poverty, the radicality of love.

It is about being reborn through vocation. "I invite all Christians [...] at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ today, at least to an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day."(15)

Paul brings us back to this fundamental vision: no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid (1Cor 3:11). The word 'vocation' indicates a free gift, like a reservoir of life that never ceases renewing humanity and the Church in the depths of their being.

In the experience of vocation, God is indeed the mysterious subject of an act of calling. We hear a voice that calls us to life and discipleship for the Kingdom. Pope Francis in recalling "You are important to me", uses direct speech, in the first person, so that awareness might emerge. He calls to consciousness my opinion and my judgement, requiring behaviour consistent with my self-awareness, with the call that I hear addressed to me, my personal call. "I would like to say to those who feel indifferent to God or to faith, and to those who are far from God or who have distanced themselves from him, and to us also, with our 'distancing' and our 'abandonment' of God, that may seem insignificant but are so numerous in our daily life: look into the depths of your heart, look into your own inner depths and ask yourself: do you have a heart that desires something great, or a heart that has been lulled to sleep by things? Has your heart maintained a restlessness searching or have you let it be suffocated by things that will finally harden it?"(16)

The relationship with Jesus Christ asks to be nourished by this restless searching. This makes us aware of the gratuity of the gift of a vocation and helps us to explain the reasons for our initial choice and for our perseverance. "Letting Christ make us his own always means straining forward to what lies ahead, to the goal of Christ (cf. Phil 3:14)".(17) To continue listening to God requires that these questions become the coordinates guiding the rhythm of our daily life.

This inexpressible mystery, leading us within, sharing in the indescribable mystery of God, can only be interpreted in faith. "Faith is our response to a word that engages us personally, to a 'Thou' who calls us by name"(18) and "as a response to a word which preceded it, would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken".(19) "Faith contains our own memory of God's history with us, the memory of our encounter with God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of his word that warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. [...] The one who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others."(20) It is the memory of being called here and now.


Read on:  Letter to Consecrate Men and Women

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