Parishes, collaboratives, the archdiocese, and the whole Church are enriched by the presence of men and women living the consecrated life. An increase in vocations to consecrated life will be a blessing for all.
Many parishes are blessed with consecrated men and women religious on parish staffs or, as parishioners, worshipping with the parish community. Helping parishes become strong, stable, effective centers of evangelization has been their work, implicitly or explicitly, long before Disciples in Mission was promulgated. Sister Marian Batho, CSJ, Delegate for Religious for the archdiocese, reminds us, "We (sisters) came here (to Boston) for pastoral planning. We didn't call it that back then, but there were pastoral needs. Today, the pastoral need is to 'Wake up the world!'"
Sister Marian borrows this phrase from Pope Francis who, in a January interview, exhorted consecrated men and women: "Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world." Pope Francis has named 2015 the Year of Consecrated Life. He will open the year with Mass Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent. The National Religious Vocations Conference has made "Wake up the world" the theme for the year. They list a three-pronged focus for the Year of Consecrated Life:
-- renewal for men and women in consecrated life,
-- thanksgiving among the faithful for the service of sisters, brothers, priests, and nuns,
-- invitation to young Catholics to consider a religious vocation.
It is important to encourage young men and women to listen for God's call. Sister Marian agrees with Father Dan Hennessey, director of the archdiocese's vocations office, who reminds us, "We are all given the universal call to holiness and everyone from a young age should be asking: What does God want me to do with the life He has given me?"
Sister Marian adds "...God has a unique plan for each one of us."
Vocation work is about introducing the concept of call. The good news about religious life is that there are many ways to answer that call. In her ongoing vocations work, Sister Marian organizes two discernment groups: Fiat, a discernment group for single women considering a vocation to religious life in the Church, and The Samuel Circle for single men discerning religious life. Both groups meet monthly. In this noisy world, where it is hard to hear God's voice, Sister Marian sees a culture that does not support a decision to live a consecrated life. In 2013, 67 percent of those expressing an interest in the consecrated life were discouraged by friends or family from doing so. As with vocations to the priesthood and permanent diaconate, it is important for family and friends to identify a potential candidate and simply ask the question: "Have you ever thought about...."
In her work as delegate, Sister Marian interacts with religious communities of men and women who minister and live within the Archdiocese of Boston. She reports that currently there are over 2300 sisters, brothers, and religious priests here. Each year the major superiors of women religious and the major superiors of religious men meet with Cardinal Seán. Earlier this fall, Father James Flavin, Episcopal Vicar for the Central Region, met with more than 200 sisters who are involved in ministry in the Central Region. Sister Marian describes the work these sisters do as, "not the flashy stuff that gets accolades." They work with the homeless, new peoples, and in parishes as pastoral associates, doing work that reflects Pope Francis' call to serve the poor and those on the margins.
Occasionally, a comment is made that parish life was better when "the sisters were here." They worked tirelessly for little to no pay -- and saved the parish budget. The presence of the sisters or brothers must never be reduced to an asset in the annual financial report. Their commitment to a way of life centered in Jesus Christ makes them walking evangelizers -- even before they speak a word. Parishes, collaboratives, the archdiocese, and the whole Church are enriched by the presence of men and women living the consecrated life. An increase in vocations to consecrated life will be a blessing for all.
With the implementation of Disciples in Mission, the Archdiocese of Boston has embarked on a new model of leadership, hoping to awaken and renew the spirit of evangelization in Catholics. The focus of the Year of Consecrated Life can be applied to each of us: spiritual renewal, thanksgiving for the gift of faith, and intentionally inviting others to get to know the Lord.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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