By Tanya Connor
Education and inspiration.
These are among benefits of consecrated life – for those in it and those to whom they minister. Religious men and women, the bishop and a seminarian made these points at, or after, the Diocesan celebration of consecrated life Sunday at St. Paul Cathedral in Worcester.
Religious priests concelebrated the Mass with Bishop McManus. Religious sisters and a brother sang in the choir and read the Scriptures.
“We appreciated having the Mass, because it was a way for us to put our religious life in the sight of the public,” said Sister Hilda Ponte, provincial for the United States Province of the Religious Venerini Sisters. This gave importance to religious life and showed it is alive and well in the Diocese, she said.
Usually such celebrations are within one community, but this brought different communities together and helped religious feel united in celebrating “what our life is all about,” she said.
Sister Cathleen Toomey talked about aspects of that life, rejoicing in Pope Francis’ focus on mercy and compassion. She is a Sister of Mercy of the Americas, and works as administrative assistant to the regional superior of the Augustinians of the Assumption.
“It validated what I felt as a Sister of Mercy and what I hope I have lived,” she said of the pope’s focus since his election. She said the Mercy Sisters’ constitution acknowledges that they can be merciful only through God’s mercy.
“Mercy and compassion are not a call simply to the Sisters of Mercy,” she said. This call is also to members of the Church at large, and especially the religious, who have made a public commitment expressing their desire to reach out to those most in need of God’s mercy.
Those in ministry were not the only religious being celebrated Sunday, Sister Cathleen said. Also being celebrated were those no longer active, who offer their prayers and frailties for others.
“We’re celebrating their moment in life when they can be a source of strength,” she said.
Both active and contemplative religious are a source of strength. Lucas LaRoche, who is preparing for diocesan priesthood, said “their presence and their assured prayers” helped him with his vocation and probably help people who don’t realize it.
Upon reading Pope John Paul II’s statement that the diocesan priest is to be a contemplative in the world, “I figured I’d better find out what a contemplative is,” the seminarian said. “That sent me on a mission.” He said he met Benedictines from St. Mary’s Monastery and St. Scholastica Priory in Petersham and more active communities, including the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Still River.
Benedictine Brother Bernard Osbaldeston, of St. Mary’s Monastery, said he entered consecrated life because of something he studied in philosophy and theology.
“Happiness lies in contemplation of God,” he said. “And we get closest to that, it seems, in contemplative life. That’s why I entered a contemplative order.
“It’s a far simpler life. You know what you need to do to get to heaven because you have obedience. In a way, you’re a lot freer. In the outside world you have general principles,” but many times it’s difficult to figure out what’s the right thing to do.
“I saw there is not necessarily an opposition between obedience and freedom,” Brother Bernard said. “When I was in love with a girl I would’ve done anything for her. I’m glad I had that experience in my life. It may well have helped me to apply this principle at an infinitely higher level.” Something like a person in love, a religious who is living his life out of love for God can easily want to do God’s will, he said. Then the vow of obedience can give him greater freedom instead of limiting his freedom, because he sees his end – heaven.
When his fellow Benedictine, Brother Vincent Catanzano, was asked what he wanted to share about consecrated life, he extended an invitation: “Come to St. Mary’s Monastery.”
Why should people do that?
“To experience the quietness, so they can listen to what God’s telling them, tune out all the noise,” he responded. “People need to get away and let their minds and hearts be silent. I think more Catholics should visit monasteries and have that experience, even if you don’t have that vocation.”
Men and women can attend the liturgies of the priests and brothers at St. Mary’s and their sister community at St. Scholastica’s, he said. They can also make private retreats there.
At the supermarket, people ask the monks about themselves and don’t seem to understand their lifestyle and work, Brother Vincent said.
“If you’re Catholic you should be aware of why we’re there, what the religious communities are doing,” he said. “And it’s good for young people to know that’s out there. They could be drawn to that. Or just to educate themselves.”
“Pope John Paul, for our generation, was unparalleled” in influencing young people and encouraging them to pursue their vocation, whatever it was, said Sister Mary Emmanuel Wade, a 35-year-old from St. Scholastica’s. That included religious life. He understood the illusion of fear that comes from the world, and encouraged youth to follow Christ, she said.
All Christians are called to holiness, Bishop McManus said in his homily, and noted that this year Pope Francis has invited the universal Church to focus on consecrated life as a path to holiness.
“The Catholic school system in the United States successfully took the children and grandchildren of poor immigrants and moved them from the periphery of American society to its economic and cultural center,” through the instruction of religious, the bishop said. He suggested that some listeners were educated by them or drawn to priestly or religious life because of them. The story of consecrated life in the Diocese and nation must proudly be remembered and celebrated, he said.
Consecrated life has had setbacks in the last 50 or 60 years, years, but it will not disappear because the Church will always need it, the bishop said. He spoke of religious giving themselves totally, without reservation, to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience for their own salvation and the salvation of the world.
He noted that Jesus called for prayer to foster religious vocations: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. So pray to the harvest-master to send many laborers into the harvest.”
So, the bishop said, during this Mass at which worshippers thanked God for consecrated life, they must pray for more vocations. He thanked the religious and asked that “the Lord of the harvest” reward them.