Gaudete Sunday is a Blueprint for Consecrated Life - Year of Consecrated Life
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I remember the day I started smiling and have not been able to stop since. I was a novice. It was the moment, in a 15 day silent retreat where I discovered in a way that was, at that time and every moment since, beyond my comprehension, how I am tenderly, eternally, exquisitely LOVED. I honestly have not been able to stop smiling since that moment.
SOLT Sisters on the day of their Perpetual Profession
style="margin: 0px; text-align: justify; line-height: normal; font-family: Georgia;">NAGA CITY, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - When we look at the Mass for 3rd Sunday of Advent, we are overwhelmed by joy, by unceasing, soul-deep, grateful, in-all-circumstances, encouraging, fortifying, eternal, holy, consecrated JOY.
This too ought to describe the life of a consecrated person. Well, first let's stop there and answer the question of what is a consecrated person. They are "characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 944).
There are new forms of consecrated life that address many different needs in the Church and in mankind: consecrated hermits, consecrated virgins, consecrated widows, secular institutes, and societies of apostolic life, and of course, religious orders. These all are consecrated persons who make some kind of commitment in an ecclesiastically authenticated, public way.
Pope Francis said in his Message for the Year of Consecrated Life:
"That the old saying will always be true: "Where there are religious, there is joy". We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness...None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for "a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom". Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older. But in all these things we should be able to discover "perfect joy". For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross."
In other words, they should be deeply rejoiced, truly happy, fundamentally and profoundly joyful.
Because they are loved. This is the deepest identity of a consecrated person in the Church, a person who is overflowing with grateful joy at being so beloved to God, so personally and tangibly loved by Him.
Ever seen a wife who is deeply, passionately, respectfully, consistently, constantly, through-every-trial-life-can-throw-at-their-mariage, totally LOVED?
Ok they do exist. Contrary to popular opinion and its inherent cynicism about marriage, there are men out there who are not so damaged as to be able to make their wife know a shadow of God's eternal and unconditional love.
Well, a consecrated person, by their consecration is conjoined, covenanted, espoused, or mystically "married," to God. He is the best spouse anyone could ever want.
He always listens, always waits, is eternally patient, forgives before, during, and after offense a million times a million times. He sends tokens of love all day long every day, even in the middle of the night. He is the most exquisite provider and protector, defender and warrior fighting for love.
The more he is forgotten, spurned, rejected, hated, misunderstood, falsely accused, misrepresented, misinterpreted, stepped on, and maltreated by his spouse, even for decades, the more zealous he is in chasing after and pursuing his beloved.
But wait, there is a catch. One who is espoused has to give up everything, everyone, even her very self, to the utmost depths of her being, radically abandoning herself to the beloved. You think this is easy? You think it sounds romantic? It will crucify her and make her look every day more like her Beloved Crucified Spouse.
Yet, the more she surrenders to him, the more she becomes the best version of herself, the truest and freest version. The moment she surrenders and to the degree she allows herself to become one with Love Himself, even though she may go through every possible pain and torture, is the degree she becomes one with Pure Love, and is given the most sublime consolation: possession of Love Himself.
That. Is why consecrated men and women usually are so very happy.
Just look. Look at a consecrated person who is, by the grace of God, living their commitment, and you will find an icon of joy, a little piece of heaven, a person who has their being already participating in heaven's vision of God in some way.
When working with young people, I make a "bet" with them. I bet they cannot point out a moment when my countenance is not happy. I don't mean smiling, because when I lift heaving things, or have to deal with frustrating situations I might show stress on my face, but the background is definitely a deep unceasing joy. I've never lost that bet.
I remember the day I started smiling and have not been able to stop since. I was a novice. It was the moment, in a 15 day silent retreat where I discovered in a way that was, at that time and every moment since, beyond my comprehension, how I am tenderly, eternally, exquisitely LOVED. I honestly have not been able to stop smiling since that moment. It was when joy invaded me. It was a grace. It not an uncommon grace for a consecrated person. It happens simply by "living the life" and belonging totally to God alone.
Wait a minute! What happens when a consecrated person is not joyful, when they do not radiate the gratitude of being so loved by God?
First of all, if they are in training, I would say they might not have a vocation. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would send them home. As a formator, so would I. So have I. Why? Because they don't really want to be there, or at least, not all of them is capable of being there, and they either have to go and sort themselves out and come back, or perhaps this is not the life for them.
The other possibility is that a person in consecrated life has lost their joy, their salt has lost its savor, and the have become deflated and dejected. Mid life consecrated crisis? The mission was too hard, or they experienced too much and too prolonged exposure to their own community's sinfulness? Whatever the reason, these people are a community's preferential option, their poor. Every consecrated family has them, just like every family has sick members, those that need special attention.
I have found that every single person in consecrated life, in community life, has a great deal of their own brokenness that they are dealing with that composes the daily cross that they carry. Now it can happen that a person may learn how to manage their weakness and comfortably protect it from the Holy Spirit, from the Gospel challenge of radical abandonment to Christ, and even stay that way for decades, immune from conversion, heavily protected by a disguise a superior can't seem to see around.
Hey, don't think these people are so bad and horrible for doing it. St Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church, model cloistered religious sister, said that she was like this for 18 years - 18 years to give us all hope that we can change, but also 18 years to remove the presumption that we don't need to change and we could possibly be deluding ourselves into thinking that we are pleasing to God, when we deeply need urgent conversion.
Thanks be to God, the Spouse who is so patient, kind, gentle, and persistent, like the waves crashing on the seashore working against the rock, he works to bring us to become totally His.
The Sacred Liturgy for the Third Sunday of Advent is a description of how a consecrated person lives in constant Adventus Domini, constant seeking (and therefore finding) the coming of the Lord.
Another way this liturgy reveals consecrated life is in the person of St John the Baptist. In every way, he is the perfect icon of a consecrated person.
He was chosen from before time began, consecrated in the womb.
His motto is "I must decrease and he must increase" fully recognizing the source of all joy, peace, and divine truth and charity, showing that of himself is nothing, knows nothing, and has nothing, but only is fruitful in God.
He "turns the hearts of fathers toward their children" by being a good child of God, thus revealing Abba Father in all that he does.
He prepares room for the Messiah in his example of prayer and penance.
He wears a garb that reveals God.
He is poor, especially in his appetites, wanting God above all.
He is celibate.
He is obedient to God, and therefore very aware of earthly authority's responsibility to truth, which gives him courage to speak the truth in every situation, even when faced with horrible hypocrisy within the chosen people. He is a reformer by way of holiness of life.
Finally, Gaudete Sunday reflects the Immaculate Joy of Mary, ever Virgin. Most of the Scriptural references in the prayers and the readings are also from the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, showing us that she is the model for all consecrated persons.
Never has it been known that anyone ever reflected such perfect belovedness of God the Father. No one knew so deeply that she was loved like Mary, and therefore no one's joy has been greater than hers. She is enthroned and enshrined in the Father's heart like "a dove in the cleft of the rock."
She possessed Pure Love Himself: Jesus, not only in body as a Mother, but in Spirit as a disciple, or Mother in the spiritual order.
She became so completely one with God, the Holy Spirit, that by their union, the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord was born of her. In her mystical marriage with the Holy Spirit, St Maximillian Kolbe applies the words of Genesis, so there are no longer two but one.
They are fused together, although Mary is but a creature, therefore absolutely nothing in the sight of God, she nonetheless remains perfectly Virginally Consecrated to the Most Holy Trinity like no other. She is Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, beloved Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
Let's look at the Mass and Readings:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
My soul rejoices in my God.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
"I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
'make straight the way of the Lord...the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."
We who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.
Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear.
Behold, our God will come, and he will save us.
Let us pray in this Year of Consecrated Life that each consecrated person may live their identity as a Beloved of the Lord, and that his holy joy overflow from them, watering and vivifying the Church in a renewed witness of holiness.
May Our Lady, consecrated in the Holy Spirit in superabundant Virginity, and model of each consecrated person, pray for us, that we may not fail to make this year fruitful for God's glory.
Fr Samuel Medley, SOLT, is a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and a formator for priestly candidates in their Asia-Pacific Seminary. His blog is http://medleyminute.blogspot.com
A Roman Catholic Priest Shares a Moment. Blog of Fr Samuel Medley, SOLT, a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, assigned in the work of priestly formation in the Philippines.
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