‘A powerful thing that can actually change the world.’ This is how Archbishop Malcolm McMahon described religious life as he launched the Year of Consecrated Life at the Metropolitan Cathedral on 23 November. This 14-month celebration is a reminder of the ‘enormous contribution’ made by our Religious, as Father Godric Timney writes below – but also a call for them to light the road ahead for us.
Listen to Archbishop Malcolm's Homily
Father Godric Timney OSB, Episcopal Vicar for Religious in the Archdiocese of Liverpool writes:
The first weekend of Advent marks the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life which will continue until 2 February 2016. Perhaps it is not surprising that being a Jesuit himself Pope Francis announced a year ago that 2015 will be a year dedicated to the promotion of consecrated life, and is asking the Church's religious sisters, brothers and priests to ‘wake up the world’ with their testimony of faith, holiness and hope.
This special year is set against the background of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. One of the cardinals recently said of the Council that it was ‘a breath of the Spirit not only for the whole Church but, perhaps especially, for the consecrated life’.
The cardinal in question, Braz de Aviz, continued: ‘In these 50 years, consecrated life has undertaken a fruitful journey of renewal – not free, certainly, of difficulties and hardships – in the commitment to follow what the Council asked of the consecrated: fidelity to the Lord, to the Church, to their own charism and to the people of today.’
In celebrating this year we not only remember the enormous contribution of vowed men and women to the life and well-being of our archdiocese over centuries, but we take the opportunity to recognise that Religious embrace the future with hope. Vowed Religious commit themselves - as Cardinal Braz de Aviz put it – ‘to living the present with passion so they can help others to realise the beauty of following Christ.’
The vocation to religious life is not just a personal calling but a commitment to mission in the Church and in the world. During this year, various events and celebrations will be taking place around the archdiocese, in the Metropolitan Cathedral and in religious houses and parishes.
Time was when most Catholics were familiar with Religious men and women; the scene has changed markedly over recent years. Needs in the world and in the Church have changed over the centuries; jobs undertaken in the past by Religious in the fields of medical and social care, teaching and theological study, are now shared more widely. But religious life is still central to the life of the Church.
What this year will do is to give everyone throughout the world a greater opportunity to discover anew the wonderful gift of consecrated life which God has given to His Church. I encourage you to visit some of the Religious men and women in your parishes and discover the vitality, the joy and sense of fulfilment which you will find in those who have committed themselves to God. Let us also pray that if the Lord calls others to commit themselves to His service in consecrated life they will listen attentively to God’s voice.
The Year of Consecrated Life was launched in the archdiocese with a celebration of Evening Prayer in the Metropolitan Cathedral on the Feast of Christ the King. Archbishop Malcolm presided and preached and representatives of religious orders from throughout Liverpool Archdiocese were in the congregation.
A special banner created for the Year of Consecrated Life has the image of a tree, symbolising how we are rooted in Christ and thus enabled to bear fruit. The yellow and gold colours reflect the light through the Cathedral’s stained glass windows as a symbol of the Risen Christ whose light flows both from within us and from the world around us.
During Evening Prayer, representatives from the religious congregations came forward to bless a tree which was later planted in the Cathedral grounds. The tree serves as a reminder of how God nourishes our lives and enables us to grow and find fullness of life. During the blessing, the names of the religious orders ministering in the archdiocese were read out.
Listen as the list of Religious Orders was read out
In his homily Archbishop Malcolm recalled Sister Maria, an Argentinian Dominican Sister who had visited London to prepare for ministry in Kenya. As a result of getting lost one day, she had come to know local people and through this contact, and without preaching or explicit teaching, she had brought the message of Christ to them. The local people later supported her in her work in Kenya and mourned her when she was killed in a robbery.
Speaking of the Year of Consecrated Life, Archbishop Malcolm said: ‘Today is the beginning of a year of celebration... we wish to celebrate religious life because, just like Sister Maria from Argentina, we can do so much just by being who we are, where we are.’
He continued: ‘The gift of consecrated life which is really given by God to Religious and returned by them to Him is such a powerful thing that it can actually change the world. We need to show people that being a Religious is joyful, that it is a happy thing to be, that it is a way of being Christian that has a value in itself as well as being symbolic to other people.
‘It is a way of following Jesus that brings love and peace not just for ourselves but for others with whom we come into contact. So this year should be for us a way of strengthening the unseen networks and the Spirit in the Church, it should be a year for us to rejoice in the fact that God has called us to dedicate our lives to Him in this particular way.
‘So let us thank God for the great gift He has given to us and for the many religious in this archdiocese who have done so much to build up the strength of the faith here; those who have taught people, those who have cared for people, those who have nursed the sick and fed those who are hungry; those who have opened the scriptures for others whether directly or through example and practice; and for those of us who have prayed and prayed that the Church here in the Archdiocese of Liverpool will be a place that truly represents the love and mercy of God through his people.’
Events to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life will be taking place in the Archdiocese throughout the coming year.