A few years back, early on in my initial formation as a Franciscan friar, there was a Franciscan sister who described her view of religious life in our time in a way that has stayed with me ever since. She said that “religious life is a sign to the world of something possible.” By which she meant that the Christian faith, the Gospel life, however imperfectly lived by individual men and women in religious communities, remains a reality that witnesses the Spirit’s work in the world.
That has been one of my favorite ways to look at the “purpose” or “mission” of religious life in our world. Such a social stance bespeaks the power of God’s relationship to humanity and creation, while offering men and women a space from which they can raise questions, edify others and preach the justice of God. For that I am grateful and in light of that, I am here.
Earlier this week Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the 15th World Day for Consecrated Life. In his address, the pope made some remarks that reflect this sentiment of possibility in today’s world. While I do not always agree with the Holy Father’s characterization of our age in terms of a “relativistic world,” there are instances when that is true but the term ‘relativistic’ is largely ambiguous (do you mean morally? culturally? politically?), I think the message he was expressing echos that sister’s vision of contemporary religious life.
A Vatican Radio article summarizing the pope’s address reads:
“Finally Pope Benedict concluded that consecrated life, “becomes a life-giving commitment”. That “with wisdom, with faith” and the “inexhaustible possibilities of true education”, can guide the hearts and minds of men and women of our time “towards the good life of the Gospel.”
In addition to the general witness that consecrated religious offer our world, Pope Benedict XVI also highlighted the need for the Church’s continued and increased involvement in the ministry of education — clearly something very close to my own heart.
Today, especially in more developed societies, we are witnessing a condition characterized by a radical plurality, by the progressive marginalization of religion in the public sphere, by a relativism that touches fundamental values. This situation demands that our Christian witness be luminous and coherent and that ever more care and generosity be given towards our efforts in the area of education.
May we, the consecrated religious of our age, strive to be ever-better luminous in our bearing witness to the possibility of the Gospel life today. May those who are touched by the relationships they have with religious women and men be moved to also bear that light in our world. May we all live to be signs of something possible.