Consecrated religious have existed since the early centuries of the church, and the Spirit is not finished yet
When I became a novice and received the Dominican habit, I was given a holy card written in delicate calligraphy: “You have set me as a seal upon your heart.” These words from the Song of Songs 8:6 speak of God’s eternal fidelity and love. I have reflected on these words often in the last 50-plus years.
What do those words mean, and how do we live them out? As the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium noted, we are all the people of God, called to perfect holiness through our common baptism. But women and men religious (or, as we colloquially call them, sisters, nuns, brothers and priests who belong to a religious order) choose a unique way of living out their baptismal promises by taking the vows of poverty, consecrated chastity and obedience.
Our vows call us to trust in God for all of our needs, freeing us to live with the singular focus of bringing the Gospel message to all people in the many ways our charisms call us to live the Gospel. As men and women religious, we are called to witness to life that is not limited to the here and now, but to eternal life.
Sister Sharon Casey
Pope Francis has dedicated 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on the first Sunday of Advent in 2014 and will conclude Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. This worldwide event includes both women and men religious, as well as consecrated virgins and hermits. During this year we are called to gratefully remember the recent past, to embrace the future with hope and to live the present passionately. Pope Francis urges us to recall the witness of our founders and to celebrate the many charisms that exist in building up the church of Jesus Christ.
Consecrated religious have existed since the early centuries of the church in a variety of forms: hermits, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life (with which we are most familiar), cloistered communities, secular institutes and the order of virgins. New forms of consecrated life are emerging today that can include married couples as well as people from the above forms. The Spirit is not finished yet! Consecrated life will never disappear, but will emerge in new forms to meet the needs of each age. We cannot imagine a future without these men and women religious.
Women and men religious live out their vows in the context of their religious charisms. Our founders and foundresses were called to meet the specific needs of their time, which often meant starting schools and women’s colleges, building hospitals and caring for orphans. Today the signs of the times call us to meet both educational needs and new needs including advocacy, serving as a voice for the voiceless, and reaching out to people on the margins of our society. In our archdiocese, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center and Mercy Housing Northwest are but two examples of men and women religious coming together to make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.
More than two dozen communities of women religious have served in the Archdiocese of Seattle since 1880 — in schools, hospitals and religious education. In the last 20 years, new communities from Mexico, Vietnam and the Philippines have come to serve the emerging ethnic groups in our area. More than a dozen communities of men religious have served in our parishes, schools and universities.
This Year of Consecrated Life provides us with the opportunity to learn more about religious life today — to find out how these men and women religious are living into the future with passion, hope and belief that the Spirit is working today just as in the past. Watch for invitations to learn more about religious life and discover how we are working to live out the theme of this special year, to “Wake Up the World.”