“Christ our hope”- A talk given at Knock National Shrine, National Eucharistic Congress- 26th of September 2015

«Be strong, be faithful, wake up the world!» With these words Monsignor José Carballio, OFM, Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life opened the World Meeting for Young Consecrated Men and Women last week in St Peter's Square in Rome. Over 5,000 young religious gathered over five days to testify to the beauty of their vocation and that they were ready indeed to ‘wake up the world.’
What do we dare to hope for during this Year of Consecrated Life which began last November and concludes in February 2016? Pope Francis gave us a task to wake up the world. But from what must the world awaken? And to what must the world awaken ? And just maybe, we too, as religious, need to be woken up?
During the summer, a group of fantastic young women called the Rise of the Roses, together with their families travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, visiting a series of convents, to rediscover the beauty of a life consecrated to God. They brought with them a large cross to each convent, the same cross which opened the procession for our Vespers. In speaking to some of the sisters who were blessed to have the Rise of the Roses Tour visit their community, we came to a common conclusion. We were the ones who had been ‘woken up’ and given new hope. These young women saw something precious, fascinating and life-giving in our lives as consecrated women. Many of us had forgotten this. Maybe we had allowed the pessimistic residue of the constant media-bashing and negativity to settle upon that ‘pearl’ of great price for which many of us gave up everything to follow Jesus in a life dedicated to Him through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience?
Looking around the Basilica earlier at Mass, I thought wouldn’t it be something amazing to count the number of years of religious profession of our brothers and sisters here present. I know, even just among my own 7 sisters here, we count 315 years of religious profession between us! Yes, that is something to celebrate and that is something which gives us hope. It is a celebration that we can share with many others during this Year of Consecrated Life. We can share our stories because stories are fundamental to life. Ordinary yet extraordinary stories!

What do people expect of us, religious brothers and sisters, in this 21st century? A verse from the third letter of St. Peter helps us here: “Be prepared to give an account of the hope which is in you” What does this mean? There is a need for a sort of apologetics in consecrated life. More than often, when religious are asked to share their vocation story with groups of young people, the two questions that people always ask are 1) why did you become a sister, brother or priest? And 2) how did you know? As religious brothers and sisters, answering ‘I just did, or I just knew.’ does not suffice. We must be ready to share the story of God’s grace working in us, through us, for us. Our life choice is a radical one.
Last week, Pope Francis urged the young religious to choose the true freedom which comes from the Spirit and not from worldliness, to nurture great dreams for God and to have a heart enkindled with love. Consecrated Life has always been and will always be an adventure of the heart, for ordinary men and women who fall in love with God in an extraordinary, radical, and restless manner.

Rise of the Roses ready to carry the Cross for Vespers
There is a spiritual curiosity in people who want to hear our story, because more than often, they are searching for something which resonates deep with their story and which may provide that final impetus to go ahead and begin the adventurous, sometimes crazy, journey which is, consecrated life!
So, as a younger religious, what do I hope for, for religious life?
         Firstly, I hope we can remain joyful- we are called to sing a new song. Religious life is a song that keep on being sung: a song which has changed key many times during history but a song that the world needs to hear and join in with its own harmonies or simply just hum along until they learn the words.

2    Secondly, I hope we can be mystics- There is a 'daily' mysticism which consists in moving out toward the other, to welcome and help them, especially the most vulnerable and neglected. In approaching others we encounter the icon of God and in Him we become brothers and sisters because in each person we see Christ and invite them into the sacred place where we walk together on holy ground in sharing the life of each other.

3    Thirdly, I hope we remain faithful and faith-filled- St Paul reminds us that “The hope of which we speak is not based on numbers or enterprises, but on the One in whom we have placed our trust” (2 Tim 1:12). How many times throughout history was the institutional religious life strong, organized and neat? Yet inside, it suffered deep recessions and lived with signs of death, independent of the number of people who formed the community! Even if our numbers dwindle, our structures change or even disappear, we remain faithful because our hope is not in buildings or institutions but in a living person, Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit continues to breathe upon the Church in many different ways.
4     Fourthly, I hope we can dream- We are called to be dreamers like our Founders and Foundresses. To be like these men and women who were ‘capable of seeing values where others saw none; of recognising beauty where others failed to do so". We are all called to be missionaries, missionaries who firstly ‘are’ and then ‘do’. It is to believe in the unbelievable and hope against all hope, something which makes us stand out. It is enjoying silence in the midst of noise and feeling the shivers in daring to speak when cowardice would demand silence. It is daring to search out in every possible way new languages and paths for prophetic proclamation in a world which wants to silence God and the voices which speak of Him..

5     Fifthly, I hope that as religious we can read the signs of the times and respond. I hope we can have the same creative capacity, the boldness and the enterprise espoused with the capacity to know and understand contemporary society, and to work together with others to provide adequate responses for today needs which are so numerous. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II: "Besides having a great story to narrate, we have also a great one to build".

6    Lastly, I hope that our present generation of young people come to know the joy and the adventure that flows from giving one’s life for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel! The reward is a hundredfold and never ceases to multiply grace after grace.

Let the reading of our Vespers be re-echoed as our prayer as we continue in the celebration of the Eucharistic Congress and also the Year for Consecrated Life:  “We have never failed to remember you in our prayers and to give thanks for you to God, ever since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you show towards all the saints because of the hope which is stored up for you in heaven.” May we never lose sight of this hope, the reward of the good and faithful servants.

Sr. M. Louise O’ Rourke, pddm, Disciples of the Divine Master.