The following materials are from the “The Bridegroom Says Come” Life Teen Life Night guide.
So Many Options!
Like we have talked about this semester, in our semester on vocations, all of us have a universal call to holiness. We also all have a primary vocation – a state of life that we are called to move into as we walk towards God. For some of us, that vocation is marriage, for some men it will be priesthood or the diaconate, but there’s another vocation that sometimes gets overlooked. That vocation is the call to consecrated life.
What is the consecrated life? It can sound kind of dramatic or foreign – consecrated? We can start by defining the word consecrated. Think about where you have heard that word before. Some of you may have thought of the Mass, and you would be correct. The priest consecrates the bread and wine; the Eucharist is a consecrated host. Something that is consecrated is set apart and dedicated to God.
That’s what the consecrated life is all about. People in this vocation offer up their lives and dedicate them to God – and He transforms their lives into something beautiful and spectacular. The Church describes those in the consecrated life as people who, “while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belong undeniably to her life and holiness.” That means that although they are not part of the Church ‘structure’ (like bishops, priests, and deacons are), they are an important and integral part of the Church and its mission.
There are many ways that a person can live out a vocation to the consecrated life. Many people in this vocation live a ‘monastic’ lifestyle – they separate themselves from society and spend their lives in prayer.
Why would they do this? Our world can be a very noisy place, and thus, it can become difficult to hear the voice of God. These men and women have a calling to develop a special relationship with the Father through Christ. It is like the game we began with. If the two people who were drawing had continued to spend time together they would have gotten to know how the other person speaks and interacts so well that eventually the pictures could have been nearly identical. In the same way, people in the consecrated life draw close to God in order to hear His voice, and then communicate it back to the Church. For this reason, many of the greatest spiritual writers of the Church lived a consecrated life separated from the world.
There are different forms of consecrated life that all interact with the world in varying ways. Some groups are very active, and others are contemplative and choose to step out of the world to focus primarily on prayer.
The most removed group is hermits, who practice extreme solitude, silence, and penance. They are living examples of the being set apart for Christ and the power of prayer; they are prayer warriors of the church. Many times in Church history, God called people into the desert; for thousands of years, the desert has been where prayer warriors are found. Today, there are men and women in communities that live this separated life.
Another form of consecrated life, not quite as separate from the world as hermits, are consecrated virgins and widows. When a woman or man decides to become “committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely,” they go before the bishop and are consecrated to God. They give their entire lives to God and they participate in a ‘mystical betrothal’ to Jesus Christ – they literally marry Him and give themselves to His service. They become an image of the Church – the Bride of Christ.
The form of consecrated life that you are most likely to recognize is religious life. That’s where we find brothers, sisters, and nuns who live the Apostolic religious life. The religious life is set apart because of its “liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life led in common, and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church.” So what does it mean? Well, religious communities have a common rule of life – they all agree to live, pray, and act according to a set of rules. They also share a common dress – their official ‘uniform.’
Religious life is an important part of the Church, because it gives people who want to dedicate themselves to prayer and service a stable place to do that. They live simply, but by being in a religious community they can spend their lives serving the poor and still be provided for. They serve under the bishops to help with all sorts of things – in hospitals and schools, as missionaries and teachers, even working in administration within the Church. Those in religious life can range from living as hermits to mingling with lay people. A sister or nun may live in a cloister where she never has contact with the outside world (imagine that!), or she may work in a school where she teaches students every day.
Living the Narrow Path
People who wish to enter the consecrated life take vows, much like a priest or couple being married makes promises to serve in their vocation.
Anyone who ‘consecrates’ his or herself to God does it the same way: by professing a lifelong commitment to the three Evangelical Counsels. What are those? They are poverty, obedience, and chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.
Persons living the consecrated life are called to poverty. That may mean that their community has possessions that everyone may use in common or even individually, but individual members don’t really own anything. Different degrees of consecrated life have differing extremes of poverty, but in all levels it is about having a heart that is not focusing on wealth. A vow of poverty isn’t saying “no” to possessions; it is saying “yes” to trust in God.
Obedience – one of our favorite words, right? Consecrated people profess obedience to those in authority over them. They may profess obedience to an abbot, a Mother Superior, or a bishop. They promise to pray and go where they are sent, serving those they are sent to well.
They also follow the counsel of chastity. For someone consecrated, that means they practice celibacy. The Church is specific in that it is celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. They aren’t just giving up on marriage because they “can’t find someone” or “don’t want to get married;” it is so they can marry Christ. They aren’t abandoning marriage; they are choosing a special kind of relationship with Christ, instead.
These three commitments, poverty, obedience, and celibacy, may seem extreme, but they are ways a person called to the consecrated life lives out their call to holiness. They remove the temptations to lust, greed, and pride by choosing to practice celibacy, poverty, and obedience. These vows free them to serve God more fully, removing potential obstacles that might keep them from embracing His will.
People who live the vocation of consecrated life take what the Catechism calls ‘the narrower path’ to lead others to Christ. They live in anticipation of Christ’s coming, which is the “the origin and rising of their life.” Their lives are a reminder that God is coming back and that we wait in anxious, joyful anticipation of His return.
A Life Set Apart
In the modern, fast-paced world we live in, dedicating a life to prayer and service can seem crazy to some people – especially when it involves giving up marriage. Some people might ask, “Isn’t a life spent single lonely? Won’t you eventually just end up sad because you’ll never get married?”
Undoubtedly, a person in a consecrated life may get lonely. But sometimes a married person gets lonely, too, especially in times when a marriage may be struggling. Like that married person, an individual in the consecrated life would seek to increase communication with God and constantly renew their relationship, rather than running from it.
Remember, too, that most who life the vocation of consecrated life live in community; they are never really alone. They are part of a bigger family and are loved by their brothers and sisters in Christ in their particular order.
Those that the Lord calls to consecrated life live a joyful life of service and prayer. If you feel like this is a calling you want to explore further, begin to research different religious communities and different forms of consecrated life. Each one will have a vocations director (just like the diocese has one for priests) that you should get in touch with. Eventually, you may consider scheduling a weekend to see the community. Just like with all vocations, be open to where the Holy Spirit is calling you. Trust that if God is calling you to this vocation you will find a lasting joy and peace beyond what you may imagine.
You may still be thinking to yourself, “Nope, not for me.” While it is important that you still be open to whatever God may be calling you to, it is true that many of you will probably not be called to the consecrated life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t adopt some of the practices of the consecrated life. After all, we are all called to a deeper union with God – why not find ways to work on this union in your every day life?
One way to do that is to literally “set apart” a section of your room for a prayer space. Your room may be very messy and filled with a lot of things that represent your life. Clean up a corner and dedicate it to prayer. You may not always be able to make it to a chapel to pray, but having a place right in your room where you can go to pray and be with God is a great second-choice. Place things in your prayer corner like a bible, rosary, maybe a book by a Saint, a crucifix, and any other item that helps you pray. Spend time there every day if you can, simply being in the presence of God. Like someone who lives the consecrated life, you may find that the more you take time you pray the easier it is to see the picture God is creating for your life – and the easier it is to live out that plan.