Story by Leigh Calfee
(SNR) – Pope Saint John Paul II instituted World Day for Consecrated Life in 1997 as a day of prayer for women and men who live consecrated lives. For consecrated religious in the Diocese of Lincoln, Feb. 2 is a time to reflect upon their vocation and their witness to the world.
A common theme among consecrated women and men in the diocese is the dedication to their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Living these vows in community allows for a witness to the world unlike any other.
Brother Michael Mary grew up in the South without seeing many religious brothers and sisters. He spent time praying about a vocation to the priesthood or married life, and eventually felt the call to live in community with the Knights of the Holy Eucharist.
He said he felt a continual tug of the heart as he spent time in discernment before our Eucharistic Lord and eventually entered the Knights February 9, 2005, on Ash Wednesday.
“A vocation to consecrated life is a witness of the life to come. It probes the conscience for people to see consecrated brothers and sisters living out their vocation,” Brother Michael Mary said.
The distinctive habit of the Knights is a conversation-starter. Strangers often ask if Brother Michael Mary is a Jedi, or dressed as a character from The Lord of the Rings.
“The crucifix we wear is a huge conversation piece,” he said. “People see it and already feel a trust that makes them open to talking about their own spiritual journey.”
Brother Michael Mary appreciates the abundance of priests and religious within the Diocese of Lincoln and says that although the Knights are the “new kids on the block,” everyone has been very welcoming.
“Seeds have already been planted in this diocese for so long; we’re here helping with the harvest,” he shared.
Sister Cynthia, OSF, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, also appreciates the tremendous support offered to religious by the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Bishop Conley, Bishop Bruskewitz and the priests of the diocese are very open to having consecrated sisters and brothers in the diocese. Our vocation is looked upon with great excitement,” she said.
Like Brother Michael Mary, Sister Cynthia sees consecrated life as a beautiful witness to the world. She related, “Our modern world is so void of any acknowledgment of God. Wearing the religious habit is a sign, or symbol, that God is present among us.”
Vowed for 23 years, Sister Cynthia finds joy in being able to totally give her life to Christ and to live life unafraid to witness Christ’s love to the world.
Total dedication to Jesus is another common theme among consecrated women and men. Sister Rosaria Hoang, CMRM, is major superior for the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy. She, too, finds joy in total dedication to Jesus.
“We dare to live differently than our modern world. We witness to the world through consecrated life – a life of prayer and actions. The holiness of religious life radiates to the world,” Sister Rosaria said.
Father Gary Coulter, co-vicar for religious, is inspired by the witness of those women and men living consecrated lives.
“I see joy with every interaction with religious sisters and brothers,” he observed. “They have a witness of peace and joy that can only come from God. The peace and joy come from living deep lives of prayer, in community, and by living the consecrated life well.”
Father Coulter said the modern world emphasizes freedom, possessions and pleasure, whereas consecrated life means living vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Living a consecrated life means focusing on things that are more important than worldly concerns.
Father Coulter’s advice for anyone thinking of a vocation to consecrated life? “Go see, go visit.” He encourages continued spiritual growth through prayer and the sacraments.
Sister Cynthia said, “If God is calling you to a consecrated life, he will let you know. God wants all of us to be saints, and he will lead us because he desires our happiness and holiness.”
Holiness and zeal are important for anyone considering a religious vocation, according to Brother Michael Mary. He is very hopeful about the future and says he longs for people who are on fire with the love of God.
Discernment and trust in God are a crucial part of the consecrated life. Sister Rosaria, CMRM, shared, “Religious life is a precious life. God calls you and chooses you from among many, and he gives you a precious grace. Trust him and pray, and God will do marvelous things.”