Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta had been a religious sister for nearly 20 years when the Lord called her to serve India’s poorest people on the streets of Calcutta. She’d been the headmistress of a school, when the Lord gave her a “call within a call” to leave her community, and begin her work as a Missionary of Charity. She got permission to begin wearing a simple Indian sari, and to live her life in service to the poor and dying.
On her first day as a Missionary of Charity, she began a school to serve five indigent girls. She hoped more would come. They came, in droves, and the dying came as well. She washed them, and fed them, and prayed with them as they died. She fed their families, and cared for their children.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta became a witness to the whole world of the unending mercy of God. She did so by following a simple call, and trusting in the Lord’s Providence to guide her, and care for her.
The same thing can be said of St. Francis of Assisi, who began his consecrated life with Christ’s simple call to “rebuild my Church.” The great missions of St. Ignatius of Loyola began with a call. The monasteries of St. Benedict of Norcia began with a call. The greatest witnesses to God’s incredible mercy began with a call from the Lord—a call to be consecrated, in poverty, chastity, and obedience—to missionary discipleship of Jesus Christ.
Next week, the Church concludes the Year for Consecrated Life, in which we celebrate and recognize the call to consecration as servants of Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters to us all.
Many Catholics have some devotion to the heroic witness of some beautifully consecrated life—Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Maximilian Kolbe. Many of us look to the saints of religious life as witnesses to heroic fidelity to Jesus Christ. And many of us can think of the religious brothers, priests, and sisters, who have witnessed unfettered charity in our own lives. In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are greatly blessed with an abundance of religious women, visible witnesses in the beautiful habits, of lives consecrated to serve Christ and his Church.
The mission of consecrated life is discipleship—in prayer and contemplation, in catechesis and evangelization, or in heroic works of charity. But the witness of consecrated life, to all of us, is especially important. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that consecrated life reminds us that this world is not our home—that we are passing through as servants of Jesus—but made to store up treasures in our eternal home in heaven. Consecrated life, he said, “anticipates in a certain way that eschatological fulfillment towards which the whole Church is tending.”
Consecrated men and women remind us that this world will end, but that we are made for an eternal world. Consecrated men and women remind us that nothing in this world should come before our salvation in Jesus Christ.
God calls ordinary men and women to consecrated life—he makes simple calls to lives of prayer, apostolic work, and community. Everyone should be open to hearing the call of the Lord, and to following it. Religious life is a beautiful, joyful, and heroic opportunity to know, love, and serve the Lord.
But those of us who are not called to it should still thank God for the vocation of consecrated life. Consecrated men and women remind us—in a clear and radical way—how each one of us should live our lives. Mother Teresa would tell those who wanted to follow her to “begin at home by saying good things to your child,” or by “helping someone in need in your community.” In a simple way, the beauty of her vocation calls all of us to holiness.
As the Year for Consecrated Life concludes, join me in thanking God for the work and witness of consecrated men and women. Pray for their holiness. And pray that as we see the beauty of their lives, each one of us, no matter our vocation, might pursue the holy virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience.