Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spiritual Off-Roading

Srs. Emi, Roberta, and Joan Paula,
nearly unmindful of the path they're
paving, are in it for the adventure. 
In the high sierra of my native northern California, off-roading is not the foreign concept it appears to be here back East (or “down East,” as Canadians would have it). I hesitate to call it a sport. Without major adaptation, I doubt it would ever qualify for the Olympics. But an exciting adventure it is. You take your Jeep Grand Cherokee with its four-wheel drive, versatile suspension, yada, yada, yada, and you literally head for the hills, veering off I-80 as soon as a foothill beckons. You even thumb your nose at the side roads, and yes, the unpaved ones too. You’ve dressed for the occasion, packed light, and maybe taken a friend. There’s safety in numbers.

It’s not for those who’ve written the driver’s ed manual, quake at the unknown, obsess over scratches, or polish chrome in their sleep. It’s not for the faint of heart.

And neither is consecrated life.

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, commemorating how the firstborn, 40-day-old Jesus was offered to God in the Temple by Joseph and Mary—foreshadowing his later self-offering and victory—and whose life was symbolically “ransomed” by a pair of doves, the sacrifice of the poor.

In 1997 John Paul II named this the World Day of Consecrated Life. It’s a chance for everyone to think about what he calls the “stupendous gift” of vowed life that God gives to the Church and the world in communal religious life, societies of apostolic life, secular institutes, eremitical life in solitude, and vowed virginity within the secular sphere. “Stupendous” and “gift,” because in an off-roading kind of way, it takes us on the road less traveled and, through no merit of our own, leads us in an adventure unlike any on earth—the radical following of Christ and all the consequences of that choice, here and hereafter.

The candle is the traditional symbol of this feast, which is why, centuries ago, it was named Candlemas Day. Consumed as it sheds brightness and warmth, this small light becomes an apt symbol of Christ’s self-offering and that of every consecrated person. In the Temple, Simeon called Jesus “a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of [God’s] people, Israel” (Lk. 2:32).  So this mystery becomes “an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels ‘the characteristic features of Jesus—the chaste, poor and obedient one’” (Message of John Paul II). 

Sr. Neville Christine makes her
first profession of vows.

In case you think this has nothing to do with you—single, ordained, married, widowed, or divorced, as you may be—John Paul has a word for you: “The life of special consecration, in its many forms, is at the service of the baptismal consecration of all the faithful. In contemplating the gift of consecrated life, the Church contemplates her own intimate vocation of belonging only to her Lord, desirous of being in his eyes ‘without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish’” (Eph 5:27). In other words, if you’re chosen to drive the streets and highways of life, you can look at what we’re doing in the reckless abandon of love and know that you will survive and thrive. Just as baptized into Christ as we are, you are just as loved.

With biblical imagery, John Paul reflects that the consecrated life of both women and men is a sign of the Church, Christ’s Bride, tending toward the fulfillment of her union with her Bridegroom. He reminds us that for this we can rely on God’s fidelity and grace to carry us over the terrain and take us where we cannot even imagine: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (ibid.).

Scroll up this blog until you see "Weekly PauLine" on the right sidebar. Does it remind you of anyone? If you know young people
• who have a sense of what’s right and good and are motivated to do it,
• who value the life of the spirit,
• who possess a tremendous capacity to love, a spirit of self-sacrifice, and a consuming thirst for the salvation of the world,
• in short, who long to be like Jesus,
encourage them to be Pauline sisters, brothers, priests or consecrated laypersons!(; They will be able to spend themselves completely, while their horizons continue to stretch out before them, always broader and more beautiful.


  1. What a beautiful post! It reminds me of CS Lewis' claim that we were all guerillas living behind enemy lines.

  2. A prospective donor had me chuckling two weeks ago when he said that one of the things he likes about the way we evangelize is that we enter the world of media "by stealth." I guess it has something to do with the way we live, too. Thanks for your comment, K T Cat.


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