Closing of the Year for Consecrated Life
St. Andrew's Cathedral

February 1, 2016

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"Wake up the world . . . Our Church, this Church, the Diocese of Victoria, needs you in the present. Right now. As you are. To wake up our whole Diocese to these words of the Holy Father: They are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side."

Bishop Gary Gordon


My dear sisters and brothers,

    We have come to the end of this beautiful Year that our Holy Father Pope Francis invited us to live, to reflect as a whole Church on the grace, gift, history, present and future of consecrated life. I was meeting briefly at lunchtime with the Directors of Religious Education in our Catholic schools, and I told them, “I have to go, because I’m going to celebrate Mass to bring to a conclusion the Year for Consecrated Life, with all the consecrated people in the Diocese.” In complete innocence and openness to asking the Bishop questions, one of them asked, “What’s a consecrated person?”

    I said, “Well, that’s the Religious.”

    “Oh, the Religious, like the Oblates!” She had grown up with the Oblates in her parish. I think this word consecrated is not a word that anybody knows, outside of our little circle here.

    I read today’s Readings from a different translation than we heard this afternoon. The First Reading from Paul to the Colossians told us, “Clothe yourselves with compassion.” And I like that—except that’s not the one I read. The one I read was, “Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy.” That’s from the New American translation. Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy.

    And that’s really what I want to speak about: that the grace of religious life is to be a prophetic witness to heartfelt mercy, especially at this point in history. Heartfelt mercy is, in this particular time, in this present moment, the great prophetic witness of consecrated life.

    We could all tell glorious stories of the past, and I could regale you with all kinds of stories from my own family’s past. They were religious sisters, brothers and priests—but we no longer have the past. We have right now. And we don’t have the future, unless there is somebody here who has an inside line to the Holy Spirit. I don’t. But we do have the present, and the present is vigorous in the proclamation of heartfelt mercy.

    The Holy Father, in his beautiful announcement of the Year for Consecrated Life, called on Religious around the world to ‘wake up the world’. That’s really the logo of the Holy Year, the call of this Holy Year.

    Wake up the world.

    I think that is real. In our lives there is a waking-up. By our very existence there is a waking-up. I like the image on this banner, Seeding the Future. I never was a farmer, but I like gardening, and I know that sometimes this waking-up is like waking up a seed. You can’t see it. It might be in the ground. But there is an awakening by the very grace and fact of your vows. That is like a seed, and it has a powerful effect in the life of the Church today. Now is what we have, now is when we are called to effect this waking-up.

    Lumen Gentium (Light of the World, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution of the Church) describes the Church as a ‘pilgrim people’. It has been, and still is, my experience of consecrated life that Religious are often like icons of pilgrim people, are the very nature of being ‘on pilgrimage’. There is something profound about the witness you have, as consecrated people, to this image of the Church as a pilgrim people: pilgrim people aren’t settlers. Pilgrim people are looking outward, looking to the horizons, awakening.

    And I have experienced this: it’s why I firmly believe people who are consecrated are like the icons of being a pilgrim people—a little bit on the edge, always looking forward, never quite satisfied.

    Yet pilgrims are free; pilgrim people are free people. That is the beauty of our vows—poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows create a beautiful freedom. And with this freedom comes a vulnerability because pilgrims are vulnerable. When you see a pilgrim walking across the field, wandering along, you see that they’re kind of exposed to the weather, to the vagaries of time and space. There’s a real vulnerability to being a pilgrim people.

    Most people don’t want to be pilgrims. Most people are settlers. So this is a great witness of consecrated life, as icons of a pilgrim people, holding out to the whole Church: Don’t get settled. Don’t put down roots. Keep moving. We know as we look back over the history of our Church, whenever we get too settled it can come crashing down, either from external forces or internal implosion of what I call ‘ecclesial narcissism’. It’s happened. It’s happened over, and over, and over again. And so Religious in the life of the Church continue to push the whole Church to be a pilgrim people. In other words, those in the consecrated life urge the Church, by their example, to be vulnerable in the freedom of the pilgrimage of Jesus Christ.

    The Holy Father, in the beautiful letter that he wrote introducing this Year said:

Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.

    Wake up the world. Not the world of yesterday, with memories of the glories we reflected upon just a few months ago at our Days of Reflection. Don’t dream utopian dreams. Our Church, this Church, the Diocese of Victoria, needs you in the present. Right now. As you are. To wake up our whole Diocese to these words of the Holy Father: They are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.

    Today. Right now. In the present, as Religious men and women. As your Bishop, I say our whole Diocese invites you to wake us all up to be this pilgrim people. This is the gift, today.

    Finally, as we draw this beautiful Year to a close, we are grateful, particularly in this Diocese, for the enormous contribution of consecrated men and women.

    We are also looking to the future with hope. There are many peripheries and margins that need God, that need God’s light and God’s Spirit. And that is, and has always been, the grace and the gifts of religious men and women: to wake us up. To remind us that we are pilgrim people, and that we have the beautiful vulnerability of freedom: we are beholden to no one but God.

    That’s freedom.

    And the people in the consecrated life, you, my brothers and sisters, bear the witness to freedom, real freedom—in beautiful vulnerability.

Thank you.


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