"A Stupendous Gift"

I am blessed to be in the second day of an eight day retreat that I am giving to the Carmelite Sisters of Flemington, New Jersey.  So far I have been reflecting with the Sisters on a beautiful 1999 document, "Verbi Sponsa"--an instruction from the Congregation  for Institutes of Contemplative Life and  for Societies of Apostolic Life.  From beginning to end this document, subtitled "Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns, is filled with gratitude for this special vocation.

The first section says that "cloistered nuns" are "a unique grace and precious gift within the mystery of the Church's holiness."  And the conclusion contains this tribute which contains a quote from the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consacrata: "The intention of this Instruction is to confirm the Church's high esteem for the wholly contemplative life of cloistered nuns, and to reaffirm her concern to safeguard its authentic nature, 'that this world may never be without a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence'."

Next week, using the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and excerpts from Pope Benedict's first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, I will reflect with the Sisters on the Our Father. The Sisters live a cloistered life, apart from the world for which they offer intense prayer. I celebrate Mass and present my conferences through a grill.

I'm especially blessed to be here today, the World Day for Consecrated Life. In 1997 Blessed John Paul II called for this special day on which to remember and pray for all those who are called to the consecrated life like these Sisters and like myself, a Jesuit.  In his Message for the first such World Day, Pope John Paul gave three reasons for instituting this special day.

First, to give praise and thanks to God for the vocation to consecrated life which the Holy Father called a "stupendous gift." He followed these words with a quote from the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, the foundress of these Discalced Carmelites: "What would become of the world if there were no religious?"

Secondly, Pope John Paul wrote, "this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God."  From such "knowledge" and "esteem" it is hoped that many more young people will hear God calling them to this life.

The third reason for this special day concerns consecrate people themselves. Blessed John Paul II hoped that this celebration would help them "to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world."  He wanted them each year "to return to the sources of their vocation, to take stock of their own lives, to confirm the commitment of their own consecration." Doing this, the pope was convinced, "they will be able to give witness with joy to the men and women of our time, in diverse situations, that the Lord is the Love who is able to fill the heart of the human person."

What a blessing it is for me to celebrate the "stupendous gift" of a religious vocation at the Carmel of Mary Immaculate and Saint Mary Magdalen in Flemington, NJ! What a blessing it is to give a retreat to these Sisters during the Year of Faith!