My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have been blessed in our diocese this year with a significant number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In the spring, I ordained eight men to the priesthood for our diocese. This past Aug. 2 and 3, 13 young women made commitments to consecrated religious life in the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George at Masses that I celebrated at St. Mary Church in Alton.
Three of these women were received into the novitiate. They are: Clare Kennedy, now Sister Mary Veronica; Gabrielle Burnham, now Sister Bethany Marie, and Sidney Ramaekers, now Sister Mary Magnificat. Four sisters made their first profession of vows: Sisters Mary Rose Thomas Weighner, Mary Cecilia Abbadessa, Mary James Becker, and Peter Marie Tran. Six sisters made their final vows of perpetual consecration as women religious: Sister Mary Lucy Gantt, Sister Karol Marie Baumgarten, Sister Teresa Maria Leis, Sister Mary Francis Goodson, Sister Mary Caterina Vola, and Sister Mary Gemma Kissel.
I congratulate all of them, but in particular I wish to commend the six women who took their perpetual vows of consecrated chastity in the celibate state, poverty, and obedience, pledging to make this commitment for the rest of their lives.
Our world is allergic to permanence, to surrendering one’s freedom, to commitment and obligation. We squirm at the thought of a two-year mobile-phone plan, much less the weight of a mortgage, or the surrender asked for in marriage. Our desire seems to stem from not knowing what, or who, will come along after today, and so we want to keep our options open, just in case something better turns up. Some would describe this as FOMO, fear-of-missing-out, yet the disease that afflicts our hearts goes deeper than seeking to always achieve the best option, or even to protect our freedom from unnecessary commitments. Rather, we are afraid to entrust ourselves to someone, or something, beyond our control; to give ourselves away; fundamentally we are afraid to love. Because when we choose to love, we open our hearts to pain and rejection, the possibility of being not-loved in return, or worse, being denigrated, disdained, and discarded. Worse, it seems, when we choose to love permanently, we think we are all the more risking the depths of who we are, our worth, our dignity, our selves.
This tendency, this concupiscence, that shows itself in our unwillingness to commit, is not new. Ever since Satan in his pride said he would not serve, and Adam and Eve in their disobedience would not trust, we have constantly been afflicted with this aspect of Original Sin, and the propensity to trust ourselves instead of God, our plan instead of his, our future — not in his hands, but our own. Even creation itself seems now to groan under the burden of temporality and decay. It seems that sin has made all things passing, and our typical response to the situation has been not a turn back to God, but an attempt to grasp all the more tightly to the fleeting persons, possessions, and power that surround us. We search there for solid ground, but we fail to find it.
These religious sisters, however, have made a choice in the opposite direction. Chastity, lived in the celibate state as a consecrated religious sister; poverty, lived in the charism of St. Francis of Assisi; and obedience, lived in imitation of Christ himself, are three different ways to choose not the ephemeral, but that which is eternal; not the passing or incomplete, but that which is perfect and permanent, not the conditionally-given life, but a life totally-given, nothing held back. The truth they have discovered, and which they exemplify for all of us, is that we are made for eternity, and nothing less than eternity will be sufficient to fill us. Their anthem could well be St. Augustine’s famous line: “You have made us for yourself, O, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Yet their vows go even further than this! Many would look at the commitments they made and say, “Well, if it makes her happy … .” Of course, joy is a byproduct of a life given to the Lord, but subjective happiness not the end-goal; rather, eternal communion with God himself is our ultimate aim. We do not follow God because he promises joy, or because he fulfills our hearts. Rather, we follow him first, and in so doing we find that he fills us with joy, and fulfills every desire we have.
The truth that these religious sisters speak loud and clear to a world desperately hungry for it is this: that Christ-like love is not conditional, and Christ-like lives cannot be conditional either.
Our fear to commit, our distaste for obligation, our unwillingness to surrender … all of those things come from a fear that we will lose love. And so, in the fullness of time, it is God himself who comes to our rescue, to promise definitively, forever, eternally, that his covenantal love for us will never end. He surrenders his freedom to incorporate ours into it. He offers his life so that we might live ours in him. He offers his love no matter the cost, and no matter the rejection, so that we might begin to trust again, and might slowly open our hearts again to our Heavenly Father.
May God give us this grace. Amen.