Consecrated life: At the heart of God

Last week the Florida Catholic recounted the retirement of Franciscan Sister Joan Dawson, the episcopal delegate for religious of the Diocese of Palm Beach who will be moving to her community home in Tampa. I express to Sister Joan all of our profound gratitude for the loving mission which she carried out as delegate for religious, as well as for the many years of assistance to our schools as superintendent. She will be greatly missed, and our prayers go with her.

I am very happy to announce that Religious of Mary Immaculate Sister Vivian Gonzalez, who is the parish outreach director at St. Patrick Parish in Palm Beach Gardens, will be the new delegate for religious in our diocese. Sister Vivian has served with great effectiveness for many years as the director of the Hispanic Ministry. She has a great love for the religious of our diocese and will be very effective in this new ministry as she collaborates with Carmelite Father Michael Driscoll, who will also continue in his role of episcopal delegate for religious.

It is my joy to be with so many exemplary religious sisters, brothers and priests in the Diocese of Palm Beach. In varied settings and ministries, they reflect the meaning of God’s very life and the Church. In our Diocese we have religious involved in parish ministry, education, health care, migrant ministry, prison ministry, youth ministry, vocation awareness, pastoral care, family life, contemplative life and many other essential areas of the Church’s ministry. All of us most likely remember a religious sister, brother, or priest who was influential in our lives. Whether it was in school, in the parish or through some other association, a consecrated person who made a difference stands out in our mind. We are grateful to that person and above all for his or her example.

Just as that one religious sister, brother or priest made a difference in our lives, so all of consecrated life makes a difference in the Church. In fact, that is precisely what consecrated life is all about. Consecrated life represents what the life of the Church is all about, to live the call of Christ and follow Him in this world. Religious sisters, brothers, or priests heed that call in the fullest manner by their perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. By their witness, they remind all of us, no matter what our particular vocation may be, of living in conformity with the Gospel. Consecrated persons not only contribute to the life of the Church but witness to its very nature. Consecrated life is truly the heart of the Church.

So essential is the life of consecrated persons to the Church that St. John Paul II, rooted consecrated life in the very life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In his apostolic exhortation, Vita Consecrata, the saint explained how a consecrated person, living the Gospel in the most radical manner, proclaims, “what the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, brings about by His love, His goodness, and His beauty.”  The chastity of consecrated persons reflects the infinite love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The poverty which consecrated persons live reflects the total gift of themselves which the persons of the Trinity make to one another. The obedience of consecrated persons mirrors the loving harmony between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Being rooted in the very life of the Trinity, consecrated life becomes a sign of the Trinity, revealing the depths of its inner life, and a living reminder of Christ’s way of living as the Son of God made man.

The evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience have something to say to all of us in our daily way of life. Whether we are married or single, a priest or a deacon, consecrated life reminds us of what we are all about. Consecrated persons live chastity, poverty, and obedience in the fullest manner in imitation of Christ. However, their living of these counsels reminds us that we all live these counsels as followers of Christ.

Chastity reminds us that God is love and that He created us to love Him and one another. He created man and woman in His image and likeness to cooperate with Him in His creation by their giving life and forming a family. Consecrated persons, who renounce marriage, actually show its sacredness by bestowing the totality of their love on God for whom all life exists. The virtue of chastity is so much needed in our society today which has lost the sense of what love, marriage, and sexuality are all about. No one gives witness to that virtue more than consecrated men and women living chastity to the fullest.

Poverty reminds us that all depends on God. It also reminds us of the need we have to share this world’s goods and riches with one another. All the material goods which God has given us are meant to bring us closer to Him. This message is so important in a society driven by materialism. It is not what we own that defines who we are but our attitude in how we use this world’s goods in our daily lives. By renouncing material possessions in a radical manner, the consecrated person reminds us that it is God who is our ultimate goal and most cherished possession.

Obedience reminds us of the need we all have to submit to the will of God, especially in our particular vocation. Obedience also reminds us of the need we have to listen to each other in respect and in tolerance. The word obedience in Latin actually means to listen to. Listening to God means listening to our parents, children, legitimate superiors, and all those who deserve our respect as persons made in God’s image. Listening to another also means giving another what is most precious to us, our time. By being obedient to God in the fullest manner, consecrated persons show all of us that we need to be more silent and to listen to God in the various ways He speaks.

My own life has been influenced by many religious sisters, brothers, and priests. It continues to be so by the dedication and example of those who live the consecrated life in our diocese in such a joyful manner. As a bishop, perhaps more than ever, I rely upon our consecrated men and women to nurture the heart of the Church as well as my own ministry. With all of the faithful of the Diocese of Palm Beach, I offer a tremendous thanks to all our religious sisters, brothers, and priests, from so many congregations, without whom the Church in southern Florida simply would not be what it is.