Wake up the world
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
Pope Francis has proclaimed this the Year of Consecrated Life, to “look to the past with gratitude, live the present with passion and embrace the future with hope.” Let me explore each of these a bit as a Sister of the Precious Blood.
Look to the past with gratitude: Our Sisters freely express to anyone who will listen their deep gratitude for God’s gifts that have come to them over the years, and for the people who have been part of their lives. Many, while more than willing to express gratitude to another, are somewhat reticent, however, about receiving gratitude. They can accept the “thank you” that goes with a job well done, but, maybe because they’ve poured out their lives unselfishly, they are more reluctant to be the recipients of appreciation for who they are in general. They feel they have just been doing “what they signed up for”: being for many the experience of a caring God and a sign of the redeeming love of Jesus.
They may also be reluctant because they know all too well those times when they did not give so selflessly, when the sharp retort or critical word escaped their lips unthinkingly. Sometimes it was when the burdens of service had weighed them down and worn them out, so they had to dig deeper than they had energy for to find the charity, humility or gentleness that the person or situation called for. So we say “mea culpa” with deep belief in our forgiving God.
Live in the present with passion: Since they’ve lived their whole religious lives fully caught up in the embrace of a loving God and have lived to return that love daily through adoration, contemplation, contrition, gratitude and service, “living passionately” is as normal as breathing. Although it is possible to be a mediocre religious, one would have to work really hard at being one, surrounded as we are by so many others who give so unselfishly.
For some the present finds them with less energy, unanticipated health concerns, and often beyond employment age even if in good health. But consecrated life is not about “doing.” In fact, it is often inactivity, whether chosen or enforced, that allows a Sister to have more time finally for the essentials of our life: contemplation and adoration. For many years we have been both disciples, like Mary of Bethany, sitting at the feet of Jesus wrapped in God’s love; and apostles, like Mary of Magdala, being sent to bring God’s Word to a waiting world. Now we bring the world to prayer as “elder stateswomen,” intercessors for the needs of the world. So attuned are the Sisters to God’s view of creation, that where the Reign of God is not, they petition God to break through, to soften the minds and hearts of the violent, of oppressors, of the unloved and the unloving.
Embrace the future with hope: As we age and look behind us to see so few younger, we could despair. Consecrated life is no longer an ideal for many women or men. Opportunities for things to do, places to go, things to acquire are so abundant and enticing that a life where one professes voluntary poverty, pursues joining one’s will totally to God’s, and forgoes the ideal of spouse, family and home can hardly be considered attractive. But God still calls, and some still respond with generosity – just not in the numbers we grew used to.
As religious we remind ourselves that it is God’s call, God’s church, God’s work! Hope means letting go of our own expectations and being attentive to where God is at work. Then our task, to our dying breath, is to hold on to that hope and cooperate with God wherever and however we are asked. It is in so doing that we find a joy that the world cannot give, a joy that pushes us to the margins of society to make sure that all know God’s love is available and free for the taking. So celebrate this Year of Consecrated Life and give thanks, live passionately and be hope with us.