Being consecrated to Christ - Nano Nagle Mass

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Dear students, I am sure you are well aware of the life of Nano Nagle. I am sure you have been inspired by what she was able to accomplish during a most difficult time in Irish history. The so called “Penal Laws’ were harsh and aimed at what the British parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, said “to reduce the Catholics in Ireland to a miserable populace, without property, without estimation, without education.”

She was able to be secretly educated in France and was drawn to religious life. Let us pause there for a moment. This young girl wanted to enter a religious congregation, initially it was the Ursulines, a well-known religious congregation in Paris. Why would she want to become a religious? Have you ever thought about that?

Later she would form a new religious community in the Church. As she began to work among the poor she devoted herself to education. In 1775, when she was 56 years old, Nano Nagle invited two young women who assisted her in the schools to join her as the first members of her own religious order. Another young woman later joined them. She wanted to have a group of women dedicated to the education of those who were poor and destitute.

On Christmas Eve 1775, Nano’s own congregation of sisters was established. They first called themselves at first “the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”. When in 1805 the Order was approved by Rome, the name of the congregation was changed to “The Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. This congregation of women who have consecrated their lives to Christ are now in more than twenty countries across the world and are numbered in the thousands. Her vision and her work continues 240 years on.

Why was Nano Nagle attracted to religious life and why did she establish a congregation of religious women to serve the poor particularly through education?

Throughout the history of the Church women have chosen to consecrate their lives to Christ. Traditionally in the Church a person who chooses religious life lives under three key vows:

• Poverty – they choose to own nothing themselves but share all things in common and they choose to lead a simple life.
• Chastity – they choose to not marry so that they can devote themselves single mindedly to their mission.
• Obedience – they choose to live under obedience to their superiors.

They choose to live in community with other sisters and usually engage in some particular apostolic work.

In the world of today this is indeed a radical thing to do. Yet today there are more than 702, 000 women who have chosen to live this way of life. Certainly in countries like Australia the number of religious women has declined in recent decades, but across the world there are still many hundreds of young women each year choosing to embrace religious life.

Last year I was in Vietnam and there I met communities of dozens of young religious full of joy and fun. I have been in France and been with a community that has a hundred young women in formation. I have been in the US, of of all places, Nashville Tennessee, where I celebrated a Mass for over 80 young women becoming Dominican nuns. Among them are now 12 Australians.

In many places across the world religious life is a great attraction for young Catholic women. Why?

Well, there is a mystery. The mystery is the mystery of a calling, an attraction, a desire. Something happens in the heart of a young woman that perhaps she cannot explain. They are drawn to serve God in this way. Often the responding to this call is a moment of extraordinary joy and excitement, not dissimilar to a young women responding to the invitation of a young man she loves to marry him. Christ, in a way, asks a young woman to give their hearts wholly to him. They respond with joy.

The desire in the heart of a young woman is to give over all to Christ. And it is inspired by love. There is a desire to live a life of simplicity, uncluttered by worldly things. There is a desire to serve, to love, to show compassion. All of this is touches the heart and inflames it with joy.

While we see the ageing of religious in Tasmania at present, I believe God has not stopped calling young women to embrace religious life. Religious life is not dying in the Church. There will be fresh expressions of religious life. I know many young women who feel the call to consecrate their lives to God – one just wrote to me the other day asking advice.

In the Church Pope Francis has dedicated this year as the Year for Consecrated Life as he wanted to call the Church to see what a great blessing consecrated religious are to the Church. They are a great blessing and enrich the life of the Church wonderfully. This College would not be here today but for one young woman, Nano Nagle who chose to consecrate her life to Christ as a religious.

Today as we honour Nano Nagle and are inspired by her life, we could take a moment in this Mass to pray a simple prayer to her: “Should I follow your example and become a religious and serve God and the poor as you did?”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, April 23, 2015