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Mass for Religious
The Witness of Consecrated Life

There can be little doubt that consecrated life in the Church is at a crossroads. I have spent the last few days attending a conference organized by the Pastoral Research Office of the Bishops Conference. I am currently chair of the PRO.

Incidentally, the first chair of what is now the PRO was Archbishop Adrian Doyle. At the conference dinner there was the presentation of the first Archbishop Doyle Award for outstanding service to pastoral research.

I attended a workshop given by Fr Noel Connolly on the situation of religious in the Catholic Church in Australia today. The statistics presented simply express what we know only too well. Allow me to quote some figures:
In 1901 there were 4,205 religious (sisters, brothers, priests) in Australia. In 1966 there were 19,413. In 2009 there were 8,422.

Among women religious in Australia the largest age group is those between the ages of 75-79.

We all know that we are going through a period of significant transition, particularly for women religious. A number of orders have come to the decision not to accept new members. They have come to see that they must pass into history.

It is also true to note that many religious do not find themselves burdened by this reality, but continue to live out their consecration to the Lord in joy and generosity. For this I salute you. You are living by faith. We know, as Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, we are not called to be successful but to the faithful. You are being faithful.

The decline in religious life should not be understood in any way as the end of the place and value of consecrated life in the Church. This calling has been such a strong feature of our Catholic heritage. It is currently experiencing a decline, but, I believe, it remains a true vocation in the Church. It will find new expression and new vibrancy.

This is a moment of kenosis for religious life as we have known it. This time is not without its own fruitfulness.
Religious life is first and foremost a bold witness to the supreme value of a life given over totally to Jesus Christ. He has become all in all. This witness is still of great importance in our world which is so marked by consumerism and by a desire to live for the moment.

Religious life is a witness to the definitive value of the spiritual. It is testimony to the worth of selling everything for the sake of possessing the one thing of ultimate value – the pearl of great price – the Kingdom of God. You continue to witness to this.

This moment in history is a moment for religious to embrace the wisdom of weakness: to be small and humble. It is the way of the Lord who came amongst us in obscurity and poverty at Bethlehem. Religious living hidden lives of quiet fidelity and service are close to Christ who came not with fanfare and manifestation of power.
This is not the hour for success or efficiency. This is not the hour for impressive display of achievement. This is the hour for littleness and waiting. In your humility and simplicity you are close to Nazareth where the Lord spent the bulk of his life.

Today I invite you to keep your focus on the one who drew you initially to this life: on Jesus, your lover and your friend.
Seek him and continue your surrender to him. Let him be the Lord and Master of your life and your future. Yearn for him in your hearts. Ask him to accept you as a pure sacrifice.

Today I invite you to recall your first love. I invite you to remember that sacred experience of being called. I encourage you to embrace with fresh desire the movement of your heart to give yourself with total self-giving to the one who spoke to your heart.

Take a moment to taste again the attraction of being religious, of embracing the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience. Allow the love which seized your heart to once again stir you to offer all to Christ.

Finally, let the joy of the Lord capture your spirit. Let the great prayer of the Blessed Virgin sing in your spirit: my soul glorifies the Lord.

If you feel at times the intensity of the cross, remember your song of joy and stand there knowing that God will be faithful – death will turn to life, darkness to joy, despair to hope.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St Peter. It is a feast of the gift of the Lord to his Church. He would not only raise up the Church but he would bless it with a leader who, though a frail human being, would in some wonderful way be the safeguard of its unity and fidelity.

This feast is an expression of the intention of God that the work of his Son would be effectively continued through the Church.

The Church is our mother. The spouse of Christ. We live our consecrated life within the Church, protected and nurtured by the Church. We love the Church because Christ loves his bride the Church. In loving the Church we offer filial obedience to the one chosen by God to lead us. Peter now lives as Francis.

Lord God, today we thank you for the calling to embrace you in a consecrated life. It has been a life of joy and fruitfulness. May we be faithful to the end. Amen.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, February 21, 2014