I’m a public school boy. In fact, I didn’t go to Catholic school until I was 26 — when I entered the seminary! I didn’t know any nuns growing up. Religious life was a mystery to me. However, I do know that many of you reading this did attend Catholic school and were taught by sisters. Perhaps you grew up in or currently attend a parish run by religious priests.
Thus, as some of you have always known, and I only came to experience later in life, the consecrated life is a tremendous gift and blessing to the Catholic Church, and indeed to the entire world. During this Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis with the theme “Wake Up the World!” I would like to offer an appreciation of our religious sisters, brothers and priests from the perspective of a diocesan priest. (Feb. 2 was the annual Day of Consecrated Life, although parishes are encouraged to observe it the weekend of Feb. 7-8.)
Although I did not grow up knowing religious sisters personally, when I entered the seminary in 1997 I knew instinctively that developing a close relationship with the sisters would be essential to my vocation. Why? Because I knew from afar the beauty and powerful witness that religious life has had on the life of the Church — past, present and with God’s grace, far into the future. And I knew that I would need their support and friendship.
I have been extremely blessed to have come to know and become dear friends with numerous religious over the years. What a gift the sisters who teach in our Catholic schools have been and are to countless generations of students and families. How many hours have religious spent in the ICUs, ERs, cancer and neonatal units of our hospitals, comforting and counseling and praying with the sick and dying? Think of the souls who have fled to retreat houses in the mountains or in the desert seeking peace and prayer and rest away from the frantic pace of their daily lives, only to be received at the monastery or convent by a brother or nun who receives them as if receiving Christ himself. How many more examples I could name!
As my years of seminary formation unfolded, especially through my studies of Church history and my more frequent interactions with religious, I began to feel quite attracted to the religious life. One year after our annual retreat with a Trappist monk, I thought that perhaps I was being called to monastic life. When a missionary priest came to my parish for a mission appeal, I dreamt about going off to a foreign land to work in the missions. As I read St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure and St. John of the Cross, I successively (albeit briefly!) considered whether I should leave the diocesan seminary and join the Dominicans or the Franciscans or the Carmelites.
In summary, I was enthralled and inspired by how the Holy Spirit has worked through men and women in the consecrated life throughout the history of the Church. I was moved by their humble yet joyful witness of the evangelical counsels — poverty, chastity and obedience. And I wanted to be a part of it.
In the end through much patience, discernment and prayer, I was at peace knowing that God was indeed calling me to be a diocesan priest. However, what was impressed upon my soul was that we diocesan priests could not do what we do if not for the special consecration and sacrifices made by religious through the myriad apostolates, ministries and spiritualties that they share with the Church and the world.
I attribute the gift of my priestly vocation in a large measure to the daily prayers, intercession and sacrifices of many holy and faithful religious sisters. They were praying for me before I even knew that God was calling me to be a priest. They prayed me through the seminary. And they have sustained me by their sisterly love and support for my 11 years as a priest.
Who are they? They are cloistered Visitation Sisters in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the Trinitarians of Mary Sisters in Tecate, Baja California. Carmelite Sisters throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Holy Faith and Notre Dame Sisters in our parish schools and Missionaries of Charity at St. Emydius Church in Lynwood, serving the poorest of the poor. They are the over 130 religious jubilarians that we celebrated on Jan. 25 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels — together they represent over 7,500 years of consecration and service to the Church and to the world!
I think St. Teresa of the Andes sums it up well:
“The goal a [Carmelite] proposes to herself is very great;to pray and sanctify herself for sinners and for priests.She immolates herself on the Cross and her blood fallson the priests to sanctify them.”
Thanks be to God for them! On behalf of one extremely grateful diocesan priest, and indeed the entire Church, we extend to all our religious sisters, brothers and priests during this Year of Consecrated Life our heartfelt and profound gratitude for each one of your vocations. Your rewards will be great in heaven. May they be abundant for you here on earth as well. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of all religious, St. Joseph and your saintly founders intercede for you always before our loving God. Thank you for “waking up the world” to Jesus Christ.