Pope Francis recently declared 2015 to be a year dedicated to consecrated life. By doing so, he wishes to highlight “beauty and preciousness of this unique form of Christian discipleship”. There are many forms of consecrated life: cloistered nuns, active sisters, hermits, consecrated virgins, teaching brothers, lay missionaries,etc, but one thing they all have in common is a sincere desire to respond to an invitation God has placed in their heart. And if you were to ask any of these sisters, priests or brothers about their vocation, I think that most would say that they are humbled that God would choose someone as weak and sinful as themselves to carry out His will. And then they would say that they couldn’t imagine doing anything more worthwhile or fulfilling with their lives.
Mother Angeline wrote to her sisters frequently about the nature and value of the religious vocation. She wanted her daughters to deeply appreciate that God has called them in a special way to serve Him in his elderly: a Carmelite Sister for the Aged and Infirm is a soul set apart with a very definite mission in life to accomplish. Hers is the difficult task of being at one and the same time both mother and a child. She must be a mother to those aging souls who need a mother’s care, and she must at the same time look upon herself as the child of aging ones and act exactly the same toward them as she would toward her own dear parents.
Mother knew that in the busyness and trials of daily life, we can often forget that we are part of a much larger plan, a plan that God is directing with only our brief understanding of it. When we lose this perspective, our problems can seem insurmountable and our sufferings intolerable. With the wisdom of her years, and grace that came from her role as Mother Superior, she was able to say to her sisters: what matter the little aches and pains we must all bear; the sufferings of mind that sometimes come to torture us: loneliness, humiliation, fatigue or discouragement? If only we could grasp the true worth of the pearl of great price which we now possess, we would stop at nothing to make our religious lives all they should be.
Mother believed that the heart of religious life lie within the vow of obedience: it is the Vow of Obedience that gives to Religious Profession the characteristic mark of sacrifice. With the idea of sacrifice goes the thought of self-denial, self-control and pain. It is in obedience that we let go of that which is most precious to us-our will- in order to serve a higher purpose. And it is in obedience that we follow most closely in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ whole life was directed to carrying out the will of His father, and in doing so, he let go of placing himself in the center of any decision. Whatever he did, whatever he preached, it was always in perfect obedience to the Father’s will. At his deepest moment of prayer, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus expresses this total orientation of his life when he says, “Not my will, but Yours be done”.
While Mother’s words were written for her own Carmelite sisters, I think they hold true for all Christian disciples. All of us have a call, a vocation given to us by God, and we all have a role to play in His salvific plan for the world. Some carry out it out as consecrated religious, others as married men and women, as parents, or as lay people, and this call is truly precious and needs to be carefully attended to. It demands constant prayer and regular sacrifice. It also demands obedience, which is not a slavish adherence to rules and regulations, but is an openness of the heart and mind to the will of God. It does mean putting away our own agendas and ways of seeing things so that we can participate more fully in God’s plan. It’s is not easy to let go of being masters of our own destiny, but if we could only, as Mother suggests, glimpse what God has in store for us, we would realize what we gain is so much better than anything we give up.