Archdiocesan Mass for Consecrated Life
March 18, 2017
St. Agnes Parish, Catonsville
By Archbishop William E. Lori
Thank you for taking part in this annual Archdiocesan Mass for Consecrated Life. It is an opportunity for me and for this local Church of Baltimore to recognize and give thanks for the rich and varied vocation to the consecrated life a vocation represented so well by each of you and by your communities. The charisms of your founders find expression in your many ministries that directly benefit and strengthen our fellow Catholics and the wider community. For all of this, and for so much more, please accept my heartfelt gratitude, coupled with my prayers for you and for your institutes. In a special way we honor those celebrating anniversaries of their religious profession, ranging from 25 years to 50, to 60, to 65, 70, 75, and even an 80th anniversary! Warmest thanks and congratulations!
Due to a variety of scheduling complications, mostly of my doing, we come together deep into the season of Lent. Aside for the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Lent has a somber, penitential character, as we journey toward the Cross and meditate frequently on the mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Death. With this in mind, we celebrate today a votive Mass in honor of “the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross”. In fact, this Mass comes to us not from the general Roman Missal but rather from the Proper of Masses of the Order of the Servants of Mary. So, I hope that this votive Mass and its readings speak eloquently to you and to the vocation which you strive to live with generosity and joy.
As you know, the Church holds up the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of consecration for those called to this evangelical way of life. You might remember, as do I, the words of Pope St. John Paul II in this regard: “Mary,” he wrote, “is the sublime example of perfect consecration, since she belongs completely to God and is totally devoted to him” (VC, 28). He went on to explain that her life and example speaks has much to say to those who, like yourselves, have responded to the vocation of consecrated life. Mary reminds us that God always takes the initiative in our lives – it is the Lord who calls us, guides us, and sustains us. As Mary contemplated God’s Word and then conceived the Word in her womb, she models how it is that we are to welcome God’s grace and gifts into our hearts. As one who nurtured Christ and accompanied him at crucial moments in his public life Mary teaches us what “unconditional discipleship” and “loving service” really mean. Ancient Christian writers would often say of Mary that she lived the Beatitudes long before Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount, thus spurring us on to evangelical poverty, purity of heart, and faith-filled obedience to the Law of Love. Mary illustrates for you and me complete openness to the Holy Spirit, an openness that leads to union with Son of God and intimacy with the Father. In all these ways, Mary models for us what it means to make our lives a gift for others by being wholly consecrated – body, mind, and spirit – to God.
Yet, in a very real sense, Mary’s whole life was a journey toward Calvary, the very journey that you and I are called to make during these forty days of Lent. From the start, Mary’s unique calling required that she sacrifice her plans, and that she suffer grave misunderstanding as she was found to be with child. As she encountered one mysterious event after another in the life of her Son, Scripture says that she kept these things in her heart, in her memory. How often she must have reflected on Simeon’s words that her heart would be pierced with a sword of sorrow. As Jesus went about preaching the Gospel and healing the sick, and in the process drawing crowds and winning people over, Mary had to understand that her Son was in danger. Loving Mother that she was, she could not miss the gathering storm.
At length, we find Mary at the foot of the Cross. Together with some other women and John the beloved disciple, Mary followed him to Calvary . . . there to share in the Lord’s utter gift of self. This she did more fully than any other person in all of human history; on Calvary, Mary offered her own life in union with Jesus. And she stood at the foot of the Cross she was truly the sorrowful virgin; yet she also stood before her crucified Son as the intrepid woman of faith. She had already assimilated into the depths of her soul the confident faith of which St. Paul would later write in his letter to the Romans: “If God is for us who can be against us?” “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”…neither life nor death… nor any sum of hardship, illness, adversity, or persecution. For that reason Jesus gave her to us as our spiritual mother and she is in a uniquely beautiful way your mother, for she is so close to you as in God’s grace you strive to live your vocation, to make your whole life a gift of self, in a manner that is truly radical, in a manner capable of “waking up the world”, as Pope Francis has said.
As you know, better than I, the consecrated life is often described in such high-sounding terms that it almost seems to be a bed of roses or a walk in the park. I’ve been around the Church long enough to know better than that! Like all vocations, your life of prayer, community, and service all framed within the evangelical councils and crowned by your founder’s charism – …your vocation has its ups and downs, its good days and its bad days, its moments of joy and its moments of disappointment, its seasons of clarity and its seasons of perplexity and worry.
Indeed, no one should romanticize what a difficult proposition it is to live as one wholly consecrated to the Lord. For, Cross and Consecration go together! They are intertwined and inseparable so long as we are in this world. Consecrated life requires an extraordinary degree of self-abnegation – denying oneself, picking up the Cross and following in the Savior’s footsteps… and this occurs not merely in times of prayer and penance but indeed in many practical ways, in the course of your daily life and ministry, and in the course of one’s advancing years, with all the challenges that brings. Indeed your whole life, like Mary’s, could be described as a journey toward Calvary where you also stand at the foot of the Cross and share in the utter self-oblation, the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.
The strength of your faith and the warmth of your love with which you make a gift of self in company with your religious families is a source life and vitality for the whole Church – for those you minister to and interact with daily – and for those whom you may never meet or converse with. Your consecration bears eloquent witness to the Gospel at the center of which stands the Crucified Savior and at the heart of which stands the Blessed Virgin Mary. Your witness through thick and thin calls all of us to discipleship, to a life of Gospel simplicity, to generosity in service, to singlehearted love, to bearing the Cross with a deep faith and joy nothing and no one can take from us.
Dear sisters, please accept my sincerest thanks and the thanks of all the Church. May the Lord inspire many young people to discern a vocation to consecrated life and may the Lord grant them the faith and generosity to respond. And may Mary at the Foot of the Cross continue to be close to you, may she share with you her uniquely maternal love, as you stand before the Cross and bear witness to the love that is unlike any other love.
May God bless us and keep us always in this love!