World Day of Consecrated Life – February 2, 2018

A reflection by Sr Inigo Joachim from the Congregation of St Anne, Mumbai, India on how the religious can still be relevent in Asia.

Jan 31, 2018

Consecrated life in Asia today
When I think of Consecrated life from an Asian perspective, I see two kinds of pictures or two sides of the same coin. At least a few countries in Asia have still been blessed with plenty of vocations to religious life. In spite of ultra-modernity and scientific progress, young men and women, full of zeal and enthusiasm, come forward to dedicate their lives to serve the poor and the marginalized of our society. Though the idea that religious life is set apart or higher than married life is no longer widespread, it is admirable to note that the Christian families, at least in some parts of India, still consider their children responding to the call of the Lord as a blessing and privilege and encourage them to commit themselves to this life. As a result, we are almost 125,000 religious in India today.

The other side of the picture is also true in Asia. Such an outlook has changed radically in some parts of our countries; many parents do not necessarily speak on this, or encourage children to such a form of life. When children are offered options for the future, very few mention the religious/priestly life. There is also a growing anti-clericalism and anti-religious feeling among many Christians, especially the youth. Social attitudes have changed and ‘vocations’ are fewer. There is also one simple fact: in many places, there are fewer children today than in the past.

The focus of our Life:
In bygone days, we were looked upon as truly men and women of, and for God, and they radiated a certain amount of holiness. Today, many are caught up with schools, administration of hospitals and other social works. They may find too little time to move away from their offices and present themselves before the Lord so that they might bear witness. Earlier, we would often witness priests and nuns spending hours in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord and praying with and for the people.

The Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Apostles began their mission with surprisingly great success: personal witness to a personal experience of God. Unfortunately, even in Asia, the scenario changed. When wealth and power and authority increased, the need to rely on the power of the Spirit decreased. If we rely on competency and human efficiency alone, then we are facing a crisis in our life. There is an urgent need to change this image. We are not asking today “What will be the future of religious life” but our question is “What kind of Consecrated Life we want in the future”.

Our God is a missionary God. To Him every call is addressed in view of a Mission, a service. Every human vocation is God’s answer to the cry of a person. Nobody is called because of personal talents and goodness. We are called because someone cries out to God and God seeks, through a vocation, to respond to this cry. Hence, every time he says: “Let my people go” – Ex: 3: 7; 5:1; 7:16, 26; 9:1, 13; 10:3. The call from the poor and the needy is the Biblical pattern. God calls Moses because he has heard the cry of His people in Egypt. Moses received his call when he saw a fellow Jew being ill-treated by an Egyptian (Ex: 2: 11-12); judges and the Prophets heard their call when their people were in some form of trouble and suffering and needed help. Jesus Himself would begin His mission with the “Good News” to the poor.

What do we need today?
Today we are talking about re-vitalisation, re-charging, re-energising, renewing, re-casting, re-founding, re-evangelising, re-visiting, re-structuring and re-imaging consecrated life, re-looking into important aspects like spirituality, contemplation, renunciation, etc., and re-visioning our mission, formation and life-style, and moving beyond. What has been relevant for one epoch seems to be no more meaningful and relevant. Everything seems to be outdated and meaningless.

The Vatican II Document Perfectae Caritatis mandated the Religious Congregations to “a constant return to the sources of their foundations and to adapt themselves to the changing signs of our times.” This is followed by the SYNOD in Rome on Vita Consecrata, AMOR meeting in Thailand on the theme Called to move beyond, the Call of UISG on the theme Mysticism and prophecy, Theological Seminar on Consecrated Life in 2012. Pope Francis designated the “Year of Consecrated Life” from Nov-2014 to Feb-2016 for us to reflect once again, seriously, on the meaning and purpose of religious life and to change our old mindset, thought-pattern and ideology as they are old wine-skins which do not contain the solution for new challenges. -- inigojoachim.com

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