Religious women and men are a gift to archdiocese

The archdiocese celebrated World Day for Consecrated Life last Saturday. Are you concerned about the number of vocations to the religious life?

It is a concern, but we must realize that God is faithful. He is calling women and men to religious life as sisters and brothers. It’s our responsibility to make sure the ground is fertile. It’s so easy to just say, “Let God do it” or “Let George or Georgia do it.” All of us have to do our part in calling people forward. When I visit parishes for various liturgical events, I always ask people to pray for those young people in their own parish whom God is calling to religious life. I believe that in every parish there is at least one young woman and one young man who is being called to be a leader in the church. People will come up to me later and say, “I really think Sylvia or Jack is a fine young person and can be a leader in the church.” My question to them always is, “Well, have you asked the young person to think about it?” And nine out of 10 times, the answer is no. That’s where we’re not doing our part. We should be going up to that person and saying, “I admire you. You seem to be filled with faith. You’re an example of what it means to be a leader in the church. Would you consider being a religious sister or brother?”

Can you imagine your own life without the influence of religious sisters and brothers?
I can’t. I come from a privileged perspective, because through eight years of elementary school I was taught by the Mount Carmel sisters, through four years of high school I had the Sacred Heart brothers, through four years of college I had the Benedictine monks, and then when I was studying theology at Notre Dame Seminary I had priests, sisters and other religious as teachers. I cannot imagine my life without the influence of those religious sisters and brothers. I cannot imagine having responded to a call to the priesthood without their nurturing and love. On the Feast of the Presentation last month, the Holy Father said very boldly, “Can you imagine the church without nuns?” And, he said, “It is unimaginable to me.” I feel the same way.

What’s going on in the archdiocese in terms of vocations to the religious life?
There’s no doubt God uses people to awaken us to the call and to help us respond to the call. I’m very pleased that we have established Magnificat House, which is a discernment house for women. We opened the house two years ago. It’s an opportunity for a young woman to live in the house, to either work or go to school, and to participate in a formation and discernment program that gives her the opportunity to prayerfully reflect on religious life. She also can be exposed to and come to know a number of different religious communities. We have six women in the house right now, and I know there are more women out there who are being called to discern. I would hope that as we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life that we give serious thought and prayer to these budding vocations.

What’s the cultural climate for vocations?
It is difficult. I remember a young woman telling me she was very interested in entering religious life, and a couple of months later, she came back and told me she was entering the postulancy and hoped to go into the novitiate. I asked her how she was doing and said, “That’s exciting, but you look sad.” She told me, “Well, I’m excited on the inside, but I told my dad about it a couple of days ago and he asked me why I was wasting my life.” This is the response we sometimes get from parents. There are two problems with that response. Why would a parent not want a child to respond to God’s call to religious life and to leadership in the church? And secondly – and I say this delicately and politely – why would parents want to impose their will on their child instead of allowing their child to do God’s will? Sometimes, if it’s an older person considering a vocation, it might be his or her coworkers who sort of chuckle and say, “Why would you waste your life like that? Why don’t you want to be successful?” Is it not being successful to serve the Lord? As Mother Teresa said, “I don’t want to be successful. I want to be faithful to what God wants of me.”

Is it ever too late for a person to consider religious life?
It depends on the religious community. Some religious communities think that someone over 40 is too old. Others would say someone 55 is too old. But if a person feels called, he or she needs to be in dialogue with that religious community to find out what the community’s expectations are.

Can you explain the idea of religious communities having a specific “charism”?
Charism means gift. Through prayerful discernment, a religious community chooses a charism. It’s a particular area of ministry it chooses with God’s inspiration to focus on in order to offer as a gift to the church a specific ministry that is needed. Some religious communities focus on teaching, health care, the sick, nursing, social services or work with the poor and the homeless. The Holy Father has called for 2015 to be a year dedicated to the consecrated life, and (Mount Carmel) Sister Beth Fitzpatrick (the vicar for religious) and I are definitely planning what we can do in parishes and beyond to spotlight and encourage religious life and leadership in the church. Please pray in thanksgiving for our religious sisters, brothers and priests. They are a gift to us. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, we have 413 sisters, 66 brothers and 140 priests belonging to religious communities of men. We give thanks to God for them!

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