The Church’s World Day of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2 is about relationship — the special and total oblation the consecrated person makes to God in Christ as a member of a religious order or other institute.
The Church observes its day for consecrated life on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, an occasion when the consecrated traditionally renew their vows or promises — a reaffirmation of their original commitment to pursue sanctity for the rest of their lives.
Simeon and Anna, who are permitted to see the Infant Jesus and recognize him as the long-awaited Messiah, are two key characters in the Gospel account of the Presentation, and serve as models of the consecrated life.
Simeon was “righteous and devout,” and Anna “never left the temple, but worshipped day and night with fasting and prayer.” These holy pursuits made them happy, no doubt, but we can tell from their words that their vocations also filled them with a terrible longing that was only relieved in their advanced years with the coming of Christ.
Religious priests, brothers, and nuns begin consecrated lives as novices, spending their first year of service dedicated to prayer and learning the spiritual life. It is not unusual for novices to experience intense “consolation,” the certainty of God’s soothing presence, that he is close, extremely close.
Their instructors will counsel the neophytes that such intense pleasure at prayer will not last forever, that “prayer of the heart” also includes occasional (even prolonged) dryness, weariness and diminished exuberance, especially with the passage of years.
This is something that we all must keep in mind, especially those of us who have set out to imitate Anna and Simeon and our consecrated friends by taking on serious prayer commitments.
Pope John Paul II has said that the Year of the Eucharist is the ideal time to consider — or deepen — such commitments in order to foster deeper personal devotion to Christ.
He has also called for the promotion by pastors of Eucharistic adoration, a practice many had previously assumed was the exclusive bailiwick of the clergy and religious.
In a collection of testimonies from average lay Catholics who have taken up regular adoration, one man, a convert from practical atheism, describes how he was swept off his feet after discovering Christ in the Eucharist. The man, identified only as Mal, reports that this was followed by “times when I felt as if I was going through the motions.”
“In fact, the sweetness really only lasted about three months,” he told the Register’s David Pearson for the book No Wonder They Call It The Real Presence: Lives Changed by Christ in Eucharistic Adoration. Though discouraged, Mal resolved to remain faithful.
Anna and Simeon and the consecrated souls throughout history teach us to be patient, to know that God often lets us experience his presence early on in a tangible and pleasant way so that, hopefully, we will recall those experiences, meditate on them, write about them in our journals, and draw on them in the drier seasons of life.
In time, we may see that the early elation of prayer is just one of a number of preparatory experiences leading to what Mal calls the “the real relationship” that unfolds over much time and in myriad ways.
Joe Cullen writes from
Floral Park, New York.