By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Pope Francis has designated this year as the Year of Consecrated Life. Among other things, it sheds a spotlight on responding to the call to witness and serve those on the margins. In the churches I serve each week we pray for an increase in the number of priests, brothers, sisters, deacons and lay ministers.
Looking back over the years there never has been a lack of dedicated Christians who, by their lifestyle and service, have made an impact on those they reached out to. Sometimes they, and their ministry, go unrecognized. This is understandable since people on the margins are often invisible.
The initial readings for Ordinary Time stress the prophetic tradition. The Holy Spirit calls people to witness and raise the consciousness of people to rededicate themselves and live their lives authentically. The way the readings are paired up we see that John the Baptist and Jesus both come out of this tradition.
From our baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and throughout our lives we may be called to do something significant. For some of us it is religious life, for others it is a focused lifestyle and a specialized service to specific groups. Many religious congregations started out like this. For example, last week we remembered Angela Merici. She may not ring a bell with many of us, but she was an ordinary woman in her day at the end of the 15th century. Moved by the number of street children, especially girls, she got organized and with her companions started to teach these children. She founded a community dedicated to St. Ursula. The Ursuline Sisters made a huge contribution in building up the American Catholic school system. Their convent in New Orleans is still visited by many in need of a miracle. People know of the Ursulines, but may not know about their founder.
Another example I will cite is Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity. She was married, raised a family, widowed and wanted to do more. Many, like these two, were ordinary people whose calling evolved into a religious congregation. Not all do.
Dorothy Day is an example. The Catholic Worker Movement, through witnessing a distinct lifestyle, is still a group made up of lay people. The point I am making is that our baptism is the source of our vocation. When you are baptized you become an active member of Christ’s body, and are called to do what he did. The acronym made popular a few years ago, WJJD, (what would Jesus do?) expresses something about our call as Christians, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.
Several people close to me died in the last two months, and all were exceptional Christians. Recently I was at the funeral of one whose whole life reflected her Christian faith and passion for social justice. For her, what happened in the community is as important as what happens in the church. She focused her energy on education, and the rights of students in school. She saw the direct link between dropping out of school and going to prison, so she co-founded a local group that affiliated with a national movement to break the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline. She was particularly focused on policies that pushed kids out rather than kept them in school. She believed that human rights belong to everyone and are rooted in the Gospel.
She was a fighter for children’s rights in school, a parent advocate on Mississippi Families as Allies for Children’s Mental Health Inc. Board and for 12 years she was on the Holmes County School Board. All of this was driven by her Christian faith, her passion for children being treated fairly and her commitment to enacting policies that protected them and improved the schools.
The organizations and coalitions that she founded or cooperated with were strengthened by her unselfish passion for justice. All the money in the world could not make her do what she did. It was a calling, a vocation. She will be sorely missed, but leaves a powerful legacy.
When we look at vocations, how God calls people to do what they do, we need a wide lens. The Holy Spirit is calling people every day, and many answer the call. We need to support, encourage and pray that more hear the call of God and answer it. I will have more to say on this topic as the year progresses.
“The harvest is ripe, pray the Lord to send laborers into the harvest.”
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)
Vocation not just for consecrated Christians