DAY OF CONSECRATED PERSONS: A SERMON ON THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
There are different categories of people in the Catholic Church and the terminology we use is very important. A cousin of mine once saw an application letter I wrote in which I said ‘…God is calling me to become a religious’. He quickly corrected me that I should have said ‘…God is calling me to become religious or to become a religious person’. Well, what he did not know was that there is a difference between saying that someone is ‘religious’ and that someone is ‘a religious’. Every christian is religious, in the sense that they practice a religion, but there is a specific category of people called religious. For example, every priest is religious, but not every priest is a religious. This term has nothing to do with who is holier and who is not, that is for God to judge.
In the catholic church, we have people we call the clergy, and they are deacons, priests and bishops. Sisters/Brothers do not belong to the group called clergy. So the big division is clergy and lay. Every other person including the people we call Reverend Sisters are lay people. By the way, there is nothing like a Reverend Sister. A sister is a sister, as long as you don’t confuse them with your sisters at home. The same goes to a brother. Only the clergy are rightly called reverend.
Among the laity there are two categories. One special category of lay people are the ones we call religious. They are called religious because they belong to a religious order/congregation/institute. What makes them religious is the vows they take. The basic vows are what we call the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Some religious are in temporal vows while others are in perpetual vows. Those in temporal vows have taken a vow which expires after a certain number of years and can be renewed after that. Those in perpetual vows have taken the vows for life. Sisters and brothers are considered religious in this sense of the word. Also, some priests, even though they are clergy are also religious in this sense of the word. Another term used for the religious is to call them consecrated persons. I am a priest, but I am also a religious in the sense that I am a Redemptorist. So, I am bound both by the promises made by a priest and also by the vows made by a religious, namely Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. However, it so happens that the promises made by the priest also include to live a simple, chaste and obedient life. It is all in the spirit of dedicating one’s life completely to God.
The reason why I am going into all the technicality is because today, being the feast of the presentation of the Lord, is considered the feast day of all consecrated persons. In a sense, all christians are consecrated at baptism and dedicated to God in a special way, but today, consecrated persons in the church are to reflect in a special way on the life they have chosen, examine themselves and rededicate themselves to God, just as Jesus is presented in the temple. As we celebrate and congratulate all the religious in the world, let us all reflect on the promises and vows we have all made to God. The religious reflect today on their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Priests reflect on the promises they made at ordination. Let all of us christians reflect on the promises we made at our baptism. Let all confirmed catholics reflect on the promises they made at confirmation. Let all married people reflect on their marital vows. Of course, we are not perfect, but let us all continue to pray for perfection as we all continue to strive towards the kingdom of God. Let everything that lives and that breathes, give praise to the Lord.