59th Annual St. Nicholas Celebration

‘Family: The Foundation of Consecrated Life’
What Laity can Learn from Consecrated Lives

(Part 3 of 4)

The theme for this year’s St. Nicholas Event is “Family: The Foundation of Consecrated Life.” This theme highlights two major overlapping events: the Year of Consecrated Life (celebrated from the First Sunday of Advent – the weekend of November 29, 2014 – until February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life) and the World Meeting of Families, which took place this September in Philadelphia and included an historic visit from Pope Francis. The following third column of this four-part series reflects upon what laity can learn from those living consecrated lives.

In the first two parts of this series, we saw how religious communities are modeled after the family and how consecrated persons witness to living the fundamental values of the Gospels. In this reflection, we consider their unique model of leadership and what lay families can learn from it.

Those in consecrated life show us daily how they are called to follow the will of God and also the will of their entire religious community. Communities are stronger when this type of leadership/follower dynamic model is realized. It is the same leadership model of Jesus from which laity may benefit by understanding its rewards.

Anyone living in a community understands the need to support one another and share burdens, but it’s not always obvious that we can grow and mature when we obey our leaders. “Obeying” someone may sound very unappealing, even humiliating, but not when it’s understood that those we obey have our best interests in mind. Our guide for understanding this dynamic is Pope Paul VI’s decree, Perfectae Caritatis, “In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God’s salvific will” (cf. 14).

Furthermore, obeying someone’s will becomes more attractive when we remember that Jesus followed the same model. Again, from Perfectae Caritatis, “After the example of Jesus Christ who came to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:7; Ps. 39:9) and “assuming the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7) learned obedience in the school of suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8), religious under the motion of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves in faith to their superiors who hold the place of God. Under their guidance they are led to serve all their brothers in Christ, just as Christ himself in obedience to the Father served His brethren and laid down His life as a ransom for many” (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 10:14-18), (cf. 14).

The benefits of this type of leadership are many. First, obedience to the will of community shows a person’s special ability to work with others and help “the sum to be greater than the parts.” Second, far from lessening the dignity of the human person, submitting our wills to something greater and larger than ourselves forges stronger character and leads to spiritual maturity. Finally, under a true leader, we are stretched and pushed to reach a greater potential and grow – based on our own unique intellectual capacity and personal talent – towards our full human development.

In a culture that endlessly promotes and emphasizes individualism, it is not easy to recognize or accept the role authority plays in our lives. However, when the authority we follow constantly puts our best interests first and help us put all things into the perspective of eternity, than it is that authority that should be obeyed and that authority we should be grateful to for showing such an interest in us.

In the final part of these reflections, Part Four, we’ll conclude by looking at how consecrated persons show us how to be in the world but not of the world.