Sr. Chikosolu Ukwuani,TMML
The joy of consecrated religious life is discernible only to the spiritual person; for the natural, it is sheer stupidity (1 Corinthians 2: 14-15). The latter would wonder why a healthy young woman would not be bothered about marriage or getting married; they would keep on questioning: why does she prefer to waste her life? Why would her parents consent to such or condone it at all?
The joy of the religious is in following Christ more closely with total self-abandonment in selfless service to Christ and his Church. The choice or option for Christ is one made in freedom and full consciousness. Thus, no religious worthy of the name needs the so called sympathy of the world provided she holds firm to the one who died on the cross to save her and win her to himself. The joy is in being one with Christ and witnessing to his union with the Church. The joy of being a religious seems obscure from the perception of some present day youths. This is obvious in the desperate ways both the young women and some of their parents go in search of marriage partners, to the point of forcing young girls, at times, minors, into marriage, so that the parents can have in-laws.
This has led us into asking questions like: why do some parents take marriage as or make it a do or die affair? Can a young woman not be fulfilled without getting into marriage or without being a religious? Is the girl-child doomed for being a girl? Can a woman not freely live a single life on her own without being a religious or getting married? These and related questions readily come to mind when we consider the girl-child life and free choice of career in life.
Respect for Human Rights
We must know that every human person has rights and some of these rights are inalienable. Women as human beings are not excluded and must be respected and their human rights properly accorded to them. It is our intention to bring to the consciousness of our people that there are options in life with regard to vocation and that every vocation is for the good of those who feel naturally drawn or called to it by God. For example, we have people called to married life; we have people called to the religious life; and we have people called to single life on their own. All these are holy as it is the same God who calls each and they serve the same Living God.
We shall feel happy to bring many to have this understanding that every vocation is sacred and is for the good of the individual called to it. We wish, also, to be more particular with the religious life and its joys for those who are called to it; it is joy that is not measurable by material standards and is not discernible to the natural person; only spiritual persons can appreciate it (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2: 14-15).
Having said these, we shall like to lead you into the depth of the joys of the religious by, first, discussing the religious, their different classes or orders or communities, their charisma and the reason for their being. I hope you will follow us to the end and discover the treasure in religious life. At the end, you will be able to have a better understanding of the consecrated religious, and appreciate the sacrifice and selflessness in their service to both God and man. Having a better knowledge of who they are, what they stand for and why they are, you may desire to freely choose the religious life if you feel called to it; and may, equally, encourage young women to have the religious life as an option, in choosing their careers in life.
When we talk of the religious, we are well aware that religious life is not only for women, but for men and women. We, however, here, are more concerned with the women and wish to limit our discourse to religious women.
By religious women, we mean those consecrated women who, choosing to follow Christ more closely, made public profession of the evangelical counsels, joined a religious community in fraternal life led in common, and treasuring themselves as ‘brides’ of Christ, a gift from the Lord, reciprocate through life of charity and the witness they give, to the union of Christ with the Church. (Cf. CCC, n. 925-926) In order to better understand the religious, we shall try to find their place in the structure of the Church.
The Place of the Religious in the Church
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us a prayer that serves dual purpose: it is both a prayer and format for prayer; any other prayer which does not find a place in the Lord’s prayer is said to be a non-Christian prayer. Similarly, any foundation, order, or community, which does not have a place in the structure of the Church, does not belong to her. Some ask where religious women belong in the Church, what are their functions in the church?
You can see the need to seek the place of the religious in the Church or rather to discuss it here. All members of the Church are referred to as Christ’s faithful. All Christ’s faithful are normally structured into three: The Hierarchy, the Laity and the Consecrated Life. The Roman Pontiff, that is, the Pope, together with the bishops, assisted by priests and deacons, form the Church hierarchy (CCC, nos. 882-886). All Christ’s faithful, apart from those in Holy Orders and those who belong to the Church approved state, are referred to as the laity or lay faithful.
The Consecrated Life is a state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels and “while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness.” (CCC, n. 914) The religious, by their life of charity and leaving everything to follow Christ, witness to the holiness of the Church.
The same Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple. The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practising chastity in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, poverty and obedience. It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life that is recognized by the Church that characterizes the life of consecrated to God.” (CCC, n. 915)
Various Forms of Consecrated Religious Life
The Catechism of the Catholic Church described the consecrated life as “One great tree, with many branches”. This says it all. Different forms yet one root and one ultimate goal; each seeks perfect relationship with God through self renunciation and detachment from worldly things in order to establish a perfect or near perfect union with God, humanly speaking.
We have “the eremitic life”: This is for those we call hermits who strive to “devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance” (CCC, n. 920).
We have the Consecrated Virgins and Widows: Consecrated Virgins are “Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church” (CCC, n. 923). Consecrated Virgins are also known as the order of Virgins. The practice, in the Church, began from the time of the apostles (1 Corinthians 7:34-36). See also the consecrated widows and conditions for enrollment (1Timothy 5: 10-16).
We have the Religious Life: distinguished by “its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life led in common, and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church” (CCC, n. 925).
We have the Secular Institutes:“A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful living in the world strive for the perfection of charity and work for the sanctification of the world especially from within. ” (CCC, n. 928) Finally,
We have the Societies of Apostolic Life: It is a consecrated life “whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of their society, and lead a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life, strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions. Among these there are societies in which the members embrace the evangelical counsels according to their constitutions. ” (CCC, n. 930)
The Specific Functions of the Religious in the Church
“All religious, whether exempt or not, take their place among the collaborators of the diocesan bishop in his pastoral duty. From the outset of the work of evangelisation, the missionary ‘planting ‘ and expansion of the Church require the presence of the religious life in all its forms. History witnesses to the outstanding service rendered by religious families in the propagation of the faith and in the formation of new Churches: from the ancient monastic institutions to the medieval orders, all the way to the more recent congregations.” (CCC, n. 927)
Conclusion: We are limited by space; however, from the foregoing, we hope that you now have a better understanding of the consecrated religious life and that, without our mentioning it, you know that they are people who take up literally, and try to translate into life, the challenge of Christ’s injunctions: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him (or her) renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me ” and “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 16: 24; Matthew 19: 21). Let us, therefore, together seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness in whatever vocation we find ourselves, and we shall belong to Jesus Christ forever.