My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Lots of us who grew up during those ancient times when computers, laptops, IPads, Smartphones etc. were unknown, with great sentiment recall nuns, religious brothers and priests from various Orders. The variety of their habits showed the richness of the tradition of this form of life which can be traced back to the first centuries of Christianity, when thousands of Christian men and women left their homes and made their way to the desert to give their life to prayer, meditation, penance and acts of charity. As I was reflecting on the readings for this Sunday I was struck by a couple of Divine messages which help all Christians to understand better what happens behind the walls and gates of the monasteries, convents and religious homes, but most explicitly opens to you what happens in the hearts of our nuns, religious brothers and sisters.
First Divine message comes from the second reading which this Sunday is taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians where St Paul writes: “An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord. In the same way and unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit.” I am sure that you have heard some people say that celibacy is unhealthy or even distractive. I could support this statement wholeheartedly if Jesus didn’t exist. No one choses celibacy, the vow of chastity because they despise the married intimacy and family life either. On the contrary the celibacy and the vow of chastity remind the world that Christ the Lord is real and that he is at work in this world of ours where people can discover him and can give their whole life to him. Sometimes I feel that the criticism of the celibacy comes from some attempts to eliminate Jesus, to remove him from our society where the presence of consecrated men and women reminds of him powerfully.
As a consecrated person myself I find how true the Gospel passage from St Mark about Jesus teaching with firmness and consistency and the unclean spirit shouting to shut down Jesus’ message expresses the meaning of the consecrated life. That the second Divine message: Men and woman who have taken the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience can be ridiculed and laughed at by the world noisily. However let us remember Jesus was treated in this way too, can those who follow him in the religious life expect to be treated differently?
Let me finish with a story taken from those early days when Christians went to the desert to serve the Lord. A very pious and fervent disciple wanted to go to a tribe that lived far away in the desert. Unfortunately they were cannibals, they killed and ate him. When other disciples learnt about that they communicated the matter to their superior. The holy man heard them out and seeing their distress said: “At least those poor pagans had a chance to taste our true religion.” I always recall this story in my reflection as it shows that a consecrated person is so saturated with the message of the Gospel that he or she tells us that Christ is real and at work in this world of ours transforming people from within.