Men and women religious always point to Christ
Religious brothers and sisters fill a role in the world similar to that of a cell phone’s GPS function. Like a “global positioning system” app, they are always available to help those whom they serve stay on the right track and remain with God’s people even when they take a wrong turn, confront detours or get mired in the “potholes” of life.
“Whenever you make a wrong turn, the GPS says ‘Getting new directions,’ and it doesn’t fuss at you,” noted Brother of the Sacred Heart Louis Couvillon, unpacking the GPS-and-religious life analogy during the homily of the Feb. 13 Mass celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life.
“What happens when (people) do take the wrong turn?” Brother Couvillon asked. “As religious, we are very close to the people of God, as the priests, the deacons and lay ministers are. But in a special way we are asked to be the light of God’s love and God’s mercy.”
Approachable, wise helpers
More than 220 religious men and women attended the Saturday morning Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond at Brother Martin High’s Sacred Heart Chapel. The liturgy also marked the formal archdiocesan conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life, designated by Pope Francis to thank men and women religious for their contributions to the worldwide church.
Brother Couvillon, Brother Martin’s chaplain, told Mass congregants that he often thinks of his own “GPS” role as he counsels boys in his daily educational ministry.
“When an adolescent makes a wrong turn during the growing up process, I don’t have to fuss at him, I don’t have to scold him,” Brother Couvillon said. “I just approach him and simply say, ‘I’m gonna give you new directions; I want to allow you to right it, to find a place in which you can grow and be better.’”
The consecrated, whose ministries range from contemplative ones focused on prayer, to apostolic outreach in nearly every sphere of need, also are present when God’s children encounter major ruts on the road, Brother Couvillon said. People look up to the religious as sounding boards and mentors who can help them navigate through personal demons, relationship problems and life-altering experiences such as unemployment and underemployment, he said.
“Don’t we all know the poor who are in potholes? Don’t we all know those who are struggling and suffering who need our presence and help?” Brother Couvillon asked. “We are called to be present for those poor, whether it be in a soup kitchen, a shelter, counseling or (simply through a ministry of) presence.”
Helping the consecrated point others to Christ are the triple vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, which Brother Couvillon described as his vocation’s “very special gifts” to the church.
Chastity gives religious the undivided, all-encompassing hearts needed to attend to the needs of others; poverty – a vow made possible by sharing gifts and goods in community – sensitizes the religious to the call of the spiritually and materially poor; and obedience leads the consecrated to ask, when faced with others’ dilemmas, “Where is God here?” “Where does God want me to go?” “What does God want me to do?” and “What does God want me to be for others?” Brother Couvillon said.
Vocational joy evident
Carmelite Sister Beth Fitzpatrick, executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious, said the current state of consecrated life is “happy and healthy.” The Archdiocese of New Orleans currently has 62 brothers, 403 sisters and 133 religious order priests. In addition, about 10 people are in different stages of formation within the archdiocese and more are being formed elsewhere, Sister Beth said.
“We love God and we love and support one another,” said Sister Beth, noting that large turnouts at the Feb. 13 Mass and throughout the year at various sacramental and catechetical events testify to the “joy in being together” of local religious.
“We recently had two funerals about two hours apart – (those of) Dominican Father Chrys Finn and Dominican Sister Dorothy Dawes,” Sister Beth said. “I was very moved by the religious from communities other than the deceased who were present for both funerals.”
At another recent Mass marking the conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life in the chapel of the Sisters Servants of Mary, members of multiple religious communities served as lectors, gift bearers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Afterward, at dinner, each community shared a bit of its charism and the shield of each decorated the dining room.
“That loving attention to the gifts of each community and the laughter that permeated the occasion moved me deeply and is characteristic of our presence to one another,” Sister Beth said.
Lights dispel darkness
Before leading The Family Prayer at the end of the Mass at Brother Martin, Archbishop Aymond thanked those who had dedicated their lives to a consecrated vocation for being “lights” in a world that seems to be increasingly visited by an “almost overwhelming” darkness. Praising the great legacy of religious brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the archbishop said those who choose the path of religious life are needed more than ever as beacons for the lost, lonely, depressed and injured.
“Thank you for what you do, but most importantly for who you are,” Archbishop Aymond said. “You are light and we have to make sure that that light shines brightly so that we really can bring that light of Christ into the darkness that does exist,” he said. “We may not diminish the darkness completely, but we do make a difference.”