Being consecrated

Tomorrow, seven RSCJ from six countries will profess their perpetual vows. As per a Society tradition, the group has just received a name and a devise (motto), which will mark and accompany them individually, and as a group of professed religious. I read their closing conference yesterday, on the eve of today's feast of Candlemas, which is also the World Day for Consecrated Life: and as I read their devise - Life humbly given at the service of the world in the radical style of Jesus - I felt a strong resonance with some memories I'd been recalling, of my first encounters with the fact of consecrated life.  

Thirty years ago, when I entered religious life, I had absolutely no idea that I was entering something which was also 'consecrated life', and that I too, might one day be 'consecrated' by my vows. I had, quite simply, never heard that term used. It's possible I then managed to unconsciously glide over the occasional 'consecration' in the Chapter and Society documents I read whilst a candidate; even more likely that it featured in the vows ceremony I attended during that time. If so, it disappeared into a swirl of so many other words, symbols and emotions which reached out and spoke to me more beguilingly.

And then, after a year's candidacy, I became a novice and began studying our Constitutions - and suddenly found myself faced, very forcefully, by this word, and the idea that it could - would - apply to me. There it was, in paragraph 6... We commit ourselves to follow Christ by consecrating our lives through the profession of the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity... I hardly dared look further, but when I turned a few pages I could see a section ominously titled Consecration by Vows... So yes, it was a central part of this life I had embarked on, and felt so strongly called to - and yet, the very notion of being consecrated, of consecrating my life through my vows - whatever any of this might actually mean! - filled me with horror!

Consecrated... to be set apart for a holy purpose; to be made or declared to be sacred. And no; I really couldn't imagine this word and me co-existing in the same space! Yes, of course, I wanted to be holy... but consecration just seemed too grand and rarefied; too not me; while being 'set apart' felt like the opposite of the service and being at the heart of the world inherent in apostolic religious life. It all sounded too arcane and mysterious; too lofty and pretentious; too 'set apart' from ordinary life, and from ordinary me. 

I knew I had to spend some time with the word, and with my reaction to it. And as I did so, a light flickered and began gently to glow. Consecration... the central moment of each Mass, when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, offered and poured out for all... When they are consecrated... not in order to be set apart, but in order to be at the very heart of things; to be given and shared, as strength and nourishment, and a daily proof of limitless love.

To be transformed by and into Christ in order to be given and shared; to strengthen and nourish... to be love... yes, this was a consecration I could aspire to! 

Twenty-nine years later, it is still a consecration I aspire to, and one that I am beginning to understand a little more each year. Like so much else, it is still a mystery, but one which I can understand as grace, and the fruit of prolonged prayer, and growth. And tomorrow, as my seven sisters consecrate their lives through professing their perpetual vows, I will pray especially that they may truly, deeply live this consecration as 'Life humbly given at the service of the world in the radical style of Jesus'... and that I may learn and receive the grace to do this too.

Happy Candlemas to you all, and especially to any consecrated person reading this!