By John Heuertz
“ … They called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith …” (Acts 14:27).
Billed as “The Year of Faith: A Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed,” the Institute for Religious Life held its Midwest regional meeting last Saturday at the Franciscan Prayer Center in Independence.
In proclaiming the “Year of Faith” that began last October 11, Pope Benedict XVI asked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to study and reflect on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith.
Catholics living a consecrated life as religious brothers, sisters and nuns have a key part in this deepening. “It’s a great day for religious to come together in solidarity to better understand their role in the Church’s New Evangelization of the world,” IRL Executive Director Michael Vick.
“The Institute for Religious Life … continues to carry out a wonderful work of the Church, providing sound teaching and formation for Religious, and inspiration for us all,” said Bishop Robert W. Finn in his homily during Mass for the 200 religious and laity at Saturday’s meeting.
IRL National Director Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem. discussed “Deepening the Virtue of Faith in This Year of Faith.” He recalled Benedict XVI’s teaching that Christ opened the door of faith for the whole world by his Passion and Death, and that the door to faith is always open to all.
“Faith is like a door to a home of love, security and a network of relationships – a door to the Church,” he said. “The Church is like a family.”
Christ opens this door, enabling us to “see that God is also a man who reveals Himself as a triune God of love.”
But first we must believe in Christ, and “give humble assent to His word.”
Anyone with a humble mind, a trusting heart and an obedient will can give this assent. All the saints model it.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was the model of the perfect faith. “That’s why Saturdays are hers. The Apostles lost their faith on Friday and regained it on a Sunday.”
Atchison Benedictine Fr. Thomas Habiger, OSB discussed “The Essential Role of Consecrated Religious in Shaping and Evangelizing the Culture.”
He taught partly from Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Letter “Vita Consecrata,” which says that both Catholic and Orthodox institutes of religious life flourish everywhere because “the choice of total self-giving to God in Christ is in no way incompatible with any human culture or historical situation.”
Fr. Habiger said that Catholics living a consecrated life express this total self-giving through competence in mission, a renewed commitment to the Church’s intellectual life, and especially through the prophetic dimension of religious life, since that life imitates the total self-giving of the Lord’s life in this world.
Catholic clergy and religious only make up one-tenth of one percent of the whole Church. “Our role is to bring the teachings of Jesus and the principles of the rightly lived Christian life to the 99.9 percent, and to encourage them to go out and live it,” Fr. Habiger said.
Benedictine College’s Dr. Jeremy Sienkiewicz echoed this sentiment when he spoke on “Vatican II and the Salvation of Modern Man.” As a fruit of Baptism rather than a separate Sacrament, “The religious life … moves people from saving one’s own soul to helping those in the Church save their souls to helping all humanity save theirs.”
This hierarchy of goals is key to the radical transformation of one’s own life that drives the New Evangelization, which aims to transform the world in Christ.
“Modern man thinks Christianity is all about bringing joy to people, but it’s not,” he said. “To Catholics, our religion is about the will and the intellect.”
“We have to get others to believe the Catholic faith is something to die for, and live that belief in our own lives.”
Because they’re the leaven in the Church’s New Evangelization, it’s especially important for consecrated Catholics to know what the Catechism and the documents of the Second Vatican Council actually say.
“We should read them because they’re magisterial and because they’re beautiful,” Dr. Sienkiewicz said. “And because they’re for us.”
Personal holiness is even more important. “Everyone is called to be a saint. To not be a saint is to be less than human.”
Founded in 1974, the IRL is a collaborative effort of Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity to foster and strengthen vocations to the consecrated life. For more information, visit the web site at www.religiouslife.com.