Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Lord, you have called me. Here I am.” This week I had the immense privilege to celebrate the Mass for the first profession of vows of Sr. Allison Zink, a young sister with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (you might know them best as the sisters who run Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, or as the sisters who staff the St. Raphael Campus of the Cathedral Academy in Bridgeport). In professing the evangelical counsels through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Sister Allison entered upon a beautiful chapter in her spiritual walk with Christ. In the rite for religious profession, the sister professing vows is called forward by name. Her response to the call of her name is “Lord, You have called me. Here I am.” The response is profoundly personal, a reflection of the movement of the Holy Spirit in her heart that has inspired her, formed her, and brought her finally to this day on which she will consecrate her entire life, her whole being, to the good God who called her. The vows she professes represent utter confidence in God’s providence and are a public declaration of faith in God’s care. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are a sign of radical trust that the Lord will provide for all needs, will be the ultimate source of love, and will guard, protect, and guide the sister in all she does. Religious sisters and brothers living out their vows are vivid signs to us that it is possible to follow Christ in all things, reminders of the Savior who tells us to guard against greed, and visible reminders to trust God’s providence in our own lives.
“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” The parable Jesus tells in the Gospel this weekend of the rich man who stores up great treasures of a material kind stands in stark contrast to Sr. Allison’s profession. In fact, it is precisely this parable that has inspired the Church’s understanding of the evangelical counsels. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus reminds us that our true treasure, our true home, is heaven. Material things, though useful to us in this life, are, in the end, of little worth. The stuff we have does not make us who we are. We can all think of people who have focused their energies on getting more, saving more, owning more, and yet have not found happiness or peace, or worse, who have sought those things without regard for anyone else. We can also think of people who seemingly have nothing but are very content. A third way also reveals itself: there are many who are wealthy, but not in a single-minded way. That is, aware of the good things they have, and aware of the brevity of life on earth, they use, as we often pray at Mass, “the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast to those that eternally endure.”
“Lord, you have called me. Here I am.” The vast majority of us are not called to live out the evangelical counsels in religious life, like Sr. Allison (or like our dear parishioner Shannon Karl, who last month received the habit of a postulant with the Handmaids of the Precious Blood – visit nunsforpriest.org to see photos of her in the habit!). Most of us will live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a very different way. I am called to live them as a diocesan priest. You are called to live them in your family lives, in your work, and in your friendships. Together, we are called to live them in Fairfield, CT. Let’s take stock of that physical and cultural location, noting some of the inherent blessings and challenges. Our town is beautiful, largely safe and secure, with ample resources that make it a place that is attractive to families. Economically, it is a town with tremendous resources. I have spent the bulk of my fourteen years as a priest here, and I have yet to meet a butler. What I have found is a community that is generous, welcoming, and down-to-earth. I hope those are virtues that I share. On the other hand, an honest look at our town will also reveal a preoccupation with status symbols, a focus on financial success, and a competitive pressure to keep up or one-up, a rat race that never stops. I know that I am often guilty of such vices. It is in the midst of these blessings and challenges that we hear today’s Gospel.
A first step in living according to the call of Jesus that comes to everyone who hears the Gospel is to take Him at His word. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Remember the virtue of generosity that you possess, your capacity to welcome and care for others, the high value you place on family, community, and faith. At the same time, remember those attitudes that are present around you, and even within. Attitudes and even behaviors that lead to selfishness, snobbery, and a shallow materialism. Just as we can recognize our virtues and work to build up the positive qualities, so we can recognize our vices and work to eradicate what is negative. Very simply, we all need to guard against greed and selfishness. The best weapon against these things is gratitude for the good things we have and intentional generosity with our material and financial resources. The Gospel calls us to cultivate a spirit of detachment from the things of this world – we can’t take them with us – and to rightly order our vision of the world and the eternity with God that awaits.
“Lord, you have called me. Here I am.” The poverty, chastity, and obedience of vowed religious life is a call placed in the heart of individuals that they might grow personally in holiness and intimacy with God. It is also given to them so that they can become living symbols of God’s providential care and so inspire all they come in contact with to recognize the Father’s great concern for them. Most of us, called to live the evangelical counsels in the midst of the world, are called to do so for our own sanctification. People defined by greed and selfishness rarely attain the heights of holiness. So guarding against all greed, recognizing that life does not consist of possessions, and cultivating a detachment from things helps us along the path to holiness. But those dispositions also become visible in us, recognizable to the people we meet. In a town often challenged by materialism, competition, greed, and selfishness, our community needs the witness of people who are storing up treasure in heaven! In Fairfield, we are being called, together, to be a witness and sign, one that will give people hope and inspire them to a life of virtue. “Lord, you have called me. Here I am.”