Consecrated religious honored for their lives, light at annual vespers service
FORT WORTH — February 2, the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was always a special day for Sister Rosemary Stanton, SSMN.
“It’s the day I became a novice and took the habit of my order,” said the Sister of St. Mary of Namur who will celebrate 50 years with the religious community this August.
In 1997, the late pontiff, St. John Paul II, also designated February 2 as a universal day of prayer for men and women religious who consecrated their lives to Christ through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. World Day of Consecrated Life observances show the Church’s support of religious communities dedicated to serving the Lord and others with open hearts and willing spirits.
In the Diocese of Fort Worth, a World Day of Consecrated Life Vespers service, held February 2 at Holy Family Church, reminded Sr. Rosemary of her own vocation journey.
“We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In Brazil, they have Children’s Day,” explained the former missionary to the South American country. “So this is a moment we stop and recognize this particular vocation — religious life — as one of the paths to holiness along with motherhood, fatherhood, and married life.”
The World Day of Consecrated Life is celebrated on the Feast of the Presentation — also known as Candlemas — for a reason. It’s the day when altar candles are blessed, symbolizing Christ as the light of the world. In the same way, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all people.
Bishop Michael Olson presided at the Vespers service, which brought together 50 sisters, brothers, and priests, dedicated to Catholic education, parish ministry, charity work, or contemplative prayer. Sister Yolanda Cruz, SSMN, who organized the diocesan event, said the different religious congregations look forward to praying with the bishop. Participants enjoyed a dinner after evening prayer.
“It’s exciting to see how many different religious we have in the diocese,” she added, noting the Lovers of the Holy Cross, an order of sisters from Vietnam, are the newest congregation in the diocese. Sister Theresa Tran, LHC, and Sister Maria Chu, LHC, help with religious education classes at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington.
“World Day for Consecrated Life is a good opportunity for the bishop to be with us and pray with us for more vocations,” Sr. Yolanda said.
Offering a reflection on World Day of Consecrated Life, Bishop Olson told the gathering of priests and sisters that the gift of religious life is very much like the prophetic voice of Simeon — proclaiming Christ as the light of the world. Religious life points to Christ and offers the world today the reality and truth of the Church.
“Christ came to establish His Church, to die for it, give it life and the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
As Christ was presented in the temple with Mary and Joseph, and in the presence of His Father in heaven, religious life is also lived in the presence of and with fidelity to Christ and the Church, the bishop continued.
“That challenges us,” he explained. “It challenges our individuality, it challenges our own cultural, national, and political preferences, and it challenges our self-interests.”
Religious men and women are asked to speak the prophetic voice that calls everyone to conversion by living that conversion. “Not getting my own way” is a sacrifice uncommon in today’s culture and society. But living a religious life means surrendering one’s own individualism for the sake of the common good.
“[You must be] especially mindful of those who are most vulnerable and are most in need of hearing the truth and experiencing the love of God,” he added.
Consecrated men and women serve in various ways across the diocese but many people don’t understand what “consecrated life” means.
“It’s starting to be forgotten in some ways,” according to Father Jason Wooleyhan, TOR.
The Franciscan friar is assigned to Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville and joined his religious community seven years ago.
“When I go out in my habit, people think I’m a wizard or wearing a costume. They don’t recognize it as a religious habit,” he said.
Consecrated life is strongly communal.
“In my province, a lot of us are spread out. So tonight is not only an opportunity for people in my order to get together but to see and get to know other religious consecrated in the diocese.”
It’s important to connect and support one another, the young priest added.
“You learn more about yourself as well as them by making that connection. You experience the wider Church.”