The feast of the Presentation of the Lord calls to mind our own consecration to the Lord when we were baptized.  On the day of our baptism, we too were presented to the Lord in His Temple, offering our lives to Him, thereby sharing in His kingly, prophetic and priestly office.  In a special way, today’s feast is also celebrated as the day for those in Consecrated life.  For in consecrated life, religious brothers and sisters commit themselves more radically in living out their baptismal vows to the Lord.

They live out their baptismal calling through the charisms that the Lord has given to them.  Most of these charisms belong to the contemplative and social dimensions of the Church.  Most religious are involved in contemplative prayer, education, medical aid, social development, social services to disadvantaged children, your people, women in crisis, shelter for the homeless, the aged and the sick, helping migrants and refugees.  Unlike ordained ministers whose role is basically to preach the gospel and minister to the people through the celebration of the sacraments, hence they are better known as priests; religious are called to be prophets.   This prophetic calling underpins all their activities.

The primary role of religious is indeed a prophetic role, both in their lifestyle and by the services they provide to the People of God.  This is the theme of today’s scripture readings.  All the scripture readings speak of the prophetic role of the People of God in general, and more specifically it applies to consecrated persons and religious brothers and sisters.  Religious are called to be the apex of the Church’s holiness.  If the Church were to point to the holiness of the Church, she would refer to the religious because these are brothers and sisters who have committed themselves to live their baptismal commitments to the highest and deepest degree, more so than anyone else.  Indeed, without the religious, the Church would have lacked a powerful sign of the holiness of the Church. They are called to prepare the People of God and lead them to a life of purification and holiness.  “Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me.”  How could religious and consecrated persons lead the People of God to the Lord?

How could those in consecrated life be a sign?  Firstly, they are called to be signs of contradiction to the world, just as Jesus was.  “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.'”  Religious too are called to be prophetic signs for the world so that people will begin to wonder what life and love is all about; and most of all, they will be challenged to confront the lifestyle and values that they have imbibed from the world.

Accordingly, the prophetic sign of consecrated people lies first in their lifestyle, even before exercising their charisms for the service of the People of God.   The Constitution of the Church says, “The profession of the evangelical counsels, then, appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation.”  (cf LG No 44.3) Above all, living out the evangelical counsels is the means by which religious grow in charity and the capacity to embrace the weak and to give more generously of themselves to others.

Indeed, through their evangelical counsel of poverty, the religious shows to the world that life is more than just acquiring things, money and living a life of pleasure and self-indulgence.  By living a life of poverty and simplicity, the religious makes an important point to the world that happiness in life is one of communion with our brothers and sisters, and one of service to the People of God.  Most of all, poverty is a sign of total dependence of God, living in faith and trust that the Lord will provide.  Through their detachment from the material things of this world, it brings true freedom in life so that they could give themselves freely for service without conditions and use their wealth and resources purely for the good of others, especially those who need them most.

Through the evangelical counsel of chastity, religious are called to devote themselves entirely to Christ who is their spouse.  A life of chastity is an invitation to live in charity and communion with their fellow brothers and sisters. Today in a world where people are individualistic, it is difficult to build communion because everyone has his or her own mind.  Religious life is truly a great challenge and a source of purification and sanctification because each individual is called to die to his or her own preferences for the greater good of the community.  It calls for patience and acceptance of others who are different in character, in temperament and in lifestyles and needs.   Living in community means learning to tolerate and accept both the strengths, the weaknesses and eccentricities of the members of the community.

Through the evangelical counsel of obedience, the religious sends a sign to the world of relativism and individualism that humility and obedience to God’s will, as often expressed through their legitimate superiors, is what will ensure that we are walking in the footsteps of the Lord.  Indeed, it is not always easy to accept the will of our superiors, and sometimes they do make mistakes.  Some of us definitely think we make better decisions and better managers than our superiors.  Yet, without obedience, the community will be fragmented with each going his or her own way, destroying communion and unity.  Obedience to God requires humility and surrender to God’s will.  Again, the vow of obedience is a powerful sign of contradiction in today’s world.  Very few people believe in obedience.  It is all about building consensus; not about what is true.  Even children no longer obey their parents.  Even if some claim they believe in obedience, it is so only if those in charge agree with them.  Otherwise, they will say that they cannot simply submit to blind obedience.

Secondly, the prophetic life of consecrated persons is to give others hope and an experience of God’s love as a foretaste in their lives.  This was what Simeon himself experienced when he prayed the Nunc Dimittis, “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”  From this perspective, the contemplative and social charisms of the religious are important signs to allow those who feel the absence of God and His love to experience concretely the humble and unselfish service and charity of the religious in helping them.

However, these prophetic signs can only be lived if we are identified with the sufferings of our fellowmen.  This is what the letter of Hebrews is asking of us, to go out to the marginalized, to the battlefields, to where the poor and the wounded are suffering.  The author said, “It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God’s religion, able to atone for human sins. That is, because he has himself been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted.”  Unless we can identify with the sufferings, the aspirations, the pains and wounds of our fellowmen, we will not be in touch with their lives or be moved in our hearts to reach out to them.  What we do not see, we are not moved.  This explains why religious superiors and councilors must never forget, as parish priests and bishops too, that we are primarily pastors and ministers, not CEOs and managers.  There is a danger that we may become so bureaucratic that we lack connection with the ground and the people who are struggling in their lives each day, whilst we live in our golden cage.

Indeed, unless we share in their pains and aspirations, we will not be able to help them effectively.  This is what Hebrews said of Jesus.  “Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, Christ too shared equally in it, so that by his death he could take away all the power of the devil, who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”  Jesus showed us the way to overcome the fear of death by dying so that we know that death is not the last word.  Without fear of death, religious and all of us can give up our lives more easily on this earth, in adventure, and taking risks in serving the poor, the needy and the suffering.

But above all, if we desire to be true prophets of our Lord, then we must make time to contemplate on our Lord daily in the Eucharist and in the Word of God.  Jesus, as the gospel says, is the sign “for the fall and for the rising of many.”   If we live the evangelical counsels, it is because they are based on the words and examples of our Lord Himself.  If we are able to assume the sufferings of humanity and reach out to them, it is because of Jesus’ example of always being with the people.  His office was on the streets, in houses, on the boat and shore, and in open fields and deserts.  The Lord wants to be with His people and inspire us all to live His life of total detachment from the worldly values and pursuits of life.  In the final analysis, no religious or consecrated persons can live a consecrated life unless he or she contemplates deeply on the face of our Lord daily.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.