Sunday, February 3, 2019

Celebrating World Day of Consecrated Life

Today we will celebrate World Day of Consecrated Life.  As we celebrate this day we remember St. Angela who had the vision to begin the Company of St. Ursula, now the Ursuline Community.  We share Sr. Brenda Buckley’s reflection from our St. Angela Feast Day Liturgy as we pray for all religious men and women throughout the world.

As we celebrate the Feast of St. Angela Merici today, and especially after listening to the scripture readings and St. Angela’s own words, I would like to comment on two sculptures of Angela that give us not just images of her in various ways, but perhaps even some insight into how she responded to God’s love in her life. While we honor St. Angela as the foundress of the Ursulines, we also celebrate her whole life’s journey and how this could be a model and inspiration for our own lives. Angela’s life witnesses to how one’s faith grows through commitment to prayer and loving service.

I think these images offer us some perspective on this faith journey.  To me they represent pivotal, important moments in Angela’s life that help us understand how her faithfulness to the actions and inspirations of the Holy Spirit shaped her life.  We know that Angela was part of a devout and loving family who listened to the stories of scripture and for whom faith was a central part of life. This made a great impression on Angela as a young child and helped her develop her relationship with God.  The statue of Angela with the basket of bread, perhaps bringing it to the workmen in the fields, shows that Angela was of service to and very much engaged in the daily life of her world and recalls for me a precious moment in Angela’s life.  Angela experienced tragedy and loss, and she mourned especially her sister and worried about the state of her sister’s soul. In the midst of her ordinary day, God granted Angela a tremendous gift of love and grace with the deep spiritual experience, that we call a vision, in which she was granted the knowledge that her beloved sister was safe with God. This intense prayer experience reflected the profound relationship that Angela had with God.

Angela was aware of the realities of her times, but she was not defeated by them.  Her world included political upheaval, economic disparity, poverty, exploitation of the most vulnerable, and loss of credibility of social institutions. We know that she chose to join the Third Order of St. Francis and was imbued with the Franciscan spirituality and its desire to serve others. Her deep spiritual life and holiness helped her guide and counsel others who were grieving, weighed down by cares and conflict, or seeking peace and consolation. As she continued her faith journey, she inspired by example, and she invited others to do the same.

And this is where the second sculpture fits in. We see Angela sitting on a bench facing an empty space, or rather a place for someone to join her. Her expression and position convey invitation, welcome and openness to listening and sharing. Angela’s delight in and respect for the unique relationship with Christ to which each is called empowered all who met her and who wanted to be part of her vision.  Angela’s vision and mission now centered on a very vulnerable and oppressed group of her day. Angela invited women, ordinary women, to join her to fill that space on the bench to form a new community, a new company who be called to be part of her faith journey.

The first members of the Company of St. Ursula came together and inspired by the Holy Spirit signed in a book their names or made their mark to express their commitment to live a life of consecration in the world. These women were part of something very new in Angela’s time. They were responding to an opportunity that had not been available to them: a chance to choose how they would their faith in their world and environment. It was empowerment for them and for those who would be the support of the new Company of Women. This is where we see the uniqueness of Angela’s mission. All levels of society would be empowered to transform and serve society. The more affluent faithful who were influential in the structures of the society would be called upon to be the guides and support for the new Company of St. Ursula. They also would be part of this unique faith journey. Their witness would be of service to the Company. This new and marvelous vision would be inclusive and would witness to the fact that one’s worth and relationship with God was not determined by one’s socio economic status, but by love and service.

It would be the task of the Company to announce that all are called to be the face of Christ for others and to see the face of Christ in others. It is what we are invited to live today and each day. We are invited to join Angela on that bench, to share faith, insights, hopes and dreams, and to learn from her wisdom gleaned from experience.  It is Angela’s gift to us and to the Church.

This is the truth that Angela speaks to us by her life and in her writings. It is what we must do as she invites us: to Act, move, strive, hope, cry out to God and believe that we will see marvelous things.