A sister in my community and I recently went to a special dinner hosted by the Archdiocese of San Antonio for young women considering consecrated life. I am often reminded at functions like this of the vital importance of Saint Peter's encouragement, "always be ready to offer a reason for your hope." I take it to mean, "be ready to use simple language to tell people why you are so happy." When conversing at any length with people (even "practicing Catholics") about religious life, we are almost inevitably confronted with a facial expression indicating a level of mystification when we get to the part of our perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The probability of this expression greatly increases when we speak of some of the implications. As one Franciscan puts it: "no money, no honey, and I've gotta boss." Hence the importance of describing our joy simply and clearly.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving in our country, the Universal Church begins the celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life. These year-long celebrations remind me of Saint Paul's image of the Church as the Body of Christ. Whether a person is the eye or a big toe, this Body needs all of its members. In another place Saint Paul tells members of the Church to outdo one another in showing honor. This means not only acknowledging differences but also bold reverence for unique gifts. This simple and challenging call to enter God's vision of the Church as the Body of Christ gives particular us cause thanksgiving as we consider consecrated persons (priests, brothers, nuns, and sisters) who have directly and indirectly supported us in life of faith.
These members of the Church, by their vocations, call every other member to keep in mind our destiny of eternal joy and union with God. That is, that we are made for Heaven, and Heaven can begin now. Wowed lives are meant to proclaim the true wealth, love, and freedom found in Jesus. Within a life of vowed poverty we discover the One who is our greatest treasure. Within a life of vowed chastity we discover the One who is unconditional, enduring love. Within a life of vowed obedience we discover the One who gives the humility and faith that leads to freedom.
A teacher once got my adrenaline going by spontaneously asking me to explain the meaning of perpetual vows to her kindergartners. Having never thought about how to speak to such little people on this exact topic, I said: "When I take perpetual vows I give my whole life to God forever and ever. I become everybody's sister forever and ever, and I can tell people God loves them forever and ever and wants them to be happy forever and ever." The kids had fun repeating "forever and ever," and I was relieved something came out of my mouth.
As we celebrate with family and friends, I hope you feel our prayers for you because you are part of our family of faith. We thank God for the gift you are. Please also remember us in prayer.
Sister Maria Kim Ngan Bui, FSP
(Top: Sister Maria Kim signing the document of her final vows on the altar in her home parish of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Tempe AZ; Provincial Superior Sister Mary Leonora and two witnesses also sign the documentation.)