Our parish priest and a large crowd of local religious and laity joined us this evening for an Hour’s prayer before sung Vespers – we are happy to share with our readers the opening reflection.

As we gather on this first Sunday of Advent and begin this special Year for Consecrated Life, let us pause for a moment to become aware of the One in Whose Presence we are – the One who has called us by name and Who continues to call day by day.   Let us remember that we are united with a countless number of brothers and sisters throughout the Church in every part of the world who are also reflecting on and celebrating the same realities as we are – we remember those women and men who live the consecrated life in its various forms and in different cultures.  We remember in particular those who are being persecuted for their faith and who cannot celebrate in public – those who are feeling forgotten and losing hope.

In his letter for this Year of Consecrated Life, published yesterday, Pope Francis set before us three aims:

1.     look to the past with gratitude

2.     live the present with passion

3.     embrace the future with hope

First and foremost, consecrated life is God’s gift to His Church for which we must give thanks.  St John Paul II described consecrated life as a “radical gift of self for love of the Lord Jesus and of the whole human family.” (cf VC 3).  But our gift of ourselves is only a response to the gift of the One who has first loved us, the light of whose face has shone on us and chose us to be His instruments. It is a great mystery that our infinite God should look upon His weak human creatures and invite us to be part of His plan for the salvation of the world – not because we are better than others – in fact God seems to delight in choosing the weakest and frailest, so that we are left in do doubt that it is all His work – His gift.  While we are only the clay in the hand of the Divine Potter, yet He has chosen to need our hearts – my heart and yours – to do His praying and His loving.  In His plan He uses A to bring about His purpose for B.  During this time together this evening let us give thanks for this gift of Consecrated Life in the Church down through the centuries – remembering all those who have gone before us – many of whom lived and worked in difficult circumstances – our own founders and foundresses and a countless host of men and women who remained faithful and have passed on the gift to us.

As I was preparing this reflection a verse of psalm 43 jumped out of the page – I quote:

          No sword of their own won the land
          No arm of their own brought them victory.
          It was your right hand, your arm
And the light of your face, for You loved them.  

No doubt it was the ‘light of His face’ and the experience of His love which attracted our forbearers and gave them the strength to spend themselves totally for the Lord and his people, especially for the most vulnerable.  Let us believe that the light of that same Face is shining on us to enable us to “live the present with passion.”  

I quote Pope Francis’ letter:

“The apostolic effectiveness of consecrated life does not depend on the efficiency of its methods but rather on the eloquence of our lives, lives which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full.”  But for this to become a reality, Jesus must be our first love, as we promised when we made our profession.  “Only if He is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path…. We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness. The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet, find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy!” 

This year is a time for us to tune into our own vocation story – to experience again that  irresistible attraction, that persistent whisper, that divine spark which burned in our hearts and urged us on to say our ‘yes’.  It is a time to ask forgiveness for our infidelity and allow ourselves to be bathed in the light of His Face – that merciful Face which heals and renews us.  To quote St Paul may all of us, with unveiled faces, like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, be transformed into the image that we reflect, in brighter and brighter glory through the working of the Lord who is the Spirit.” (cf 2Cor 3:18).

As we look to the future with confidence let us take heart from the Mass Readings which the Church provides us today the first Sunday of Advent Yr B, reminding us that God is the great Potter – we are only the clay but He can work wonders with us if only we let go and leave ourselves in His Hand.  With Isaiah and the Psalmist we ask that He would come and be with us, let His face shine on us – while trusting in Paul’s promise that we will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while we are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (cf 1Cor) 

Therefore we turn to you, Jesus, here present on the altar and ask you to let your Face shine on us that we may be transformed into true images of Yourself, so that with you we may “wake up the world” and set it on fire with your love.  May this year be one of deep conversion and renewal for all of us and may we so live the Gospel values that others will be drawn to leave all to follow you.  

We thank you for the friendship and support of so many lay people, family, friends and benefactors – may they always know the joy and peace of your Presence in their lives and we pray for your special protection for them and their families.