Opening the Year for Consecrated Life with Fr. Brian Daley, SJ
December 2, 2014
On Sunday, November 30, the friars of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC observed the opening of the Year for Consecrated Life with a Holy Hour celebrated by Fr. Luke Clark, O.P. The event brought together Dominican friars and sisters, Capuchin Franciscans, Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, Benedictine monks, and other clerical, lay and consecrated individuals. During the Holy Hour, Fr. Brian Daley, SJ offered a reflection on the relationship between the consecration of all the baptized and the special call offered to some individuals in the Church to follow Christ in the specific mode of the religious consecrated life. Fr. Daley’s homily is reproduced below.
Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Looking at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When his two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” Jesus said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). — Jn 1:35-42
I. New Beginnings. There’s something both reassuring and energizing about starting something new: a new project, a new semester, even a new season on the calendar, a new liturgical year – as we do today, on this First Sunday of Advent. For the Church, this is meant to be a new time of remembering that our Christian lives are always lives of expectation, of looking earnestly for the coming of the Lord. It has always fascinated me, too, that Advent begins, in the Western tradition, on or near the feast of St. Andrew – which we ought to be celebrating today, November 30, in full dress, if the Sunday and the start of a new season weren’t crowding it out of the calendar. Advent and Andrew seem to go together, in the Latin Christian imagination. Andrew, after all, as our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters point out, was the Πρωτόκλητος, the first-called of all Jesus’ disciples; it was he and an unnamed companion, John’s Gospel tells us, who first were directed to Jesus as Messiah and Savior by the Prophet John the Baptist. Whether or not Andrew himself went on, in his world travels, to found a Christian community at Byzantium, as a later Greek legend would attest (apparently to justify Orthodox claims against the primacy of the Church of Rome), Andrew does appear in the Gospels as the first one to hear the news about Jesus, to take it seriously and investigate it, and then to invite Peter and other friends to become part of his company – a new company of hearers and disciples and spreaders of the word that would not only be the seed of the Church, but the model for a whole rich spectrum of smaller communities within the Christian family that we think of as representing “consecrated life”: life centered on following Jesus. In the Gospels, Andrew is truly the man who was not afraid to be drawn into something surprising and risky and hopeful and new – Andrew, you might say, is the classic “man of Advent”! II. Consecration and Listening. In a sense, of course, all Christian life is “consecrated” life. The Second Vatican Council reminds us in a number of places that everyone who is baptized in Christ is made part of the concrete, specific community in the world we call his Body – is in real communion (even if sometimes only imperfectly) with the true Church. To the baptized members of little Christian communities in Asia Minor, held together by faith and by sharing in the Eucharist, the author of I Peter writes: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart” (I Pet 2.9) – you are consecrated, in other words. To be a Christian is to be a disciple of the one who was sent, consecrated, by Israel’s God to fulfill his ancient promise, to take away our sins by offering himself completely to the Father for us – the one who is, as the first chapter of John’s Gospel calls him, “Messiah” and “Lamb of God.” To be a Christian at all is to give ourselves to him in trust, to hear his words, to follow him on his way. And yet, since the very beginning of Christianity, some of these disciples, baptized into Christ, have looked for ways of deepening and intensifying their identity by letting it become the shaping influence in their lives. In the Syrian Churches of the second and third centuries, it seems, the core of each local community was made up of women and men who dedicated their whole lives to prayer and the service of the rest of the baptized, committing themselves to celibacy – to being what were then literally called “singles” – to prayer and liturgical leadership, and to the ministry of catechesis, even though they were apparently not formally ordained. By the fourth and fifth centuries, different forms of what we think of as “religious” or monastic life had also developed in the rest of the Christian world: communities of men and women in the cities and in deserted places; solitaries or semi-solitaries who lived near each other but kept their independence; large, highly structured groups, organized like Christian military camps, and middle-sized groups and small ones; groups like those St. Basil organized in Cappadocia, that made it their business to receive travelers and to care for the sick and feed the poor; groups that traveled constantly from place to place, and relied on the support and hospitality of local Churches to survive; groups that preached and chanted and ran Bible-studies – like St. Ephrem – or that cultivated the manual arts; groups like the so-called Messalians, that made it their aim to “pray always,” and to teach other Christians how to pray. Christians committed to a deeper, full-time form of discipleship – Christians whose lives have been “consecrated” to God and his service, even beyond the common consecration of baptism – have enriched and diversified the life of the community of disciples since the witness of our earliest records. Our Gospel passage today, the story of St. Andrew’s first encounter with Jesus, gives us a kind of model, I think, for the dynamics of this kind of deeper Christian consecration. Andrew and his nameless companion – perhaps that same nameless figure who appears repeatedly in Jesus’ company throughout the Fourth Gospel, and is simply called “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the disciple who could be any one of us – are first directed to Jesus by John the Baptist, whose role in that Gospel story is to point to one greater than himself, one sent from God to “baptize with the Holy Spirit”. Andrew and his friend hear what John says and “follow Jesus,” we hear: curious, eager to know more, ready to have their lives touched and changed by what God is planning to do in the midst of his people, by the presence of this stranger. Jesus turns and asks them the question he puts to every would-be disciple through the centuries: “What are you looking for?” What interests you in this whole business of discipleship, in the first place? Why come to me? And their answer, stunning in its simplicity, is really the question that runs through all of John’s Gospel: “Rabbi,” they say, “where do you abide?” Their question, after all – ποῦ μένεις; – is probably not simply a request for his address, let alone his cell number. Most of our English translations render it as “Where do you live?” or “Where are you staying?” and that is certainly the more obvious level of meaning in their question. But as we know, John’s language tends to operate on a number of hermeneutical floors, a number of levels of meaning, at once, in order to draw us from the more obvious to the less so. As we know, too, the Greek verb μένειν – remain, stay, abide, live – becomes a central piece of John’s vocabulary as the Gospel goes on: used to describe the “place” of Jesus, the Son, in the “bosom” of his Father and in us, as believing individuals and a community; used to refer to the Spirit’s coming to “dwell” in Jesus and in the hearts of his faithful ones. “I am the vine, you are the branches; remain – abide – in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit on its own, unless it remain in the vine, so you cannot either, if you do not remain in me.” (John 15.4) “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: remain in my love.” (John 15.9) To be a disciple is to come into an abiding, long-term relationship with Christ, through the Spirit who is the gift of love; to make Christ our home, to find in him our place, our native ground, our location; to remain with him. But to do that – to come to that level of consecration and identification – the disciple needs to know just where Jesus himself is located, “where he’s at.” He or she needs to ask: “Rabbi, ποῦ μένεις; Where are you – always? What is your real home address, your long-term location? Where can we be sure to find you, even in the dark times, when we aren’t all that sure of where we are ourselves?” And Jesus says to Andrew and his nameless friend, “Come and see.” In the verse that follows, John simply tells us, “They came and saw where he was staying – where he abode – and they abode with him that day. It was about the tenth hour” – four p.m. They were shown, in a first quick glimpse, where Jesus could be found, where he is really at – and stayed there with him, found their own location with him, at least for a few, declining hours in that first, astonishing day of discipleship. It seems to me that the consecrated life, the life of the Christian disciple committed to following Jesus and to finding our life and roots in him, always has to begin this way: meeting him somehow, following on his way, and then asking the deeper question: “Rabbi, where are you all the time?” And when he simply says – as he usually does – “Come and see,” he reminds us that the first grace of discipleship, of consecration, is to have the blessed curiosity to go and hear more, to learn gradually him where he can be found – what the place and shape of his being really is – and to begin staying there oneself. Consecration, in the long term, is just abiding with him. III. Advent. It makes a lot of sense, I think, to begin this year devoted to consecrated life – a year when the Church will prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s decree on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, next October – on this first Sunday of Advent, which is also the feast of the Apostle Andrew. Advent is the time when the Church begins again to meditate, in its liturgical cycle, on God’s history with us: when we listen to the voices of the prophets, especially Isaiah; when we contemplate the challenging figure and words of John the Baptist, who pointed the Israel of his own day to the coming of a new age, the Kingdom of God, in the presence of the promised Messiah; when we join with Mary, who “heard the word of God, and kept it;” when we gaze on the astounding fulfillment of that promise in the obscure birth of the child of Bethlehem. Promise, conversion to something new, a readily-embraced poverty and simplicity of life, are all part of the simplicity of gaze – what Cassian calls the “purity of heart” – that characterizes the traditional forms of consecrated life. The central theme of Advent, however, is hope: hope for salvation, for justice and reconciliation, for peace and the repair of human relationships with each other and God, all grounded in God’s presence in our history, in God’s decision to “abide” with us. So we begin Advent by gazing in contemplation on the end to history that God promises us: on Christ as our judge and final savior, on what we trust are God’s plans for us. It seems no accident that this weekend, for instance, as we celebrate the beginning of God’s historic plan of healing and reconciliation, along with the witness of Andrew, “the first-called,” Pope Francis has traveled to Istanbul to celebrate this feast with Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox Churches, and also to pray for peace with Muslim leaders. “All things are possible with God,” the angel told Mary at Jesus’ conception; to become a disciple of Jesus the Messiah, to live out our “consecrated” life of faith, is to trust that divine possibility to change history, and so to go with him, to find out where he abides, to listen to his words, and to begin again to hope for his full and final coming. Yet for Andrew, as we know, this life of looking and listening, of renewed hope and active witness, ended in his own share of the cross. Like all the Twelve, Andrew was apparently put to death for his preaching, after laboring to spread the new of Jesus and his Kingdom in various parts of the world. Consecration, for every Christian, also involves letting go of the security we build up for ourselves, to live simply from our hope in God’s coming, and from our confidence that he is already abiding with us. As we begin this new Advent season, and this special year of reflecting on all the forms of this consecrated Christian life, let us pray that the Lord will give each of us the hope and energy to “go and see” where Jesus abides today: to search and to follow, to stay with him, to listen, and – in time – to become new.