I thank you for coming here to Armagh today to join in celebrating World Day for Consecrated Life.  The first World day for Consecrated Life was celebrated in 1977.  Pope John Paul II said:  “The World Day for Consecrated Life will be celebrated on the Feast Day of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple.  There they came to present the child Jesus to the Lord.  Mary and Jesus took the child Jesus up to the temple in Jerusalem.  There they presented the child to the Lord.  But there is more to it than that. 

The Gospel reveals Jesus as the ONE consecrated by the Father who came into this world to carry out His will faithfully.  Simeon points to Jesus as a light for revelation to the Gentiles and in this way, foretells his supreme offering of Jesus to the Father and his final victory. In this way the presentation of Jesus is an eloquent icon, of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world the features of Jesus – chaste, poor and obedient. 

History tells us that from the very first days of the Church there were many women of great faith who aimed to follow Christ with greater freedom.  They were determined to imitate him more closely by the practice of poverty, obedience, and chastity.  They dedicated their lives to God in various ways.  Many of them, inspired by the Holy Spirit, led the life of hermits.  Others raised up religious families to which the Church readily gave her approval.  As a result, a wonderful variety of communities has grown up and these have enabled the Church not only to be ready to do every kind of good work, but to be prepared for the work of building up the Body of Christ. They dedicated themselves to the Lord in a special way by following Christ, the example of all consecrated  chastity and poverty.  By his obedience, even to death on the cross, he redeemed and sanctified the world.  Fired by the love which the Holy Spirit poured out in their hearts, Religious in every age lived their lives ever increasingly for Christ and for His body which is the Church.  Consequently, the more fervent their union with Christ, through the giving of themselves, which includes the whole of their lives, the richer the life of the Church becomes and the more fruitful her apostolate.  And so I suppose, the challenge for all is to grow more fervent in our union with Christ.

You are the modern day successors of all of those.  Your profession, your religious profession, the day of your profession, was your response to God’s call.  You not only wanted to be pledged to him but also announce it to the world and live for God alone.  You have handed over the whole of your lives to His service and this is a special type of consecration.  It is, of course, deeply rooted in the consecration of Baptism and it expresses that consecration more fully.  Today, we rejoice with you at the fact that you have been chosen and called and that you have answered that call down through the years.

Jesus Christ was consecrated by the Father.  Jesus is totally dedicated to His Father.  At the age of twelve (12) – when he stayed behind and was lost for three days and was eventually found in that same temple and His mother was upset, he said:  “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business”. 

‘Consecrated’, means the total dedication of a person or a thing to God.  It is most commonly applied to the bread and wine that is transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

Baptism is the fundamental sacrament of personal consecration.  The vow which you took on the day of your profession, dedicated you to the service of God’s people in a particular congregation which has been ratified by the authority of the Church. 

Every consecration is intended to draw you into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus.  Jesus Christ was consecrated by the Father.  Jesus came into the world to do the will of the Father faithfully.  At the Last Supper, he prayed to the Father for his disciples – ‘Consecrate them in the truth”.

All of us were personally consecrated on the day of our Baptism.  In other words, we were anointed with oil and washed with water to show that we belonged, no longer to ourselves but, to God – that is the fundamental secret.

When you took your vows on the day of your profession in a particular religious community, something else happened.  From that day forward you were further dedicated to serve God’s people in a particular religious congregation – a congregation that was founded by your Founder or Foundress and approved by the appropriate authority of the Church. 

In the same way, I was anointed with oil on the day of my ordination as a priest and as a bishop – to show that I was thereby being dedicated and consecrated to serve the people of God as a diocesan bishop.  Then there are those others, chosen men, who were dedicated on the day of their religious profession and set apart on the day of their priestly ordination.

All of you who are called by God to religious life have dedicated yourselves to the Lord in a special way by following Christ.  He is the supreme example of chastity and poverty.  He said he did not even own the wherewith to lay down his head to rest.  He became totally obedient to the Father, obedient unto death, even death on the cross – to save all of us and set us free. 

Those who follow Christ as you do have been inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Love- pours that love of God into your hearts.  That love inspires you to live your life increasingly for Christ and for his body, the Church.

The result is that the more fervently you unite yourselves with Christ, the richer and more gracefilled the life of the Church becomes.  The more fruitful the apostolate of the Church- the more you unite yourselves to Christ.  You give the whole of your lives to Christ. 

Why a World Day for Consecrated Life?

To help us all appreciate better the gift which all consecrated persons are in the Church and for the Church.  Yes – for forty years the Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on the appropriate renewal of Religious Life, but the body of that Decree needs to be studied and understood and made known, so that everybody understands who you are and what you are about and the treasure which you are in the Church today.