A New Year for A New Life
This past Sunday, the first day of Advent, marked the beginning of the new liturgical year. It also inaugurated the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis called as an opportunity for religious women and men throughout the world to “let their hearts dwell on a freeze-frame of the joy of the moment when Jesus looked at them” to respond to the call of consecrated life.
Yes, the Year of Consecrated Life is an opportunity. It is also a celebration of the vocation of those whose lives image Jesus' poverty, chastity, and obedience as the chief means of following our gentle Savior. Consecrated to Christ in baptism, each person is called to discipleship, living Jesus according to the path paved by the Spirit's promptings. Through the vows, the religious man or woman is able to present the Gospel with the perspective of a specific gift—or charism—that a community's founder bequeathed.
Like many parents and friends will special gifts to their heirs, we Oblates believe that Blessed Louis Brisson, our founder, left us a graced inheritance through the Spiritual Directory. This is our rule of life written by St. Francis de Sales, as a way to unite our lives to God's, especially through the practice of the gentleness and humility of Jesus. With Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis, through whose tireless encouragement Blessed Louis founded the Oblates, our founder's vision for us is that Jesus Christ is to walk the earth again. Thus, Brisson exhorted the Oblates to re-print the Gospel with our lives.
Last week at Salesianum School, a high school of more than 1,000 boys, 19 Oblates renewed their vows at a prayer service in the gym. Prior to the renewal of vows, Ryan Cronshaw, an Oblate seminarian and graduate of Salesianum, offered a reflection on his vocation, especially as he experienced it unfolding as a high school boy. Unaware, then, that the Lord was calling him to live as an Oblate, he went on to college to study science in the hopes of later going to graduate school until the moment when he realized that he wanted “more for his life.” In his prayerful imagination, he returned to moments at high school where he felt peace, joy, and inspiration from the Oblates he knew there and with whom served at nearby Nativity Prep, a tuition-free middle school for inner city boys. The time he spent with the Oblates was a “freeze-frame of joy” that led him to discern an Oblate vocation.
Freeze-frames of joy are not unique to those in consecrated life. Pope Francis talks greatly on the theme of encounter, moments when God's grace touches us to reveal the power and promise of the Spirit moving us to experience the presence of Jesus. For some, this leads to vocational discernment; for others, it may lead to falling in love; and for others, it may move them to commit to a movement of justice that enlivens the Gospel and advances the dignity of people.
The freeze-frame of joy evokes the image of smiling for a camera. As disciples, our joy-filled smiles are not to be preserved on film or in pixels for posterity; rather, they are to inspire others to live Jesus in the joy of the Gospel.