When Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life (20 Nov 2014 till 2 Feb 2016), it was greeted with much enthusiasm. The aims of this special year would be “to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.” Many of us have come into contact either with a religious sister or brother. Be it in the mission school, hospital, bookstore, catechism or in any other place, they may have touched our lives in some way and sometimes even without us noticing it.
It is a fact that in Malaysia today, not many young people are attracted to this way of life. There could be many reasons for it and it is not my intention to delve into it. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me even till today is how many of these young women and men dedicated their lives to the service of God and left their homeland to arrive in Malaysia for mission. In those days there was neither the Internet not TripAdvisor to check what this “new” mission land was like but yet many of them came just trusting in the Lord. The sense of trust and service took them to many new places. Not just Malaysia, but many countries throughout the world are truly indebted to such committed women and men who gave their lives totally to the service of God. For many of them, once they bade farewell to their homelands, they never went back as the mission land became their new homes. In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, St John Paul II wrote “you have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (No. 110).
As the number of women and men embrace the consecrated life in Malaysia, we need to look to the future with hope rather than despair. Perhaps it is time that the laity play a greater role in forming the Church in Malaysia. Though there are already many lay people who dedicate themselves in serving God but certainly we need more. There are those who think that being part of a ministry in the life of the Church (parish) requires a deep level of spirituality. One must remember that Jesus chose simple men to be His disciples and these men made a difference simply because they felt a deep sense of commitment to Jesus’ mission.
As we celebrate with these dedicated women and men in the Year of Consecrated Life, we not only give thanks to God for them but it is also a time for us to reflect on the vocation of the laity. The laity can make a greater difference to the life of the Church but we must first take ownership of the mission of Jesus. The season of Easter that we have just celebrated should have reminded us of our baptismal call – through our baptism we have been incorporated into the Church and made sharers of her mission (cf. CCC 1213).
Let us be challenged this year to take ownership of the mission entrusted to us and not find excuses to disown it. The future of the Church is in the hands of everyone and not just to those who have consecrated their lives to this way of life.