If you walked down to your parish and asked twenty people, “do you think that the main purpose of a religious is to do some active work for the Church and world such as teach, feed the poor, and operate hospitals?” many people would answer with a hearty “yes!” Perhaps there’s a chance that, as you read this answer, you’re saying to yourself, “yeah, that sounds about right. I give that answer an A plus!” But what if I told you that there are thousands of religious men and women who don’t do any of these things and who don’t do any active work in society at all? You may be surprised to find out that this isn’t what religious life is all about. Active work may be a central aspect for particular religious orders as an expression of their particular charisms (gifts and purposes), but it isn’t the fundamental purpose of religious life. Rather, the fundamental purpose of all religious is “the testimony of their consecrated life, which they are bound to foster by prayer and penance.” (CIC 673)
As our previous blog post mentioned, religious men and women are called to live a life in this world that will point people to the life that God desires all of us to share with Him in eternity. Religious life is a testimony and a witness, and the religious is called to be a person with one foot in this life and the other in the next, pointing to God and crying out “He exists, He must be worshipped, and I’m showing you this by giving my entire life to Him!”
In the Old Testament there were various forms of animal sacrifices. Most of them consisted of dividing the animal into three parts. One would be given to God, one to the priest, and one to the person making the offering. But a special type of offering was called the “whole burnt offering”, which was burned upon the altar and given entirely to God. St. Gregory likens religious life to this offering because a person is giving his or her entire self as a complete offering to God, holding nothing back. The religious, by giving up everything and handing himself over to God, exposes the folly that is the pursuit of worldly goods in the place of God. In the end, the pursuit of God and of eternity with God is the only thing that really matters, and all things must be ordered to this end. It is this fundamental aspect of the religious life wherein I have found an inexhaustible well from which to draw water to nourish my own vocation. It is a radical testimony, a declaration to the whole world and to everyone that I encounter, that God is worthy to be loved above all else and that he demands nothing less than your whole heart.
Br. Benedict Mary Bartsch, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE