Consecrated Life

Consecrated Life

The Beauty and Challenge of Consecrated Life


You did not choose me. I chose you! (John 15:16)

That was where it all began—this venture into the unknown, following an unheard voice, an unseen face, into an unfathomable future. We had a mysterious attraction to this childhood God who suddenly or gradually caught hold of our lives and would not let us go!

Every consecrated person has a story to tell. Having to deal with young Religious, I would often start with these stories. Some stories were long, beginning from the womb of their mother. Others burst in at a very young age—First Holy Communion or thereabouts. Others were drawn in adolescence or teenage or even later. Whenever and however the call came, it just did not leave us in peace, until we made up our minds, one way or the other. The “If you wish…” of Jesus required a willing answer, not a forced one.

What drew most people to the Religious Life was usually a strong inclination towards prayer or a deep-seated urge towards some kind of apostolate.  After many years of living as a religious or a priest, most of us can honestly say that we seldom had great difficulties in our prayer life or the apostolate. Very few have gone through the ‘dark night’ of some of the saints. Very few have been persecuted because of their ‘apostolate.’

The Tough Challenge

Most of our difficulties in the Consecrated Life have come from an unexpected area—community living, the give-and-take of living and working together with other persons called to the same state of life.  In our youthful enthusiasm, we admired our priests and religious. We thought that because of their evident holiness they must be nice to live with.  But once in the community ourselves, we soon discovered the human elements of community living.

As an old and humorous saying has it:

“To live in love with the saints above,

Oh, what heavenly glory!

But to live and grow with the saints below,

Well, that’s another story!”

It is worthwhile to recall what drew us to the Consecrated Life in the first place. Did we find what we were looking for?

Now, several years after our formation days, what are we looking for? Are we satisfied that this is just what we wanted or felt called to?  Have we grown … grace-fully?

The real freedom, joy and serenity in Consecrated life come from our intimacy with the God who called us /calls us, who walks with us and sustains us. We were not called merely for something. We were called by Someone!  Jesus calls us to discipleship and only then does He send us out on a mission. Giving priority to our work, which we sometimes confuse with mission, at the expense of prayer and gratuitous fraternal love and service, is like placing the cart before the horse. Sooner or later we will burn out, or, if we drag on long enough, retirement will deflate the balloon of our self-importance!  How many disgruntled and disillusioned people we see, who seem to have forgotten their first love!

Whatever be our age, Consecrated Life holds its beauty, its attractiveness. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, living the values He proposed, growing in our likeness to Him, relating with others with His unconditional and forgiving love, serving gratuitously without seeking any reward … all these make our life more genuine, more divine, more worth living, more satisfying from a spiritual as well as a human point of view. We become more humane, more mature, more contented, more at peace with ourselves and with others.

This is the real freedom and joy of a life dedicated to God, a prolonged blessing!  And it is ours for the asking. He has called us and never goes back on His promises. We may have fallen, but He picks us up again. We may have strayed, but He willingly brings us back again.

He calls us even today. It is never too late. Oh, if today you hear His voice, harden not your heart!

Sr. Esme da Cunha FDCC is a Canossian sister. Her experience includes: College Lecturer in physics, Co-ordinator of Preparation for Final Vows for fifteen batches, member of the provincial and general council.

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Consecrated Life



Everything in this world is sacred; nothing is secular. Everything is a divine manifestation. The earth or the universe is God’s work and gift to us. You cannot fight for its rights unless you have a profound love for it. We cannot truly pray to God the Father of all, if we do not treat other beings in a brotherly or sisterly fashion, because all are created in God’s image. It was this scriptural message that led Francis of Assisi to take a radical decision to consider everything as God’s child, including the inanimate creatures like “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.”

But nowhere is the destructiveness of selfish individualism manifested more clearly and dangerously than in our destruction of the environment. Scientists have shown that the burning of oil, coal and gas emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have been doing this since the industrial revolution. At present, such emissions send seven billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. All of this is collecting around the globe like a giant blanket that has the effect of warming the earth beyond the normal temperatures of the past. It is known as the “greenhouse” effect. Now we have increased this thickness by 30%.

The greenhouse effect will cause and is already causing extreme weather conditions: devastating droughts in some places, killer floods in other places, widespread failure of agriculture and therefore food scarcity and, most destructive of all for the human race, the rising of sea-levels everywhere. Sea levels will rise, because the warming of the oceans will expand the volume of water. At first it was thought that such results were still a long way off.  But the scientists now announce that global warming is happening much faster than had been anticipated and it will soon cause a permanent, world-wide, giant tsunami. As a result, all forms of marine life will be affected. This is called the depletion of bio-diversity. No one had previously fully realized that this would be one of the effects of global warming. The human race itself may die. We need to give up the idea of having unlimited resources. Our wants have become needs. This is suicidal for humanity. There is no use blaming just selfish business people. We are also responsible for it to some degree.

The call to mission is not only for the humans. Every creature is created with a purpose and therefore missionary. Every creature is faithfully moving forward to reach the goal for which it was created. When there are so many trustworthy, faithful servants around us, how about our mission? In our busy schedule and mechanised life, we have no time for nature. The Pope has said that the ecological crisis must be seen as a spiritual and moral issue. Has it become a topic of conscientization in our mission? If we accept God as protector, we should protect the Earth with responsibility.

We need a new integrated creation spirituality, an earth-friendly spirituality. In God’s on-going mission, we, as human beings, have a responsible role to play. We cannot use the goods of the earth as we used them in the past. We are not outside creation to dominate and destroy it. We are part and parcel of creation. If we think that we are different from nature, we will destroy it. When we feel part of nature, we will protect it. This is Eco-spirituality. Our superiority is given to us not to dominate but to guard and protect creation.  We should be carers and bearers of life. The oppression of women often seems to go hand in hand with the destruction of nature and environment. It is exploited not only for human benefit but also for human greed!

Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical on ecology, reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. We can awaken our hearts and move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we see the intimate connection between God and all beings, and more readily listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (No. 49)


In our religious communities, we need to cultivate an “ethics of enough” and be careful in our usage of electricity, water and paper. We can creatively celebrate eco-friendly festivals and encourage our companions and friends to reduce, re-use and re-cycle. We can observe the “Earth Hour” and decide in all communities, in a synchronized manner, to switch off lights, unplug all household appliances, electric and electronic gadgets at least one hour once a week. Let us be merciful to nature and plan and practice an eco-friendly life-style and reduce our needs. Otherwise our irresponsibility and lack of concern for the earth, our common home, will affect future generations in destructive ways. We should pass on to them a livable, life-giving planet, not a badly damaged home or a desert.

            Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  • How aware am I (are we) of the seriousness of the ecological crisis?
  • What have I (we) done to simplify life to use our resources more responsibly?
  • Do we bring this issue to the attention of our students and formees in a clear, serious and systematic way?
  • Do we see ecology as moral and spiritual issue?
  • Have I (we) read “Laudato Si” and studied its recommendations?
  • Point out three natural disasters caused by earth warming.
  • “There is enough for human need; there is never enough for human greed.” How is greed the cause of the destruction of the environment?
  • What positive steps have I (we) taken to make the earth a better place—planting trees, protecting trees, not throwing waste around, using natural (rather than synthetic) products, keeping surrounding clean, not throwing waste into water bodies or common grounds, etc?
  • Is the morality or religiosity we practise and teach limited to private matters, or does it include social, political and ecological responsibility?
  • As a result and sign of your ecological responsibility, what changes will you effect in your life style?

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Consecrated Life


Magnet banners5

We must know the evolution of the speed of communication: When Columbus discovered America, it took seven months for the news to reach the queen of Spain. When Lincoln was killed, it took seventeen weeks for the news to reach the elite of London and Paris. When Armstrong landed on the moon, it took a few seconds for the news to reach the earth. When the Gulf war broke out (1991), we not only heard about it, but saw it actually happening.

Christianity has taken every means of communication seriously in the past. When Guttenberg invented the printing press, the first book printed in it was the Bible. When the radio was invented by Marconi, one of the first broadcasting stations established by him was the Vatican Radio, which even today is a formidable voice in the air. We need to see the value in these vehicles for the prophetic ministry at the service of the Word. The Pope has said: “The Internet is the best forum for evangelization.” We need to rethink our way of teaching catechism and preaching the homilies in this context. Using the media, we can tell the whole world about the love of God.

But today a serious problem faced in our communities is the usage of modern devices of communication. Two decades ago, the superior of the community kept an absolute control over the situation. Everyone got permission to make a phone call. The world ended within the boundaries of the convent and the mission area. Probably the rest of the time was spent in prayer. With the arrival of the current means of communication, this has become a history of the past. A general change in the behaviour of the religious men and women is slowly entering into their daily life. To name a few trends that are affecting them: the common sickness of sending missed calls, sending SMS before sunrise: it may be an inspirational quote but it disturbs due to its untimely delivery.

The use of the mobile and the Internet has opened a new face to religious life. If it moves in this pace, in a decade, religious life will be re-defined. It has strongly introduced a new concept that every individual is responsible for his/her own life, so self-restraint in a new form has to be learnt. It has reduced the role of the superior to the first among equals. In the past, nuns lived in unquestionable submission to the authorities. But today, easy accessibility puts us in direct and constant contact with our family members and friends. We might witness a new definition to religious life within the duration of a decade.  We have to make a new formation curriculum to deal with the newer realities of life. We have to start practical training for positive use of the mobile and social net-working. The time also demands a special training for personal freedom, self-restraint and managing mature inter-personal relationships. Personal maturity and religious spirit will help the religious as to when to use them, how long to use them, what to watch and whom to contact, etc.

What is ministry today all about? People or being busy with devices? Obviously much of the paper work on computers is aimed at helping people. But too often, there is little time or energy left for people at the end of the exhausting efforts of accomplishing those tasks. Modern means of communication creates a barrier between us and the opportunity of touching peoples’ lives.

Today what is required is communication through personal presence and witnessing life. The humble, inexpensive means of communication used in the good old days or in new and creative ways can still be the most effective ways of conveying the Gospel. Though Jesus could heal from afar, he preferred to walk to Lazarus’ tomb, Jairus’ home and Zacchaeus’ house, to touch and heal them. Even when he was tired (cf. Lk. 4.40) in the evening, he put people before other work, touched everyone and blessed them. He considered people not as interruptions but opportunities. The focus of our entire ministry is finally people. People need someone who can be seen and touched in the midst of a situation of suffering. Our absence must be felt like Jesus’ absence in Martha’s house when Lazarus died. (cf. Jn.11.21). Our Holy Father Pope Francis is doing this mission through his presence and touch.

Gospel values cannot be effectively communicated through gadgets, but through communities that live them amid gloom and doom, thus keeping in human hearts the hope of a fuller, richer life. Such a community communicates itself. Jesus said, “I have set you an example” (Jn: 13:13). Gandhi wrote once, “My life is my message.”

The unedifying life of some priests and religious is one of the reasons for people leaving the Church and joining other denominations. Our unavailability and our being busy with the devices cause scandal to them. Modern gadgets are God’s gifts given to us to speed up our work and make us more available to our people in our mission centres. Do we really use them for doing good, or let them take us away from the people who need us?

Questions for Reflection/sharing:

  • Have mobile phones and social media brought people closer together or taken them away from one another?
  • Since they can do both, what has been the greater impact according to you?
  • In your own case, are these gadgets making you more available for service, or taking you away from the people who need you?
  • Do I use these gadgets and technologies more for my entertainment or for doing good?
  • Is there more unity and closeness in families and religious communities because of phones and social media, or greater distance?
  • Are today’s younger people becoming better at relationships or worse?
  • How far should a minor’s use of smart phones and social media be controlled by parents and school authorities?
  • As far as you know, do most people access good (instructive, edifying, useful) material on these media, or harmful contents?
  • A smart phone or social media can teach us about fitness and exercise. Do most people use them to keep more fit, or spend more time on them and neglect exercise and fitness?

Real love and friendship with people we know is very different from “contacts” on social media. How many genuine friends do you have? How many do you really care about? Is your use of smart phones and social media making you more human, or cutting you off from real people?

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Consecrated Life


Consecrated Life

There is a difference between community life and communion. We come together and live in community for a double purpose—to help each other to get closer to God and to fulfil the common mission. A community helps us to reach both these goals. The community is the place where we release our tensions and are energized for our mission. Celebrations and lighter moments reduce our tension and break the monotony. A religious who lives in a loving community has far more zest and joy in mission.

But community life itself can become a source of tension. Many communities appear as patched up unrelated parts. In several communities, there is sadly only a business-oriented, merely functional, relationship. There is apparent cordiality, which rarely includes a deep, sincere, trusting and warm relationship among the members. Over-involvement in work forces the members to avoid sharing in community responsibilities and being accountable to others in the community. We keep ourselves simply busy. Ministry becomes an excuse for not meeting others meaningfully.

An extremely important means to build up communion in communities is communication. Nasty judgments, unjust criticism, calculated coldness and subtle manoeuvres would disappear, if there is genuine, humble and positive communication. The spirituality of communion implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and to value it as a gift from God and to know how to share each other’s burdens. If somebody is better than we are, we can learn from them. We can learn to enjoy others’ success.

Don’t take what others say about you too seriously: It has been said that only two people can tell you who you really are: an enemy who has lost her/his temper and a friend who genuinely loves you. Listen to them and learn about yourself. Do not react, oppose or defend yourself. Rather study their comments, evaluate them and see if what they say is true. If true, work on it. A Bishop told his priests that he would not like any homily for his funeral, adding: “I do not want to be lying in the coffin, while another is lying in the pulpit.”

So, too, telling someone, “I am sorry” has a great value. Agree to disagree. Arguments are seldom productive. You win an argument, and lose a friend.

Get rid of the idea that “I have to teach her a lesson or else she will never learn.” People do not learn by being opposed, but rather by being understood, cared for and being dealt with respect and compassion. Use your heart and not just your head and reasoning. Listen respectfully. Never minimize the other’s feelings by saying: You are over-reacting; you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. We may be hearing the other’s words, but not really listening to their feelings.

Learn to forgive. A community is not made up of perfect people. Each one is a mixture of good and bad, like Jesus’ community. None of us are perfect products of God. We are still a work in progress. I may not like somebody’s voice, hair-style, beard, features or ideas. I am not bound to like them. Yet, I have no right to oppose, reject or humiliate a person on account of these aspects. I am called to love everybody—including those whose ways I do not like. God can write straight with crooked lines. Develop compassion. Let not community members feel: “When I do something good, no one remembers it; but when I commit a mistake, no one forgets.”

It is OK to allow people to make mistakes. Novice Mistress once called a novice and scolded her for not making the Sign of the Cross properly because some senior sisters had complained about it.  The novice accepted the correction, but decided to test whether the others really made the sign of the cross well! The next morning, when the sisters came out of the chapel after Mass, the novice had a good laugh. Every sister had a cluster of three blue smudges on the chest of her white habit. Not a single one showed a real cross! How come? The previous night, the novice had poured ink into the holy water cup at the entrance of the chapel!

When you are hurt, there is no harm in crying. For many women, crying is often an outlet for anger. (There is a gender difference here: Women tend to express anger as sadness, e.g., by crying, and men often express sadness as anger!) As individuals and as society it may be time to re-think our attitudes about crying. If you are a woman, the chances are better. Our society tends to admire those who appear to be strong. Men are said to die earlier than women. Could there be a connection? St. Francis speaks of “the gift of tears.” Jesus wept (Gospel of John, 11:35). There is a therapeutic, healing power in tears. We speak of salt in tears, but there seems to be  evidence of washed out toxins. While weeping may be helpful, take care not to hurt yourself or to defuse your anger through alcohol, or drugs, such as, tranquillisers or sleeping pills.

A mistake we should avoid: Giving our anger free rein, while being stingy with our smiles. No! Be generous with your smile and restrained in showing anger. After all, aren’t we placed on this earth to increase the joy and goodness in the world? Each of us can light up the place around us if, instead of going around with a long face, or repeatedly recalling our hurts, we decide to spread joy around us.

You have probably heard what is called the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, give me the courage to change what I can; the serenity to accept what I cannot change; and the wisdom to know the difference”. This would also be a wise guideline in dealing with people—including the limitations and foibles that all of us have.


  1. Have I been happy in most of the communities I have lived in?
  2. What do I tend to notice more easily—people’s good qualities or their defects?
  3. What do I talk about more frequently and more readily—the good that others do or their failures?
  4. Religious do not the face the type of cruel and inhuman treatment that some married people face—marital violence, public abuse, addictions leading to humiliation and violence, quarrels and court cases over money and property. What can we do to make life in community happier and more edifying?
  5. In both marriage and celibate life, the main challenge of young adulthood—soon after marriage or religious profession—is adjustment. Very similar qualities are needed to succeed in either way of life. Do I see adjusting to different characters as a normal challenge of life, rather than as a huge mountain?
  6. Will I grow up and benefit more if I mix with those who think like me, or by living with a variety of persons with different tastes and views?
  7. When someone expresses a view different from mine, do I really listen and try to understand—or do I reject it immediately, and start arguing with the person?
  8. How would you describe relationships in most communities you have lived in—homes of love with deep mutual care and respect; superficial relationships marked by indifference and lack of trust; bitter antagonism, rivalry and jealousy?
  9. What can I do to build up a true communion of hearts and minds wherever I live and work, rather than just work-related and superficial meetings, or (worse still) mutual distrust, prejudice and jealousy?

Would most communities that know me be happy to have me as a member?

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Consecrated Life

The Vow of Evangelical Chastity


Consecrated life is beautiful and meaningful if it is lived for service and commitment. It is not just remaining unmarried. It is a joyful and loving life! It is the vow of love. In the words of Pope Francis, “A joyless community is one that is dying. The people of our time are waiting for words of consolation, the availability of forgiveness and true joy. We, consecrated men and women, are called to share this joy with a mother’s tenderness as facilitators and not as controllers of grace. The Church is not a refuge for sad people, but a house of joy.”

In this fragmented and fractured world, we are called to create relationships with nature, God and others through the vow of consecrated celibacy. It is a commitment to equality in a discriminating society. This vow frees us to be available at any time and for any ministry and even to die for others. Celibacy is not about being perennial adolescents whose lives are controlled by the superior. Our loving and happy life must be seen by others in our service to the unwanted poor.

The positive meaning of the vow of chastity is a quest for expansive love: loving God and the people in one’s ministry. Hence the emphasis could be changed from chastity to solidarity, compassion, tender and delicate love and non-violence. In practice, such an evolving meaning of the vow of chastity would take the emphasis off sexuality and take us toward an “expansive love of humanity,” sharing with those in need and rejecting the traditional human divisions of race, ethnicity, class, gender and/or sexual orientation.

The great scandal among the twelve apostles was not their failure in chastity. Most of them, if not all of them, were probably married. But one of the twelve apostles chose to betray Jesus for money (mammon). God’s competitor is not sex or marriage, but mammon (love of money),\.

Celibacy was not a major issue in the Bible. Paul, writing to Timothy, says that the bishop should be married only once. (cf. 1 Tim 3:2). Other ministers, like Aquila and Priscilla, who were endowed with evident charisms, were married.

Two practical insights given by Fr. Joe Mannath might help us to understand this vow better.

* To teach in a school or to work in a hospital, we do not need celibacy. In the West, such issues were faced decades ago, when they had to hand over the leadership of schools and other institutions to the laity. It is time we train laity for leadership roles in the church. The reason for celibacy is not work, but the inner awareness of being called by God to this particular way of living and loving.

* In many parts of the world, a vow of chastity is probably no longer a meaningful symbol to represent a commitment to God. I myself know—you, too, probably—excellent gifted, God-centred, apostolically oriented young people who are fervent, prayerful and generous, but who are not at all drawn to the vowed life that we religious are offering.

Here are some practical tips to live our life of chastity joyfully and meaningfully.

  • Choosing celibacy makes sense only if God is real for us. A person can stay unmarried for a variety of reasons—family obligations, work, escape from family obligations, love of power, dedication to a profession. None of them is what the Catholic Church understands as celibacy. Celibacy makes sense only if Jesus and the Gospel way of life attract a person’s heart. Without this central attraction, it does not make sense to give up two of life’s best things—spousal love and parenthood.
  • Without the discernment to see if God is calling a person to this way of loving, we have no right to coax anyone to give up marriage and parenthood.
  • The vow of chastity is a call to love. We are called to love the poor, the unwanted, the marginalized, the migrants, the excluded, etc.  So, too, celibacy does not become convincing or inspiring if I limit my care to those of “my group.” We are called to walk through the world as Jesus did—excluding no one from our love.
  • We should learn to relate to others in a mature way.  Most people need help to mature emotionally, and to learn to relate to men and women in life-enhancing ways.
  • We must be careful to avoid temptation. We must not put ourselves in situations that might lead to sexual activity, such as being at close quarters with someone to whom we are physically attracted and not to be together in secluded spots, unless we absolutely know that we are fully in control of ourselves.
  • We all need love, compassion, and respect. If we do not find this in the community, a vowed celibate life can be hard.  So we may be tempted to watch movies and TV shows, engage in social media like the ‘Facebook’ and even venture into pornographic websites. These are the temptations that we should firmly reject.
  • A chaste celibate life is for mature people, not protected by someone watching over us. It is a life lived by adults. One of the gifts of the Spirit is ‘self-discipline’ (cf. Gal: 5: 23-24).
  • In the admonishing words of Pope Francis: “One of the dangers of a ‘sterile’ form of celibacy is bitterness and gossip. When a priest disagrees with his bishop or bishops disagree with others, they must air their difference face to face. This might bring negative consequences, but we must be ready for our cross.”
  • The key to a fruitful life lies in opening oneself in prayer to God. A celibate who does not pray closes himself to the Holy Spirit. Transcend yourself and resist the temptation.
  • Chastity has more to do with being loving than in sacrificing sexuality. We cannot limit our love to friends, family, caste, tribe and like-minded people. It calls us to an all-encompassing love rather than to a restrictive one.
  • To be celibate is far more than being a mere bachelor or spinster.

Questions for Reflection and Sharing:

  1. What meaning do you find in a celibate life? How would you explain its meaning to a family member or close friend or to Catholic college student?
  2. Are most lay people inspired by most celibates they meet?
  3. Are we really proposing a vocational choice based on a God-experience, or only recruiting hands for work?
  4. Love is a must. Celibacy is not. Do most celibates come across as loving women and men?
  5. Pope Francis has spoken several times of the importance of joy. Do most celibates appear joyful?
  6. If you are a celibate: Do you find this way of life meaningful? Are most celibates you know joyful and loving persons? Would you recommend this way of life to a young man or woman you love (e.g., a close relative or friend)?
  7. If you are a married person: What meaning do you find in having celibate clergy and religious? Will you be happy if your son or daughter were to choose this path?
  8. Neither marriage nor staying single makes anyone happy or good. What can celibates learn from married couples? What can couples learn from celibates?
  9. Think of two or three celibate women and men who have inspired you. What have you learnt from them about the art of living?

If a friend or colleague from another religious tradition were to ask you, “Why are you and other sisters, brothers and fathers celibate?” what would you tell them?

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the vow of evangelical poverty


What does the vow of poverty mean today, in our context? Nobody wants poverty – neither material nor intellectual nor spiritual poverty. There is a global war going on for the eradication of poverty from the surface of the world, especially in the third world. Jesus never glorified poverty and misery. What does voluntary poverty mean when one has been forced to live in poverty all his or her life? What does poverty mean when one has more money or comfort in the religious community than in his or her family in the village? Is this the surest way of avoiding financial insecurity in a poor country like ours? As members of a financially secure institution, with good housing, above average levels of food, medical care, leisure, educational opportunity and social influence, we are not poor.

Our style of life has no more meaning and witnessing value in our country. Our wealth, comforts, power and position alienate us from the poor to whom we are called to be “Good News”. Our buildings with their compound walls, high gates and dogs, lawns and love birds and fish tanks; our expensive cars, excellent medical treatment when we need it and our mode of celebrations—all these are a counter-witness. After all, we claim to follow the poor man, Jesus of Nazareth. We are, of course, helping some poor people. But often they do not feel comfortable to approach us and we too find little time to be available to them in their needs.

We can speak of three different types of poverty:

A) Economic poverty: The poor are poor not because of their fault. Typhoons, droughts, floods, violence and wars destroy the poor. A little street girl asked Pope Francis in the Philippines, “Why does God allow such things to happen?” The response to economic poverty is to end it by hearing the cry of the poor and responding to it with sensitivity and generosity. Compassion is not enough. Just and effective structural measures are needed to combat economic poverty.

B) Sociological poverty: This kind of poverty exists because of selfishness and of exploiting and suppressing the weak by not paying a just salary or cheating the poor and silencing them. This is the case when we fail to pay just wages to our workers or we do not treat them with dignity and respect. The social dimension of religious poverty is to empathize with the poor and to alleviate their sufferings.

C) Spiritual poverty: This is what we call “Anawim” We do not have to be economically poor. In sickness and misery, we rely on God and surrender to Him. To be “poor in spirit” is to realize that we have nothing, we are nothing, and can do nothing by ourselves. Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of our emptiness. It is a sense of need and destitution. We are totally open to God. Sometimes we feel we cannot do anything. This is poverty of the spirit.

This vow places us on the way to defy materialism, consumerism and the justified ‘me’ism. Such a vow has less to do with ownership and more to do with stewardship. When people are dying of poverty, can religious professing to follow a man who was born poor, who lived and died in poverty afford the luxury of costly cars, a luxurious life-style, etc.? At the same time it does not mean that one should travel without reservation and enough money or to starve. Poverty need not mean misery, starvation and uncleanness in life, which of course are not virtues to be practiced but vices to be shunned. But the real meaning of poverty is sharing!

Sharing gives a totally different perspective. It is not a question of whether the other has it or not. The question is that we have got too much – we have to share. When we do charity, we expect the other to thank us. When we share, we thank him/her that s/he allowed us to pour out our energy – which was getting heavy; we feel grateful! And we need to see our giving not so much as charity but as obligation, as justice, as something we owe to the poor.

Asia or India is not poor. But there is an unequal distribution of resources. Hence we fight for peace, equality and justice. So we can call this vow as “Act justly” (Mic: 6:8) – a vow of stewardship, sharing and justice. We vow “to live simply” in a world overstuffed with commodities. Or, in an age of climate change, we respect the integrity of Planet Earth and “vow to live ecologically”. We live at the periphery, since poverty does not keep us at the centre of power. We choose to renounce power and prestige which material goods give, to be in solidarity with the poor. This vow will remind us of our duty to work for justice so that everybody will have enough to live a decent life.

All this requires an openness to the Spirit or, better said, a willingness to dance with the Spirit. Without an inner experience of joy in the Lord, it is unlikely that a person will choose poverty over riches or a simpler life over a life of luxury. Our life-style shows where our heart’s deep desires lie.Questions for Reflection & Sharing:

  1. Are we, members of religious orders, really poor?
  2. What does our vow of poverty really mean?
  3. Does our life-style put us among the rich, the upper middle class, the lower middle class or the poor?
  4. Would most people who deal with us consider us poor?
  5. The New Testament calls only one thing “the root of all evil.” That is: love of money. Does our life bear witness to a detachment from money and worldly goods?
  6. In what ways can we simplify our life, both collectively and personally?
  7. Some say that those who come from poor families are often the most attached to luxury. Have you found this to be true?
  8. By entering religious life, do most of us join a poorer and simpler way of life or a more secure and more comfortable life than at home?
  9. What inner attitude or spiritual experience would make a person want to lead a simple life?
  10. Have you personally experienced the joy of a simple life, of sharing, of being close to the poor?

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Consecrated Life

Religious Obedience


The term “obedience’ is derived from the Latin ob-audire, which means “to listen intently”. It is primarily an attentive listening: to self, to others, to the events and experiences of life that demands a response.  We are called to listen to the signs of our complex times and to respond with a new sense of mission. It requires that we should be attentive to the multiple ways in which God’s presence is revealed in the world around us. It always means fidelity to God. This vow is less and less concerned with questions of command and control and is less increasingly focussed on leaders. The basic meaning of obedience is listening. It is listening to God who speaks through our times, nature, various events, the Word of God, our conscience, our General Chapters, etc. This vow can be easily misunderstood. It needs to be grasped correctly, and practised meaningfully. We have to take more responsibility through dialogue and discernment.

The vow of obedience—which is an adult decision to seek and promote the mission of Jesus rather than personal glory—is very different from the parent-child relationship some religious communities encourage, where adult relationships and independent thinking are frowned upon. Obedience can be trivialized by being reduced to the question of dependence and permissions, rather than of serious adult responsibility for mission in the world. Inter-dependence is important.

The vow of obedience frees a religious from the human tendency to always put his/her own will first before God’s will. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, obedience is the chief of the vows, for liberty is dearer to human beings than anything else. “In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God’s salvific will…Far from lowering the dignity of the human person, religious obedience leads it to maturity by extending the freedom of the children of God” (Perfectae Caritatis, 14).

Vatican II: A New Vision of Religious Obedience

  • We need to remodel religious obedience and leadership. One of these changes emerged from the revised constitutions requiring greater participation and involvement of the religious in decision-making, such as community discernment, co-responsibility and subsidiarity.
  • Obedience and the exercise of authority are carried out in a climate of listening and dialogue. Dialogue means an effort to listen to the other side with respect and sincerity, to understand what is being said, and jointly search the will of God. The   superior   exercises   his/her   responsibility with openness, respecting each person.
  • The Vatican Council changed the meaning of the leader. S/he has power with and not power over! Coercive power, in general, is almost always understood hierarchically. Hierarchical authority armed with coercive power is seen as necessary for the common good to maintain order in the group. But, the Document on the Church insists that leadership is based on the shepherd model. As disciples of Jesus, we are all equals.
  • Religious life is radically egalitarian. There are no children in religious life. So, there is no parental or age-based superiority. The traditional (colonial) system changed radically in the decades following the Council. Jesus insisted that there were no fathers, Rabbis or teachers among the disciples. (Mt 23: 5-11). Authority is service. It is given to us to do as much good as possible.
  • According to Fr Robert Faricy SJ, obedience is a way to personal growth and fulfilment. Unfortunately, over the past few years, religious life has been criticized as dehumanizing, encouraging infantilism, and enslaving rather than freeing us. Obedience is not just a passive waiting for a command from legitimate superiors but a dynamic search for what pleases and glorifies the Lord.
  • Obedience is for mission: Mission and obedience are two complementary and inseparable elements in the life of Christ. “The task of devoting themselves wholly to mission is therefore included in their call; indeed, by the action of the Holy Spirit, who is at the origin of every vocation and charism, consecrated life itself is a mission, as was the whole of Jesus’ life” (Vita Consecrata, 72). It also affirms that “more than external works, mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness.” This is the primary task of consecrated life.  By virtue of their consecration, religious persons are in mission.
  • Both leaders and subjects should obey: After Vatican II, there was a gradual change felt and experienced by many. Gone are the days when the superior was the sole exerciser of authority and decision-maker, and the subjects, the obey-ers or even the conformists. The authority/superior figure was not really abolished but only the style of governance/leadership changed. All the members of the community, including superiors and subjects, obey.  This obedience is primarily oriented towards obedience to the will of God.
  • It is an exercise of the virtue of “prudence.” It is a difficult process. We must make a judgment or decision about what is the right thing to do in the present situation; what I am called to do here and now in response to the concrete situation in which I find myself. It is essential to consult and get guidance and to form one’s conscience.

Questions for Reflection/sharing:

  1. Which of the above clarifications struck you most? Why?
  2. Did any of the above statements surprise or confuse you? Which?
  3. What is the main purpose and meaning of the vow of obedience?
  4. Do we understand the theological virtue of “prudence” correctly? (That virtue does not mean caution, but the ability to make right decisions in concrete situations. It may include great daring and risk-taking, if the situation demands it.)
  5. In what sense is religious life “radically egalitarian”?
  6. Can you give an example of “power with” and “power over”?
  7. Why are listening and dialogue essential to religious obedience?
  8. Can a wrong exercise of leadership keep religious childish and immature? How?
  9. Do most religious come across as dynamic and mission-focussed, or frightened and immature?
  10. What is the best way for the superiors and everyone one to discover and do God’s will?

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Consecrated Life

The Power of The Word in Consecrated Life


The Word of God in Scripture has creative power in Religious life. It was with the power of this Word that God created the heavens and the earth and everything therein (cf. Ps. 33:6). Sometimes in the life of every individual there may be moments of emptiness, chaos, confusion and frustration, as in the case of the earth before its creation (cf. Gen: 1:2). But on such occasions, if one reads the Scriptures and submits himself/herself to be acted upon by the Word of God, a new heart and spirit will be created in that person.

How does one read the Word of God? There are five ways to do this.

First: Read the Word: For most of the two thousand years of church history, only priests got to personally read the Bible. But now billions of us have access to it.  In spite of this, many believers are more faithful to reading their daily newspaper than their Bibles. It’s no wonder that we don’t grow. Daily Bible reading will keep us in the range of God’s voice. This is why God instructed the kings of Israel to always keep a copy of his Word nearby and read it regularly! (cf. Deut: 17:19).

Second: Receive God’s Word: Listen to it and accept it with an open, receptive attitude (cf. James: 1, 19, 21; Jn: 13:17). In Lk: 8:11-15 Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower: Jesus identified three unreceptive attitudes – a closed mind (hard soil), a superficial mind (shallow soil) and a distracted mind (soil with weeds) and he said: “Consider carefully how you listen” (cf. Lk: 8:18a).

Thirdly: Study the Bible. The difference between reading and studying the Bible involves two additional activities: asking questions of the text and writing down your insights. You haven’t really studied the Bible unless you’ve written your thoughts down on paper or computer. Pause for a while and ask simple questions, such as: What does God tell me in this passage? Do I get any message for my life in this context. (cf. Acts: 8:31).

Fourthly: Assimilate the Word of God. This is done by remembering it (cf. Mt. 12: 1-8). If you don’t have any Bible verses memorized, you’ve got no bullets in your gun! I challenge you to memorize one verse a week for the rest of your life. Imagine how much stronger you’ll be! You must use the Word of God as your weapon against your temptations and struggles. Jesus did this when he was tempted in the wilderness. Jesus countered every temptation by quoting Scripture. He didn’t argue with Satan. He didn’t say “I am not hungry” when tempted to use his power to meet a personal need. He simply quoted Scripture from memory.

Your capacity to remember is a God-given gift. You may think you have a poor memory, but the truth is, you have millions of ideas, facts and figures memorized. You remember what is important to you. If God’s Word is important, you will remember it. There are enormous benefits to memorizing Bible verses. It will help you to resist temptation, make wise decisions, reduce stress, build confidence and offer good advice. Your memory is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will become,  and memorizing verses will become easier. You can memorize Scripture anywhere: while working, exercising, driving, waiting or at bedtime. The three keys to memorizing Scripture are review, review and review!

The fifth way is to reflect on the Word, which is meditation. Meditation is focussed thinking. It takes serious effort. You select a verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind. No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture.

These five steps—reading, receiving, researching, remembering and reflecting on the Word—are somewhat ineffective if we do not put the Word into practice. We may avoid this personal application because it can be difficult or even painful. God’s Word points out our faults, rebukes our sin and expects us to change. It is human nature to resist change. (cf. Heb: 4:12).

Scripture as the Word of God has healing power. We are all wounded at heart and sick in mind. This affects our physical health also. The one who turns to the power of the Word will be cured from within and be able to face problems in life with joy and peace. Hence, one has to approach the Scriptures with the attitude of a sick person approaching a doctor for medicine to cure him/her of his/her ailment.

What is important is an experiential knowledge with faith. The Word does not reveal to us scientific truths, but religious truth that transforms. We have to take the Word to people who have never heard it.  We have to prove the power of the Word of God, not only in homilies and Bible seminars, but also in places where bombs explode, where people are in conflict, where lives are lost, where drugs damage youth, where ideals are forgotten.

To carry the Word into the midst of life with all its pain, struggles, beauty and dreams, we need to be rooted in it. We need to learn to make it our daily food. Only when we have experienced its nourishing and transforming power can we carry it—lovingly and reverently—into the many broken and needy lives around us.

This is perhaps the best gift we can make to those we love and serve. They need much more than our work, our humour and our clever words. They need God’s Word—the word that can create new life, heal what is broken, restore what is lost, bring to life what is dead.

May we truly be listeners of the Word, lovers of the Word and carriers of the Word!

Questions for Reflection & Sharing:

  1. Are you in love with the Word of God? Does it speak to your heart? Or is it simply another book—or even a neglected book?
  2. Which are your ten favourite passages from the Bible?
  3. Who are your favourite Bible characters? What does each of them mean to you?
  4. Which teaching or episode of the Bible has meant the most to you?
  5. If you were to have a Bible verse on your desk or in your pocket, what would that be?
  6. Have you studied the Bible under competent persons? Has study helped you to love it more?
  7. Do you read the Bible every day? Do you go to it in moments of decision, difficulty and danger?
  8. In your ministry—teaching, preaching, writing, visiting the sick, etc—do Bible verses, episodes and teachings come to your mouth spontaneously?
  9. Is your spiritual life nourished and centred on the Bible, or more on saints and devotional practices?
  10. Are the retreats you make (and give) centred on the Bible—or human words, jokes, secular quotes, etc.?

– Sr. Inigo SSA was Superior General of her congregation for two terms, and also secretary of the Women’s Section of National CRI. She represented the religious of South Asia at the Synod of Bishops on Religious Life, and is a sought-after resource person for Chapters and seminars. She spent years ministering to prisoner in Tihar Jail, Delhi.

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Consecrated Life

Consecrated Women And Gender Justice


Positive Experiences

The following are my few positive experiences when I took a legitimate pride on being a woman religious.

I was at the Synod in Rome on “Conecrated Life” in 1994. Many women had been invited. When I was sitting in the Synod Hall as an equal member with Cardinals and Bishops, I felt that I belonged to a Church in which women and men are equal. The Bishops listened to us women and appreciated and accepted us. In one of the interventions, a Bishop said: “In the Church, 75% of the consecrated people are women. If there are no women, there is no Consecrated life and no Church. Hence, the future of the Church depends upon the response we would be giving to women religious. If they don’t feel our support, eventually the Church will lose women too in this century.”

In 2000, I was one of the three resource persons at Bangalore (the only woman) in “Yesu Christu Jayanthi”. At the CBCI meeting in Jamshedpur in 2008 on “Women empowerment”, once again I was the only woman religious along with four other women. I felt listened to and a valued member of the Church.

Official Documents

When I read some of the encyclicals and other documents of the Popes, I see that they are very much in favour of gender sensitivity and the dignity of women. At the time of the Beijing Conference, St. John Paul II wrote: “Women have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity”. In all humility he apologised to the women for the wrongs done to them and urged the church to make amends for these sins. The Bishops at the Asian Synod were most concerned that “the Church should be a participatory church in which no one feels excluded”, acknowledging that “the contribution of women have often been undervalued or ignored” (EA: 34).

In the life of Jesus, there is no indication that Jesus wanted women to be subject to the patriarchal norms of his time. On the contrary, women held a high position in the ‘Jesus Movement’. In Paul’s mission, Priscilla’s contribution to the church as a teacher of theology, a leader, missionary and an active ministerial teammate of Acquila, raises the question as to why we have so few 21st century ‘Priscillas’. Could this be because there is a severe dearth of ‘21st century Acquilas’?

Why is the situation not different today in the church? Even after 2000 years of their existence, half of the followers of Jesus are not counted. They are neither visible nor audible in the Church. In India women constitute nearly 82% of the religious. The Synod of Bishops on “Consecrated Life” recommended very strongly that competent women religious must be given responsible tasks in the Church and that they should be included in the process of planning and decision making at all levels.

The Role of Women

Of course, there has been an increase in awareness among both men and women today. Women religious have realized that their empowerment is needed for mission. There is a lot of eagerness among women religious to study the scriptures, theology, psychology, sociology and spirituality in a contextual way. Some religious women are teaching in the seminaries and facilitate chapters and conduct retreats too. Priests invite women religious and the laity to speak to them on various topics. Some of them allow sisters to break the Word of God during special Eucharistic celebrations.

But still there is a long way to go. Where women are not empowered, men are also not empowered. Where women are not free, men are also not free. A bird cannot fly with one wing.  We need each other to be fully human. A woman’s experience of God is unique. Her approach to reading and interpreting the Word of God will naturally make a difference, for she reads and interprets it from a perspective that expresses her feminine ethos. Her absence in the pulpit is an important missing link in the ministry of Proclamation.

We women are also responsible for our own empowerment. We have to get in touch with our patriarchal blocks. We should refuse to be the silenced half in the Church. Without arrogance, we need to assert our God-given abilities and gifts. We should have confidence in our own abilities and we should come forward to accept responsibilities both in the Church and in society. Our formation should undergo a paradigm shift to give us a healthy feminist consciousness. We should be made to think, dream and critique aloud.

The call of Jesus, “Little girl, get up” (Mk 5:41), is a clarion call for women’s freedom in the Church and in society. Ultimately, it is the women who must determine what a woman’s worth is. What is needed today is not a competitive spirit and prejudiced people. We do not have to prove who is right and who is wrong. But men and women together can collaborate and work out the means to realize a new heaven and new earth.

 Questions for Reflection & Sharing:

  1. What are the positive experiences of being a woman in our culture?
  2. … and in the Church?
  3. What are the negative aspects of our culture in its understanding and treatment of women?
  4. How does the Church need to change in its understanding and treatment of women?
  5. How can women religious and lay women promote their own development?
  6. What can, and should, men do in this process?
  7. Are you convinced that a society and a church that treat men and women as equals are more in accordance with God’s will? Give your reasons.
  8. Are you convinced that such a society is better for everyone—women and men? Give reasons for your answer.

– Sr. Inigo SSA was Superior General of her congregation for two terms, and also secretary of the Women’s Section of National CRI. She represented the religious of South Asia at the Synod of Bishops on Religious Life, and is a sought-after resource person for Chapters and seminars. She spent years ministering to prisoner in Tihar Jail, Delhi.

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Consecrated Life



Some years back Karl Rahner spoke of the dearth of real spirituality in the Church. To his mind “we are to a terrifying extent a spiritually lifeless people. Even today we are dominated to a terrifying extent by ritualism, legalism, administration and a boring and resigned spiritual mediocrity continuing along familiar lines.” Is this not true also of our religious communities?
Spirituality is not a special way of life promoted in special places like ashrams or monasteries. It is simply the way that people should live in the world. One has to see God in all things and all things in God. For this one must have a contemplative outlook. Practices like the liturgy, prayer, etc, must start from life and lead back to life. Every ritual must become an expression of life. Ascetical practices and methods of prayer can be useful to help one to live well. Our Vows, prayer exercises and community are supposed to help us to grow and to walk along the spiritual path. For me, ‘prayer is the beginning of action.’ Not everything is over in prayer. My responsibility begins afterwards.
My own observation is that there is a lot of piety among us, but not enough spirituality. A person is considered pious if she/he is faithful to a number of external exercises of piety. This fidelity may or may not affect the quality of a person’s life. That is why one wonders why there is a multiplicity of devotional practices in some religious communities. Spirituality has to do with the quality of one’s life. One cannot claim to be truly spiritual if the fruits of the Spirit are not visible in one’s life (Gal.5:22-23). Only a person who has been touched and transformed by the Spirit is truly spiritual. Such a person will sincerely try to live by the values of the Gospel.
Mark defines the first three characteristics of the call of disciples in Mk.3:13-15. They were called to be with him, to be sent out to proclaim the message and to have authority to cast out demons. The first of these three pertains to their intimate rapport with Jesus (Passion for Jesus) and the next two to their ministry of service to the people (Passion for humanity). Jesus sends them out to peach. But on their return, he was very particular that they should go back to his company in all earnestness (6.31). Jesus did not seem to consider their achievements during their mission more important than their company with him. Logical priority should be given to being with him (Lk.24.29). Then the other things will follow. To be with Him means to be like Him: to be humble, poor and simple and to serve! (James: 2: 14-17), to have the same attitude like Jesus, to take the same stand, to do His works and to give one’s life for a cause like him.
Betrayals and denials were caused by non-adherence to this basic principle. In the case of Judas, he was a zealot, interested in social work. He gave priority to the social dimension without being united with Jesus. That was the tragedy. He was constantly seeking the company of the chief priests. The day he betrayed Jesus, he was in their company and that’s how he lost his vocation (cf. Mk 14.10,43).
A contemplative experience is important for all religious. Even the most active persons seek this and get the depth and dignity of work. Contemplative prayer is not only for contemplative congregations. It is very important for active religious to get the depth and dignity of work. Personal prayer shapes us and our mission. Work is a part of spirituality, but work cannot be prayer. We need to seek time to discern God’s will. We are not NGOs or social activists; we are religious activists. Our mission flows from our union with Jesus.
The spirituality of Jesus is founded on his experience of God as ABBA. For Jesus, God was the unconditionally loving parent. This experience was the source of his supreme freedom and the driving force of his radical commitment to the people. We need to recapture Jesus’ ABBA experience. Only such an experience can free us for and sustain us in our prophetic mission. One of the characteristics of Jesus’ spirituality was his identification with the poor and the marginalised. The incarnation is the powerful symbol of this identification. Prayer also helps us see the failures in our faith. Otherwise there will be hopelessness leading to mental break downs and even suicides.
I am impressed by the prayer life of our Holy Father Francis. When he is in the Vatican, the Pope wakes up at 4:45 am. He then prays for over an hour, preparing his homily. He prays again in the afternoon and in the evening. We have to develop a rhythm of withdrawal and return. Moses is drawn into the desert, and then led to leave the desert and become leader of the people. Jesus goes to pray in the wilderness and goes to the mountain top and the deserts. But all these withdrawals are temporary. There is a return to a fuller and greater service to God’s people

Points for Reflection and Sharing:
1) Do you agree with Rahner’s statement on the spiritual health of Christians?
2) How far is this true of religious and priests as well?
3) Are we “contemplatives in action” who seek and find God in all things, or simply NGOs doing social work?
4) Would most people who associate with us see us as women and men of God deeply in touch with the Lord?
5) What helps you to be a spiritual person—in touch with the Lord in work, decisions, relationships—and not simply someone who has some cultic practices?

– Sr. Inigo SSA was Superior General of her congregation for two terms, and also secretary of the Women’s Section of National CRI. She represented the religious of South Asia at the Synod of Bishops on Religious Life, and is a sought-after resource person for Chapters and seminars. She spent years ministering to prisoner in Tihar Jail, Delhi.

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