When Bishop Hugh Gilbert spoke at Brentwood Cathedral some time ago, one of his observations with regard to the experience of the Church since the Second Vatican Council was that there had not yet been the renewal of religious life that might accompany, for example, the growth of the new (and largely though not exclusively lay) movements. Bishop Hugh's suggestion was that we should perhaps look for this renewal of religious life as a sign of the vitality of the life of the Church. That Bishop Hugh is himself a monk and that, since he gave that talk, we have a Jesuit in the person of the Successor of St Peter perhaps offers us some "sign" of this call.
This year there is additional impetus to this World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life with the announcement of a Year of Consecrated Life: Year of Consecrated Life set for 2015.
It is worth reading again the homily that Pope Benedict preached for this feast day last year, shortly before the announcement of his resignation. After a reflection on the Scripture readings of the feast, Pope Benedict addressed the following words specifically to the religious who had joined the celebration as part of the Year of Faith:
The topic of light, that reechoes the first and second songs of the Servant of the Lord in the Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Is 42:6; 49:6), is vividly present in this liturgy. It was in fact opened by an evocative procession, in which the Superiors and General Superiors of the Institutes of consecrated life represented here took part and carried lit candles. This sign, specific to the liturgical tradition of this Feast, is deeply expressive. It shows the beauty and value of the consecrated life as a reflection of Christ’s light; a sign that recalls Mary’s entry into the Temple. The Virgin Mary, the Consecrated Woman par excellence, carried in her arms the Light himself, the Incarnate Word who came to dispel the darkness of the world with God’s love. ...
I invite you in the first place to nourish a faith that can illuminate your vocation. For this I urge you to treasure, as on an inner pilgrimage, the memory of the “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your hearts, not out of nostalgia but in order to feed that flame. And for this it is necessary to be with him, in the silence of adoration; and thereby reawaken the wish to share — and the joy of sharing — in his life, his decisions, the obedience of faith, the blessedness of the poor and the radical nature of love .....
In the second place I invite you to have a faith that can recognize the wisdom of weakness. In the joys and afflictions of the present time, when the harshness and weight of the cross make themselves felt, do not doubt that the kenosis of Christ is already a paschal victory. Precisely in our limitations and weaknesses as human beings we are called to live conformation with Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which anticipates the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time (ibid., n. 16). In a society of efficiency and success, your life, marked by the “humility” and frailty of the lowly, of empathy with those who have no voice, becomes an evangelical sign of contradiction.
Lastly, I invite you to renew the faith that makes you pilgrims bound for the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in quest of a Face that is sometimes revealed and sometimes veiled: “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram” (Ps 27:8). May this be the constant yearning of your heart, the fundamental criterion that guides you on your journey, both in small daily steps and in the most important decisions.
Do not join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day...Pope Benedict's words do so much have the "feel" with which we have now become familiar in the words of Pope Francis.