"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." - John 15:19
   As a new Salesian aspirant, I'm experiencing the "not of the world" which consecrated religious express overtly. With vows of poverty, chastity & obedience, distinctive clothing, daily work & life in community - "set-apartness" is externally very visible. The reason I'm drawn to wear a religious habit is to make Christ's love plain. However, although this is one practically with a habit, it's one in practice by every Christian who lives differently.

   The poverty and detachment of consecrated religious may seem like pious add-ons to Chritianity, but in reality they manifest clearly what all Christians are called to live daily. Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Religious brothers and sisters, by legally owning nothing of their own, are expressing the Christian attitude toward all temporal wealth. Even Christians who are wealthy by the world's standards shouldn't consider money as their own treasure or security. Detachment should be practiced even with the items in one's own possession. Vowed religious and laity both have open palms, not clenching to anything worldly. But by the open, empty palms of the religious we see more clearly the shape of the open palms of Christians holding their possessions loosely.

   The vow of chastity is lived out by a few in celibacy, but the practice of the virtue of chastity is the vocation of every Christian. The Catechism defines it as "the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (#2337). How can celibates have integrated sexuality? There are some thoughts on this already in Lesson on Marriage from the Convent, but in sum, the purpose of our sexuality is to physically symbolize the mutual self-giving love of the Trinity. We have Trinitarian love stamped on our bodies to foreshadow the perfect union of Heaven. Celibates witness that the shadow doesn't fulfill, but that only the real, original divine love fulfills. This reminds us that a Christian husband and wife don't ultimately seek fulfillment in each other. Just like the celibate, they depend completely on God's love together. By the dependence on God by the unmarried chaste, we see more clearly the dependence on God by the married chaste.

   What does the vow of obedience have to show us about Christian laity? In the Salesian order, obedience is lived out by going to serve in whatever ministry position is assigned by the superior. This is radically putting aside personal ambition and having enough trust in God to be content in every circumstance. But again, radical trust isn't only practiced by a few people in some kind of higher echelon of Christianity. Due to the stripped-away nature of religious life, it's more recognizable, but St. Paul is clear that every follower of Christ is called to this. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13).

   If I profess the three vows as a consecrated religious someday, I hope my life can remind the baptized that worldly things are temporal and unfulfilling in themselves, calling them back to Christ as everything. To the unbaptized, I hope I can be a bright sign pointing to the radical life of the born-again - these people surrounded by worldly things, but moving among them as free people, not grasping or choked.
"I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away." - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

There are often moments I feel I've just stepped out of a time machine and can't believe I've arrived here - as if my 12-year-old self is looking at a strange future self. With two weeks before I enter the convent, there have been several of these "how did I get here?" moments. This is my attempt to answer that question for the sake of that 12-year-old and perhaps any friends who are wondering the same thing.

I saw religious sisters for the first time at a youth retreat and remember thinking what a great service they gave with their lives. I had a gravitational attraction to them along with a sinking feeling of inevitability. The thought was pushed out of my mind or at least relegated to a far corner until junior year of high school when I started commuting to classes at the community college. The church was on the way, the side door was always open, and I made a habit of stopping in to visit the Real Presence. Here is where my desire for God grew, imperceptibly, in quiet stillness before the Eucharist. The universe was posed like a mad, giant, swirling question, but that little tabernacle held the answer.

How can I describe time spent with God? Sometimes I'd just float in my amazement, too big to fit in my head, of his plan for creating and saving humanity out of love - marvel at how all the pieces fit together so unexpectedly yet so naturally. Sometimes I'd read the Scripture and laugh at an inside joke between us or realize clearly something I always vaguely knew. I'd bring the smallest irritations to have them blown open as grand opportunities to further the kingdom. And there's nothing like the realizations of deeply rooted personal sinfulness followed by immediate outpourings of mercy. Sometimes I'd sit in boredom, head bowed from fatigue more than reverence. But that time spent with God fixed me on him, placed the primacy of his kingdom on my heart, and made me fall in love with him.

Someone in love doesn't care where they go or what they do so long as their lover is there. They have a boldness to go on adventures they might never attempt otherwise. Those instances where God's love gave me courage to say something controversial, do something difficult or uncomfortable, step out on a limb for his and others' sake have been the most joyful, exhilarating moments of my life. A religious sister finds strength in the chapel every morning to go out on the limb of the mission field, only to return to the sturdy trunk of the Real Presence in the evening. The Eucharist is truly my home and that's why I have such peace going to the convent.

I've never had my own baby, but I've had 8 little siblings. Over time, those experiences have interwoven themselves into Christmas meditations. The birth of a new baby is a completely unique occurrence. Everything changes when you see that tiny person. You get the feeling that, even though you've spent months waiting for this baby, in all that time you had no idea what a life-changing event would actually happen. There's an exhilarating sense that a person is now here in the world who wasn't here just a few moments ago.

But the weirdest part is that you know he was here a few moments ago. That small, red, squishy human was present in the room just before birth. He was present all those times we were going about life as usual. And even though we technically knew about his existence, that baby's presence was hidden.

Do you know the feeling when you discover something that makes you rethink everything that happened before? That moment when you realize the mouse had really been Pettigrew the whole time, or that Jared had been living in a colorless world, or that Darth Vader was really Luke's father? That's the feeling I get when a new baby is born. I suddenly see the past 9 months in a different light, because all that time I didn't really know who was with us. And when I think about the next 9 months, I know that the rest of my life will never be anywhere close to the same.

When Christ comes again, I imagine that we'll get that feeling multiplied by ten thousand. Now we know and feel Christ's hidden presence on earth, but what a revelation it will be when we see him face to face! Maybe we'll look back at our earthly lives and wonder how all that time we lived in the presence of such immense love and power and still went on with "life as usual." We'll be overwhelmed by the knowledge that our lives are so changed - that they were changed before, but we never understood how much. 

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