A decade ago, I was asked to speak to a chapter of the Serra Club on the topic of Preserving the Faith in a Secular Culture. What I said back then is still relevant, not surprisingly, and I share it now. (Serra Club, named for Fr. Junipero Serra, of California Missions fame, promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life.)
Religious life, when lived according to the mind of the Church, can be a model for us for keeping faith in a secular culture. Particularly the active orders who, in remaining faithful to the Church’s understanding of religious life, have retained their habits and a complete community life. A good example is the Sisters of Life who engage in pro-life apostolates in the Diocese of New York.
The Sisters of Life wear a blue scapular over a white habit with white veils
trimmed in blue. Always. The casual observer of sisters walking down a New York street is very aware that he is viewing women that are not of the secular culture. Those more familiar with the work of the sisters, are aware of a more important distinction. Each sister has offered her life in total consecration to Christ as a response to His invitation to love him completely. Out of this complete love for God grows a love for all his creation, especially all human life.
But for the sisters, it is not some abstract concept of love for fellow man. Those who know the sisters well, particularly those who benefit from their apostolates, know that the sisters engage the secular culture one person at a time, offering them God’s love through their actions. Helping women in crisis to who are motivated by the secular culture to abort their children to turn away from that evil. And then staying with them throughout their pregnancy providing the assistance necessary to follow through with the choice for life.
Those they help and those who cooperate with their work know that the sisters are able to straddle the two arenas of faith and the secular culture because of their prayer life. Daily Mass, praying the Divine Office, a hour daily with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
This can be our model: engaging the culture while remaining separated, belonging to God and not the culture. In many ways, our vocations are more difficult than that of the sisters. We have no badge to remind us and the world that we belong to Christ. The responsibilities of our vocation often limits the time we have to be in prayer. And while our work may be important, it can seem rather prosaic compared to saving lives.
One of the things I have learned through the work of the Fund for Vocations is that religious life is the preeminent vocation. It is, when lived well, the express ticket to heaven. And for some people it may be the only way to get there. So, I encourage you to encourage those young people in your sphere of influence to give significant consideration to religious life. And when you encounter people who are discerning religious life, offer them corporal as well as spiritual support. Encourage them to simply give it a go. The courtship usually lasts about eight years, so there is plenty of time to discover, with the aid of some very holy people, whether God is calling them to such a life.