2015 has been declared by Pope Francis to be the “Year of Consecrated Life.” It’s a year in which we acknowledge the huge debt we owe to religious orders from around the world and in our own local communities. We acknowledge and thank them for the hard work they have done in our schools, hospitals, social institutions, and many other ministries they have served in our parishes throughout the diocese. We owe a lot to the strong spiritual foundations our religious orders have laid to help us grow in Christ, whether they be the Benedictines, Franciscans, Poor Clare's, Crosier Fathers or others. We also want to pray for these religious communities, that God will bless them in their work and provide for them the vocations they need to continue their mission. What can an ordinary Catholic learn from consecrated life? First, consecrated life is a full and human response to God, something we are all called to do in our own vocation. Consecrated life highlights our mission to serve others completely and devoutly and in doing so help transform our world, bringing it to God. Without a commitment to someone or something, we as a society and as individuals essentially lack any real purpose or meaning or direction and especially fulfillment in our life! Those who are religious show us a vocation dedicated to God to the point of setting aside even marriage and family life in order to connect with the larger large, the Family of God. It is a life of great purpose and fulfillment! The second thing we can learn from consecrated life is an uncommon and counter-cultural way of living, a life style that is not afraid to challenge popularly held cultural beliefs or institutions by holding up strong faith, moral and value standards. Although some religious struggle and even have failed at this (proving they are always human, sinners who also need forgiveness and salvation), the call is the same, to strive to be our very best for God. Consecrated life does not buy into the latest consumer or material fads or a feel-good, happy-slappy spirituality that denies the cross. These are short-lived movements that do not answer the most pressing questions about joy and suffering and human life. This is not to say consecrated life is not filled with joy…it is! But, that joy is long-termed, sustained by constant prayer and a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is marked by discipline, self-sacrifice, good works, while bringing our Catholic Faith to life on earth. It is also a symbol of the new world view and lifestyle in heaven to come! During this year, maybe we can all take a quick moment to thank those religious in our own community for their dedication, hard work and willingness to serve. God bless those in consecrated life! May they always flourish with the help of the Holy Spirit of God!