On November 30th 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of Consecrated Life on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the renewal of religious life: Perfectae Caritatis. In announcing the Year of Consecrated Life, he addressed a letter to all consecrated people, in which he wrote:
“…What in particular do I expect from this Year of grace for consecrated life? That the old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy.”
“[People called to the vocation of consecrated life] are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment.”
The figure of John the Baptist is a bold image of the vocation to religious life. With no family of his own, no possessions, and obedient to God’s mission, both John’s way of living and his ministry are an unambiguous sign to all around him. Yet in today’s Gospel, we find John in prison. Though bold and faithful to the end, something is bothering John. Jesus does not seem to be all the things John imagined Jesus was going to be: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Pope Francis’ continued in his letter:
“…Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older. But in all these things we should be able to discover “perfect joy”. For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ.”
Like us, John never got to see Jesus do any of those things – restoring sight to the blind, making the lame able-bodied, cleansing lepers, restoring hearing to the deaf, raising the dead, bringing good news to the poor. But believing the word of it enabled John to know Jesus more clearly than merely who John imagined Jesus would be, and it was enough to carry John through to the end. How have I come to recognize more clearly the face of Christ? Because it is this alone that can sustain a person in their vocation to the end.