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January 25, 2016

The Year for Consecrated Life, which ends Feb. 2, has helped to re-focus the Church's attention on the bounteous gifts and contributions consecrated women and men bring to the Church community and wider society. Too often, especially in an era of dwindling vocations, religious congregations and their members are taken for granted.

Yet consecrated life adds spice to local churches.

Religious orders bring the perfume of the Holy Spirit, the smell of springtime, especially where the Church is weighed down with over-institutionalization and clericalization.

Through consecrated life, St. John Paul II once wrote, "the characteristic features of Jesus - the chaste, poor and obedient one - are made constantly visible in the midst of the world." That is high praise. Those who have made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience embody the life of Jesus.

As well, they direct the eyes of the faithful to the mystery of the kingdom of God at work in history, Pope John Paul said. Without their witness, we could not see as well as we do.

The WCR has been pleased to present a lengthy series of profiles of religious congregations serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese during the Year for Consecrated Life. The number and diversity of religious orders in the archdiocese is remarkable. The local Church would be much diminished without them.

Their members serve in parishes, education and health care, day care centres, with the inner city poor, on First Nations reserves and in many other ministries. Especially in working with those on the margins of society - the abused, the mentally ill, the poor, the lonely - those in consecrated life bear witness to the mercy of God. It is fitting then that the Year for Consecrated Life overlaps the Year of Mercy, so intertwined are religious orders and God's mercy.

Members of religious orders - along with the laity - are the hands and feet of the Holy Spirit, bringing the Gospel to bear in the wider society. Indeed, consecrated religious often initiate ministries later taken over by the laity.

During the WCR series of articles, one sister said, "Wherever there is a need, we respond with love." Another said, "Our life is dedicated to the Church." Said a third: "We were not called to big things."

Maybe not, but religious congregations and their projects can grow like bamboo -underground for a year or two, then exploding upwards in a single surge.

This image provides hope. Consecrated life in the Western world is now waning. However, a new spring will come. It must come. For without the flowers of the Spirit that are religious orders, the Church will grow rigid and musty.

Consecrated life should not be taken for granted. It should be seen for what it is - a treasure that vastly enriches the local Church.