In his message in preparation for this special Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis identified three aims for the year. The first aim “is to look to the past with gratitude.” The Pope invites each religious community “to reflect on its origins and history, in order to thank God who grants the Church a variety of gifts which embellish her and equip her for every good work.” The Pope encourages religious communities “to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values” of their founders, and thus “to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted.”
As he described his own spiritual search that led him to the Church, Hecker emphasized what would become his lifelong conviction that Catholicism was consistent with and indeed the true fulfillment of the aspirations of human nature – a 19th-century version of the theme of St. Augustine’s Confessions: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. That realization has, I think, always been at the heart of the Paulist way of life and our evangelizing ministry and has inspired countless creative initiatives that have contributed to the character of Catholic life in this country. Of course, as the Pope has reminded us, there have also been difficulties. The early Paulists were a very small group. Nonetheless they were extremely enthusiastic and surprisingly effective. Still, Hecker’s life and especially his later years were characterized by the inevitable human tension – not at all unique to Hecker among religious founders – between the bold and creative vision of the founder and the practical burden of discerning how to implement it in viable human institutions that can meet the needs of the present and can continue forward into the future. A century and a half later, we Paulists face similar challenges, as do all other religious communities. So we all have that much more reason to recall our founders' visions and celebrate our communities' histories - making the most of the spiritual opportunities this year of Consecrated Life offers to religious communities. As Pope Francis has reminded religious communities: “To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.”
More on the second and third aims which the Pope has proclaimed for this Year of Consecrated Life (“to live the present with passion” and "to embrace the future with hope”) in future posts.