Bishop O'Connell greets the religious women and men following the Mass he celebrated in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville. Joe Moore photos

Bishop O'Connell greets the religious women and men following the Mass he celebrated in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville. Joe Moore photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Little Sister of the Immaculate Conception Lucy Ptak remained deeply in prayer after Mass inside the nave of Lawrenceville’s St. Ann Church Sept. 30.

“We need time to focus on contemplation,” said Sister Lucy, director of faith formation in Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing.

Sister Lucy was among the scores of consecrated women and men to accept the invitation of peace and quiet called for by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during the annual Convocation for Consecrated Life.

Photo Gallery: Convocation for Consecrated Life

Related Coverage: Bishop O'Connell's Homily

The day’s theme, “For the Sake of the Church and the World – the Contemplative Dimension of Consecrated Life,” was mirrored in the homily preached by Bishop O’Connell, who celebrated the Mass. Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, vicar for clergy and consecrated life, concelebrated.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on how “consecrated life is a call to perfection but not a call to be perfect” and then spoke of how each of the consecrated people in attendance had heard that call at one point in their lives.

Noting that while the ways varied in which the religious had received their call to pursue a vocation, the summons “came from the Lord, developed and grew in the Lord, led and consecrated us to the Lord, motivated us in the Lord.”

“Whatever our age, whatever our experience, whatever our ministries, our imperfect yet consecrated lives took shape in the communities and congregations in which we find ourselves,” the Bishop said. “The Lord consecrated us in those communities and congregations, through the joys we celebrated and through the crosses we carried. Religious life is not either/or – it is both/ and. No Resurrection without Crucifixion. No living for others without dying to self. No being full without poverty. No being free without obedience. No true love without chaste sacrifice,” he said.

The Bishop shared the depth of his devotion to the Vincentian order to which he has belonged for 48 years and the charisms of its founder, St. Vincent de Paul. He shared how the Second Vatican Council encouraged religious orders and societies of apostolic life to reconnect and rediscover the primitive charisms of their founders and how “we were invited to connect the dots between our founders and their charisms then and vocations now, today to reintroduce our primitive spirit.”

While the realities of consecrated life have changed in the years since the men and women entered their respective communities and professed their vows, Bishop O’Connell emphasized that the charisms of the communities are just as vital and relevant.

“The world is a different place than it was at our professions,” he said. “Whether there are many or few today, the call to perfection still sounds … it still reaches ears that are willing and eager to hear. Our responsibility as imperfect consecrated religious is still to strive for perfection, to witness our consecration to others, to follow the Lord Jesus wherever he leads.”

Desire for God

Contemplative life was also the subject of a presentation given by Benedictine Sister Nancy Bauer, who focused on the importance of prayer in the lives of consecrated persons.

Sister Nancy, who teaches in the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, Washington, has served as vice-chancellor of the St. Cloud Diocese, Minn. and as the editor of the diocesan newspaper, the St. Cloud Visitor. She holds a doctorate in canon law from The Catholic University of America.

As with Bishop O’Connell’s homily, her presentation drew on the Second Vatican Council’s admonition to re-engage with the contemplative dimension of their vocations.

“For anyone who is paying attention,” she began, “it is noticeable and notable that both women and men in consecrated life – especially those in religious institutes that are usually categorized as ‘apostolic’ or ‘active’ are turning their attention more and more to the contemplative dimension of their vocations.”

Sister Nancy hails from the Monastery of St. Benedict in Minnesota, where she served as prioress and councilor. She served the Benedictine Order as federation vice president, councilor and ex officio member of various federation chapters. She has offered presentations and written publications on Monasticism and other significant issues on consecrated life.

She presented substantial research on the trend, including much culled from the websites of religious congregations and their websites which very often now refer to their life as “contemplative-active.” There is, Sister Nancy noted, “even a Centre for Contemplative Dialogue that has made the rounds of a number of monasteries and congregations, including my own monastery at my invitation when I was prioress.”

Also, she noted, “if you have looked at the website of the Diocese of Trenton’s Office of Consecrated Life, you will know that your own ministry, the ministry of all the consecrated persons in this Diocese includes ‘contemplative prayer.’”

Gracefully sidestepping such “theological thickets” as the differences between meditation and contemplation, she offered insights on the resurgence of contemplation in “broader, more accessible terms.”

Zeroing in on the ever increasing pace of contemporary life as a factor she theorized that amid so “many things to do, places to go, people to meet, and emails to answer,” the realization grows that a “great gift – the gift of desire for God, the gift of a deep longing for Christ … prompts us at times to set aside everything else and indulge in that desire.”

In this very noisy age, it is still silence that can fulfill this ancient longing, she said. “We live in a noisy, electronically connected world. We live in a world that has a constant soundtrack, the continuous buzzing, beeping and blaring of office machinery, kitchen appliances, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed wackers, sirens, motorcycles ... and cell phones that produce every sound but the sound of silence.

“But sometimes, we must turn off our gadgets, point the remote control at the world around us and press the mute button. We must unplug and disconnect in order to plug into and reconnect with the ‘source of our being’,” she said.

Sharing Camaraderie

At the luncheon that followed, religious said they were moved by the words of Sister Nancy and Bishop O’Connell.

Sister Lucy, who joined the religious order in her native Poland, where she spent much of her ministry teaching religious education to young children, said she was happy she had accepted the invitation to attend and called the homily and the presentation enlightening.

Several Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who reside in the convent in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, called the convocation an opportunity to meet as community.

The focus on contemplation this year was especially appealing “at this time when life is so busy. ... Even if you try to be quiet, it’s hard,” said Sister of St. Joseph Therese Dowd, noting that all five of the sisters present had long classroom ministries and continue to volunteer in various capacities from working in school offices to making hospital visits and sick calls.

“We do whatever has to be done around the parish and we help out wherever we can,” said Sister Wanda Davidson. “We enjoy doing any good works. It’s how our sisters started out, helping people in need. We love doing what we can.”

Franciscan Sisters Natalie Panas and Barbara Furst said they look forward to attending the convocation each year. “It’s very enriching to come together at least once a year its a sign of unity and real identity,” said Sister Natalie, who teaches fourth grade in St. Gregory the Great School, Hamilton Square.

Sister Barbara, who presides over the library there, said that when they heard the topic of the keynote speech, they had to attend. “Noise is everywhere and you need to pull away. Even though you are busy, you can be prayerful. “

Her comment was echoed by Sister Natalie who said the affect of prayerful silence is evident in her classroom. “I see it among the (children). When it is time for prayer, they enjoy it and they will even tell you, ‘oh, this is nice. Can we do this more.”