Two billboards have grabbed my attention as I drive to and from my office at the diocese where I do programming for young adults. One says, “Commitment: be a part of something greater than yourself.” Another says, “Live the X-treme!” The first is for the Marines and the second is for the Army Reserves. The messages are catchy and compelling, designed to tug at the minds and hearts of young men and women who want to do something both honorable and exciting with their lives.
From my experience I can say that being a Sister of Charity has given me the opportunity to be part of something greater than myself. One of the things I treasure about my vocation is being part of the lineage of Charity that stretches from Jesus to St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise to St. Elizabeth Seton and so many Sisters of Charity throughout the centuries. I feel honored to be a link in that chain of loving service to the most marginalized of people. I love seeing how the particular gift these saints and Sisters offered in their day is being re-fashioned for the needs of our own. And I am energized and hopeful about the possibilities for the next generation of Charity.
Religious life is meant to be “extreme” in the best sense of the word. Movies and cartoons mostly portray caricatures of the life. One beautiful exception is “Dead Man Walking” which chronicles the ministry of Sister Helen Prejean with a man on death row and the families of his victims. Sister Helen didn’t choose the ministry. It chose her. It required an extreme commitment to stand in the gallery to watch his execution. But she did because she had promised him, “I want the last thing you see to be the face of love. You look at me. I will be the face of love for you.” That is commitment in the extreme.
Like the sky-divers on the billboard, I believe that the gift of your life as a Sister, Brother or Priest should take your breath away every day. As we read in the letter to the Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. (10:31) Life can’t get any more X-treme than that.