WEST HARTFORD – “I’m all ears,” Archbishop Leonard P. Blair told about 100 women and men religious in formation in religious communities on May 21, during a get-together at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
After a solemn but joyful evening prayer service, they shared dinner and dialogue. The event was organized by Sister Mariette Moan, a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who is the archdiocese’s vicar for religious.
Falling about halfway through the current Year of Consecrated Life, the gathering stemmed from a conversation between Archbish-op Blair and Sister Mariette shortly after his installation as Archbishop of Hartford.
“Unlike seminarians, who have both the privilege and the pleasure of being in the company of their bishop and archbishop,” Sister Mariette had observed, “men and women in consecrated life do not often have that opportunity.”
Welcoming the group before vespers, Sister Mariette talked about the mystery of their calling and the joy of the moment at which “Jesus looked at you and looked at me with the understanding that is the secret of our joy.” She told the group, which seemed to range in age from the late teens to the 30s, that she was hopeful that their exchange with the archbishop would give him great hope that, “in addition to the seminarians, he can count on us, his brothers and sisters in the consecrated life.”
Always comfortable with the microphone and keen on promoting casual exchange, Archbishop Blair started the ball rolling as the group settled in for dinner by sharing a few anecdotes. He mentioned a question-and-answer session he had had earlier that day with students at Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, where one had asked about vocation discernment.
“This,” began Archbishop Blair, “is often asked by young people, ‘How do you know you are called?’” Framing the question for those sitting before him, themselves on their own discernment journeys, Archbishop Blair invited them to share something from their experiences.
He broadened the question beyond the personal with two suggestions: asking for ideas about what the church, and specifically the Archdiocese of Hartford, can do to help them, and about how they think the archdiocese can assist in the advancement of vocations.
Hands went up right away throughout the room, and for about 40 minutes Archbishop Blair listened to comments, questions and ideas. Some attributed their life decisions to early relationships with family or members of religious communities; some had found their calling through such organizations as a campus ministry. Personal insights led to general discussion that covered a wide range of topics.
“I’m all ears,” quipped the archbishop during an exchange about how to accomplish new levels of faith sharing within the archdiocese. And he delighted the group with a heartfelt “Amen” after a suggestion that the consideration of such practices as old-fashioned testimony might engage some of the faithful.
Many were aware of the archbishop’s long-range pastoral planning initiative. Comments relating to the recently published statist-cal research in support of this effort within the archdiocese led to some discussion of the many challenges to the church in the context of religious life, within and beyond the confines of the religious communities represented. Suggestions included expanded use of various communications and social media to augment diminishing resources and increase the Gospel influence of every priest and religious.
Closing with reference to his opening question about discernment, Archbishop Blair told the group, “We live in a culture where so many things have been super-seded by a worldly, secular view of things. We have to ask God to help us to make the call heard in people’s lives today. “
With his encouragement to share the joy of their religious choice, Archbishop Blair evoked the phrase he’s used to encourage parishioners throughout the arch-diocese to participate in the pastoral planning effort: “Your voice counts.”
“The crux of it,” he said, “is that, without the family, the extended family, the neighborhood and the parish, it’s very hard to pass on the faith if it’s not woven into the fabric of your life.”
After thanking the archbishop, Sister Mariette suggested that an evening prayer with the archbishop and those in formation become an annual event, a sugges-tion that was met with applause.
She said there are still events scheduled within the archdiocese to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.