Some time ago I was leafing through a publication in which hundreds of Religious Orders, including the Passionists, advertised their mission and charism. Among the many pages I found a general similarity with each Congregation or Order suggesting that the personal qualities needed to live their life were deeply human ones – warmth, dedication to mission, and a desire for God and for mission in our world. Some orders presented themselves through words alone; others used images, captions and questions regarding one’s life search or life values.

Mostly I just glanced at each order’s offerings and turned the page to the next ‘vocations ad.’

However one page held me transfixed.

It was two contrasting pictures of Damien de Veuster (Damien of Molokai). The first picture depicted him as a young man; the second depicted him as an older man whose face was ravaged by leprosy. Of course his life had been given to the lepers and others suffering on the island of Molokai, and it had cost him dearly. The caption beneath the two photos simply stated, “Love changes everything.”

I found the juxtaposition of the two images striking. It was unconventional and counter-cultural.

Why advertise religious life by means of a leprosy-ridden face?

As a strategy to attract people to religious life it hardly seemed logical. Why advertise religious life by means of a leprosy-ridden face? Yet it held me. Upon reflection I recognise that it appealed to me because it spoke to the values and idealism that inspired me and so many of my brothers to follow Jesus in a more radical way.

What mostly impressed me about this ‘advertisement’ was not just that it was different. It was more that it did not disguise the cost of love and dedication and it spoke the truth in a raw way. Most of all it seemed to be to be an overwhelming affirmation of the power of the Cross.

For us Passionists this is the key to understanding life, love and indeed the nature of God. God’s Love has no limits and can even defeat death! We want to gather in communities so that we can preach this central truth by our lives and ministry. Further we see the most overwhelming sign and indeed manifestation of God’s love for us in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We do this by living a life in community as vowed men who commit their whole life – mind, strength, spirit, soul and heart (Lk 10:27) to the promotion of the Memoria Passionis (the Memory of the Passion).

… a call to a professed, evangelical life is a call to follow Jesus in a radical way

Of course, every baptised person is called to follow Christ, but a call to a professed, evangelical life is a call to follow Jesus in a radical way – it is a call to live simply and share one’s resources, to listen reverently and heed God’s word and to give our very selves and dedicate our deepest energy to the good of others.

Today the invitation of God to a young man to give himself totally to a life of poverty, obedience and celibacy is a rare gift. I once thought that a vocation was a gift to the individual – and indeed it is – however, today I also see a Passionist vocation as God’s gift to a whole world exercised through our particular Congregation.

We all recognise that the last forty years have swept away many social conventions, spiritual practices and community values that affirmed and promoted a choice for a life of poverty, obedience and celibate loving. Yet as Christians we live with resurrection faith and thus we must be open and searching for the signs of new life that surely are around us.

It is God who softly speaks to a heart discerning this way of life.

A call to Passionist life today means firstly trusting in the God who gives life. It is God who softly speaks to a heart discerning this way of life. God is the one who calls a person to this authentic way of being human and Christian. And indeed, God has a way of whispering quietly into our hearts bypassing thoughts, ideas and opinions. God’s call often resides deeply within us, and it gently (never insistently) keeps turning our hearts back to the thought of giving ourselves to God and to others as a life choice.

As someone contemplating our life the first step in discerning is to listen. However this task is best attempted with the help of a companion. So it is important to discern with the help of one of the religious. Later indeed “Come & see” programmes, the human sciences and wider exposure to a Passionist community can help this process immensely.  All of these steps help a person understand what gifts and capacities are needed to make our life a viable option.

And indeed, an important aspect of such discernment is prayer, especially prayer for guidance so that one might have the insight to see their vocation and the strength to live it.

Let us pray for each other.