POPE Francis has declared 2015 as the Year of the Consecrated Life. What do we mean by consecrated life? That is the life of religious priests and sisters. They have decided to live in a monastery or a cloister and dedicate their life to prayer and contemplation. But this include also lay people who want to live such a life, but outside the walls of a monastery or a cloister.
There are several orders and congregations who have attracted lay people to their group who like to live and practice their charisma and spirituality in their own daily life as Christians. The Carmelite Order has a so-called associateship attached to their order. This is a group of lay people who want to live and practice the life of action and contemplation in the spirit of their spiritual father, the Prophet Elijah. Pope Francis makes it clear that he doesn’t want to enclose this life in a straight line vision of ‘functionaries,’ but wants to situate this in the heart, in the depth of the Church and in horizontal lines towards the periphery of society.
The Pope wants to situate consecrated life in the heart of the Church because ‘consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it finds its origin in the Church, it grows in the Church and it is totally oriented toward the Church. This is what Cardinal Bergoglio said in an interview during the Synod of 1994; toward far horizontals because it is called together with the Church to go to the peripheries of our existence, where beside the material poverty, the suffering of children and the elderly, the ‘rich, overloaded with goods, and with an empty heart live. We can only understand this recommendation in this way: “Don’t fall back on yourself, don’t waste your time with petty domestic discussions, don’t remain prisoners of your problems. They will be solved when you go outside (…) in order to announce the good news.” It is as if we hear again the urgent appeal of Pope John Paul II on January 6, 2001: “Duc in altum! Throw the nets out into the sea. Let us look with hope to the future! A new millennium lies for the Church, like a wide ocean, where we have to sail out into. With this we count on Christ’s help.”
The Pope reminds us that as religious we are called to be experts in community life. In the Christian revelation everything is determined by community; the three divine persons are community, faith is communal, prayer is the prayer of the community. The Church is a community, the liturgy is a community prayer and religious life is essentially a community life.
A Christianity that doesn’t express a community is not Christian anymore. If it isn’t like this, then the invitation of John Paul II, which is repeated again by Pope Francis, to make the Church a ‘school of community’, would be an empty invitation which does not touch concrete life. In a Church inspired by community and which is there to create community, we as religious cannot be content to be only spectators. “Love, if she is really true, cannot doze off for a long time,” according to Teresa of Avila. An immense task awaits us; with patience but also with perseverance living, working and praying in order that community, from a theological principle becomes an anthropological principle, a mentality, a habit, and the criterion according to which every religious and every community lives and makes its choices. John Paul II asked that “the spirituality of the community” would become an “educational principle where the faithful form themselves and therefore also ‘those in consecrated life.”
In Europe there is a religious institute, called ‘Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ).’ They see as their mission to ‘foster a culture of vocation,’ which it does by offering vocational accompaniment, spiritual direction and catechesis, giving talks in schools, and praying for vocations of all kinds. This is what you may call ‘a democratization of spirituality.’
Let the Spirit of Pentecost blow where it wills!
Courtesy: Arnold Van Vugt, www.sunstar.com