Vatican Synod Secretariat
Working Paper for October 1994 World Synod of Bishops
Listening to the Spirit
1. The consecrated life is a gift which the Father has given to the church by means of the Spirit so that, in faithfulness to the Gospel, the most characteristic traits of the life of his Son Jesus, the chaste, poor and obedient one (cf. Mt. 8:20; Phil. 2:8), and the unfathomable riches of his mystery (cf. Eph. 3:8), might be present in the world and might draw everyone toward the kingdom of God. Therefore, the ninth ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which has as its topic “the consecrated life and its role in the church and in the world” is a grace-filled moment for the entire people of God.
The leading characters in this event will be above all the bishops gathered in communion with the Holy Father John Paul II. As pastors and guides in perfection, and faithful to the charism of each institute, they will listen to the Spirit and give attention to the desires and needs expressed by the church concerning the institutes of consecrated life and the societies of apostolic life. Their particular task is one of discernment and pastoral guidance. Present alongside the bishops will be some representatives of the superiors general for men.
Also present, as observers, will be some women and men religious, men and women members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, priests, lay women and men, called by the Holy Father to express in this way the universality of the church and all her vocations, in a mutual listening to the experiences and desires of the whole people of God.
It is urgent that the whole church gather in prayer around the synod fathers and the other synod participants in order to implore the light of the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, especially the saintly founders and foundresses. It is to the Holy Spirit, who stirs these charisms in the church, that prayer is raised in one voice, that he may guide the church toward a renewed outpouring of his gift of wisdom and grace for a new Pentecost in the consecrated life. He is “the life and strength of the people of God, the bond of its communion, the vigor of its mission, the source of its multiple gifts, the secret of its admirable unity, the radiance and beauty of its creative power and the fire of its love.”
The Present Hour
2. The aim of the synod is to reflect on the consecrated life in the light of God’s plan, returning to the sources of grace from which it arises, the great wealth of its historical expressions and the legacy of its saints. At the same time, however, the synod is intended to discern the challenges and expectations of the contemporary world, for which the Holy Spirit enriches the consecrated life with resources of grace, spirituality, manifold works and creativity in the apostolic life.
During recent decades, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the church has delved deeper into her nature and mission in the light of the ecclesiology of communion in order to understand more deeply her mystery rooted in the Trinity, her nature as a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race. In recent synods this vision has given us a better understanding of the vocation and mission of the laity (1987) and of the identity and mission of priests and their formation in the circumstances of the present day (1990), as can be clearly seen in the post-synodal apostolic exhortations <Christifideles Laici> and <Pastores Dabo Vobis.> The ecclesiology of communion must now contribute to a deeper reflection on the consecrated life in the church. It is impossible to have an adequate conception of the mystery, communion and mission of the church without an understanding of the consecrated life, just as the consecrated life cannot be understood and lived unless it is rooted in the church’s mystery, communion and mission.
The framework for this reflection on the consecrated life is the new evangelization of today’s world, characterized by the rise of new values and cultures which have a conditioning effect on the traditional view of the consecrated life. While this context presents significant challenges to its identity and mission, it also affords a providential opportunity, on the basis of the creativity of the charisms of the Spirit, to evoke courageous responses based on the Gospel. The hope-filled moment in which the church is living calls for such a reflection, as does the constant invitation coming from Christ and from the charism of the founders and foundresses, which continues in time.
John Paul II recalled the meaning of the coming synod in these words: “The successors of the apostles will meet to discuss your life and the contribution which your founders and foundresses—and your respective spiritual families with them—have given and still give to the mission of the church. They want to understand in all its breadth and depth the design of the Lord who sanctifies, enriches and also guides his people through the gifts and charisms of the communities of consecrated life and the societies of apostolic life. The bishops want to help you to be Gospel leaven and evangelizers of the cultures of the third millennium and of the social ordering of the peoples.”
In a recent address to superiors general, he affirmed: “Today the religious life is experiencing a particularly significant moment of its history because of the demanding and widespread renewal imposed by the changed socio-cultural conditions at the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era…. In their day the founders and foundresses were able to incarnate the Gospel message with courage and holiness. It is necessary that, faithful to the breath of the Spirit, their spiritual daughters and sons continue this witness in time, imitating their creativity, with a mutual fidelity to the charism of their origins, and in constant listening to the demands of the present moment.”
An Encouraging Response
3. Preparations for the coming synod are in progress throughout the church. This can be seen from the many initiatives of reflection, prayer and study. A widespread response has been given to the <lineamenta> which, following a well-established method, is intended to offer points of reference to promote reflection—even on negative aspects—and elicit responses, suggestions and evaluations.
A sign of the interest aroused by the synod is the quantity and quality of the official responses sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod by the episcopal conferences and the synods of the Oriental churches, the departments of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General for Men and the International Union of Superiors General for Women and the World Conference of Secular Institutes.
In addition to these, many observations were sent by cardinals and bishops, national and international conferences of men and women religious, individual institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, confederations and federations of monasteries as well as individual monasteries, priests, women and men religious, consecrated virgins and hermits, theologians and brethren from other churches and Christian communities. This is valuable material which offers assistance in coming to an understanding of the situation and the expectations of the consecrated life in the church and in the world today.
Additional Intensive Study
4. An attentive study of the responses and observations has pointed above all to questions of a general nature as well as to those proper to various nations and institutes concerning the present state of the consecrated life, its identity and role in ecclesial communion and some of the most urgent questions involving the present and future of consecrated life. The <instrumentum laboris> has taken all this material into account, with an eye toward the celebration of the synodal assembly.
Emerging from the responses is a general view of the topics and trends which, although having certain differences according to individual institutes, various nations and cultural and geographic areas, offers a substantial convergence of “lights and shadows,” hopes and desires, and questions and obligations concerning the consecrated life in the church and in the world. According to some, this is a period of transformation or of profound change in the consecrated life, while others see it as one of renewal, revitalization and refoundation.
Furthermore, the responses give rise to a renewed evaluation of the consecrated life and the forms it has taken, especially in the following directions: an emphasis on its specific nature and variety of charisms; special attention to the diversity of geographical and cultural situations; a reflection on its relationship to the mystery, communion and mission of the church; a courageous statement of its identity and apostolic mission so that it may have the renewed impetus to be a prophetic witness today for the salvation of the world.
By its very nature the <instrumentum laboris> is intended to offer topics for the synod’s discussion. It is meant to illustrate, pinpoint and delve deeper into these aspects in the light of the responses, bearing in mind the complexity of the consecrated life, its universal reality and the pastoral nature of the synod. At the same time, it must not fail to highlight some specific questions which many responses entrust to the synod’s reflection. This synodal document takes its inspiration from the word of God and the church’s tradition, and draws upon the teaching of Vatican II and the post-conciliar documents on the consecrated life. In this way, as the majority of the responses have requested, it is meant to recall the church’s teaching and open new paths to theological reflection on the consecrated life and its spiritual and apostolic spirit.
The Consecrated Life
5. It seems essential to make an initial clarification on the topic of the synod so all might have a better understanding of the complexity and variety of individuals, communities and institutes to which it refers.
Historically speaking, the expression <consecrated life> has various meanings in the documents of Vatican II and in recent canonical legislation of the universal church. The dogmatic constitution <Lumen Gentium> and the decree <Perfectae Caritatis> describe the rise of various forms of religious and consecrated life, that is, institutes devoted entirely to contemplation, institutes of monastic and conventual life, clerical institutes dedicated to various apostolic works, lay institutes and secular institutes.
The Code of Canon Law includes among the institutes of consecrated life religious institutes in general and secular institutes. In this category it also places the eremitical and anchoritic life. It also mentions that the order of virgins is similar (<accedit>) to the forms of consecrated life, as are societies of apostolic life as well (<accedunt>).
The Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches speaks first of all of monks, among whom can be included hermits and religious. It considers societies of common life such as (<ad instar>) religious and secular institutes. It also mentions the ascetics who imitate the eremitical life and the virgins and widows who, although living in the world, make a public profession of chastity. Finally, it adds societies of apostolic life.
Today there are approximately 1,423 institutes of women religious of pontifical right and 1,550 of diocesan right. Among the religious institutes for men there are 250 of pontifical right and 242 of diocesan right. There are approximately 165 secular institutes of pontifical or diocesan right, including those of priests, clerics or groups of lay women and men. There are also 39 societies of apostolic life of pontifical right. To these we must add a growing number of consecrated virgins, of consecrated widows and widowers, hermits and hermitesses and other groups that have initiated the process of canonical recognition.
The Synod of Bishops, being universal by nature, cannot overlook this broad and complex vision of the consecrated life.
Meaning and Limits of Terminology
6. As explicitly stated at the announcement of the topic of the ninth ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops and at the presentation of the <lineamenta,> the object of synod discussion is the various forms of consecrated life, to which are added the societies of apostolic life.
The responses have indicated that the great variety of forms and traditions within the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life presents some weighty problems.
The first of these problems is terminology. The responses point out that a great majority of people continue to use indiscriminately the terms <religious life> and <religious.> Although technically speaking these terms designate only institutes of religious life as such, instances of their misuse are common, even in some documents of the magisterium.
Although it is already present in Vatican II, the term <consecrated life> seems rather new to many people. Some think the designation is not entirely appropriate and even discriminatory, as if to say through its use that other Christians are not “consecrated” in their baptism. The terms <consecration> and <consecrated life> are taken here in their precise theological meaning, indicating a life consecrated by means of the evangelical counsels and recognized as such by the church. For obvious practical reasons the <instrumentum laboris> usually uses the term <consecrated life> as such or similar expressions. The widespread designation of this terminology must be taken in an analogical sense and according to the proper nature of the diverse forms of life which are included in it. At times a specific terminology is used so as to refer to each of the forms of consecrated life according to their nature.
Many responses express a desire for the specific treatment of each form of the consecrated life and for finding adequate solutions to problems, even local ones. Such specific attention to the matter is usually claimed above all because of the specific nature and mission of the secular institutes, which are seen as typically diverse because of the secular nature of their life and apostolate. A similar notion is voiced concerning the societies of apostolic life, consecrated virgins and hermits.
In accordance with the official title of the ninth ordinary general assembly, the <instrumentum laboris> treats the connotations, values, problems, demands and tasks of the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life in the present-day circumstances of the church and the world, clarifying in some cases specific features regarding above all identity, communion, mission and major priorities for the immediate future. Each institute and form of consecrated life is distinguished because of its specific nature, mission and charism. In the synodal gathering the <instrumentum laboris> will permit an ample dialogue on all questions of a universal and pastoral nature.
Plan of the <Instrumentum Laboris>
7. The purpose of this document is the preparation of the synod discussion of the consecrated life and its role in the church and in the world. Based on the responses, it offers a broad-based exposition divided into four parts.
The first part, “the consecrated life today,” presents the theological, spiritual and pastoral reality of the consecrated life (I), its situation in the circumstances of the present day (II) and according to geographic and cultural areas (III), questions concerning some specific forms (IV) and the request for a renewed theological synthesis (V).
The second part, “the consecrated life in the mystery of Christ and the church,” offers a theological vision of the consecrated life within the mystery of the church (I), some common features about vocation, the following of Christ and consecration (II) in the dimension of communion, mission and witness (III).
The third part, “the consecrated life in ecclesial communion,” is a continuation of the second part and treats more accurately the perspective of the ecclesiology of communion (I), in the universal church and the particular churches (II).
The fourth part, “the consecrated life in the church’s mission for the world,” studies the challenges and tasks of the consecrated life for the future (I), the call to the new evangelization (II), the response of its evangelical charisms for the world (III).
I. A Presence in Church and World
Like the Gospel Leaven
8. It is necessary to keep in mind the wealth and variety of forms of the consecrated life today in order to be aware of the reality and complexity of the synod’s topic. Nevertheless, it is not easy to furnish a complete description. There is no such thing as consecrated life in the abstract; rather, it is expressed in diverse forms and institutes, incarnated in real persons—women and men—in diverse settings, situations, spiritualities and apostolates.
Its members constitute an important group in the church, comparable to the Gospel leaven (cf. Lk. 13:21). The members of the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life number more than a million, but they are a minority within the people of God. In statistical terms they amount to only 0.12 percent of the members of the Catholic Church. Of this percentage group, women constitute 72.5 percent of consecrated persons, while 27.5 percent are men. With the majority of consecrated persons being women and lay brothers, the group is thus made up of 82.2 percent laity, leaving only 17.8 percent priests or deacons.
Though small in number, this group is “a radiant sign of the kingdom of heaven” for the church and for the world. Concentrated in it is a variety of forms of life, spiritual traditions and apostolic works bearing witness to the manifold grace of Christ, the presence of the Spirit and the power of the Gospel.
The consecrated life is a <memoria> of the teachings and example of Christ and the Gospel values lived by the saints in the course of the pilgrimage of the people of God throughout the ages. It is a witness of commitment in the following of Christ and a prophecy of the eschatological destiny of history.
A common reality unifies consecrated persons—the call to total self-giving to God; love for Christ the teacher, Lord and bridegroom of the church, who is intimately followed and served above everything; and the decision to live according to the Spirit.
The consecrated life is a prophetic witness to the primacy of God and to the things that do not pass away. Indeed, its value lies more in “being”—from God and for God—than in “doing”—its mission—although there should be no dichotomy between being and doing.
9. In the Catholic Church the consecrated life expresses a yearning which is typical of the Gospel vocation. This can even be found today in some non-Catholic churches and communities. In fact, the eremitic and monastic life are held in great honor in the nonuniate Eastern churches, which have preserved the great spiritual, liturgical and apostolic tradition of their origins. In some non-Catholic ecclesial communities forms of consecrated life have been preserved or new forms of consecrated life have arisen—similar to those of the Catholic tradition—especially in the Anglican church and more recently in the evangelical and Reformed communities. The common witness of commitment to Christ and the values of the evangelical life can be a valid element for promoting unity through the exercise of ecumenical dialogue and the spiritual ecumenism of conversion and prayer.
Analogous forms of personal dedication seen in the search for the divine, in meditation, prayer, asceticism and the witness to the transcendent values—often accompanied by compassionate service to one’s neighbor—can be found in other non-Christian religions. The consecrated life can be the basis for a fruitful dialogue with them and offer a common witness to the values of the Spirit.
The consecrated life, which is inspired by the Gospel, is a sharing in the consecration of Jesus, the Son of God and savior, the basis of consecration for all the baptized. However, in other religions we cannot fail to find the life-giving breath of the Spirit from whom comes all that is true, good, just and beautiful, as seeds of the word called to bear fruit in due season and as the renewing leaven of society. In this way the consecrated life, together with other forms of evangelical life and the search for the absolute in various religions, in taking on cherished spiritual values, exercises a critical symbolic and transforming role within society and interprets the transcendent hopes of humanity.
Gospel’s Presence in the World
10. The consecrated life, though a minority in numbers, has a rich presence in the church and in the world through its wealth of communities and groups. It performs a genuine ministry in the praise of God and the salvation of the world in the celebration of the eucharist, liturgical prayer, asceticism and contemplation. It is active in evangelization and catechesis, in works of charity serving the victims of both old and new forms of poverty; in being close to the sick and marginalized, in the education of children and adolescents, in schools and universities, in the advancement of culture, in teaching the values of justice and peace, and in the means of social communications. Often the consecrated life is found in the front lines of the church’s mission and dialogue with the world.
In all parts of the earth consecrated persons live the same events as the people of God in various geographical and cultural contexts. They share the joys and hopes and the sorrows and anguish of the men and women of today, especially of the poor and suffering, because nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in the hearts of Christ’s disciples.
Scattered throughout all areas of the particular churches, consecrated persons are placed among the people as a sign of ecclesial communion and Christian fraternity. They are often found in the “desert” where there is no one, on the “margins of society” where they experience poverty and share the necessities of people, and on the “front lines” where they face the risks of proclaiming the Gospel in difficult situations.
After almost 20 yeas, Paul VI’s words can be recalled describing the consecrated life’s evangelizing presence in the church and in the world. He honors and stimulates the fidelity of the consecrated life to its vocation, consecration and mission when he says:
“By virtue of their consecration they are particularly free and willing to leave all things and go to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel. They are always full of courage in their work, and their apostolate is often outstanding in its admirable resourcefulness and initiative. They are generous and are often to be found in the most remote mission stations, where they may have to endure great dangers to health and even to life. The church is undoubtedly greatly indebted to them.”
The consecrated life also has a hidden presence, that is, the great number of consecrated persons who, even in old age or illness continue to exercise a beneficial influence through the offering of their prayers, through their wisdom and through their faithfulness day by day. Nor should those be forgotten who in recent times—and even at this present moment in various nations—have suffered for their fidelity to Christ and the church.
A Tree With Many Branches
11. A desire expressed in many of the responses is that the variety of forms in consecrated life not be reduced in perspective or stifled. This variety corresponds to the manifold grace of Christ, to the church’s historical experience and bears witness to the “catholicity” of the evangelical values, which the Holy Spirit has raised up and preserves for the fullness of the Gospel of Christ.
Vatican II contemplates the spread of the consecrated life, rooted in the words and example of the Lord, from its origins to our day in the light of the parable of the Gospel seed (cf. Lk. 13:19): “From the God-given seed of the counsels a wonderful and wide- spreading tree has grown up in the field of the Lord, branching out into various forms of religious life lived in solitude or in community. Different religious families have come into existence in which spiritual resources are multiplied for the advancement in holiness of their members and for the good of the entire body of Christ.”
Very much alive in the church’s memory is the historic fact of the eremitic, monastic, religious and apostolic life, first born in the East with the consecration to God of Christian virgins, anchorites and cenobites. These persons exemplify the first forms of consecrated life which were guided by the teaching and the <apoftegmi> of the “fathers” and “mothers” of the desert, organized by the first monastic rules and recognized by the church with special rites such as the consecration of virgins and monastic profession. Continuing throughout history, with the creativity of the Spirit responding to the needs of the times, other forms arose, for example, the canons regular, the institutes of religious life, contemplative and apostolic groups of various kinds (mendicant orders, clerics regular, religious congregations, both 102 clerical and lay, missionary institutes…). More recently the church has recognized the form of a consecrated life in the world which is proper to secular institutes. Related to these forms are the societies of apostolic life, which are characterized by their specific apostolic and missionary purposes.
The diversity of forms of consecrated life depend on their nature and mission, that is, according to the relationship to the mystery and mission of Christ which each institute lives and proclaims according to the special nature of each family and which sets it apart with its own distinctive spirituality and specific apostolate. According to many responses, a great many people wish to highlight the distinctive charism as a universal key for interpreting one’s whole experience, the practice of the evangelical counsels, one’s own spirituality, apostolate, community life, formation and organization.
The wealth of the variety of forms of the consecrated life is also expressed in the multiplicity of liturgical rites within the one church of Christ.
Complementarity and the Exchange of Gifts
12. As has been noted, consecrated women far outnumber others within the consecrated life, both in monastic life and in apostolic religious life, as well as in missionary service. They bring with them the power of their witness, the quality of life in communion and the unique potentiality of their mission. Among the men there are lay institutes composed of brothers alone. Other institutes are clerical in their foundation and charism; still others are both clerical and lay in that clerics and laymen belong to them on the basis of the same consecration and charism and participate in diverse ways in their life, administration and apostolate, depending on the nature of the institute.
On the basis of a prevalent orientation toward a life dedicated more to prayer and divine worship or to the explicit spread of the Gospel by word and work, a distinction is made in the church between institutes dedicated entirely to contemplation and those devoted to apostolic and missionary activity, even though the contemplative and apostolic dimension is common to each institute according to its own charism. Indeed, the institutes of contemplative life are eminently apostolic, while apostolic institutes order their life on the basis of their mission in the church so as to be contemplatives in action, in imitation of Christ.
Certain attention is given to the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life of diocesan right which are bound to the service of the local church. Today such institutes are particularly flourishing in the younger churches.
Traditional and New Forms
13. The responses make reference to the phenomenon of the flourishing of new and traditional forms of the consecrated life, offering great hope for the synod’s work.
Consecrated virginity and the order of virgins are the original expression of a total dedication to Christ in the church since her beginning. Later, however, the institution of consecrated virgins was absorbed by women’s monastic life and profession. Recently, among the fruits of renewal there is a renewed flourishing of vocations to virginity in the world through “consecrated virgins” who, alone or in association with others, dedicate themselves to Christ, their spouse, and to the service of the church.
In various areas we also see signs of a rebirth of the experience of hermits—priests and laymen—and also hermitesses, living in solitude or immersed in urban centers with a special vocation. They devote themselves to the praise of God and intercession for the salvation of the world. In some areas there can be noted the existence of “widows” or “widowers” who, either alone or with others, offer themselves to Christ and the service of the church.
Some responses note that it would be good to promote individual forms of consecration similar to those already recognized.
Today new forms of the consecrated life are being founded, forms which cannot be reduced to pre-existing categories. In addition to the profession of the consecrated life through the evangelical counsels, they ordinarily have some added characteristics such as the mixed nature of the group made up of both men and women; renewed forms of participation in the administration of the common life; flexible structures; and more dynamic organizational features in view of their mission.
Secular institutes, a form of the consecrated life which has arisen in our century, are characterized by their consecration in the world or a “consecrated secularity” lived in the midst of activities which are typical of lay people. Their manner of professing the evangelical counsels, their expressions of life in these associations and their apostolate—including evangelization and witness in the world—differ according to the nature of each institute. Then too, there are the diverse characteristics of members of secular institutes, depending on whether they belong to the clergy or laity.
Men’s and women’s societies of apostolic life, like those of the consecrated life, are characterized by their being associated for the sake of apostolic and missionary activity. Though of great merit in the work of evangelization and mission, they are oftentimes not sufficiently known.
In addition, mention should be made of the presence of groups and communities which are coming into being or in the process of recognition as institutes of consecrated life, new forms of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life.
On the Church’s Path
14. The responses gave great importance to analyzing the situation of the church and of the world today in order to understand the present state of the consecrated life. Because of its active engagement in the church and its presence in the world, it has experienced profound changes which can be understood only in the light of what has happened in recent decades in the church and society. This period of rapid changes has had a significant effect on the identity of the consecrated life and its various approaches to apostolic activity.
First of all, one should note a better understanding of the nature of consecrated life. It was Vatican Council II which offered to the consecrated life a theological framework for understanding how it belongs to the church and the principles for its renewal and adaptation “to the changed conditions of our time.”
The first thing that must be understood about the consecrated life is that it is a gift from God through the church in the service of humanity and that there is an urgent need to revitalize the charism at its origin.
Generally it was observed that the council’s invitation to renew the spirit and goal of the foundresses and founders met with a twofold response. On the one hand, there was a desire for spiritual renewal, with hearts and minds centered on God, the Blessed Trinity, who is loved above all things and in whose mystery we find the source of charity. On the other hand, this spiritual renewal was undertaken with eyes turned toward the women and men of our day who comprise the world God loved so much that he gave his only Son (cf. Jn. 3:16). Gazing upon humanity with faith sharpened the ability to “read the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel” in such a way as to enable the consecrated life to respond to the Lord’s call in the necessities of our times.
This twofold fidelity to God and humanity which must continue to guide the consecrated life shines forth in a unique way in the person, words and life of Jesus, the Son of the Father and Son of Man, and remains the way proposed by the council which will lead to the profound renewal and authentic <aggiornamento> of the consecrated life.
A Serene Look of Faith
15. The journey marked by the council has been neither direct nor uniform. Nevertheless, some common elements of judgment deserve to be high lighted. It has been a fruitful but difficult process in which many efforts have been made. Renewal was undertaken with enthusiasm, courage and decisiveness, and not without a share of resistance and failure. The results seem to be still insufficient and not entirely refined and concentrated. Everyone expects the synod to offer encouragement on the path opened by Vatican II.
The consecrated life, engaged in the world as it is in the church, has been subject to the strong influence of the enormous social and cultural changes of our era, which have become a genuine challenge. Without the eyes of faith to look upon the present situation of the world and society, it would be difficult to understand the changes which have occurred as well as the positive results and the abiding difficulties. Indeed, one approach which has marked the consecrated life is that of remaining open to the challenges of humanity in our times.
As in other eras there were moments of fervor and decline, suppression and restoration, reform and new foundations; so too in our age. The eyes of faith allow us to keep not only from absolutizing the negative aspects in which a search for authenticity can often be seen, but also from extolling what is positive without properly discerning its defects. Only a Gospel discernment, with eyes focused on the Lord and with attentive listening to his word, will help to reject whatever is contrary to the good and to seek whatever opens hearts to salvation so that the will of the Father, who “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm. 2:4), may be fulfilled. As the responses insist, in the midst of this situation the consecrated life, because of its total dedication to God and his service, must have a prophetic presence which in a most profound way proclaims hope, voices the message of salvation, proclaims the love of God and denounces evil and infidelity to his covenant of love.
Men and women called to imitate the Master—the members of the institutes of the consecrated life and societies of apostolic life—know that they have been chosen from the world, but that they are not of the world (cf. Jn. 15:19), that is, they know they do not belong to this world, but to Christ, and have been sent into the world by him to proclaim the Father’s love. This justifies the note made by many of the responses: The consecrated life is held in esteem for its “works,” but its “being” is often not understood; it is often praised for its involvement in the world, but in some areas—especially as happens through the mass media—its image is betrayed to the point that people think it is meaningless. Like Christ, it becomes a sign of contradiction.
Cultural and Social Changes
16. As the responses indicate, it is impossible today to understand the consecrated life, its tasks and its generous initiatives without taking a realistic look at the world in which we live.
What are the circumstances in today’s world which exercise a positive or negative influence on the consecrated life and present a context where consecrated persons ought to live and bear witness to the Gospel?
In this final decade of the 20th century, society is marked by great technological and scientific progress, even if this is not witnessed everywhere. Such advances offer great opportunities in today’s world. In some ways positivistic tendencies have been overcome; in other ways there has been the fall of rationalistic and totalitarian ideologies which limited the horizons of human existence and claimed to build a world based on the autonomy of reason or class struggle. However, these tendencies still present themselves in society, leaving no room for the transcendent.
Today material progress could offer the possibility to improve the condition of humanity regarding nutrition, education, health care and housing, and to make earning one’s bread a more humane task. However, the poor continue to be poor and new forms of poverty emerge, while paradoxically it is the poor who often show a greater sensitivity to the human values which a secular society does not esteem. Negative symptoms such as extreme nationalism and increased violence are on the rise.
The means of communication and transportation, which technology now offers, allow us to think of humanity as one large family which, while respecting different ethnic identities and cultures, is tearing down the walls of separation and moving closer toward reconciliation under the gaze of the one Father of all. The opportunities offered to Catholicism today are great, responding to the deepest aspirations of the consecrated life. Today we can think of a world of solidarity where borders do not put people in opposition as enemies, where the interchange of goods, knowledge and services can assume global dimensions. A more universal culture—taking into consideration the relations mentioned above—will also allow all peoples to become actively involved in the affairs between nations, thereby overcoming a humiliating dependency, marginalizations of various types and the barriers between North and South, and rich and poor nations.
In this context—the responses observe—consecrated persons, who in their missionary activity have in the course of history actually blazed the trails of communion among peoples, find in today’s world through the growing international character of their institutes a citizenship that is natural to them and witness the opening of new frontiers to their mission, to their contribution to the universality of the people of God, to the exchange of gifts among all people and to the universal reconciliation in Christ.
A Challenging Situation
17. Among the values acquired by society, at least at the theoretical level and with quite a few contradictions, we find an awareness of the dignity of the person, the value of human rights, especially the right to life and freedom, respect of conscience and the right to objective truth. These values, which reflect the influence of the Gospel of Jesus in human history, have also had repercussions within the consecrated life, in the manner of understanding its role and its communal life.
The human sciences such as psychology have given us a better knowledge of the human person and the ability to treat this human nature in its entirety, with its weaknesses and strengths.
However, in this humanity in which much hope can be found, sin is also present, seeking to destroy the Father’s plan to make his sons and daughters authentically human in the light of Christ, the new man. Therefore, it is necessary that human culture be evangelized at its roots by those who intend to follow Christ and serve his plan of salvation. Indeed, poverty and injustice continue to be present in this world. There remains the domination of the few over the many, not only in some countries dominated by others, but also within a given society, where side by side we find luxury and poverty, fanaticism and violence, the scourge of drugs, the loneliness experienced by many people, disdain for life from the moment of conception, attacks against the family, and the deterioration of the environment and of creation.
The responses indicate that women and men religious, consecrated persons living in the world, are not indifferent to these challenges and that they are working to build a more human world in accord with God’s plan.
Sign of Contradiction and Hope
18. The responses also insist on offering a realistic view of today’s society which can help one to understand the most difficult challenges to the consecrated life, especially in the area of the great values at the basis of their involvement, and in a special way the threefold counsel and evangelical charism of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Profound cultural changes have corroded the authentic meaning of sexuality, the idea of the family and the value of virginity and celibacy. If on the one hand, a healthy view of human sexuality has contributed to a better appreciation of the corporal and spiritual integrity of the human person, other trends have banalized the understanding of it and disrupted its balance. The technological possibility of separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexuality create grave challenges to the authentic meaning of human life. In the plan of salvation, voluntary celibacy for the sake of the kingdom and Christian marriage, in the light of the mystery of Christ the bridegroom and of the church, by their complementary nature show the power of love which integrates, gives of itself and is committed. It is the alternative offered by the good news of love to a sexuality that in its hedonistic expressions confines man and woman to a fleeting experience, consigning them to loneliness. Fidelity to marriage and the commitment to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven are perhaps more difficult to assume today, but in their complementarity they have become a privileged sign which must be restored to the project of true love and be seen as a mutual example of fidelity. Celibacy in particular must be a prophecy of the future definitive kingdom (cf. Mt. 22:30). However, how can we teach today a commitment as demanding as that of celibacy?
A liberal economy without any corrective measures has led to the growing stratification in living conditions resulting in the abandonment of the weak and the poor, of ethnic minorities, and of the sick and elderly, as often happens in the poorest of countries. The profit motive in the free-market economy, claimed to be the only motive for existence and relationships, leads to a moral relativism, to a culture of efficiency which obscures the sense of a free act of generosity, of poverty and evangelical simplicity. The organization of civil life has often offered the bad example of those who seek their own advantage through the exercise of power. If a culture with these characteristics threatens the soul of Christian life and the consecrated life itself, it offers those persons committed to the imitation of the poor Christ the opportunity to live the Gospel of the Beatitudes and alleviate the suffering of so many people whose failure to share in progress has left them at the fringes of society. How can a more credible witness of poverty in today’s world be achieved?
Today’s insistence in culture on personal autonomy and on fulfillment, as understood by one’s subjective conscience creates difficulties affecting obedience, the acceptance of traditions, the objective limitations created by law, sacrifice and the mortification of one’s own will for the sake of the broader common good. Frequently the very idea of solidarity is debased by the prevalence of an individualistic logic, thus presenting new problems threatening the meaning of obedience and leading to risks of individualism. At the same time, through turning from individualism, the situation poses the possibility of rediscovering the genuine meaning of obedience for love of the Lord and his kingdom in order to come together in communion and mission, with eyes fixed on Christ, the Son and obedient servant, and on Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, called to collaborate in the mystery of salvation.
Today it is difficult for many people to make fundamental and lasting commitments. There is also a crisis in the idea of vocation and of giving oneself in a lifelong manner. Some ask if it is possible to consider the possibility of a consecrated life made for a temporary period of commitment with a view to more mature choices, as can be found in other forms of religion or other cultures. The choice of an absolute ideal, and an offering of self to God and the service of others, is a source of meaning which humanizes and is a gift of self to humanity. For this reason, persons consecrated to a single ideal, which does not pass away, are living signs of those transcendent values for which a person lives and even dies. In our day there is no lack of persons who have followed Christ to the point of sacrificing their life, rendering through their martyrdom a sign which is the supreme proof of love.
A World of Communication and Images
19. One characteristic of our times is a culture of images which has become widespread through the audiovisual media. On the one hand such a culture should be appreciated for its closeness to Christianity, which seeks to go from the visible to the invisible through the use of signs and liturgical symbols as instruments of salvation and elevates humanity through the goods of beauty and art. However, this culture of images is often turned into a culture of fleeting and superficial pleasure.
The world of communication also enters into the areas of the consecrated life. However, those who have chosen God cannot lose the interior quality of a life which is nourished by contemplation of what cannot be seen with human eyes. Consecrated persons, in love with God, the All-Beautiful, are called to bear witness to the beauty which can save the world in celebrating the liturgy, in harmonious relationships, in promoting what is true, beautiful, good and just. In the contemplative dimension they can bear witness to and promote the paths that lead to mystery, which is the origin of everything beautiful, and to the interiority which gives meaning to daily work.
Material progress often leads to a society in which consumerism becomes an end in itself. Abandoning the transcendent dimension, it ends up in religious indifferentism, relativism and secularism. In this case, it is urgently necessary to regain the true meaning of life and the world which, despite their beauty aspects, have lost their appeal and mystery.
Vocation and Dignity of Women
20. “The awareness that women, because of their own gifts and tasks, have their own specific vocation has increased and been deepened in the years following the council and has found its fundamental inspiration in the Gospel and in the church’s history.” This explains the development of a consciousness concerning consecrated women and their presence in recent decades in various areas, a phenomenon which coincides with a clarification of sociological and theological presuppositions, a greater involvement in interpreting the foundational charisms, a more decisive development in formation and the assumption of responsibility in the consecrated life. However, adherence to extreme present-day forms of the feminist movement has led to spiritual disorientation in the consecrated life in some countries.
Consecrated women in their personal lives and in their work in evangelization today find themselves at a crossroads of the signs of the times. They recognize the importance of their contribution to an understanding of the mystery of Christ and want to make resplendent the countenance of God, the source of new life. This femininity, which finds its archetype in Mary of Nazareth, is a clarion call to the whole church. Whenever we think of the mother of Jesus as the bearer of life and her action of embracing salvation, or of Mary Magdalene and the other women, the first “evangelists” of the Lord’s resurrection, the role of women in the church can be more deeply understood. Indeed, “it is quite clear from the words and attitude of Christ, which are normative for the church, that no discrimination exists on the level of an individual’s relation to Christ, in which ‘there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28.)”
Women—including consecrated women—in reciprocity and complementarity with men, ought to assume all their responsibilities in society and in the church with the contribution and wealth of their feminine nature. This is an urgent challenge presented by today’s culture. Bishops are called to discern and offer guidance in all that concerns consecrated women. These confidently look to them for a helpful word.
Responses and Challenges
21. This assortment of movements and transformations in culture—described above on the basis of the responses—has an effect on the meaning of consecrated life for today’s men and women as well as for the young people of this era, who are faced with vocational choices for the future.
Many of the situations already described have had a refining influence on the consecrated life. Recent decades have witnessed many defections, notable crises and an acute decline in vocations in some countries. Today the consecrated life is faced with the task of reformulating the fundamental nature of its charismatic origins. At the same time, purified from the ambiguous motivations which in other eras could have had an influence on this choice, it offers the uncertainties of the human heart the free and generous response leading to the full realization of persons in their dedication to God through the evangelical counsels, in communion with the Master and following him, in which is found the seed of a new humanity, one with greater solidarity, fraternity and joy.
In an era of change such as ours it seems that many people are still uncertain about what concrete, renewed forms will give meaning to life and will have the capacity to survive. A whole generation can pass during the time of uncertainty and searching. However, as many responses affirm, today the consecrated life has the courage to give itself still to the profession of the evangelical counsels as a great plan of God offering Christ’s faithful—the women and men of our age—a fullness of meaning and joy rooted in the word and example of Christ himself.
At a time when utopianism seems to be fading and pragmatism runs the risk of making society close in upon itself, all Christians—men and women religious, those who are consecrated in the world and everyone according to their vocation—remind others that today it is possible to live day by day with the power of hope and faith. For this very reason the poor, the sick, the little ones and those who have lost life’s meaning can be evangelized and witness around them the rebirth of hope. Consecrated persons must also bear witness in today’s world to that fullness of joy which Jesus promised his disciples (cf. Jn. 15: 11).
Fruits of Renewal
22. In the midst of this profound cultural change, following the call of the church, the consecrated life has traveled a path of renewal with lights and shadows. The responses are in relative agreement in describing positive and negative aspects as well as in offering signs of hope. A summary of points which enjoy a certain degree of unanimity will help give an awareness of the path which lies ahead.
There is sufficient agreement on the positive evaluation of the progress which has taken place in the theology of the consecrated life in the areas of Christology, pneumatology and ecclesiology and in the treatment of the consecrated life as a fruit of the Second Vatican Council in later documents of the magisterium and in theological discussion and research.
Many responses affirm that in harmony with the church’s liturgical renewal in recent decades, new value has been given in all forms of the consecrated life to participation in the eucharist and the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and the sacraments. The rites of religious profession themselves have been renewed. Men and women religious have made a great contribution to the work of liturgical renewal. Many communities, especially the monastic and contemplative ones, are points of reference for the celebration of the liturgy and the promotion of liturgical worship.
Forms of piety have been progressively updated and greater importance has been given to contemplative prayer. On many occasion today this takes on the form of shared prayer—shared also with the laity—for a mutual growth in experiencing God and uplifting each other.
In response to the council, the word of God today is better known, read and meditated upon. It is found in the hands and hearts of consecrated persons in the form of <lectio divina,> contemplative meditation and sharing of the word as it is lived and meditated upon both within and outside the community. The biblical renewal has been shown to be of decisive value. In the light of the word there has been a rediscovery and actualization of the charism of the consecrated life, a better evaluation of its spirituality and a better knowledge of the centrality of the imitation of Christ in order to be his disciples and apostles.
The awareness of baptismal consecration as the root of self-giving to God through the evangelical counsels has created an understanding of the ecclesiality of the consecrated life and of its proper vocation and mission, perceiving them with a renewed sense of communion with the other members of the people of God: bishops, priests, deacons and laity. As a consequence this has led to a more harmonious and greater engagement of the consecrated life in the particular churches and a generous participation in the evangelizing mission of the church.
Seeds of Hope
23. Among the choicest fruits of the council we find a desire to return to the sources, the rediscovery of charisms, a renewed love for the founders and foundresses, the study of their writings and of the spiritual tradition of one’s own family, and, in light of charisms, a renewed inspiration of legislative texts. This re-evaluation of charisms has given in this age new vitality and vigor to the consecrated life. From this comes a better integration of spirituality and mission.
Among the results of renewal, the responses frequently highlight the evangelical option for the poor as a concrete form of sharing in the poverty of the disadvantaged and of expressing charity toward the little ones, a charity which was a privileged choice of many founders and foundresses. This has often allowed the consecrated life to become more actively involved in densely populated areas and had an influence on a more simple lifestyle and in the discernment and adaptation of apostolic works. This nearness to the people, frequently to the marginalized and abandoned, has brought about a growth of human and evangelical solidarity as well as of a commitment to justice and human advancement which today are seen as integral aspects of the new evangelization. Oftentimes, the poor themselves, with their profound sense of God, have evangelized the women and men religious living among them. Those who live the consecrated life have been invited by the poor to live a more incarnational spirituality and to be attentive to history and the signs of the times. This in turn has fostered an awareness of the dimensions of prophecy and martyrdom and prompted consecrated persons to take positions in the front lines, even to risking their lives.
A sign of renewal is the work done by all the institutes in adapting their proper legislation. This work has required years of reflection, study and dialogue and has had positive results in the regaining and making relevant values based on charisms and in making renewed proposals for the legislative framework which unites and commits all members of institutes.
Mutual esteem among the institutes, reciprocal help, collaboration and inter-congregational formation programs are also a positive result in recent decades.
We should value the efforts at renewal at work in the structures and methods of formation. There is an awareness of the necessity of formation, one that is spiritual, biblical, theological, pastoral and in some cases even professional. There is concern to pay greater attention to the person with a view to effective growth and maturation in all aspects. There is an awareness of the need for ongoing formation, of training formation personnel and of the role of the community in the formation process.
The post-conciliar period has also shed light on the necessity of profoundly renewing the apostolic mission of the institutes, taking into account their charisms, the needs of the times and concrete situations, and taking a new look at the works themselves, the style in which they are performed, the possibility of their continued existence and the places where they are carried out. We can, however, ask if some institutes’ abandonment of certain works in the areas of the education of children and young people and in the care of the sick has not impoverished their presence in society and in the church’s evangelizing activity.
The desire of the council, which invited religious and secular institutes to begin new foundations in the younger churches using a new style of adaptation to the religious values, culture and needs of people, has developed a sense of inculturation and its urgency, especially in this moment of grace in which vocations are flourishing in the younger churches.
The continued attention and guidance of the church’s magisterium in recent decades has been very positive as well as the contribution of some documents which have been produced by episcopal conferences. This celebration of the Synod of Bishops, the expressed wish of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, is a sign of hope and encouragement for all and an occasion to help the seeds of hope to grow.
New Forms of Community Life
24. In efforts at renewal, community life has undergone significant changes in recent decades. The common life, seen from the perspective of poverty (uniformity in food, clothing and other goods) had led many religious institutes—and sometimes societies of apostolic life too—to live a rather conventual form of community life, at times even monastic, without due regard for differences among institutes by their very nature. The post-conciliar reflection has fostered an evolution in the understanding of the common life, centered on the dimension of mystery, based on the theological reality of a life of fraternal communion.
Many institutes of apostolic and missionary life have desired to rethink and make more flexible their manner of living and their community structures so as to respond better to their own nature and purpose.
A deeper understanding of the value of the person has been expressed in the search for more simple relationships among the members of the community, marked by greater mutual esteem and respect, while giving less emphasis to differences of a cultural or functional nature. Wherever this has occurred, it has been easier to create understanding among individuals and a more sincere dialogue with superiors. Various forms of participation in decision making have come into being regarding both the internal life of the community and apostolic activity.
In some places the lower number of vocations has created new problems in community life. On the one hand there are rather large numbers of elderly and infirm members in the community; on the other hand, the younger generations desire for a more immediate contact with the people and a special closeness to the poorest of the poor, has led to the disappearance of large-scale works and the formation of “small communities based on common interest” formed by people having the same image of religious life and the same goals for the apostolate. Although on the positive side this kind of small community has allowed the members to overcome the anonymity and individualism to which large communities can too easily contribute, it nevertheless causes a number of problems, in that it risks creating a type of “corporate individualism” with respect to the rest of the institute, causing harm to the unity of the institute.
In the light of the council’s directives, the exercise of authority has been renewed in many places and seen as a service to the spiritual, apostolic and fraternal revitalization of communities, allowing greater closeness between superiors and subjects. The responses positively evaluate the shift from a passive obedience to an obedience of greater dialogue and participation.
Nevertheless, individualism and authoritarianism are always a strong temptation and are destructive of the life of fraternal communion. The excessive dependence on former times has sometimes been replaced not by a balanced participation but by independence under the stimulus of democratic ideas which are not appropriate to the life of the church and consecrated life. The renewal of institutes cannot be based on sociology factors, but only on the rediscovery of the specific nature of the foundational charism. Only in the light of the theology of the consecrated life in general and of the religious life in particular can discernment be made as to the validity of the following experiences or suggestions: “small communities based on common interests” and so- called “inclusive communities,” that is, those composed of people with vows and without vows, of different ages, cultures and including lay people—married or single—diocesan clergy, etc.; the dispersion of communities; communities composed also of members with temporary commitment; and more democratic methods of participating in administration.
25. This broad-based, positive renewal process described above must also be completed with the list of negative aspects also emerging in the responses. It is therefore essential to make an objective analysis of the negative phenomena, which must not always be attributed to the process of renewal. It is important to note that many of the difficulties have been faced and overcome at a time in which the consecrated life is advancing toward a new era in its 2,000-year history, and for which it awaits encouragement and a new thrust.
Many agree in stating that the changes in society and the church have caused disorientation, fears, insecurity and a lack of balance. There have been divisions within institutes. There has been a lack of formation toward legitimate pluralism and dialogue within communities and the church. Tensions have arisen within institutes and communities, tensions even with the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Lacking is a pedagogy of change which today has its effects on consecrated life—also on many social institutions—and has its roots not only in factors internal to the church, but in the profound cultural changes in our times.
There is need in these days for a great evangelical discernment in seeking the Lord’s will. Apostolic works have been abandoned without mature deliberation, and changes were made with greater attention to the structures than to the spirit which should pervade them. It is not uncommon—the responses note that a certain type of traditionalism not open to dialogue has created resistance to the changes, holding as sacred and unchanging certain customs, forms and works which have come about over the course of time. Sometimes tensions have arisen because of mutually exclusive concepts, without taking account of the fact that different lifestyles and apostolic works can be complementary and that they can support and enrich one another, even within the same family.
The responses contain other negative evaluations. The openness to the signs of the times and even the option for the poor have generated in some an ideological and political choice which has even led to the loss of their own identity. In some cases the legitimate desire to respond to the signs of the times and a greater presence in the world has become merely an adaptation, which has led to the weakening and irrelevancy of the public witness of the consecrated life, and in extreme cases, to an indiscriminate imitation of the secularized, conventional culture. Some note to their regret that many men and women religious have abandoned the sign of the habit proper to their institute. Others mention that a certain search for comfort has banalized the more genuine motivation of the evangelical counsels and has weakened the missionary spirit. For some the fact that some institutes enjoy economic security and possess collective wealth, in contrast with the poor areas where they live, is seen also as a lack of an authentic witness of poverty.
Many deplore the lack of balance between prayer and action and the serious risk of activism. Others note that changes not in conformity with the church’s discipline have been introduced into liturgical celebrations. Many formal structures of traditional observance which furnished support in the past have disappeared and have not been replaced by other values. For some people this has created the lack of a proper personal discipline necessary for confronting new situations. Many have noted a spiritual vacuum and a loss of the striving toward transcendent values. Some people hold that this is also due to questions raised in recent decades in the fields of exegesis, theology and morality, questions which ate not harmoniously integrated in one’s personal search and the option of faith.
26. For many institutes the number of defections and the progressive decline in vocations has been—and still is—a trial, a genuine test of hope. There is fear for the survival of many communities and their works because of a lack of personnel in the near future. In some regions—many of the responses note—young men and women do not have an appreciation of a vocation to the consecrated life. But elsewhere there is the danger that in seeking the survival of apostolic works the necessary rigorous vocational discernment will not be respected. Some speak about cases of a frantic vocational recruitment of members from the younger churches, who are then uprooted from their cultural environment.
The responses present many difficulties at the level of formation. It has not been easy to find formation personnel capable of confronting significant cultural changes. Frequently, especially in the early moments of the crisis, those in charge of formation responded more from their own past experience than to the new needs and requests of young people. It has not been easy to foster formative processes capable of integrating elements coming, on the one hand, from a sound sociology and psychology and, on the other, from theology, spirituality or pastoral ministry. Such an integration is necessary for the formation of candidates. There was a lack of knowledge on how to combine an authentic sense of tradition with an openness to new values. Sometimes there was an excess of psychology or sociology. There was opposition between the urgent needs of the apostolate and the need for a solid intellectual formation. The overcoming of excessively formal structures has in some cases produced a crisis in institutions and forms of consecrated life where strength of character and conviction is lacking for confronting difficult periods. The exercise of freedom also requires training in prudence and affective maturity. Adequate means have not always been found, and the inadequate ones were often the cause of extremes and defections.
Others note that today’s theological and pastoral appreciation of the laity, if improperly seen as being in opposition to consecrated life and not integrated into an ecclesiology of communion, leads to a doctrinal and affective devaluation of the consecrated life by young people. With this improper understanding the laity, especially those belonging to ecclesial organizations, are seen as having more opportunities today to express their commitment to the Gospel.
Many responses emphasize that the improved involvement of the consecrated life in the local churches has created problems regarding the just autonomy of institutes. Both parties—bishops and religious alike—note that mutual relations have not been properly achieved. Several episcopal conferences express their regret over difficulties in involving men and women religious in the diocesan apostolate because they are too frequently changed by their superiors. Others, however, mention that an excessive identification with such an apostolate, as happens in parishes entrusted to religious, can generate a loss of their own identity and fidelity to the spirituality and mission of their own institute.
A Diversified Situation
27. The responses from the episcopal conferences reveal a situation which is diversified according to various cultural and geographical areas. In the countries of the Northern Hemisphere members of institutes of consecrated life are aging and decreasing in number. In the countries of the Southern Hemisphere the opposite is happening; they are becoming younger and more numerous. In geographic terms there is a shift from North to South and from West to East.
It is a question of a process which brings with it the following: a certain crisis in tradition and in openness to the new; the loss of uniformity and the growth of pluralism; the lessening of the significance of the consecrated life and the number of consecrated persons in some nations; a tendency toward processes of inculturation; and an increased engagement in local churches as well as the heightened involvement of members of institutes of consecrated life in those places where it is growing and becoming rejuvenated.
Such a phenomenon implies an effort to be faithful to the institute’s proper identity and charism and a prudent plan of development, especially in those countries where it is in its initial stages, albeit very promising from the point of view of new forms, mission and spirituality.
An awareness of the variety of situations is important so as not to have too restrictive a vision of the reality of the consecrated life, which is such that it participates in the universality of the people of God through a presence expressing a strong sense of the church’s catholicity. An important quality of the consecrated life is its ability to relativize differences and cultural expressions in a certain manner by highlighting the importance of the evangelical counsels, which assume and transcend individual values, directing them toward the one God, the author of all gifts.
28. In some Western countries, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, there is the great challenge presented by the aging of persons and the statistical projections that some institutes will find it difficult to survive. In these circumstances the number of vocations is insufficient for maintaining communities and their apostolic work. This situation involves a series of questions regarding the essential aspects of institutes and their traditional apostolates, and the dilemma between bold steps in mission or passive resignation. Some institutes are questioning the sense of their own identity and survival. In this regard what choices are to be made and what would be the approach in formation and the work of recruiting new vocations?
Formation in all its phases and forms (initial, ongoing, inter-congregational, etc.) must face unexpected problems created by a situation of change for which traditional presuppositions seem to be inadequate. Sometimes the continuation of apostolic works is not ensured and frequently they are turned over to the state. Communities which have grown smaller must resolve economic problems imposed by society and ensure a growing dedication to their own elderly and infirm members. For persons who do not have the same spiritual youth they once had, ongoing formation becomes the challenge of an authentic conversion. Living their own vocation means facing the present moment with enlightened responses.
In European nations the consecrated life is called to respond to questions posed by the new culture and to be active in reweaving the Christian fabric of society. This is to be done with a courageous presence and confidence in the spiritual resources of its charisms, which are communicated in wisdom and works so as to make the spiritual and apostolic witness more incisive and effective where the number of persons and works is in decline.
Some responses ask for a proper evaluation of the situation in some regions like North America where local conditions present challenges to the consecrated life in culture, society and the church. Equal opportunity for education for all has increased women’s role in academic and administrative responsibilities, and consequently leads to a greater openness to their responsibility in the church and a positive appreciation of the traditions of freedom to speak, to express oneself and to act. Differences in the perception of the value of the structure and forms of consecrated life have made dialogue difficult and created a marked division between opposing tendencies in how to interpret renewal. Furthermore, the problems posed by immigration in recent decades do not seem to have received an adequate response of acceptance and mission within the consecrated life.
In the nations of Eastern Europe, especially in those which have only recently had a taste of freedom, vocations are flourishing. However, it is not easy to provide for a proper formation. Many women and men religious have lived alone for so long it is difficult for them to return to community living. For others who have been involved in parish ministry, it is important to make a return to their specific apostolate for the good of the particular churches. The consecrated life can perform important tasks in ecumenical dialogue and in the process of re-evangelization and of the promotion of culture in such a way as to reweave the anthropological and social fabric of society, which was so seriously damaged by the totalitarian regimes.
A courageous contribution is awaited on the part of consecrated persons to the new evangelization, a cultural reawakening and a spiritual renewal which can oppose the weakness of philosophical thought, moral permissiveness, dissatisfaction with consumerism and the dissolution of the Christian which can lead to an impersonal piety or recourse to the sects.
29. In some geographical areas of the Southern Hemisphere vocations abound and new religious institutes are flourishing. The younger churches are blessed with many vocations, although in some areas there is a certain decrease. It is not easy to ensure an adequate formation for a future different from that known to the missionaries who fostered the birth of the consecrated life in these nations. Some episcopal conferences ask that vocations not be uprooted from their cultural and ecclesial environment, at least not in the early years of formation.
In the responses greater emphasis was given to inculturation and dialogue with other religious traditions. Great importance was given, as a factor of unity, to the witness borne by consecrated persons of different nationalities who live and fulfill their mission together.
In Africa the consecrated life is asked to make better use of traditional elements such as respect for the elderly and ancestors, the importance of hospitality and the possibility of helping one’s own family members. What is required is a capacity to be rooted in the wisdom of the peoples, in the pedagogical processes of initiation and personal growth, and in liturgical inculturation. Those who give themselves to God must live in harmony with the demands of asceticism, prayer and charity. Sometimes people cannot see the witness of poverty when consecrated persons live with a certain amount of security while the people around them suffer from need. The consecrated life should give an example of a simple life, a commitment in daily work, participation in processes for transforming society and a more harmonious involvement in small communities. There is a strong need to continue patiently in interreligious dialogue, especially between Christians and Muslims, even if significant difficulties are presented by the influence of sects, with whom dialogue is difficult.
Asia, with its nations of great size and population, is the cradle of some of the great religions of the world and the continent where Christianity still has relatively few followers. The responses highlight the role played in the past by institutes of consecrated life and many societies of apostolic life of missionary character and the importance of their presence in the future for proclamation and interreligious dialogue. Common witness to the values of the great religions is necessary so as to make interreligious dialogue progress with a simple and profound life, a shared spiritual outlook and compassion for all. In some nations vocations abound. Consecrated persons have the opportunity to encounter others through social institutions such as hospitals, schools and clinics which allow them to come in contact with many people who are not reached through parish activities. In some nations economic development is accompanied by organized groups which exploit women and force children to work and, unfortunately, to take part in vice. The consecrated life can do much to help the poor liberate themselves from some of these conditions which frequently reveal the loss of traditional values because of the spread of materialism. The presence of forms of contemplative consecrated life fosters a testimony on behalf of the Absolute and promotes interreligious dialogue. An important challenge to consecrated life for the immediate future is the assumption of positions of administration within institutes by native persons.
In the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity and of ancient monasticism, there are relatively few followers of the consecrated life. Nevertheless, these persons have a particular mission of presence, communion with other Christian churches, and the witness of prayer and charity toward non-Christians.
Men and women religious form an important part of the church in Latin America, where vocations are relatively numerous. Their role in evangelization has been decisive. In recent decades, attentiveness to people’s suffering and closeness to those in processes of change have caused religious to be in the vanguard of the cause of justice on behalf of the poor, of indigenous peoples and of the marginalized. Many of them have paid for their involvement with their life. A well-understood theology of liberation and attention to the analysis of social structures from the point of view of a faith vision have helped—and continue to help—consecrated persons to hear the cry of the poor. In some circumstances there have been tensions between religious and bishops. The dialogue recently undertaken with greater vigor is promising. An important challenge is the presence and greater responsibility of native vocations to the consecrated life. Apostolic activity has been hampered by the sects, while the mass media have an enormous impact on the creation of a mass culture, which is quite different from the traditional human and religious mentality of the Latin American people. The magisterium of John Paul II and the meeting of the Latin American episcopate in Santo Domingo recently offered some valuable guidelines for the future of the consecrated life in Latin America.
For some countries of Oceania and the Pacific the emergence of new nations is posing problems similar to those in Africa. The responses indicate that at such times the key is what form of inculturation to be proposed in the new evangelization. Other responses mention the need to promote forms of contemplative life which are closer to the people.
A Key for Interpretation
30. The majority of responses make reference to the state of the institutes of apostolic religious life—both for men and for women—already amply presented above. Yet many responses seem to ignore the existence of various forms of consecrated life and the specific problems related to them. A complete treatment of the consecrated life, however, demands that we take into account some specific problems concerning certain forms of the consecrated life—and forms assimilated to it—not in order to exclude other realities, but to look at some meritorious aspects in the context of a universal vision of the church which does not ignore forms of consecrated life that may be less significant in size but no less deserving of proper attention.
Institutes of Contemplative Life
31. Numerous are the responses which concern the institutes of contemplative life. From them emerges the church’s esteem for this type of life, which manifests with an apostolic fruitfulness the primacy of God, the dimension of prayer, asceticism and charity in fraternal communion. Many bishops express their gratitude for the gift of such oases of prayer; and many others would like to have them in their own dioceses. The contemplative life continues to flourish. In the future, expectations call for fidelity to its proper vocation according to the guidelines of the magisterium.
The responses offer some specific questions coming directly from monasteries of women or proposed through episcopal conferences.
Some groups express their attachment to the traditional values of enclosure and ask that these be confirmed. Others ask that particular attention be given to the forms of contemplative life for women so that, while respecting individual charisms, suitable legislation be drawn up regarding enclosure to promote communication and to facilitate a proper formation.
Although many people still choose the contemplative life, the vocation to this type of life is frequently not understood, not even by priests and the faithful. In present-day circumstances insistence is placed on the need for a solid initial and ongoing formation following the church’s directives. This formation would be in Scripture, theology, liturgy and spirituality, in conformity with the kind of life to be led and according to the proper charism of the contemplative life.
Many monasteries demonstrate an openness to the needs of the universal and local churches and an active participation in the life of the diocese in which they are harmoniously engaged, as well as in their own spiritual family. However, some of them appear isolated and removed from authentic participation in the life of the church.
Many responses express the desire that through associations and federations a suitable balance might be achieved between promoting growth in communion and collaboration and respecting autonomy.
Many episcopal conferences express some of the following desires: that the contemplative life have a more visible presence in the local church; that it be a model of liturgical life and prayer; that it bear testimony to the primacy of God; and that it offers warm hospitality according to its proper tradition. In this way the monasteries can be spiritual oases where priests, seminarians, religious and lay people can restore their spirit and find spiritual energy. Their presence is particularly appreciated in the younger churches where they recall the council’s invitation to adapt in proper fashion to the authentically religious traditions of diverse peoples.
The monks and nuns of both East and West are asked, in fidelity to their liturgical and cultural traditions, to make their monasteries centers of spiritual outreach, of hospitality for the people of our day in the search for God and, according to their own traditions, true laboratories of thought and culture for today’s world.
Religious Institutes, Lay Brothers
32. Particular attention is given to the vocation and mission of lay brothers in the lay institutes and in clerical institutes as well as in those which embrace clerics and lay brothers.
Many people overlook the fact that by its very nature the consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay, and that it was predominantly lay in its origin, especially in the East. They have the impression that the vocation of the lay brother is incomplete in that it lacks the priesthood.
The responses ask that, following the magisterium, there be a reaffirmation of the value, fullness and importance of the lay religious life, both in lay institutes and in clerical and mixed ones. Indeed, such a form of consecrated life is a full expression of religious consecration and the common priesthood of the baptized. The presence of lay brothers in a community is an expression of fellowship in Christ. Furthermore, the various lay “ministries,” both internal and external to the community, when exercised in accordance with the charism of each institute, are a participation in the ministerial nature of the church for the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. Above all, through consecrated chastity lay brothers are a sign of the presence of the kingdom and of the values which transcend all fleeting things.
It is desirable that lay brothers be given an integral formation: human, theological, pastoral and professional.
The synod is asked to resolve the question of the lay brothers’ participation in the administration of clerical institutes and those with clerics and lay brothers in such a manner that this might be regulated by the particular legislation of individual institutes, with due respect for their nature and tradition.
It is hoped that, in communion and collaboration, the sharing of the spirituality of lay congregations with lay associates might be promoted without jeopardy to their identity.
33. By the profession of the evangelical counsels, members of secular institutes express and realize their consecration in apostolic activity and, like leaven, seek to permeate every reality with a Gospel spirit in order to strengthen the body of Christ and help it grow. Their specific character, following the documents <Provida Mater Ecclesia> and <Primo Feliciter> of Pius XI, is outlined by the Second Vatican Council, by canonical legislation, as well as by other magisterial interventions of Paul VI and John Paul II. The responses emphasize the lasting value of these documents with regard to their identity and mission, and also in light of the new evangelization.
Combining a secular nature and consecration creates a new melding of the presence of the Gospel and of the church in society, providing a great ability in adapting to the new demands arising from social, cultural, political and economic life. Making Christ and the secular dimension of the church present in the world, the members of these institutes, inspired by a Gospel outlook, are an example to lay people in the workplaces, combining the faith and a life of consecration with a typically secular mission. The <consecratio mundi> should begin and find its desired fulfillment from within the very lives of the members of secular institutes, all through a spirituality characterized by their presence in secular structures.
There is no distinction of clerical members of secular institutes from other clerics, nor are the lay members distinct from other lay people in their external life. Their special nature lies in their profession of the evangelical counsels in the world done in a multiplicity of ways and exercised with a spiritual and apostolic emphasis proper to each institute’s charism.
The responses emphasize the necessity of giving full value to this vocation which is in deep harmony with the situation of today’s society. At the same time the responses mention that it should be clearly distinguished from the religious and lay vocations. They point out the necessity of defining a specific spirituality and fostering an adequate formation so that persons might be prepared to face the difficult pioneering tasks which are theirs. Where the lifestyle depends on each institute, the members should not be deprived of the support of a manner of living which can promote communion and vocational growth.
Many responses ask for a better explanation of the specific vocation of their members, which is different from that of religious and lay people, and their specific participation in the church’s evangelizing mission. Others emphasize the great value of their apostolate in society and the church. Some note the great opportunities enjoyed by the consecrated laity in working in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and in drawing near to those who have grown distant. Some exhibit some difficulty in acting as leaven within society through their witness and in becoming engaged in the diocesan or parish ministry because of the discrete and private nature of their vocation. Others ask for a clarification, according to the various charisms, of their direct participation in evangelization as a realization of the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of all the baptized.
Finally, some express the desire for a clarification of the nature of clerical secular institutes and their specific character in relation to lay secular institutes.
Consecrated Virgins and Widows
34. Various responses speak about consecrated virgins, pointing out that their number is growing in the church due to the special nature of their consecration, the simplicity and adaptability of their structure, and the flexibility of canon law regarding their members and associations.
Consecrated virgins are “sacred persons” with a particular emphasis on the mystical espousal with the Lord and manifest publicly Christ’s union with the church. The Rite of Consecration of Virgins clearly expresses the meaning of their vocation in the light of tradition and the special circumstances of our times. Their charism implies a total gift of self to Christ and presupposes the observance of the evangelical counsels according to the various individual or associative forms of life and through explicitly stated norms which take into account their specific ecclesial service.
The consecrated virgins’ participation in the church’s public prayer and the character of their spiritual makeup render them particularly suitable for performing service within the church. The church, while seeing to their proper formation, accepts their vocation and consecration, and counts on their mission. Depending on their vocation and preparation, they are called to work in the church’s institutions and collaborate in the fields of culture and society, or participate in the church’s mission in bearing witness and spreading the Gospel. Their model is Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her virginal consecration, her spiritual motherhood and her dedication to the service of the Lord and his church.
At present there is special need of criteria for developing more fully the specific norms for individual consecrated virgins and associations, and for maintaining their specific nature and better delineating their vocation and mission. The bishops, upon whom consecrated virgins depend, are also asked to make a realistic study of how to meet spiritual and temporal needs of these consecrated persons, especially of those who are not in associations with others.
Some responses ask if a similar type of personal consecration for men should not be encouraged.
Likewise, the church recognizes the status of widows who publicly profess chastity in the world. Various responses refer to consecrated widows and to a special rite of blessing for widows and the existence of groups of consecrated widows. In all these cases it is a question of individuals who make a public consecration of their state in order to give new life to their baptismal vocation through the vow of perpetual chastity. In this way they express their desire to live in a spirit of poverty and obedience in order to be signs of the kingdom of God and to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the church.
The synod is asked to keep in mind the vocation of persons to the order of widows, as ancient as the church yet today undergoing a rebirth, so as to further clarify the diversity to be adopted in undertaking the evangelical counsels, the manner of preparing for public profession and the type of relationship to one’s family.
Hermits (Men and Women)
35. The church acknowledges the existence of anchorites or hermits in both East and West, even though there is a difference in the idea behind their vocation.
In the Eastern churches the eremitical vocation is lived within monasteries and regulated by special norms and by dependence on a superior or on the bishop if the hermit lives outside the monastery. It is permitted, however, to constitute by particular law other types of ascetics who imitate the eremitical life, both within institutes of consecrated life or outside of them. In the Latin church the hermit is recognized as being dedicated to God in the consecrated life if by vow or other sacred bond he publicly professes the three evangelical counsels in the presence of the diocesan bishop and observes his own norm of life under the bishop’s guidance.
The responses confirm a flourishing of this vocation and the existence of many hermits—both clerics and laymen, women and men—who live in solitude, in monasteries, in hermitages or even in the midst of people. Some religious institutes and monasteries admit the possibility of the eremitical life or the temporary choice of this experience. In this vocation many see a sign of the encounter between the cultures of the East and the West, a form of spiritual ecumenism and a new, concrete expression of total dedication to the praise of God and to penance for the salvation of the world.
In regard to hermits, there is an urgent need to clarify the conditions for accepting them, the process of discerning this vocation, and the necessary formation and spiritual guidance, as well as the way in which they become an active part of the particular churches. Possibilities should also be investigated to ensure their participation in the eucharist if they are not priests.
Societies of Apostolic Life
36. Societies of apostolic life, both of women and of men, are comparable (<accedunt>) to institutes of consecrated life but are different from them and from other forms of consecrated life in that the basis of their identity is not that of consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels but the full realization of the grace of baptism, and in case of the priesthood through their proper apostolic ministry. They live their own style of fraternal life in community and tend to the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions approved by the Holy See or the bishop, as the case may be. There are, however, societies whose members assume the evangelical counsels by some special bond defined by the constitutions. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches admits of the existence of societies of common life “<ad instar religiosorum.>”
In the history of the church many societies of apostolic life have achieved renown due to their apostolic dedication, their contribution to the mission <ad gentes> and their founding of many younger churches which are flourishing today. The responses often note that they are not known well enough and that their specific identity is not clearly understood.
The societies of apostolic life are experiencing problems similar to those of the institutes of the consecrated life, especially in their confrontation with the secularization of traditions and the small numbers in vocations in certain countries. Nevertheless, the call to the new evangelization and the particular vocation to the mission <ad gentes> naturally dispose these societies to a generous contribution to the new springtime of the Gospel which the church is beginning today with great hope.
New Communities and Revitalized Forms of Evangelical Life
37. Many responses express the need to offer some clarifications about the new forms of evangelical life which have been springing up and becoming established in various places in recent decades. The renewal of all the people of God is brought about by the Spirit through the reinvigorating of the forms of life that already exist and through raising up new ones in the course of history in response to the needs of the church.
The forms tested throughout history transmit the church’s spiritual heritage to new forms, which through their birth and development communicate to them in turn a Gospel freshness and a missionary thrust.
A primary discernment is necessary, consisting in weighing whether or not the new forms are in continuity with what is essential to the consecrated life through the profession of the evangelical counsels. Another aspect to be clarified is whether or not it involves groups of evangelical life which fit into one of the existing canonical forms. If new groups fit into already sanctioned forms, according to the original inspiration of the founders, they are approved as such. It would then be a question not of new forms, but of new institutes or societies.
The problem arises concerning those groups which, although having a great variety of expressions, are marked by a lack of uniformity in their composition such as: groups of men and women; groups where some members profess the evangelical counsels, even perpetually, while others do not; groups in which some live in apostolic communities, others in communities of a monastic type and still others who live alone in a form of consecration in the world; and groups where some are admitted to sacred orders. In some of these groups there are also families, some of whom live together while others do not. They all depend on a single president or moderator, although as a whole the entity is expressed in various branches with different persons in authority. As to the style of evangelical life, they are often characterized by strong austerity, intense prayer, the restoration of sound forms of traditional devotion, the participation of all in domestic and manual labor, simple relationships and a limited number of members. The apostolate of such groups is for the most part the following: a missionary outreach to those who are “separated” and those who have never received the Gospel; involvement in the “new evangelization”; ecumenical openness; closeness to the poor and the marginalized of every kind; and active involvement in parish structures.
Although expressed in a variety of ways, the inspiration which unites them requires a unity which is not only spiritual but structural as well. Therefore it would be a restriction of their nature and charismatic newness if canonical approval as separate entities were to be given to the various branches or sectors in accordance with previously sanctioned juridical forms. It would be like dismembering a body. Thus the question must be clarified as to whether these groups want to be recognized as a new form of the consecrated life or as associations of the faithful with the character of an ecclesial movement.
Toward New Forms of Consecrated Life?
38. The Apostolic See alone can institute a new form of the consecrated life. At this time it is necessary to examine if the experience of recent decades is sufficient to lead the Roman pontiff to institute new forms of consecrated life in the church so that such groups may have a clear discipline and the bishops can be helped in their discernment about them. It must be taken into consideration that only those who assume all three evangelical counsels can be considered members of an institute of consecrated life, while the others—married or single—who assume only a bond of obedience and share property and life in common can be considered associates with some degree of a bond as specified in the constitutions.
There exist similar associations, however, such as ecclesial movements, which do not want to be recognized as a form of the consecrated life, although they have members who assume the evangelical counsels by some form of bond, including a perpetual one. These can receive recognition as associations of the faithful, but with their own statutes, and under a form still to be specified, because the variety of their members requires the involvement of various dicasteries.
In the forms of consecrated life which the church recognizes as such, the intervention of ecclesial authority determines and mediates the act of assuming the evangelical counsels and therefore their care and discipline. From this it follows that these forms do not depend solely on the constitutions of the specific institute. In the other forms of “consecration of life,” however, the discipline of the evangelical counsels is determined instead by the statutes of the association, with the church’s intervention more or less decisive depending on whether the association is a private or public one.
Finally, some responses ask about the possibility, the opportuneness and the conditions for the church’s specific recognition of a stable form of consecrated life for married people according to the evangelical counsels.
In the Light of Vatican II
39. In the wake of Vatican II many responses ask for a confirmation of the doctrinal lines of the consecrated life in the light of the church’s mystery, communion and mission, so as to highlight its characteristic Christological and ecclesial nature, the variety of charisms and its specific identity in relation to the hierarchy and the laity.
The theology of the consecrated life, following the observations of the fathers and authors both medieval and modern, has found in our era its best expression in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church <Lumen Gentium> which, placing the mystery of communion at the center of the church’s attention, inserted in it the chapter on religious and authoritatively taught as had never been done before that “the state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels—while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the church—belongs undeniably (<inconcusse>) to her life and holiness.” The consecrated life can be understood only in the light of the mystery of the church, and the church cannot be fully understood without the consecrated life.
Placing the consecrated life within the mystery of the church, the Second Vatican Council proposed anew the call to follow Christ according to the evangelical counsels and delved deeper into the meaning of consecration in the light of baptism. It stressed how it belongs totally to the mystery of the church in the one call to holiness and to the mission of the people of God, and is in communion with the hierarchy and the laity. It emphasized its charismatic sense and the multiplicity of forms which can be traced back to some of Jesus’ actions, his teachings or aspects of his mystery and the church’s mission. It shed light on the eschatological meaning of religious profession as a radiant sign for the entire people of God, recalled the humanizing value of the counsels because whoever follows Christ, the perfect man, becomes more human. In an original synthesis Vatican II rediscovered the dimension of the founding charism and reminded institutes to return to the sources and adapt to the changed conditions of the times.
A Renewed Theological Vision
40. Currently the theology of the consecrated life, in keeping with the documents of the magisterium, is shedding light on the following new evangelical values: evangelical realism in the imitation of Jesus of Nazareth; attention to the pneumatological dimension; the prophetic role of the consecrated life; the relationship to human advancement and justice; the specific presence and mission of the consecrated woman in society and the church, called to the new evangelization; and the challenge of inculturation.
While confirming the essential, sure and constant factors emphasized by the church’s magisterium, a historical view of the theology of the consecrated life cannot fail to be open to the Spirit’s many requests to renew the charisms and raise up new ones according to the necessities of salvation history, drawing from the inexhaustible wealth of the Gospel and the mystery of Christ, who is its foundation and ever living source.
Consecrated life is fully understood in the light of the church as mystery springing from the Trinity, in the church as communion with God and all of humanity, and in the church as mission which is the revelation and communication of the Trinity for the salvation of the world. Indeed, the consecrated life, which “is a special way of sharing in the sacramental nature of the people of God,” is rooted in the vocation which comes from the Father, in the following of Christ and in adherence to his love in the consecration of the Spirit.
Its charisms and the life of its members are fully seen in the diverse, relational and complementary nature of the vocations and ministries which are proper to the ecclesiology of communion in the one body and which are expressed in the “communion of saints” toward which they tend. Finally, the consecrated life is fully realized in the mission of the church, which extends through time and space the mission of Christ and of the Spirit for the total fulfillment of the kingdom of the Father. The charism of the consecrated life is like a reflection of the Trinitarian mystery, and the variety of its gifts tends to mutual communion and to mission. For this reason it belongs to the full catholicity of the people of God, and the exchange of gifts in that people of God is brought about in part by those who, “in tending to sanctity by the narrower way, stimulate their brothers by their example” and by their missionary presence help to draw together in Christ all of humanity and its resources.
From this view flows the need for a comprehensive expression which includes the consecrated life in the mystery, communion and mission of the church. These three aspects are difficult to separate. Even if one tries to illustrate them in succession, one after the other, the distinction of one from the other would be inadequate.
I. In the Mystical Body
Sacramental and Charismatic Dimension of the Church
41. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace whose law is charity and in which gratuitousness is the basis of justice and peace. Among the gifts of the kingdom of Christ the “first gift to those who believe” is the Holy Spirit, who makes us children of God and unites us in a single body (cf. Rom. 8: 15-17; Gal 4:47). The Holy Spirit has enriched the church from the very beginning with hierarchical and charismatic gifts to enable her to accomplish her mission in the world. Indeed, “it is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and upbuilding of the church.”
In the church “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there ate different forms of service, but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Paul explains this diversity as follows: “Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then come mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration and varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28). Everything comes from Christ and all is oriented toward him: “And he (Christ) gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
In the body of Christ all the members—pastors, lay people and religious—participate each in their own way in the sacramental nature of the church, which has its roots in baptism and its summit in the eucharist. All are called to holiness and mission.
The consecrated life has an essentially ecclesial dimension in relation to the hierarchy in that through the ministry of her pastors the church not only establishes this state, but also through her action she presents it as consecrated to God. Moreover, it is the bishops, the members of the episcopal college in communion with the Roman pontiff, who wisely regulate in solidarity the practice of the evangelical counsels and authentically approve the rules which are proposed. The mission of institutes of the consecrated life and societies of apostolic life is nothing other than a participation in the church’s mission performed in communion with her pastors and in fidelity to the spirit of the founders and foundresses.
A proper ecclesiological approach could lead to a better understanding of the consecrated life in its evangelical and sacramental roots, in its organic communion and the unity of its mission.
Charism of the Consecrated Life in the Church
42. When the New Testament texts speak of charisms (cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-10,2830; Rom. 12:6-8) we do not find the terminology which allows us an expression of the vocation and mission today recognized as the consecrated life. However, in them we find the roots of the charisms as they were lived at that time. Indeed, among the charisms virginity is proposed with special emphasis. According to the words of Jesus (cf. Mt. 19:11-12) and Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7), it is a gift from on high and an eminent grace in the church. Other charisms of the apostolic community are gifts for serving the Lord and the brethren, which today are expressed in the life and mission of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.
The Second Vatican Council did not explicitly use the term charism to designate the consecrated life, but recognized in it the character of a gift which is attributed to celibacy and to the evangelical counsels. The consecrated life is the result of the action of the Spirit and belongs to the holiness, beauty and fertility of the church.
Paul VI spoke explicitly of the “charism of the religious life … (which) is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who is always at work within the church” and specifically of the “charisms of your founders who were raised up by God” as well as the “charisms of the institutes.”
In the period following the Second Vatican Council, the consecrated life has been studied, understood and lived in this light in a particular manner. A considerable portion of the effort of spiritual and apostolic renewal has been made beginning with a return to the original charisms, in dialogue with the needs of our age, but without being conformed to the world (cf. Rom. 12:2). In this light the consecrated life is understood in its unity and diversity as well as in its communion and missionary dynamism. The diversity of charisms allows the expression of different styles of community life and apostolate in the one mission. It permits the witness of different spiritual traditions, styles of community and structures of government. Participation in a collective charism contributes to a better formation for its members, produces a greater cohesiveness in the community and shapes the identity of an institute and the sense of belonging to a spiritual family. It is a source of creativity and readiness to respond to new circumstances in the human family.
The Gospel as Root and Norm
43. “The teaching and example of Christ provide the foundation for the evangelical counsels of chaste self-dedication to God, of poverty and of obedience. The apostles and fathers of the church commend them as an ideal of life, and so do her doctors and pastors. They therefore constitute a gift of God which the church has received from her Lord and which by his grace she always safeguards.” The consecrated life has its roots in the very mystery of Christ and in the Gospel. It is not a question of a historic ecclesial experience only. In its sum total—even though specific individual expressions be lacking—the consecrated life is a reality rooted in revelation and belonging to the church, a precious gift from her bridegroom and savior.
The following of Christ according to the Gospel is the fundamental norm of the consecrated life. It is the highest rule, according to the famous expressions of medieval tradition: “There is but one first and principal rule among the rules of faith and salvation from which all the others derive, like rivulets, from a single source, that is, the holy Gospel”; “to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without property and in chastity”; “to live in obedience to Jesus Christ and serve him with a pure heart and good conscience”; and “to be a soldier of Christ beneath the standard of the cross and serve the one Lord and his bride, the church.” Christ is the center of the consecrated life according to the admonition of the Benedictine Rule: “Put absolutely nothing before Christ.”
The Gospel of Christ and Christ himself, the living good news of the Father, is always the foundation of every life consecrated to God and the inexhaustible treasure from which, under the action of the Spirit, the founders and foundresses draw their inspiration and life. All their experiences are rooted in the words and example of the Master. The following of Christ is a commitment to be lived and proclaimed in such a way that in its totality and in the variety of vocations the Gospel of Jesus Christ shines forth in the world. In its every form the consecrated life seeks to live a message, an example and a mystery of the incarnate or glorious life as the whole in a fragment. However every charism is rooted in the following of Christ and every gift of self to him, just as every aspect of his life is inseparable from his person. The charisms of the consecrated life cannot be separated from the following of Christ and the gift of consecration.
Primitive monastic literature seems to be a reinterpretation of the experience in the light of the Gospel or a living exegesis of the Scriptures in the light of the experience of the monks, for example, the <Life of St. Anthony,> written by St. Athanasius. The reading of the Gospel and then of the New and Old Testaments has always been the great inspiration, the first rule of life. Discipleship, which seeks to imitate Christ and to live out in a particular fashion some of his words, appeared gradually under the influence of the Holy Spirit like a Gospel manifested in time and space, a majestic Christ made present in the church through the charisms of the saints.
Illustrating the doctrine of the church as the mystical body of Christ, Pius XII first explained the ecclesial meaning of the variety of charisms: “Just as Jesus Christ wants the individual members to be like him, he wants the whole body of the church to be so…. When she embraces the evangelical counsels, the church reproduces in herself the poverty, obedience and virginity of the Redeemer. Through the multiple and diverse institutions adorning her like so many jewels, in a certain sense she shows forth Christ in contemplation on the mountain, preaching to the people, healing the sick and wounded, calling sinners back to the right way and doing good to all.” This text was later taken up by Vatican II. Through the charisms of the consecrated life the church sees to it that Christ is shown forth with ever-increasing clarity to believers and unbelievers alike, “Christ in contemplation on the mountain, or proclaiming the kingdom of God to the multitudes, or healing the sick and maimed and converting sinners to a good life, or blessing children and doing good to all, always in obedience to the will of the Father who sent him.”
A Gospel Manifested in Time
44. The history of the consecrated life, in the unity of its inspiration, shows that throughout the centuries the emphasis has been placed on various aspects of the one Gospel of Christ, with particular reference to the needs and cultural conditions of the age. The primitive expressions are related to essential aspects of the Gospel such as following Christ, imitating him, remaining with him (cf. Mt. 19:16-26; Mk. 3:13), and total dedication to him in the assumption of virginity for the sake of the kingdom (cf. Mt. 19: 11). Other expressions are bound up with the reality of the Word and with participation in the paschal mystery of Christ, such as the evangelical “conversion” of mentality and behavior (<conversio morum>) (cf. Mk. 1:15), the call to live one’s baptism fully as a (nuptial) covenant with God, and as a profession and covenant of faith with Christ (<pistis-foedis, homologhia pros Theon>). It requires imitation and communion with his life, according to the evangelical counsels, obedience and service to Jesus Christ, the Lord and Master, adherence to his person with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34), the determined choice to serve his kingdom (cf. Mt. 19:21 and 29) and the choice of the Gospel beatitudes as one’s way of life.
New references from the Gospel progressively come to mind. For the virgins consecrated to God the ideal of life is the realization of the mystery of the church, which gives herself totally to Christ and makes the eschatological image of the bride present in the world. For the hermits of the early church it was a question of asceticism or spiritual combat and of flight from the world, in imitation of Jesus, who in the desert fasts, prays and struggles with the devil, or of the prophets like Elisha who lived in God’s presence (cf. 1 Kgs 19:11-12) where God spoke to his heart (cf. Hos. 2:16). For cenobites the gift of self to Christ is explained by the desire to imitate the “apostolic life” according to the example of the community in Jerusalem, with Christ’s abiding presence among those who are gathered in his name (cf. Mt. 18:20) and with the inspiration of an insatiable longing which constantly reappears throughout history to live in a unity of heart and mind (cf. Acts 4:32).
For others the monastic life is a substitute for the sacrifice of martyrdom, a realization of the church as a community of worship through perennial praise, the divine or angelic office and the offering (<prosphora>) of one’s own life to God in fraternal communion. Others see in it the ideal of a return to the harmony of the innocence of paradise, the disciple and bride of Christ vigilantly waiting for his return, or an anticipation of heavenly life. Some give pre-eminence to the search for God (<quaerere Deum>) especially through diligence in the <lectio divina> of Scripture, in the <vacare Deo> of contemplation or in the divine human balance of the <ora et labora> of the Benedictine Rule.
The evangelizing monks of East and West fulfill the plan of the apostolic life following the example of the group of disciples who follow Jesus and are sent by him after Pentecost to preach the Gospel to all creatures (cf. Mk. 16:15; Mt. 28:19-20). Some preach the Gospel among their own people, while others continue the universal mission to all nations, building civilizations and spreading culture. Others, however—women and men alike—draw their inspiration from the example of Christ, who was sent to preach the good news to the poor (cf. Lk. 4:18), in the creative choice of many aspects of the missionary proclamation of the good news. Or they fulfill the Gospel through the works of mercy (cf. Mt. 25:35-36ff) on behalf of the little ones, with their witness of charity and their care of the poor, the sick and the needy, with particular attention to children and young people, in accord with new social and cultural necessities.
In our day others want to be a sign of Christ by their presence in society, in culture and in the economy, like light, salt and Gospel leaven in the heart of the secular city, so that the temporal realities may be ordered to God’s plan and the world may receive life from the Gospel.
An Experience of the Spirit in the Church
45. Every charism has an essential reference to the Holy Spirit. This is how it is expressed in a well-known passage in <Mutuae Relationes,> which in turn refers to Paul VI’s <Evangelica Testificatio:> “The ‘charism of the founders’ appears as an ‘experience of the Spirit’ transmitted to their followers to be lived by them, to be preserved, deepened and constantly developed in harmony with the body of Christ continually in a process of growth.”
The Holy Spirit works in a wonderful manner in the life of the church, bringing full understanding of the truth of Christ, actualizing his life in her members and preparing his kingdom. The Holy Spirit has the role of raising up, through truly “spiritual” men and women, charisms of spirituality and apostolic activity, with a creativity and opportuneness adapted to the needs of the time. He elicits within the church, the mystical body of Christ, a continual growth of new energies which are a living witness to the Gospel of Christ. From the viewpoint of Christology and an ecclesiology of the church as the body of Christ which grows continually through ministries and charisms (cf. Eph. 4:16), the consecrated life in all its forms acknowledges the Holy Spirit as its invisible creator and the source of its renewal.
The consecrated life is a call to holiness because of God’s choice of a person, the gift of consecration through the ministry of the church and the commitment to imitate and serve Christ. Thus, in the churches of the East and West the charisms of the consecrated life are born from an experience of holiness. Many founders and foundresses were called to the highest degree of conformity to Christ in their life and service of the church. Many of them have been officially recognized as blessed or saints by the church. In such a way, religious families owing their origin to them are, as it were, their abiding presence and a continuation of their experience of grace.
Every charism points to the mystery of Christ and to charity, the greatest of charisms, the center and unity of them all. It does this with the freshness of a new synthesis of supernatural values and with a genuine and incisive exegesis of the Gospel. Every founder and foundress is like a word which in its depths bears the divine charity which enlivens and unites everything.
“Strive Eagerly for the Greatest of Spiritual Gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31)
46. The consecrated life has its essential reference point in the church. It is an outflow of her mystery and expresses the richness of her charismatic nature and the manifold wisdom of God.
The liturgy of religious profession for women expresses the beauty of the church as a bride in these words: “Holy church shines with a rich variety of charisms, a bride adorned with jewels, a queen robed in grace, a mother rejoicing in her children.”
These charisms are of the church and for the church. They make the Gospel and the historical forms of holiness and spirituality present. These charisms are also destined to contribute to the effectiveness of the exchange of gifts throughout the church. A church called to the new evangelization needs to receive from the Spirit of Christ an outpouring of grace which will strengthen the charisms for the growth of the entire people of God in communion and mission.
A life lived according to an authentic charism must be consistent with the fruits of the Spirit in such a way that charity and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, fidelity, meekness and moderation (cf. Gal. 5:22) shine forth in individuals and communities. Even though the renewal of the charism—in being docile to the “authentic promptings of a real creativity in the life of the Spirit and of the church”—might call into question customs, traditions, spiritual practices and methods of the apostolate, this must never be a pretext for confusion and disunity, because God “is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).
Every institute must take particular care to delve deeper into, assimilate and manifest its essential core, which is characterized by its foundation in Christ and in the Gospel, and by its communion with the other ecclesial vocations. Totally new charisms can come into existence, or existing ones can receive a wider purpose, in response to the action of the Spirit in the world, in peoples, in cultures.
All are called to consider the apostle’s teaching: “Do not stifle the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good” (1 Thes. 5:19-20); “strive eagerly for the greatest of spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), for charity, in such a way that “as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace, … so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 4:10-11).
A Divine Call
47. The theology of the consecrated life expressed by Vatican II and the later documents of the magisterium has pointed out the unity of vocation, consecration and mission in an experience of life which bears the seal of the Trinity.
God the Father, through Christ and under the inspiration of the Spirit, draws certain people with a divine call to follow Christ more closely. The response to this call is always a grace: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn. 15:16); it is expressed in the total offering of one’s life in a covenant with God and in the service of his kingdom. In this way, God the Father inserts into his plan of salvation (cf. Eph. 1:4-5, 9-10) those whom he chooses and calls them to be conformed to the image of his Son (cf. Rom. 8:29-30). Monastic and ecclesial tradition have found in some Gospel passages, in the broadest context of the call to discipleship and apostolate, a valid motivation for understanding the vocation of religious and other members of institutes of consecrated life. The call made by Jesus of Nazareth endures in time in the church; the risen Lord continues to gather his disciples about him.
Many Gospel passages have been interpreted as the basis of the consecrated life. Among these we should mention the call of the apostles: “He summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him” (Mk. 3:13); the invitation to leave everything and follow him: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the]poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21 and par.); the gift of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom (cf. Mt. 19:11-12) in order to please the Lord in everything and be concerned with his affairs, with an undivided heart, in holiness of body and spirit; and a call which is already manifest in the apostolic church (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34).
The consecrated life is a loving response to the divine call, involving a particular choice to follow Christ intimately in total adherence, under the action of the Holy Spirit in consecration and mission.
Evangelical Discipleship and Communion With Christ
48. Through their vows or other sacred bonds, religious and members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life intend to observe the many counsels in the Gospel, which the Lord gives his disciples to observe. Foremost among these is “that precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father (cf. Mt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7) to bind themselves to God alone more easily with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34) in virginity or celibacy.” This counsel and charism involves a genuine covenant with God, rooted in baptism, from which the profession of the evangelical counsels originates.
The closer following of Christ through the evangelical counsels is achieved in faith, hope and love, and expressed in imitation and service, in communion with Christ the bridegroom and Lord of one’s life, in participation in his mysteries and in adherence to everything that belongs to him. In imitation of Paul the ideal of the consecrated life is expressed in leaving behind all things and in a life of teaching out to the Lord and participating fully in his paschal mystery in order “to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the]sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (cf. Phil. 310-11).
The evangelical counsels, lived in the broader context of the beatitudes, have the power to conform a person to the crucified and risen Christ. “Religious, therefore, faithful to their profession and leaving all things for Christ’s sake (cf. Mk. 10:28), should follow him, regarding this as the one thing necessary (cf. Lk. 10:39), and should be solicitous for all that is his (1 Cor. 7:32).”
Sharing in Christ’s Consecration
49. Consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels has meaning only in the light of Christ. He is the consecrated one par excellence, as is expressed by his name, the Christ. He is the Son, “the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world” (Jn. 10:36), Jesus of Nazareth, whom “God anointed … with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). His is a consecration for the sake of mission:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk. 4:18). The response to this interior anointing is the total dedication of the Son who always lives in the Father’s presence and dedicates himself to the Father’s affairs (cf. Lk. 2:49) and to fulfilling his will to the point of giving up his life (cf. Heb. 10:59). His offering is also a total gift to the Father on behalf of his disciples and humanity: “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn. 17:19).
In summary, we may say, “The fuller expression (of consecration) recalls the hold of the divine person of the Word over the human nature which he assumed, and it invites a response like that of Jesus: a dedication of oneself to God in a way which he alone makes possible and which witnesses to his holiness and absoluteness. Such a consecration is a gift of God: a grace freely given.”
Consecration Rooted in Baptism
50. Through baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit all Christians are consecrated people of God and are given the ability to make an evangelical and filial response in the imitation of Christ. The Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, consecrates the faithful, places them in communion with Christ and the Father, and makes them capable of living fully the demands of discipleship and mission.
Inserting the theology of religious life into the sacramental dimension of the church, Vatican II highlighted its relationship with baptismal consecration and its demands: “The members of each institute should recall, first of all, that when they made their profession of the evangelical counsels they were responding to a divine call so that, not merely being dead to sin (cf. Rom. 6:11) but renouncing the world also, they might live for God alone. They have dedicated their whole lives to this service. This constitutes a special consecration which is deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration and is a fuller expression of it.” Consecration consists of a grace of election and a particular gift of the Spirit, who takes possession of the person, configures him to Christ and enables him to live his proper charism according to the evangelical counsels. At the same time, it is also a response of self-giving, accepted and recognized through the 116 church’s ministry. Just as baptism and confirmation are the first and fundamental consecration of each of Jesus’ disciples, who thereby participate in his paschal mystery and the mystery of Pentecost in order to live as a member of Christ’s faithful in the church, so too consecration according to the solidity and stability of the vows or other bonds is a gift of the Spirit, uniting the person to Christ’s mystery and mission.
The liturgy of the Latin church clearly expresses this theology in the Rite of Religious Profession and in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins. In the solemn blessing of the professed or of virgins the gift of the Holy Spirit is invoked upon them before they make the offering of their life in the eucharistic sacrifice.
This gift is always for the sake of communion and mission. This consecration is achieved in giving oneself to the service of Christ in ecclesial communion, according to the apostolate of each form of life. This gift finds its celebration and daily renewal in the eucharist.
Gift and Obligation of the Evangelical Counsels
51. Vocation, consecration and mission find their own distinctive expression and fulfillment in the gift or charism of the evangelical counsels. When God calls, consecrates and sends a person, he is simply molding a new personality and making it capable of responding to the task which he intends to assign. In essence, the gift of the counsels consists in a share in the specific chastity, poverty and obedience of Christ, or in a special conformity to the chaste, poor and obedient Christ, and in an introduction into his personal manner of living and working.
Jesus’ form of life is not based on the demands and development of the dynamisms of nature, but directly on the values of the kingdom, going beyond those goods which in the Creator’s plan ordinarily help a person to grow and develop. He does not look to anything other than the goods of the kingdom, which have become his portion and lot. His chastity is a perfect communion of love with the Father, an absolute openness and communication with him, without the least degree of withdrawal or searching for self. His obedience is a total dedication to the Father’s will and a complete ability to fulfill it even in the smallest details. This explains why Jesus’ form of life is exclusively his and why whoever is called to follow it in history must be graced with a special gift enabling the person to accept it as his own. In the gift of the counsels the Spirit conforms the person who has been called to Christ, who has no other good than the kingdom, has no other love than that which flows from Christ for his brothers and sisters, and has no plan but that of the Father.
After being aware of and experiencing this gift, one responds with the gift of self through vows or other sacred bonds. The obligation of the one called to make the counsels the content of one’s life—even before being an offering and a sacrifice—is the joyous acknowledgment of the offer to participate in and to follow the very same plan of life which the Lord had. It is a gift so great that one must invest one’s whole life in order to accept and preserve it. The vow is the unconditional restitution of oneself to God as well as an offering of self, precisely because it is the acceptance of a gift. All this involves a total immersion in the life of the Redeemer and constitutes an excellent realization of the mystical dimension of life, subsumed entirely by the Spirit, becoming an extension in time of Christ and vitalized by a love which represents the choice of God alone: with all one’s mind, all one’s heart and all one’s strength (cf. Mk. 12:30).
52. “Chastity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt. 19:22) … must be esteemed as an exceptional gift of grace. It uniquely frees the heart of a person (cf. 1 Cor. 1:32- 35), so as to become more fervent in love for God and for all of humanity. For this reason it is a special symbol of heavenly benefits, not to mention a most effective means offered to religious so as to enable them to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to divine service and the works of the apostolate.”
Paul VI emphasized that virginal chastity “reaches, transforms and imbues with a mysterious likeness to Christ a person’s being in its most hidden depths.”
By its very nature and intrinsic demands, Christian virginity is oriented toward worship and service, that is, to the worship of the body of Christ in the eucharist, and to the service of the mystical body—all members of the body of Christ—but in the first place, to the poor and suffering with whom Christ particularly identifies. Chastity above all makes people capable of having hearts filled with mercy and open to all God’s children, whom they see as their brothers and sisters—members of the same body—with no limitation placed by gender or social condition. Just as matrimony generates the human family, so too virginity generates the divine family. The body which is offered in sacrifice, going beyond the ties of flesh and blood, becomes that of Christ, the source of life for all. Virginity also generates fellowship. It enables a person to live better the mystery of communion in one’s community. On the other hand, the community is the environment in which chastity is preserved and matures in simplicity and in the joy of love and mutual friendship.
An authentic formation in chastity cannot ignore the natural and supernatural means which lead to the fulfillment of mature and joyful people. Today’s cultural context presents serious difficulties in the work of educating people to embrace chastity. These difficulties should be given attentive consideration. They also call for a lengthy discernment process of vocations.
53. “Voluntary poverty undertaken in following Christ—which is much esteemed, especially nowadays—…enables them to share in the poverty of Christ, who for our sake became poor, though he was rich, so that we might become rich through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Mt. 8:20).”
In a positive sense, living in poverty means feeling seized and possessed by the desire for God and spending oneself totally for the “coming of his kingdom,” especially among those who await it most anxiously and who are its primary recipients: the poor and marginalized. To the act of dying radically to all earthly interests is grafted and developed a concern for the new life which is “being about the Father’s business” (cf. Lk. 2:49) and beginning, here and now, to prepare a place in which the kingdom can become incarnate and manifested. The poor person, who has chosen not to seek his own salvation in earthly possessions and has found it in communion with Christ, cannot help but feel obliged to work so that everyone may discover this same experience. Such a person will do all in total dedication and without any self-interest so as to help others perceive the kingdom present in Jesus and to make its acceptance easier through the adoption of a more human and consistent style of life.
Sensitivity to the poor, the spread of an inordinate degree of poverty in our world and an easy consumerism all call the consecrated life into question. The responses offer a pressing call to consecrated persons for a clear witness of personal and communal poverty, of diligent work, of detachment, of total availability and of the effective sharing of spiritual and material resources.
54. “After the example of Jesus Christ, who came to do his Father’s will (cf. Jn. 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:7; Ps. 39:9) and who ‘taking the form of a servant’ (Phil. 2:7) learned obedience through what he suffered (cf. Heb. 5:8), religious moved by the Holy Spirit subject themselves in faith to those who hold God’s place, their superiors. Through them they are led to serve all their brothers and sisters in Christ, just as Christ ministered to his brothers in submission to the Father and laid down his life for the redemption of many (cf. Mt. 20:28; Jn. 10:14-18). They are thus bound more close]y to the church’s service and they endeavor to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
By the vow of obedience, consecrated persons submit to legitimate authority in order to know and fulfill God’s will. The renunciation of their own individual plans allows a constant and total reference to the Father’s will, so that they may share fully in that freedom of the children of God, which is revealed as a greater capacity to love and serve. This love is freedom so that the will may be conformed to that of Christ in seeking only what involves the Father’s business. Obedience is first and foremost an entrance into the Father’s affairs and a capacity to bring them to fulfillment. Agreeing to die to their own will, the consecrated persons take on the horizons of the freedom of God himself. Obedience becomes a source of apostolic energy. Those who have made Christ’s interests their own cannot help but give their all for the coming of his kingdom. Seen in this context, any obedience which might be called passive or a lack of responsibility would immediately be a conflict in terms.
In present-day circumstances the vow of obedience needs to be carefully evaluated from the vantage point of its Christological foundation and its personal and communal dimensions, as they relate to the evangelical exercise of authority and its implications for apostolic activity in availability and communion for the service of the kingdom.
Witnesses to the Paschal Mystery
55. Since all the baptized are called to holiness, they must observe the evangelical virtues of chastity, poverty and evangelical obedience in imitation of Christ. However, some are called by the Lord to live a radical expression of these evangelical counsels through vows or other sacred bonds, which make them participate in the <kenosis> of the Savior. Where the three evangelical counsels express the total offering of the person, they also include other features which are an expression, as it were, of Christ’s unique filial attitude to the Father in the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.
Those who are called to the profession of the counsels reveal and realize the most paradoxical dimension of the Christian life—that of Christ crucified and risen. The choice of chastity, poverty and obedience expresses the resolution to participate in Christ’s sacrifice and the glory of his resurrection.
The evangelical counsels have a profound paschal dimension because they presuppose an identification with Christ and with his death and resurrection. Therefore, they must be lived with the same attitude as Christ, who “emptying himself,” was obedient to death, even death on the cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-8). At the same time, however, they impart a share in the joy of the new life to which we are called, so that the Father’s saving will may be done in all things. Through the profession of the evangelical counsels consecrated persons become witnesses to the Lord’s resurrection and the transforming power of his Spirit of Pentecost.
Today’s society does not seem particularly ready to accept the meaning and message of the evangelical counsels. However, it is not the counsels which are not understood, but the fundamental Christian virtues themselves of poverty (detachment, moderation, hard work, solidarity), of chastity (continence, self-control, free offering) and obedience (submission, readiness to serve) which find no room in a materialistic, consumeristic and self-sufficient world. These virtues are an effective means for bringing about a revolution arising from the Gospel. Although consecrated persons respect and defend private property, conjugal love and free initiative, and work hard to see to it that no one is deprived of what is needed to live, to form a family and to provide for their own future, they must show clearly that one can be poor, celibate, dependent and a servant while at the same time being rich in life, love and freedom, because “whoever follows Christ the perfect man becomes all the more human.”
Consecrated persons proclaim that beyond any created good whatsoever, God alone is the only good that satisfies the human person and that it is in him alone that one can achieve the fullness of the Beatitudes. “The religious give outstanding and striking testimony that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the Beatitudes.”
56. Since the consecrated life is an image of church communion in its internal workings, it is an expression of the mutual charity in love which distinguishes Christ’s disciples. From the beginning and to this very day, the passage of the Acts of the Apostles describing the Christian community as one in heart and mind (cf. Acts 4:32) has remained open to a vital exegesis. The fathers call it the “holy <koinonia>.” Vatican II proposed it as the paradigm of community life.
The life of communion takes its inspiration from the fraternal communion manifested by Christ in the law of mutual love and by the fellowship and equality of his disciples (cf. Jn. 20: 19-23), in the image of the Trinity (cf. Jn. 17:21-23). For some, unity in love is an obligation allowing them to enjoy the continual presence of Christ promised to those gathered in his name (cf. Mt. 18:20). For others, it is a question of reproducing the community of the apostles in mission. As a result of the evangelical character of the vocation, sometimes a community draws its inspiration from various biblical models: the model of Nazareth, the home in Bethany (cf. Lk. 10:38-42), the group of disciples chosen to be with the Master (cf. Mk. 313-14) or the women disciples who follow and serve him (cf. Lk. 8:1-3). Others are inspired by the Last Supper in the Upper Room, by the Lord’s appearance and presence in the midst of the disciples (cf. Jn. 19:23) or the wait with Mary, the mother of Jesus, for the coming of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).
The reality of community life has also been expressed in a variety of symbols: fellowship, church, assembly, temple made up of living stones, a body having different members, a circle with God as its center. In this circle, under the inspiration of charity, all the rays converge with the effect that the closer we are to God, the closer we are to our brothers and sisters, and the closer we are to our brothers and sisters, the closer we are to God.
The diversity of types of community expresses the variety of images and values in the church. Monastic stability expresses in prayer and work the fellowship of liturgy and life; the itinerant community manifests the evangelizing church setting out on mission, however needing to preserve unity; and a community dedicated to organized apostolic activity expresses the solidarity, effectiveness and fidelity of a common endeavor. There are also communities living among the poor or other needy groups, bearing witness to the church’s closeness to them. Finally there are groups or individuals such as consecrated virgins, hermits or members of secular institutes who take part in various workplaces where they, like Gospel leaven, share the everyday activities of modem life as well as the anxiety and the poverty of the most marginalized.
For all of these, community life is an ideal and a means to follow. Christ wants his disciples to be configured to this transcendent model of the Trinity reflected in community. However, it is a taxing journey which requires maturity in both human and evangelical virtues; a sharing in fellowship and friendship in the joys and sorrows of life; a solidarity in the apostolic mission; and a constant generosity in mutual love to the point of giving up one’s life.
In the community dimension the vocation of the individual leads to an awareness of a “convocation” by God. Consecration becomes an experience of communion and of coming together in the love of Christ, and mission is a call to share the apostolic ideal. Although they have a purely personal dimension, it is in communion that the evangelical counsels take on their authentic human and divine dynamism, that is: chastity as maturity in interpersonal relationships; poverty as a sharing of material and spiritual goods; and obedience in freedom as a convergence and unity of intentions and work—under the guidance of authority—in the practice of dialogue and community discernment in what is for the greater glory of God.
Fraternal Communion and Fraternal Life in Common
57. The dimension of fraternal communion is a constitutive part of every form of consecrated life, in that it is a sign of what the church is in her mystery. In the church as communion—an image of the Trinity—the consecrated life is presented as a visible, prophetic reminder of the communion which the whole church must already be living and which, at the same time, is her ultimate goal.
The concrete ways in which this dimension is realized, however, differ greatly among the various forms of the consecrated life and within communities of the same type as well. In fact, consecrated persons such as hermits, consecrated virgins living in the world and consecrated widows embrace an individual form of consecration beyond any forms of association which they might undertake. They achieve fraternal communion substantially in their relationship to the church and her mystery as such. The members of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life concretize this fraternal communion in forms of common life, but in as many different ways as there are institutes and societies, each according to their own charism and purpose. Although the members of secular institutes do not live a common life, they express fraternal communion in their profound bond with their own institute or by forming groups for living a fraternal life.
The first reference point of fraternal communion is the faith by which the many become one heart and mind (cf. Acts 4:32). Community calls upon the faith of the church, expressing, celebrating and fulfilling it. An act of faith is never a solitary act. Faith generates communion in virtue of the central mystery of the Christian faith, the Trinitarian mystery. The confession of the Trinitarian faith recognizing God as “mutual gift” does not cancel out the differences: Communication presupposes distinction.
Fraternal communion is rooted and founded in charity because through charity, the bond of perfection (cf. Col. 3:14), we have passed from death to life. The summit of community life is the eucharist. The consecrated person does not place his hope in an ideal—no matter how noble it may be—but in the person of the risen Lord. Jesus’ resurrection, to which consecrated persons bear witness, opens them up to hope for total fulfillment in the future. Bearing witness to the risen Christ means becoming apostles. Thus, the dimension of fraternal communion in the consecrated life becomes the bearer of the good news of God’s liberating love.
In group expressions of the consecrated life—religious institutes, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life—following Christ, the poor, chaste and obedient one in company with others means becoming an example in the church and in the world. In other words, it means that apostolic fraternal communion, in its various forms and in conformity with each group’s nature and purpose, bears witness to faith, hope and charity.
Growing in Communion
58. The common life in itself is charged with supernatural and spiritual value. First and foremost the accent must be placed on “being” communion, and afterward on “doing” something. Action cannot precede being. Since consecration in itself is a gift which God has given to his church, the fraternal life in common is also a gift which comes from God and which the members of an institute or society must first of all receive. Afterward, the members must preserve and develop this gift by the means found in the Spirit, each according to its nature, character, spirituality and end. Any type of strict uniformity exercised among various communities or within individual communities produces a negative effect on the identity of the charism of the institute or society.
The religious community, regardless of the concrete form it may assume because of the nature and goal of the institute, should not fail to take into account certain elements to bring about an authentic renewal. Therefore, the community ought to be the place in which—through personal and communal prayer according to the spirituality proper to each institute—the experience of God can mature for each member and be shared with others. The community ought to be a place where mutual love matures and is fulfilled, and where freedom and solidarity are not seen as separate entities, but as mutually inclusive in virtue of an effective participation in the paschal mystery. The community must be a witness, a proclamation, a service and a gift to others in the apostolate of silence, prayer and penance, or in the apostolate of works, contributing to the church’s mission in accordance with the charism of the institute.
The community is, in the famous expression of medieval tradition, “the school of the service of the Lord” and the “school of charity.” It is therefore a community of disciples in continual formation so that they might grow together in Christ through a communication and commitment which is always inspired by mutual charity.
Service of Authority and Communion
59. The service of authority is fundamental to the order of fraternal life. For this reason the religious community or society of apostolic life must be under the authority of a superior whose primary task is to work to build a fraternal community in which God is sought and loved above all other things.
It is necessary to reflect on what has been so rightly stated in <Mutuae Relationes,> a document which describes the functions of religious superiors in analogy with the ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing proper to pastors and bishops in particular.
Whoever presides over the community should see himself first of all as a master of the spirit who, exercising a function or ministry of teaching, imparts true spiritual direction to the community and an authoritative teaching exercised in Christ’s name about the charism of the institute. Superiors serve God in the measure in which they promote the authenticity of community life and serve their brethren by helping them to fulfill their vocation in the truth.
Inasmuch as they authentically interpret a collective charism shared by all the members of the community, superiors must be capable of letting themselves be helped and enlightened by their council and the other structures of participation or consultation. In fact, all the members of an institute share the responsibility of fulfilling the founding charism. This shared responsibility is expressed precisely through consultative or participative bodies, which vary from one institute to another, depending on their own nature and purpose. The superior fulfills a ministry of sanctification on behalf of all the members of the institute or community. Such a function is expressed in the growth of the life of charity of individuals and community in the observance of the evangelical counsels in accordance with the spirit of the institute.
Through the service of authority community life is ordered to its own particular end and charism. The role of authority is that of a sure and authoritative guide, of inspiration and encouragement so that an environment of fraternal communion can be created, one which can facilitate personal spiritual growth and the fulfillment of the apostolic mission, without, however, declining the responsibility to decide whenever necessary.
In order for this threefold ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing to be exercised correctly, the administration of a community should be both spiritual and personal in nature so that a true spiritual relationship may be established among all its members.
Life of Communion and Apostolate
60. The charism of the apostolate is a common patrimony. All members of an institute or society participate in it by their vocation and, responding to the gift of consecration, are open to its sanctifying activity. In this way, they form a community, a group organized in common life and works, bearing public witness to divine charity in the church and in the world. Here, there is a true shared responsibility, even if lived according to the various functions performed.
Fraternal life in common cannot be separated from apostolic activity, otherwise a dangerous separation would result. Apostolic activity is essentially communal, even when it is performed by individual members.
Christ is the origin of fraternal life in community and of apostolic mission. Christ calls to himself those whom he chooses and invites them, as belonging to a particular institute or society, to extend his mission in the world under a particular aspect. Therefore, the basis of their being gathered in a single apostolic activity is their love for Christ, who calls individuals and sends them on a communal mission.
There must be a growing awareness that the apostolic mission is given as a charism by Christ, first and foremost, to the founder or foundress. This is a collective charism passed on to each member and to individual communities only through the institute which extends the charism in time. The individual mission comes from Christ but is part of the church’s one hierarchical mission, in communion with the pope and the college of bishops, and is mediated by the institute because it is a share in a common mission. Therefore, every member is personally responsible for fulfilling this mission and ought to live the specific mission he has received from the superiors as the mission of the whole institute. The mission given by the superior in the name of the institute guarantees that the activity performed by the individual or a particular community is consistent with the mission of the whole institute in communion with the universal and particular church.
Participating in the Church’s Mission
61. What makes the entire institute a true apostolic community is not the fact that it is spread throughout the whole world or the juridical fact of the mutual and perpetual bond which binds all the members in one institute, but the internal and more basic element of the union of souls, that is, the fraternal communion rooted in and founded on the charity of Christ, who gathers the members together and sends them forth. The life of fraternal communion per se is not conferred by simply being together and sharing in an external organization of life. Rather it derives from living one’s entire life with reference to the institute and in communion with the other members, with whom one shares the same charism of mission. Thus, at the level of the local community it is not the physical fact of living under the same roof or the juridical element of an individual’s being sent to a specific community which makes a group of persons an apostolic community, rather it is the charism—mission lived together in a particular apostolate. What unites the members of a community in an apostolic fraternal life is the desire to fulfill the plan of the common mission.
Fidelity to the charism calls all the members of an apostolic community to work together for the same end and determines the way that community life is organized. The common apostolic project to be achieved is the main point of reference for every individual community and the way in which each member of it “creates community.”
The convergence of all the members in a single apostolic endeavor is the expression of the union of souls in mutual charity and therefore of the love of Christ. However, as a sign of its authenticity and a support in its expression, this convergence needs a whole range of communal forms and activities which promote each single member’s exchange of ideas, sharing and cooperation in the apostolate, even in cases in which not all the members of a community participate in the same apostolate.
The community is not prior to the mission in that the former is not located in some sphere extraneous to the latter, rather it is achieved in and through the same apostolic activity. Mission is not only the consequence or fruit of an intense fraternal life in community, it is also the environment in which the unity of the members of the community is expressed and achieved.
Delving deeper into the mystery of the church, the Second Vatican Council presented the nature of the church and her universal mission as inextricably linked: “The church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all people.” A good understanding of the church does not separate her mystery from her mission. Mission is not an appendage, but an integral part of her most intimate nature. Indeed, the church accepts the gift of Trinitarian communion, incarnates it and communicates it as the offering and gift of salvation which she herself has received. Thus, the church is the “universal sacrament of salvation.” Her sacramental structure, the elements incorporated in her and the vocations and charisms which enrich her must be understood in the light of mission. The essence of her mission, in continuation of the mission of the incarnate Word and of the Spirit, is to manifest God’s saving love, a gift given in mystery. Thus mission is not to be confused with its various expressions, expressions determined by the communication of the life-giving love of God in the diverse ministries and activities of the apostolate.
In essence mission is not the church’s own. It proceeds from God and is oriented toward him. It finds its ultimate purpose, nature and manifold richness in the mystery of the Trinity. It is essential for mission to make visible the mystery of love which is the life of the Trinity.
Unity of Consecration and Mission
62. Mission is in itself more than an activity or apostolate. As Christ was consecrated and sent into the world (cf. Jn. 10:36), making his whole life a salvific mission, in a similar manner consecrated persons, called to reproduce in themselves the image of the firstborn Son (cf. Rom. 8:29) through the action of the Spirit, must make their whole life a mission.
The mission of consecrated life in the church takes its initiative from its experience of God which is open to all dimensions of life: to prayer, to the witness of fraternal life, to the courageous proclamation of the Gospel, to commitment to justice and human advancement.
The unity of consecration and mission is founded on the theology of creation and incarnation, and has its unity in Christ, the Word of God who became man and came to dwell among us. As God’s gift to the church and the world, it jointly manifests a prophetic witness to the kingdom and its eschatological dimension. Consecrated persons are called to an ever fuller and more mature integration of the various aspects of their life. Indeed, they must feel that they are in a relationship with the world and yet separated from it, and called to work in the world but like the leaven as mentioned in the Gospel. In this way, not only can they offer the loving service of their life in Christ’s name, but they can also propose a renewed vision of the true meaning and value of earthly things and a clear understanding of the necessary interdependence among people, the basis of every community and society.
Whoever is called by Christ to be a disciple should feel fully engaged in his mission as an apostle. Those who choose to spend their whole life in communicating the Gospel manifest the supreme value of love.
Unity and Variety of Mission
63. The apostolate of consecrated persons consists first and foremost in the witness of their life. This holds true also for societies of apostolic life and members of secular institutes. In religious institutes such witness is public and explicit, as well as personal and communal.
In institutes wholly dedicated to contemplation, the contemplative life itself is the mission. Their mission is also the witness and outreach with which they live a prayerful communion with the Father through the Spirit, as Christ did during his earthly life. They express the attitude of the virgin mother, who in her heart pondered the words of her Son (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).
In institutes dedicated to apostolic works, mission belongs to its very nature. Avoiding every idea of a dichotomy, their members are called to live the unity of experiencing Jesus in communion with the Father and in dedication to others in such a way that all their activity is imbued with a religious spirit. Societies of apostolic life and missionary institutes highlight the church’s missionary outreach and represent Jesus traveling to various places to preach the Gospel. Secular institutes live mission in secular situations and make Jesus visibly alive in the midst of people, working in the world through the evangelical charisms.
Great opportunities for the church’s mission are opening up today such as: involvement in new cultural situations; the explosion of poverty; the fall of messianic ideologies; a new hunger for the transcendent; and the opening up of new horizons for the proclamation of the Gospel. Today’s situations have created new opportunities and new “<aeropauses>” for the mission of the consecrated life in the present and in the near future, as will be more explicit in the fourth part of the <instrumentum laboris.>
A Prophetic and Transcendent Sign
64. The mission of the consecrated life has a special prophetic role in the midst of the people of God, which is prophetic by its very nature. First of all, consecration itself is already a prophecy in virtue of the fact that it bears witness to Gospel values, which frequently are counter-cultural in a society marked by secularism. Such values are a prophetic rejection of the idols which this world is always tempted to adore. Moreover, it is always destined to evoke questions in those who are pursuing purely earthly goals. Therefore, when it is lived fully and in joyful thanksgiving, the consecrated life is a prophecy pointing to ultimate realities, the definitive goal of every created thing and the final destiny of every event of human history, the earth and the universe. This prophecy is needed more than ever in an era like our own, marked by a lack of clarity about various human longings. Therefore, the consecrated life is considered “a very clear symbol of the heavenly kingdom.”
The consecrated life is a prophetic sign when it makes the primacy of God’s love present and visible. It witnesses to that presence through the particular charism of the individual institutes, lived in service of the poor and abandoned, of the victims of violence and injustice, and of the new poor who make society’s panorama a sad one. This service is done in imitation of the founder’s compassion and mercy, and with a sensitivity for human rights and the just cause of human advancement.
A courageous prophetic effort, undertaken for the future of humanity and to assure God’s presence in the future, is also expected from the synod so that hope for the future of the consecrated life can be better developed in light of an authentic Christian service of the whole human person and all of humanity, the intended recipients of the salvation brought by Jesus Christ.
In Communion With the Virgin Mary
65. Many responses emphasize the need to present the Virgin Mary in the consecrated life as the model and mother of Jesus’ disciples. Mary is the model of the response to the divine call and of the basic character of following Christ. She is the person consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her life is total adherence to the mission of Christ and the church.
In the church, under the action of the Holy Spirit, consecrated persons choose “that kind of poor and virginal life which Christ the Lord chose for himself and which his virgin mother embraced,” together with Joseph, who is also a particular master for those called to the contemplative life or the apostolate.
Through her unconditional response to the divine call and her interior consecration through the Holy Spirit she is the model of vocation and of total self-giving to God. She lived virginity for the sake of the kingdom, humility, evangelical poverty and a total obedience to God’s plan. She is the first disciple and the incomparable example of following Christ, the Lord. Through her total dedication to the mystery and mission of her Son, she shines as a model of apostolic and ecclesial service. In her life, which is “a model for all,” the charisms of the consecrated life are reflected as in a mirror. Both in the solitude of monasteries and in the midst of the events of the world and society, she is the model of spouse and virgin—especially for consecrated women—in her dedication to contemplation and self-sacrifice for the apostolate.
Many institutes have an explicit reference to the mother of God in their names. However, all institutes, guided by their founders, spontaneously recognize Mary’s motherly presence as a bond of communion within their own institutes and, either explicitly or implicitly, see in their own style of life and apostolate a special dimension of the life and mystery of Mary. Indeed, she is the ark of the new covenant; the handmaid of the Lord in the poverty of the <anawim>; the mother of fair love from Bethlehem to Calvary and beyond; the obedient virgin whose yes to the Lord changed our history; the contemplative woman who treasured everything in her heart; the missionary who hastened to visit Elizabeth; the only person attentive to the needs at Cana; the steadfast witness at the foot of the cross; and the center of unity which sustained the young church gathered to await the Holy Spirit. As mother of the consecrated one and of the one sent by the Father, by her <fiat> and her <magnificat,> Mary teaches everyone to abandon themselves to God, joyfully to proclaim God’s praise and to become involved with God in salvation history, especially on behalf of the poor and lowly.
Genuine Marian spirituality in the consecrated life is nourished through a knowledge of Mariology and through the promotion of liturgical worship and popular devotion. However, it is fostered primarily through a Marian lifestyle and apostolate, one which helps manifest in the world the mystery of Trinitarian love, in communion with the holy mother of the Lord and open to all the needs of the world, especially to the needs of those who are the most poor and needy in body and spirit.
I. Ecclesiology of Communion
The Church as Communion
66. On the basis of the teaching of Vatican II, the 1985 extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops affirmed that the ecclesiology of communion is the foundation of the church’s ordering and of a proper relationship between unity and pluriformity in her. This has also been confirmed by other documents and is in conformity with the nature of the church and the <sensus fidei.>
In baptism a person is constituted a child of the Father through the power of the one Spirit, in the only begotten Son. In participating in the body and blood of the Lord, one enters into a deep union with all the other faithful, who together form in him one body, the church. The church is a communion because, as the work of the three divine persons, she is “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
By sharing through baptism in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, there is a true equality in dignity and in action in that everyone, called to holiness in the exercise of charity, works together in building up the body of Christ and discharges the mission which God has entrusted to the church to accomplish in the world. The church is constituted as the communion of saints in that all the faithful, sharing in the same goods of salvation (the “holy things”), are made holy in the bond of charity and in union of prayer. However, every believer concretely fulfills his vocation to holiness by building up the body of Christ in his own way according to the gifts received from the Spirit and according to the ministries and services he is called to perform in the church. This in turn actualizes a communion of charisms and ministries. Equality is thus enriched by a pluriform diversity.
Sacramental, Hierarchical and Charismatic Communion
67. The church as a body (cf. Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12ff.; Eph. 4:4) shows how her members are both unified and diverse at one and the same time. The church is a communion founded on her sacraments, ministries and charisms. There are different gifts of the Spirit and therefore diverse ministries and functions of the church’s members; however, all are unified by the action of the one Spirit.
The universal church—and her image, the particular church—is composed of various ordered groups of persons. Each of these groups includes those who have received the same gift of the Spirit, perform the same ministry or functions, are bound by the same obligations and enjoy the same rights. The life of the church as a communion of charisms is not broken down in a polarization between the order of sacred ministers and the lay order, but is rather shown to have a greater richness and expression. The fundamental structure of the church, in fact, is sacramental, institutional and charismatic. In her the ordered groups, roles, ministries and forms of stable life, raised up by the gifts of the Spirit, are organically constituted. The organic communion, animated by charity through a correlation to the mystery of the incarnate Word and the mystery of the church, requires a juridical form through which the charisms, which have a particular relevance for the life of the church, are assumed in the institution.
We can identify three categories or general orders of persons making up the church: the laity, sacred ministers and those who profess the evangelical counsels in a canonically recognized stable form of life. These ordered groups of persons are complementary to one another in that, having their origin in the action of the Spirit, they are truly all ordered to mutual sanctification and the one communion and mission of the same body.
Consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels as a stable form of life essentially concerns the mystery of the church, which otherwise would not be fully manifested and realized. As such it is an intrinsic part of the church’s nature, even if, with time, its various institutional forms may change and eventually disappear.
Nevertheless, it should be taken into consideration that part of the apostolic charism of holy orders includes having in that sacramental and institutional structure—especially at the level of the supreme pontificate and episcopate—a pre-eminent and specific role with regard to all the other charisms. Therefore, ecclesiastical authority in the role of sanctifying, teaching and governing discerns and regulates the use of all the charisms in order to maintain the unity of the whole communion. In fidelity to the Spirit this service must be performed at the universal and particular level with respect for the specific nature of each charism and role, and with the purpose of fostering the specific nature of each charism and function.
The analogy between the mystery of the incarnate Word and that of the church is the essence of the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The church is a mystery of communion. By her very nature, however, she is not only spiritual and invisible (since she is born of the Spirit) but also a visible hierarchy, in virtue of incarnate Christ, the head. In the light of such a view of the church it should be seen that, because of the church’s very nature, the bond of communion cannot be limited to the realm of the invisible and spiritual, but demands a visible form rendered ever alive by charity.
Charity is the determining basic principle of all social relations in the church. As a gift of the Spirit it is the bond of communion among all the baptized—regardless of their category and order—at both the universal and particular levels. Every relation between the members, whether individuals or in groups, demands the exercise of charity, the fruit of the Spirit who dispenses various gifts. Given the church’s nature, however, wherever there is no subordination in hierarchical communion charity is not perfect, and therefore Christ is not fully present and acting, nor is church communion totally realized or manifested.
Charity is the principle which inspires the relationship of institutes of consecrated life with the pope, the bishops and the other members of the people of God so that their harmony may express what the church is: the communion, in the Son, of the children of the one Father, through the work of the Spirit.
Common Call to Holiness and Mission
68. By virtue of the regenerating grace of baptism and the anointing of the Spirit, all the members of the church are Christ’s faithful, <Christifideles.> This is the basis of the common vocation and dignity of all Christians which also belongs to members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. In fact, through baptism they are sons and daughters of the Father in Christ. They are disciples who assent in faith to the love of their Lord and master. They are living temples of the Spirit and living members of the body of Christ, called to mission and destined to glory.
By their vocation, consecration and specific mission in the consecrated life, rooted in baptism and confirmation and celebrated and nourished in the eucharist, they are called to express their belonging to Christ in a specific dynamism and in communion with the other faithful. Children of God, they have given themselves to him in imitation of the attitude of the chaste, poor and obedient Son of the virgin mother. Both women and men disciples have taken the imitation of Christ according to the counsels and made it the form of their adherence to Christ as the absolute Lord and master of their existence, pouring themselves out for his service. Consecrated by the Spirit through the church, they have received a gift which enables them to fulfill the demands of imitating Christ and of mission. Sharing in a charism, they are called to express in their life a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ and of the church. Called to mission, they must dedicate themselves totally to it by their life and apostolate. Destined to glory, they must bear witness by their life to heavenly things, to the future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.
Thus, they participate in the common vocation of all the baptized and confirmed, and manifest the wealth of the mystery of Christ and of the church. However, many responses insist that the state of consecrated life is not “a kind of middle way between the clerical and lay conditions of life … (but) a form of life to which some Christians (<Christifideles>), both clerical and lay, are called by God so that they may enjoy a special gift of grace in the life of the church and may contribute, each in his own way, to the saving mission of the church.” Therefore, there must be a more detailed explanation of the diversity of vocations within the consecrated life.
Consecrated “Christifideles ”
69. “All members of the church are sharers in (her) secular dimension but in different ways.” In its initial historical expressions the religious life was predominantly lay, not clerical. Today to a large extent, members of institutes of religious life and societies of apostolic life—men and women—are consecrated laity, although they are not “laity” according to the nature proper to those who live in the world. Because of their consecration, their lay dimension, as a presence in the world and engagement in temporal realities, is limited in comparison to that of other laity. It is expressed, however, according to the nature, charism and characteristic of their own institute, in the kind of life they live, and their apostolate in the church and society.
Consecrated women and lay brothers belonging to congregations of apostolic life can perform through their distinctive mission a special work in renewing the world according to the spirit of the Beatitudes. There are also other categories of persons such as consecrated virgins who seek to live their special consecration in the world.
The lay members of secular institutes, who maintain their secular condition in their life, mission and role as leaven in society with the newness of the Gospel, unite their consecration with their lay dimension.
Consecrated Clerical “Christifideles”
70. Among consecrated persons there are also those who by vocation and mission are clerics. The blending of these two aspects of the one divine call has been documented since the beginning of the consecrated life. The vocation to the diaconate or priesthood within an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life brings out, according to the special character of the charism proper to it, the way in which the ordained minister, although responding to this sacramental reality in the church, can live with an apostolic missionary spirituality and activity, which in its variety reflects the richness of Christ’s priesthood, and through the action of the Spirit makes the vocation and pastoral activity of the ministers of the Lord not something univocal, but extremely rich and expressive.
Priests “who belong to religious orders and congregations represent a spiritual enrichment for the entire diocesan presbyterate to which they contribute specific charisms and special ministries.” The same thing can be said of clerical members of secular institutes. Religious elevated to the episcopate continue to be members of their institute. The harmonious blend of the two aspects of the one personal vocation, that is, the sacramental and charismatic grace of the consecrated life, can bear abundant fruits in holiness and in the apostolate to the degree in which religious priests have a clear understanding of the nature of their ecclesial ministry, draw inspiration and strength for their spiritual life from the fonts of their own institute, live according to their own style of life and are available for an apostolic outreach in the universal and particular church. This is also true of hermits and contemplative monks who combine the diaconate or priesthood with their specific consecration.
Sharing in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Office
71. By their dignity as <Christifideles> consecrated persons—women and men alike—share in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly office and express it in the specific manner of their vocation and mission.
This doctrine, so important for understanding the Christian vocation in communion with Christ and in his service, was emphasized by Vatican II for all the baptized, and is frequently used to refer to the laity. It should also be remembered, however—as many responses indicate—that this also holds true for the consecrated life.
Priestly and cultic dimension.
In their life, religious and other members of institutes of consecrated life exercise a priesthood and a spiritual worship in virtue of their profession of the evangelical counsels. Living according to Christ’s example, they make their life an offering, a sacrifice pleasing to God, made holy in the Spirit (cf. Rom. 12:1); by the offering of their own body and their total dedication to God with an undivided heart in chastity (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34); by their choice of the poverty of Christ which sets them free from idolatry to serve God (cf. Mt. 6:24) and open to the needs of their brothers and sisters; by their gift of self through obedience, in communion with Christ in order to do the Father’s will in everything, they are a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice for the salvation of the world. In communion with Christ the consecrated life is eucharistic and cultic.
In communion with the other members of the people of God, consecrated persons share in the prophetic office of Christ through their witness to the Gospel. The prophecy of the consecrated life is a sign for the church and the world. By the profession of chastity they anticipate in their flesh the new world of the resurrection (cf. Mt. 22:30). By their practice of poverty they manifest the supreme value of the kingdom of God over all human and earthly goods (cf. Mt. 6:19-21, 24). By their sharing of goods they proclaim the universal destination of everything to the glory of God and for the good of all, and they attest to the value of work when it is performed in freedom of spirit. Adhering to God’s will in obedience, they proclaim the kingly way of submission to the heavenly Father’s loving plan. By their life and words they are an invitation—and sometimes a provocation—for everyone, faithful and pastors alike, to serve the Lord purely and freely in fidelity to the covenant of love. They propose anew the value and the memory of God’s original plan which sin has obscured and are a sign of the yearning with which all humanity awaits the total revelation of the glory of the children of God (cf. Rom. 8:19-21).
Consecrated persons are called to proclaim Christ’s kingly office which makes them free, sound and open to universal communion for the sake of building the kingdom. This comes about on the kingly road of charity; with hearts open to love of God and neighbor in chastity; by their joyful experience of poverty which in this world already reaps the hundredfold benefits in personal and communal life (cf. Mt. 19:29) promised to those who seek the kingdom; and through their freedom strengthened by obedience, which permits them in imitation of Christ to dedicate themselves entirely to the Father’s affairs. In this manner of life is rooted the glory and the gift of service, because to serve is to reign: “This gift finds its total fulfillment in the unreserved self-giving of the whole human person, in a spirit of conjugal love for Christ and, with Christ, to all those—women and men—who are totally consecrated to him according to the evangelical counsels.”
Consecrated Life in the Universal Church
72. The importance of the universal dimension of the consecrated life in the ecclesiology of communion and its basis in its relationship to the Petrine ministry was recently emphasized by the Holy See: “In the context of the church understood as communion, consideration should also be given to the many institutes and societies that express the consecrated life and apostolic life, with which the Holy Spirit enriches the mystical body of Christ. Although these do not belong to the hierarchical structure of the church, they belong to her life and holiness. Given their supra-diocesan character, rooted in the Petrine ministry, all these ecclesial realities are also elements at the service of communion among the various particular churches.”
The institutes of consecrated life, regardless of their nature and end, tend to spread throughout the whole church very quickly, bringing to the various particular churches where they are established a note of universality, in virtue of their close bond with the ministry of the successor of St. Peter. Such a note is not simply a geographical, ethnic or cultural reality. As a manifestation of the mystery of the church, it is a theological reality. Universality is not identified with a geographic union of nations and cultural or ethnic pluralism, rather it is strictly related to the church’s mark of catholicity, for which reason it is the universal sacrament of salvation.
By their nature and by their feature of universality, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life are dedicated in a special way to the service of God and the whole church. The supreme pontiff is the highest superior of all consecrated persons, who each owe him obedience because of the sacred bond of obedience. From this derives the fact that all institutes are by a particular title subject to the supreme authority of the church, that is, the Roman pontiff with the organisms of the Roman Curia and the college of bishops.
This bond with the Roman pontiff must not be seen as limiting the proper autonomy of institutes of consecrated life, but rather as a safeguard in that it is a guarantee of their universality and the special nature of their charism.
It is vital for the institutes to be faithful to the teaching and directions which the Roman pontiff, united with all the bishops, gives to the church. Since consecrated persons are to be a positive resource of evangelization within the church, they cannot fail to communicate and witness to the authentic teaching of the magisterium. To do otherwise would be a loss of the institute’s identity and role in the church. For this reason, superiors have the duty of intervening when members of their institute are lacking in such a fidelity.
Such a bond of communion is expressed in a mature and supernatural love for the supreme pontiff and his magisterium. The rejection of ecclesiastical discipline and dissent from statements of the magisterium in matters of faith and morals are damaging to the institute as well as to its individual members because they go against the Gospel witness which they are to give within the people of God, a witness essential to the consecrated life as such.
The “prophetic” role of the consecrated persons cannot be construed—as sometimes claimed—to be in opposition to the pope and the bishops. Instead, it is a sincere witness to Gospel values and includes a submission in faith and love to those whom the Holy Spirit has placed as leaders of the people of God. The difficulties which sometimes arise must be overcome by searching together for all means to help bring about a sincere dialogue in charity, a charity which always looks to the good of the church.
In the Particular Churches
73. The particular churches are an image of the universal church in that all the essential elements of the church are found in them. Likewise found there are the differentiations of Christ’s faithful into various ordered groups according to the variety of their charisms, ministries and services. By achieving unity in diversity the particular church realizes the church as an organic communion in which the Spirit is like the soul of the body, with Christ as its head. The bond of communion, then, is charity which translates into an appreciation of diversity and an active mutual respect for the sake of achieving the common good.
The various forms of consecrated life as a constitutive element of the particular church are born and flourish there, bringing their own charismatic wealth and their feature of universality. In a special way the vocation which looks to the universal church, incumbent on the members of the institutes of consecrated life, is realized within the structures of the particular churches, thus contributing to their spiritual upbuilding and to the unity of the universal church: “Your vocation for the universal church is realized within the structures of the local church…. Your unity with the universal church through the local church: This is your path.”
Post-conciliar ecclesiological reflection has brought about a renewed awareness that all the components of the ecclesial fabric are called to work together to build up the one body of Christ. On the one hand, the members of institutes of consecrated life, in conformity with their own charism, have been led to give greater value to the particular church, seeking their own manner of active presence in it. On the other hand, the bishops, with due respect for the proper autonomy of life and government of the institutes, have often made an effort for greater joint planning.
From the responses it is seen that generally there is a sincere desire to build authentic relationships of communion and collaboration among bishops, institutes of consecrated life, secular clergy and laity. Positive results have been achieved wherever the guidelines of <Mutuae Relationes> and the canonical norms have been applied well.
Consecrated persons on their part are becoming more aware of the duty to be promotes of communion in the particular church through the meaning of their consecration in the church and their witness to the universality of the Gospel message, which goes beyond differences of any kind based on race, culture, tribe, etc. and through their solidarity and availability to all, especially to the very poor. In such a manner they create bonds between the church and those marginalized groups which frequently are not reached by ordinary pastoral activity.
A Dynamic Communion
74. Despite these positive aspects there are also difficulties in relationships between the various components of the church which should be taken into consideration.
While one hopes for the full awareness and appreciation of the consecrated life in the church, there is a need for institutes to overcome a sense of self-sufficiency and over-attachment to their works so as to foster relationships of trust and cooperation.
Some responses point to reasons for the difficulties and misunderstandings. They find it hard to recognize the charismatic reality of the consecrated life and its place in the church as an organic and universal communion, inspired by the charity and transcending the limits of diocesan or parish organizations.
True collaboration is born in the local church when persons develop an interest in the spirituality and charism of the various forms of consecrated life found there and when these forms of consecrated life in turn become sensitive to the spiritual climate, history and pastoral needs of the particular church where they find themselves.
Members of the institutes have a serious responsibility not to disappoint the legitimate expectations of the bishops, clergy and laity regarding the following: a clear fidelity to the obligations deriving from their consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels; a witness of fraternal communion in community; total witness of communion of mind and heart with the pope and the bishops in all that concerns the magisterium and discipline; and a ready willingness, in conformity with their own charism, their own end and the necessary autonomy of life and government, to commit themselves to the pastoral needs of the particular church in a spirit of sincere cooperation with the local clergy and laity.
Bishops and the Consecrated Life
75. With regard to the various forms of the consecrated life, it is fundamental to consider the role of the bishop, pastor of the particular church, as a representative of Christ the head. The bishop, for his part, must recognize and appreciate the consecrated life for what it is in the church and for all the service it offers from the pastoral point of view. Thus, the particular church will be built up according to her nature as a true organic communion.
In the church entrusted to him the bishop is the visible principle and foundation of unity in faith, in charity and in the apostolate because of the excellence of the gift of the Spirit he has received. It is precisely the bishop’s ministry to be the perfecter and guide of the people of God. Living pastoral charity, the bishop must be the teacher, promoter and example of Christian perfection for the laity, the priests—his co-workers—and those persons who are consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels, each according to his or her vocation. In order to perform such a task he is given the ordinary power of government, proper and immediate, which he exercises directly over all the faithful of every category in his church, with due regard for the proper autonomy of the institutes of consecrated life. 176
Since the bishop is responsible for the spiritual, liturgical, catechetical, pastoral and charitable life of the diocese, it is his task to discern the authenticity of the various charisms present in his church and protect them in the various services performed for the good of all.” Therefore, the exercise of his ministry is performed according to the principles of the unity of faith and government, of the division of apostolic tasks and offices, and of sincere mutual aid and complementarity.
76. The relations between the bishops and the faithful consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels—particularly in the institutes—ought to be based on some fundamental principles with very concrete applications if these relations are to be constructive in ecclesial communion.
First of all, the members of institutes. In virtue of their consecration and role in the church the members of institutes should have sincere respect—even more than the others of Christ’s faithful—for the authority of the diocesan bishop in all that concerns his pastoral government, that is, the public exercise of divine worship, the care of souls, preaching, religious and moral education, catechetical instruction and liturgical formation, and the various apostolic and charitable activities.
The bishop for his part should recognize the charismatic identity of every form of consecrated life, with the understanding that the engagement of individual or collective forms of the consecrated life in his diocese can be pastorally fruitful only if their special character is accepted.
Members of institutes are also subject to their own superiors. In order to avoid tensions in a “duplication” of government, everything must be clearly regulated through conventions and accords between the moderators of the institutes and the bishops. Indeed, clerical religious are obliged to maintain their fidelity to the promise of reverence and obedience made in their diaconal and priestly ordination to the diocesan bishop and the legitimate superior.
All this, however, would remain empty and ineffective in building ecclesial communion in an organic manner if it were not animated by charity, which effectively is manifest in respect and mutual appreciation, according to each one’s proper nature and function in the church. Indeed, in order to be constructive the observance of laws must come from the inner demand of charity.
Adequate Apostolic Presence
77. Precisely because both bishops and persons consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels are inspired by the charity of Christ and seek the good of the church, relations between them ought to be marked by an open dialogue, true respect, sincere trust and active collaboration. However—as the responses affirm—difficulties can arise from tensions between the demand of fidelity to the charism proper to the various forms of consecration, especially the type which is realized in institutes or societies, and the pastoral needs of the particular church, which are sometimes so impelling.
In becoming actively part of a diocese with its own apostolic activity, an institute or society will have the task of harmonizing with local pastoral needs the fundamental demand of fidelity to its own mission and works. This often requires prudent appropriate adaptation of its means. An institute or society is not, however, to take on works or activities which might not correspond to its proper founding charism.
It is therefore necessary for the institutes of women or men to be given works or tasks which correspond to their proper end. Indeed, all the apostolic institutes must faithfully fulfill those spiritual and corporal works of mercy by which they participate in the church’s pastoral role. The institutes which by their rule closely join the apostolic life to the choral recitation of the office and monastic observance are to adapt their manner of living to the demands of their apostolate, but in such a way that they can faithfully preserve their style of life, which is also a great advantage to the church. It is impossible to imagine adapting the constitutions in a manner not in correspondence with the founding charism of the institute, since that would cause it to lose its identity and thus bring harm not only to the members of the institute but also to the church.
Coordination is certainly necessary among the apostolic activities of the various institutes as well as collaboration between them and the diocesan clergy under the guidance of the bishop, the pastor of the particular church in which the institutes are active. However, this is always to be done—and this holds for institutes dedicated entirely to the apostolate—so as to preserve the nature, end and basic laws of each institute. Pastoral activity must neither extinguish charisms nor homogenize their differences. Instead it should value the charisms of spirituality and apostolate which the Spirit has given to the church.
On the diocesan, national and universal level the promotion of the specific apostolate of the institutes through the expertise of the consecrated persons is the source of apostolic dynamism for the church in the biblical, liturgical, dogmatic, pastoral, ecumenical, missionary and social fields.
Sometimes problems arise when parishes are entrusted to religious priests or members of societies of apostolic life. In fact, they can feel that their pastoral effectiveness and identity are somewhat hampered if their presence in the parish is considered as something supplementary and not a pastoral application of their apostolic charism. Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that the religious destined for parish ministry, if such a ministry does not correspond to the purpose of their institute, can fall prey to a certain individualism and thus experience later difficulty in being integrated in other communities.
The responses indicate that frequently the bishops and faithful lament the frequency of transfers of religious in parishes, since pastoral care requires continuity and a rather lengthy stay. This, however, could create difficulties for the apostolic dynamism of the institutes, which must rise above the fixed nature of the parish structures.
A Specific Contribution to The Mission of the Particular Church
78. In this context even greater consideration must be given to the specific nature of monastic institutes and those totally dedicated to contemplation. It is the former’s duty to preserve the authentic spirit of the monastic life which is expressed, either in dedication to divine worship through a hidden life or by assuming the legitimate task of the apostolate or Christian charity, but within the walls of the monastery. It would be a betrayal of the nature of the monastic institute if works were undertaken, such as the care of parishes, which would inhibit the observance proper to the monastic life even though these works might be necessary for the pastoral life of the diocese.
No matter how urgent the needs of the apostolate may be, institutes totally dedicated to contemplation cannot be called by the diocesan bishop to work in the various pastoral ministries; that would signal their ruin. However, through their spiritual witness they should be actively part of the diocesan family and not be isolated from it. Hermits and consecrated virgins have their own special apostolic nature.
With a firm adherence to their mission and apostolic activity, the members of institutes of consecrated life are engaged in the life of the particular church with a spirit of service, in accord with the guidelines of <Mutuae Relationes> and the canonical norms. In this regard attention should be given to preserving the distinction between the works belonging to the institute and those entrusted to them by the diocesan bishop.
As regards justice, agreements should precisely state everything concerning the hiring of persons and the economic aspect, keeping in mind that a too frequent change of personnel limits the effectiveness of pastoral activities.
The bishop is asked to engage consecrated persons fully in the apostolic activity of his diocese according to the charism of each institute. This allows the particular church, which ensures the concreteness and unity of the apostolic mission, to offer a pluriform and harmonious response to the demands made by contemporary society. This also fosters integration of the various institutes and collaboration among them.
Mutual knowledge and dialogue are recommended in resolving difficulties in relationships, as are the establishment of offices for coordination and mixed commissions or committees for the consecrated life. A specific role is performed by the episcopal vicar for the consecrated life, a person with expertise and training in this field.
In Communion With the Diocesan Clergy
79. The reality of the church as an organic communion must have a practical application in the various areas of the pastoral life of the particular church.
Taking into consideration the special character of secular institutes in what concerns the relationship of the institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life with the diocesan clergy, the church can draw great benefit from the development of a reciprocal appreciation among the various charisms, overcoming every form of clericalism, which would lead to a mere marginal engagement—especially in parishes—of the lay members of institutes and societies.
In the pastoral activity of a diocese, non-parish churches—chapels, shrines, etc.—cared for by religious institutes or societies of apostolic life must be considered as complementary forms of presence and apostolate, and be conducted in harmony, yet in a different manner, from the pastoral activity of local parishes in the upbuilding of the one church.
Greater development is needed for those means which promote knowledge, mutual appreciation and collaboration.
Above all, seminaries ought to offer a theological formation on the consecrated life and every institute of consecrated life to offer a doctrinal study of the particular church and the priestly ministry in the diocese. From the practical point of view, there should be coordination among various activities in the field of charity, education and health care sponsored and managed by the institutes of consecrated life and those of the diocese or parish. The role of the Catholic school in the diocesan and parish apostolate should be better defined and more greatly appreciated.
On the basis of their participation in the one ministerial priesthood, religious priests and those belonging to societies of apostolic life, although they are not incardinated in a particular church and are subject to their legitimate superiors, fully belong to the presbyterate to which they contribute the richness of their own charism and pastoral methods. For their part, religious give to pastoral concern their witness to the eschatological yearning of the pilgrim church moving ahead in faith and hope. Belonging to the presbyterate places them in close communion with the bishop and all the other priests, a communion which has practical applications.
In Communion With the Laity
80. Experiencing the church as an organic communion through a complementarity of the gifts of the Spirit in the light of the mystery of the call to holiness of all those reborn in Christ in virtue of baptism has generally led to constructive collaboration between the lay faithful and the faithful consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels.
This has also led to a new appreciation of secular reality as a theological place in which the laity are engaged in their own special—but not exclusive—way of dealing with temporal affairs and ordering them according to God by their activity, especially by the Christian witness of their life.
The entire church “has an authentic secular dimension, inherent in her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word incarnate and which is realized in different forms through her members,” whereby “all the members of the church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways.” This is what lay people recall for all the faithful through the specific nature of their charism, including those in the church who profess the evangelical counsels.
Furthermore the laity, when they perform ministries and services within ecclesial institutions according to the variety of the charisms received, bring to these church institutions their secular dimension of involvement in temporal affairs and thus provide an assistance to consecrated persons in their spiritual and pastoral development.
Consecrated persons are united more profoundly to Christ in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection, profess the evangelical counsels and offer their whole being to God. In this way they remind all the faithful—but especially the laity—that this world can be transformed only through the spirit of the Beatitudes.
In fact the laity expect religious and consecrated seculars, each according to their specific nature, to offer an authentic witness of the loving choices they have made in life, that is, the choice of God as the only absolute, evangelical simplicity of life, sincere communion with the church and joyful fraternal service in every field. When the laity discover the spiritual source of consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels, it so happens that the laity often ask those in the consecrated life for assistance in prayer and the spiritual life.
So that collaboration might be ever more fruitful, there must be above all a respect for the dignity of every baptized person and for the Christian’s specific vocation and role in the church. Equally necessary in this regard is a respect for the expertise of the laity in their field and for the special nature of the life of the consecrated persons, especially of religious.
To achieve such a purpose committees or councils could be established in various places and in various areas of pastoral activity.
The responses mention that in these days individual members of the laity or lay groups are expressing the desire to share in the spirituality and mission of the institutes of consecrated life in a complementarity of vocations. These institutes are actively involved in searching for programs of formation and structural forms to accommodate this participation and collaboration.
The responses often ask about the membership of individual consecrated persons in ecclesial movements. Although on the one hand this does have advantages, especially for spiritual renewal, on the other hand it can sometimes cause difficulties. Participation in ecclesial movements ought to be based on the principle of a healthy reciprocity among the ecclesial vocations. It should also be founded on a proper ecclesial identity flowing from membership in one’s institute and be open to communion and collaboration as well as alien to every overlapping of authority.
Proper Autonomy of Institutes In Ecclesial Life
81. Since the consecrated life constitutes part of the charismatic and institutional reality of the church, each institute enjoys a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The church recognizes for each institute a just autonomy of life and especially of government, by means of which each can have its own discipline and preserve intact the legacy flowing from its charism, that is, its own nature, purpose, spirit and character. Ordinaries in the various places where institutes are found have the task to preserve and safeguard that autonomy, which in turn is sustained within the institute by the administrative power which chapters and moderators of institutes receive from God through the ministry of the church. The authority of chapters and superiors comes from the Spirit, in communion with the ecclesiastical hierarchy which erected and approved the institute.
Autonomy is an innate right of the institute insofar as it is an element of the church’s intrinsic structure. In fact the action of the Holy Spirit lies at the origin of an institute’s founding charism. The church, conferring the fullness of the ecclesial expression on the charism, guarantees continued authenticity on the basis of the legitimately approved constitutions so that everything can work together for the common good and so that the authenticity of the gift of the Spirit may be maintained.
In assuring the continuity of the charism, autonomy of life and especially autonomy of administration not only involve the internal workings of the institute but also its apostolic works. Otherwise the institute could not fulfill its own end and spirit. It is “just” insofar as it is determined and protected by common and particular law. In this way the autonomy of an institute, correctly understood, is an adaptation of the principle of subsidiarity to the life of the church to the extent that it is a coordination between universal and particular law in the church.
Autonomy does not mean that institutes are independent from hierarchical authority. Dependence remains in the bishops’ exercise of pastoral care for the institutes so that they may maintain their consecration, witness and mission in the church.
Autonomy and dependence are two dimensions relating to all church members and all church institutions. However, the institutes of consecrated life act in a specific way in their regard. Since these dimensions are not opposed to each other they require a proper blending, the guidance of church laws and their realization through charity, the soul of the church’s communion.
Institutes of Diocesan Right And of Pontifical Right
82. Autonomy and independence vary according to the specific nature of the institute’s founding charism and its degree of development in the life of the church in conformity with the institute’s designation as being of diocesan or pontifical right.
The diocesan bishop exercises special pastoral care over institutes of diocesan right. These institutes, which are generally at the initial stages of their existence, need help to become strong from the spiritual and material point of view. The fact that an institute is of diocesan right, however, does not diminish its reference to the universal church and the supreme authority. Therefore the bishop’s concern is to be directed to the development of the institute, which by virtue of its charism generally tends toward universality. Since the diocesan bishop is a member of the episcopal college he should not hinder the expansion of an institute founded in his diocese or in other territories from fear of a possible conferral of pontifical status.
The exclusive and immediate subjection to the Apostolic See by institutes of pontifical right is a guarantee of their autonomy in the concrete instances where they are found in the various particular churches. It is also an effective safeguard of their universal character and development, in conformity with their original inspiration, all the while respecting the pastoral authority of the diocesan bishop.
Particular Bond With The Petrine Ministry
83. The safeguard of the special characteristics of the charism and the universal mission proper to some institutes finds its highest expression in exemption. This should be seen in a positive light. Through exemption of institutes from the jurisdiction of the local authorities, the Roman pontiff, with special laws enacted by him and privileges granted, allows institutes a greater autonomy so that their charisms can be better preserved and more precisely expressed in their universal nature and apostolic effectiveness as a participation in the pastoral care of the Roman pontiff for the whole church.
Exemption is based on the primacy of the supreme pontiff and is explained only in a proper understanding of the relation between the universal church and the particular churches, that is, between the pope and the bishops. At particular times in history the Roman pontiff, by virtue of his primacy, has exercised this privilege for the good of the life of particular churches, and to defend and protect the integrity of the faith and the unity of the church. Therefore exemption has been retained for those institutes which have enjoyed this privilege for centuries. This privilege is not granted only for the good of the institutes themselves, but also in view of the needs of the apostolate and its common usefulness.
In this way, exemption, in harmony with the nature of the church, is intended to promote communion. Exemption carries an entirely positive character: It recalls a total and complete fidelity to the Roman pontiff and a readiness to service his universal ministry. However many of the responses raise the question as to how in these times the privilege can and ought to be exercised in the particular churches harmoniously and with pastoral effect.
Communion Between the Institutes And Coordinating Bodies
84. What individual institutes are called to be in the church through their dimension of fraternal communion is equally applicable to all the institutes taken together as a whole. All institutes are called to feel in communion with one another and to bring about that communion, all the while respecting the specific nature of their various charisms and putting them to effective use. Through coordinating bodies, institutes express communion with one another and seek the means to strengthen that communion and put it into practice.
It is desirable for the institutes which share the same charism or have juridical bonds or a spiritual affinity to find better ways to achieve greater cooperation, while assuring a respect for their autonomy. They should also be open to possible cooperative undertakings (merger, union or federation) in order to achieve greater effectiveness in spirituality, apostolic service and formation.
The conferences, councils and unions of major superiors or moderators of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life—for both men and women—have proven useful in the renewal of the consecrated life. The goal of such organizations is to help every institute to achieve its purpose, while giving due respect for its autonomy, nature and spirit. The consecrated life can truly be renewed when each institute seeks to achieve its own goals as the founder or foundress intended. Conferences, then, should not be seen as some kind of common administrative organization which would substitute for the decisions of the superiors of individual institutes.
As a sign of communion, the conferences make it generally possible to establish greater cooperation among the various institutes on questions of common interest, especially in what concerns the formation of members and apostolic activity. From this point of view conferences of major superiors are to be considered valuable to the life of the church and a sign of the times. At the same time, however, major superiors should consider themselves free to decide whether or not to join these conferences.
Conferences of major superiors are meant to establish appropriate coordination and cooperation with the episcopal conferences and the individual bishops. In such relations the conferences of major superiors must present the mission of consecrated life in general and that of the individual institutes, in other words, a mission of being a sign of communion. This will assure a constant endeavor to search for a concrete path of communion in charity so as to express the most intimate nature of the church.
More frequent contacts between the conferences of major superiors and the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life should be encouraged. A greater contact between conferences of major superiors and episcopal conferences is desirable, with due respect for their different natures. In this regard joint commissions of bishops and major superiors have proven effective. Entities for communication and communion are useful for finding practical solutions to pastoral problems and avoiding theoretical or practical disagreements.
Discussions on doctrinal problems of a general nature concerning civil society or the life of the church for the purpose of making public statements about them are outside the scope of the conferences of major superiors. Nevertheless, the major superiors gathered in assembly can be of valuable help to the Holy See and the bishops, individually or in various entities, in expressing their reflections on problems, including those of doctrinal weight, concerning the life of the church and of society.
Witnesses to Ecclesial Communion
85. Mutual relations in the church must always be seen in the light of her mystery of communion and mission. This allows the expression of a real communion and participation at three levels: first of all, at the theological level, in that church communion is founded on diverse ministries and charisms whose exercise always demands attitudes and behavior of common faith, hope and mutual charity; at the ecclesial level, because in the unity of communion the evangelical meaning of fraternity and service is expressed; finally, at the pastoral level, because of the fact that an authentic relationship among pastors, the faithful and consecrated persons in the church must be marked by mutual esteem, respect and acceptance of the diversity of gifts and tasks. Everything, however, is placed at the service of bearing witness to the action of God and the salvation of souls, which is the supreme law of the church.
The witness of unity is also a sign for the world. This “requires us first of all to create in the church herself mutual esteem, reverence and harmony, and acknowledge all legitimate diversity. In this way all who constitute the one people of God, that is, the pastors or other members of Christ’s faithful, will be able to engage in ever more fruitful dialogue. The ties which unite the faithful together are indeed stronger than those which separate them. Therefore, let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful and charity in everything.”
I. Future Challenges and Duties
Spiritual and Apostolic Vitality
86. In the light of its nature and mission in ecclesial communion, the consecrated life is questioning itself about the most important challenges facing its future, beginning first of all with an effective spiritual and apostolic renewal.
In general there is a call for a strong harmonious blending of consecration and mission as well as contemplation and action. To make such a unity possible, most people are convinced of the need to strengthen the spiritual and mystical dimension of the consecrated life, that is, union with the blessed Trinity—the source of all blessing—through the sacramental life, through prayer and the witness that “God alone suffices,” through an intense Godward life, through a personal and spousal love for the Lord in the pursuit of a “life hidden with Christ in God” (cf. Col. 3:3), and through a life immersed in the Holy Spirit and docile to his inspirations.
The source and summit of one’s personal and community life is the daily celebration of the eucharist, to which is added frequent personal recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation—including periodic community celebrations of this sacrament—and daily participation in the liturgical prayer of the church, as set down in the laws of each institute.
The more frequently mentioned means for the authentic spiritual vitality of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life include: personal and communal forms of <lectio divina,> prayer and contemplation, personal prayer and eucharistic adoration, love for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, spiritual direction and the examination of conscience and “review of life.” Of course, added to these ate other expressions of one’s own spiritual tradition. Also of importance is the growth of a true community spirituality fostered not only by participation in the eucharist and common prayer, but also by a renewed commitment to share a journey of faith, as well as to help one another in the journey of the spiritual life through renewed forms of fraternal correction and promotion of charity.
Considered the unifying element of the varied spiritualities is the charism of the founder, around which a synthesis of the various elements of consecration and mission should be made through the faithful putting into effect of the legislative provisions of each institute.
Many responses emphasize the following as aspects which should not be lacking in any form of consecrated life: the availability to take on the more difficult forms of mission; a readiness to participate in the <kenosis> of the Word to the point of martyrdom; compassion and mercy; a thirst for holiness and a desire to spend oneself for the salvation of humanity; and a renewed personal and community asceticism. Many ask that women and men religious give a silent proclamation of their consecration through wearing the habit of their institute.
A reawakening of spirituality is desired, especially in the active apostolic life, not only in order for its mission to be more effective but also to make the consecrated life possible in a world which seems to be impossible to penetrate with the work of evangelization and which requires strong spiritual personalities who will evangelize it with the fervor of the saints.
A Renewed Apostolic Presence
87. The consecrated life harmoniously combines “being” for God and “acting” in his service. The first witness asked of consecrated persons is always that of living and acting individually and communally in conformity with their consecration and charism, as expressed in their own legislation and recognized by the church.
Consecrated persons help to make God’s countenance visible through their compassion and love for the sick and suffering. In a world marked by activism and the loneliness of individuals, by indifference to silence and contemplation, and by the search for technological solutions to human problems, the witness of an authentic consecrated life is of great value because, rooted in constant and profound contact with God, it manifests values which transcend the material realm.
New models are emerging today for living consecration fully. In fact, some seem to be necessary for the survival of the consecrated life in our world. It is a question of forms of life which seem almost to intend rewriting the traditional manner of following Christ, in meditation on the Word, in community or in solitude.
Consecrated persons living in community express their dedication either through the choice of the contemplative life or through a balance between prayer and action, but always in the joy of belonging completely to God. This experience is particularly significant in the younger churches where people of different nationalities and races seek in the Lord’s name to overcome traditional barriers. Theirs is a Gospel witness which is often less visible than the type shown by institutions of consecrated life traditionally known in Western societies, but they are necessary for offering new forms of visibility and Gospel witness.
It is necessary for consecrated persons, who live alone for various reasons to follow the directives of the Holy See in this regard and be offered guidance by their own superiors.
The Consecrated Woman And Femininity
88. As mentioned earlier, women constitute three—fourths of all consecrated persons. Through their evangelical witness, contemplative prayer, intuition and steadfastness, their capacity for listening and dialogue, and their attentive and generous response to today’s challenges, their contribution to the church and society is among the most important phenomena for the church’s life and mission. Woman’s use of her gifts to participate in the life of the church and society is not only the road necessary for her personal fulfillment but also the contribution based on her womanhood. Both lead to the enrichment of the ecclesial communion and the apostolic dynamism of the people of God.
In Mary of Nazareth consecrated women have their highest model and the most authentic expression of the dignity and mission of woman.
History bears witness to the contribution made by consecrated women not only to the church’s holiness but also to evangelization and mission, and to catechesis and theological research, as well as in the field of education, health care and service of the very poor. They have assumed important roles, including the direction of schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions. Today, by having a greater presence in the church and society, women are exercising new roles according to the measure of their development and preparation called for in a secularized society. In the public and political spheres consecrated women work with lay people—men and women—in a relationship of reciprocity and complementarity.
Conscious of their personal dignity and their own vocation, consecrated women are seeking to grow in their appreciation of all women who are still oppressed or relegated to a status of inferiority. A frank and clear recognition of women’s dignity is the first step in promoting their participation in the life of the church as well as in public and social life. In addition, it is necessary that they promote a suitable formation for themselves according to the diversity of the forms of life.
At a time when the church is rediscovering the variety of ministries and the complementarity of charisms it is urgently necessary to clarify and give official recognition to the role which they exercise in the church, so that their specific dedication in the midst of the people of God may be better defined. They are still far from full engagement in the church, despite the magisterium’s directives in this regard.
Many of the responses ask that women be granted access to places of discussion, consultation and decision making, and that they be present in the pastoral entities of the particular churches.
They also ask for a greater active participation in the church’s mission. It is urgent that they be given greater involvement in processes of discernment and decision making in what concerns their life as consecrated women. This is explicitly requested in whatever regards the autonomy of monasteries of women. They express the hope that nuns will be allowed to take the necessary initiatives to ensure a suitable formation and to make the necessary adaptations in fidelity to their own charism.
A lengthy, extensive and continuous formation must be offered to consecrated women in accordance with their own vocation. A better preparation will give them greater opportunity to be authentic, joyful witnesses and promoters of the work for the kingdom. Some responses note that a lack of maturity and the want of a proper theological formation are the basis of a counter-witness and the source of many unsubstantial claims.
Promotion and Care of Vocations
89. The promotion of vocations is one of today’s most important challenges for the future of the consecrated life. The vitality of the charisms and their presence in the church and in the world depend on it.
Reference has already been made to the many diverse situations in the area of vocations. In many Western countries there has been a marked loss of numbers. Many causes have been indicated such as family crises and the decline in the birth rate; psychological immaturity which does not support lifelong commitment; the possibility of giving oneself totally to the Lord and the service of others outside the consecrated life; and a certain mistrust of institutionalized forms. Often the witness of the consecrated life is not understood by the laity and by priests, who do not favor the choice of such a vocation.
We note with joy the flourishing of vocations in the younger churches and the countries of Eastern Europe. Such vocations are marked by a manifestation of fervor, freedom, joy and self-giving in the apostolic service, which in turn elicits other vocations. However, a clear discernment and a sound formation is needed in these cases because there is the danger of one’s making the choice of the consecrated life for reasons of human advancement or of making this choice without due regard for the demands it entails.
The promotion of vocations demands first of all the prayer of the whole Christian community and of individual institutes, that the Lord, who calls people to follow him, may give the church many good vocations. However, equally important is the educational support of the family in communicating Gospel values and a widespread pastoral activity toward youth—even if vocation recruitment is not its goal—and education leading to a mature development of faith and of human and Gospel values in Christian communities. The entire local church—bishops, priests, deacons and laity—must show its esteem and concern for the development of the consecrated life as a precious gift for all. Where it is lacking, the church is all the poorer.
Consecrated persons must proclaim the good news of their vocation with a joyful witness, an example which attracts others and a welcoming spirit which encourages others to find Christ in the midst of the community. Assiduous prayer and mutual help are necessary for perseverance in one’s vocation.
Discernment and vocational “guidance” ought to be exercised everywhere—whether vocations are scarce or abundant—paying attention to the signs of the call and to the effective qualities of persons, and taking advantage of psychological expertise for greater security.
Priorities in Formation
90. The future of the consecrated life depends on the dynamic capacity which the institutes will have in the formation of their members. In recent years the Holy See has followed the area of formation with great care. One of the results is the instruction <Potissimum Institutioni> which contains fundamental guidelines for formation at the present time. This document is still not well enough known and needs to be put into practice through educational programs and the <ratio institutionis> of each institute.
Many responses emphasize the importance of formation in circumstances of the present day. Some mention that this formation must make up for a certain lack of doctrinal teaching and soundness in the candidates. Frequently candidates have backgrounds weak in catechesis and Christian practice. Many candidates are affected by emotional immaturity, a prolonged adolescence and a certain imbalance due to family problems or the negative influence of society.
Therefore, a formation program must be systematic, personalized, ongoing and integral. A number of responses emphasize the need for a stronger and more intense intellectual, philosophical and cultural formation in view of an adequate study of theology and preparation for the new evangelization.
Members of secular institutes must be given an adequate formation in keeping with the nature of their institute.
Integral Demanding Formation
91 Today at the level of initial formation the canonical form of novitiate is not considered sufficient; instead the postulancy is assuming the dimensions of a prolonged propaedeutic period—similar to what <Pastores Dabo Vobis> recommends for seminarians—adapted to diverse cultures and institutes. Some reports propose establishing new formation programs for young people from ethnic minorities or marginalized groups.
Beginning in the novitiate initial formation must offer a strong pedagogy of faith founded on the word of God, on the liturgical and sacramental life and on formation in personal prayer and mortification, with personal spiritual direction and a solid devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A welcoming yet exacting community life can ensure a person’s development in charity, emotional maturity, obedience, availability, poverty, hard work and cooperation.
Formation must be human, ongoing, inculturated, open to ecclesial communion and mission, and in touch with real life and the conditions of the poor. Its orientation must be a vital process centered on the person of Christ and a deepening of the baptismal commitment to imitating Christ, according to the particular form of the evangelical life proper to each institute. Today, with a prolonged period of vocational discernment, it is necessary to insist that the candidates be guided toward making definitive commitments as a permanent option for Christ.
A specific formation for the consecrated life requires a progressive knowledge of the history, spirituality and the state of one’s own institute in order to have an authentic identification with one’s vocation. Initial formation must be given in one’s own country with one’s own countrymen as formation personnel, and must be rooted in that culture. Ongoing experiences of formation at the international and trans-cultural level are also necessary within institutes so as to be able to transcend and thereby purify, discern and appreciate diverse local cultures and place them in communion.
Moreover, formation demands, according to the diverse forms and institutes, that its doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral aspects be completed by a practical training which fosters the particular style of life of the various communities and professional training with the required academic studies when this is necessary for the exercise of the apostolic mission.
Enduring Dynamism of Formation
92. Some responses ask that the service of formation and the work of formation be recognized as a priority ministry; that formation personnel be supported in seeking a formation which responds to the new demands of the consecrated life; and that the formation of the formators be promoted with appropriate guidance, using to advantage the recent guidelines of the Holy See.
Inter-congregational formation can now be found in many countries as a characteristic form of cooperation, communion and exchange among diverse institutes. It can take on different forms. In all of these, however, the candidate needs the guidance of formation personnel from his own institute in order to integrate in his formation the elements of one’s institute and to evaluate its results.
Following the guidelines of the Holy See and benefiting from the valid experience of various institutes—similar to what has been proposed for the ongoing formation of priests—it is considered important for the synod to encourage continuous formation in various phases of the consecrated life as an indispensable means of renewal in one’s vocation and mission.
Since formation requires a knowledge and esteem of other ecclesial vocations, greater cooperation between the bishops and institutes of consecrated life is proposed in order to have a better knowledge of ecclesial vocations through appropriate centers of study. It has also been suggested that the theology, history, law and spirituality of the consecrated life and of other vocations should be properly studied within priestly formation in the ecclesiastical faculties and universities, and in institutes of religious sciences.
The Challenge of Inculturation
93. The task of expressing the consecrated life in diverse cultures today is one of the great challenges for its future, given the great diversity of environments, races and cultures, and the church’s mission for the evangelization of all peoples of the earth.
Consecration is an act in which God himself enlists a person for a particular plan of life totally dedicated to his worship and the service of one’s brothers and sisters. Consecration can be lived in diverse vocations and lifestyles and expressed in various spiritual forms according to diverse cultures.
Inculturation, therefore, involves the whole of the consecrated life: the charism that characterizes a vocation; the lifestyle; the manner of formation and forms of apostolate; prayer and liturgy; the principles of the spiritual life; and the organization of community and its administration.
It is not merely a question of adapting certain customs, but rather of a profound transformation of mentalities and ways of living. It does not extend only to the cultures of the younger churches but also to the changes taking place in Western civilizations. In fact, the structures of the consecrated life drawn up in the rural societies of the Middle Ages or those coming from the period of the industrial revolution in the last centuries do not always seem appropriate for expressing the needs and desires of today’s women and men.
Inculturation of the consecrated life finds its root in the universality of the Gospel and in the very mystery of the incarnation of Christ, who is light for all the nations (cf. Lk. 2:32). Inculturation’s first task is profoundly connected to the method and content of the new evangelization.
However, the process of inculturation is inspired by revelation. In imitation of Christ who took on our human nature, the consecrated life must undergo a process of drawing near to cultures in order to accept their values, to spread itself in that culture and to bear new fruit. Thus the mystery of Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) will shine forth in all nations. The process of inculturation must be completed in line with the <kenosis> (cf. Phil. 2:7) of Jesus Christ, to the point of giving one’s life in such a way that, reaching out with love and respect to persons of a different culture and mentality the proclamation of the Gospel, which is salvation for all, may be extended. A primary task is to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in other civilizations and cultures, presenting it in its fundamental aspects, proposing new wineskins when the old ones are not capable of holding new wine (cf. Mt. 9:17).
Through a Process of Inculturation
94. Inculturation must take place according to some essential requirements. The process must respect the fundamentals of the consecrated life: the profession of the entire Christian faith; intimacy with Christ in prayer and contemplation; the search for the perfection of charity; and the practice of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. These are the Gospel “talents” which are to be always and everywhere accepted and to which the consecrated life offers a shining witness. The values of diverse civilizations can make new aspects shine forth in the life of contemplation, community, sharing, hospitality, relationships within the ecclesial family, respect for human persons and concern for nature. This attitude can favor the acceptance of new forms of consecrated life.
The consecrated life, following the lessons of history and the openness to universality which is proper to it, can be a fruitful area for an authentic inculturation of the Christian faith and the life of the church. In fact, because of the liberality of their gift of self to Christ and their love for everything that is his, and through their intimacy with God and their closeness to people, consecrated persons can also be promoters of inculturation.
Nevertheless, some points must be kept in mind. Inculturation is not achieved through hasty and superficial adaptation. The discernment of what is essential involves the following: a lengthy contemplation of the mystery of God; freedom of heart which is acquired at the price of basic detachment from the situation; familiarity with the word of God; and a great love for people.
The inculturation of consecrated life demands a deep knowledge of the civilization and history of each people. This is acquired only through the serious study of languages, customs, oral and written traditions, and a long living experience. True inculturation cannot be planned too systematically because—like life itself—it is in a certain way a spontaneous phenomenon and a growth process.
It is a question, then, of authentically living one’s own charism with great love and true esteem for the people with whom and for whom one lives. In this context of charity—capable of making a person “all things to all people”—is found the secret of the success of adaptations and transformations. With the newness of the Spirit, these will give a dynamic feature to a consecrated life which will already have within itself all the cultural characteristics proper to the church.
Call to the New Evangelization
95. Consecrated life today is viewed within the horizons of the new evangelization in communion with the church and her mission. It is the invitation often addressed by John Paul II to institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, a call which is capable of evoking within the church a new impulse rooted in the power of Pentecost.
The new evangelization particularly is directed to those who are rooted in the unfathomable richness of Christ (cf. Eph. 3:8), who have made a profession to follow him, putting their life in his service, and who “are the living expression of the church’s aspiration to respond to the more exigent demands of the Beatitudes.”
In virtue of their vocation all consecrated persons are asked to manifest the saving power of the Gospel in the variety of the charisms which they have received and through the witness of their life. For them it is not merely a question of giving new vitality to the methods of the apostolate, but first and foremost of cultivating in themselves their call to conversion—to let themselves be evangelized—so that in them the light of Christ can radiate as persons who speak with God and are filled with his Spirit (cf. Ex. 33:11; 2 Cor. 3:19).
Making the new evangelization alive and effective in the consecrated life is perhaps the most important result which can be expected from the synod. In fact, the consecrated life belongs to the holiness of the church like leaven in the dough (cf. Mt. 13:33). It shows its fruitfulness like a mustard seed (cf. Mt. 13:31-32) and has the power to proclaim Christ without compromise. It is a light which cannot be hidden (cf. Mt. 5:15-16). It must manifest the power of Easter through the way of the cross. Particularly apt to religious life are the words of Paul VI concerning the wordless witness which evokes these irresistible questions: “Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? Why are they among us? Witness of this kind constitutes in itself a proclamation of the good news, silent, but strong and effective.”
Commitment to the new evangelization can help to form individuals and communities fully developed in faith and love, where the values of the Gospel are lived in their most basic sense. This demands a review of the quality of personal and communal witness so that a new evangelization might be capable of offering the people of today the perennial message of salvation in convincing terms. Particularly in these days there is lasting evangelizing power in being close to the poor, the sick, the suffering and marginalized so as to share their life, according to the various particular vocations, for love of the Lord, who is particularly present in them (cf. Mt. 25:40).
Evangelizing Through One’s Life
96. Consecrated persons must be the first to undertake the task of the new evangelization, by putting into action—flowing from their deep communion with Christ—the best of their talents, according to their spiritual and apostolic charisms. Nor should it be forgotten that “the apostolate of all religious consists first in their witness of a consecrated life, which they are bound to foster by prayer and penance.”
In conformity with their form of consecration in the world, members of secular institutes are called to make a very real apostolic effort in the service of Christ and his kingdom in the midst of society.
The new evangelization invites us to relive in an evangelical and apostolic dimension the fundamental character of following Christ and responding to the call to holiness. An essential renewal at its source will make evangelization “new in its ardor, new in its expressions and new in its methods.” It demands the witness of life in a more generous communion with Christ, in such a way that the fervor of the charism may be new. It also requires a profound renewal in proclamation and in works—in perfect ecclesial communion—in such a way that it will be new in its expressions. Lastly, it also urges people in these days to adopt that apostolic “boldness in initiatives” and genuine creativity which is proper to the charisms of the Spirit, so that it may be new in its methods.
It requires first and foremost the commitment to live the Gospel which is preached, and to incarnate it in one’s personal and community life so that the proclamation of the good news may be upheld by the power of Gospel witness. To the extent that their lives shine and radiate the light and warmth of truth and of the charity of Christ, these Gospel witnesses will be so many evangelizers in the church and in the world.
Commitment to the new evangelization in nations with ancient Christian roots, where the Christian fabric needs to be rewoven, requires an intellectual preparation ready to respond to cultural challenges so as to offer men and women of advanced societies the splendor of Gospel truth and the true meaning of property and justice, which has its source and norm in God.
The Renewal of Apostolic Activities
97. In these days of searching for one’s identity, it is important to be aware of the demands of renewal in the apostolic mission, in light of one’s own charism and the changed conditions of the time. Today the state has taken over many of the social works which through the apostolic work of religious congregations put the church in the forefront. Today there is still an urgent need for a renewed presence of consecrated persons in these institutions in order to bear witness to Christ in the field of education, health care and the works of mercy on behalf of children, young people and the elderly.
A return to the sources has helped many institutes of consecrated life to refocus their traditional mission and offer new modes of presence and renewed forms of the apostolate in response to the new necessities. The call to the new evangelization is helping many communities to take a new look at the form of their life in common and their apostolate. Sometimes courageous decisions have been necessary in order to continue or to begin new apostolic forms which are in harmony with the charism of the congregation.
Some criteria which can shed light on the choices are the following: the commitment to safeguard the meaning of the charism in a given environment; the concern to keep alive a genuine fraternal life; attention to the needs of the particular church and a constant dialogue with its pastors; dedication to those suffering from the new forms of poverty which the world neglects; and the ability to offer new and meaningful spiritual and apostolic forms of presence.
New Forms of Apostolic Presence
98. Without neglecting traditional forms and apostolates, there is a need for other forms of apostolic presence.
The choice of such a presence is required when an institute reflects on the implications of inculturation. An analysis of the social, political and economic situation of the Southern Hemisphere—which implies a dialogue between the world’s North and South—leads to a critical examination of many traditional apostolates, not only concerning numbers and geographic location, but also as regards their quality. Many institutes feel called to participate more actively in the concerted development of peoples involved in the democratic process.
Some new forms of apostolic presence include the following: participation in ecumenical movements which seek the promotion of Christian unity; dialogue with followers of other religions, especially through presence and community witness; and the call to cooperate with various types of local and international groups committed—even for purely humanitarian reasons—to alleviating sufferings of every kind.
A special form of apostolic participation in this period of the church’s history is expressed in sharing with the laity one’s manner of seeing and acting, especially in certain fields which fall into their area of expertise such as schools and the care of the sick and suffering.
In recent years many communities and institutes have developed a network of associates or friends—priests and laity—who share their spirituality and cooperate in their mission. This is a growing situation which is still in search of proper forms but which can allow communities of consecrated persons a better expression of their life in the church and their specific apostolate.
These new forms can play an important role in supporting persons engaged in a spiritual search who want to commit themselves to the church in a specific field. These forms offer the possibility to create places for sharing, for faith and for support in a common mission lived in diverse forms but realized in the same spirit. It is important not to limit these new experiences but to leave new paths open for exploration.
The Mission “Ad Gentes”
99. The new evangelization explicitly includes the generous invitation to participate in the mission <ad gentes,> which John Paul II addressed in an explicit manner to the whole church in his encyclical <Redemptoris Missio.> It concerns all institutes, those of contemplative life and apostolic life in virtue of their total dedication to the service of the church, each according to its proper nature and mission. Their history and vitality, the fruits of holiness and martyrdom of many institutes, and the development and universality they have achieved are related to the generosity with which they have responded to Christ’s invitation to proclaim the Gospel to all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19-20). The history of the consecrated life, “from the ancient monastic institutions, to the medieval orders, up to the more recent congregations” is one of mission.
Today too, “since the members of the consecrated life”—and similarly the members of societies of apostolic life—”dedicate themselves through their consecration to the service of the church, they are obliged in a special manner to engage in missionary work in accord with the character of the institute.”
The pope addresses a pressing appeal to institutes of contemplative life to be present in the younger churches, especially where religions have a great esteem for the contemplative life because of their asceticism and their search for the absolute.
The Holy Father has also addressed a specific invitation to the institutes of women and those of men which by their special charism were founded for the missions. The proclamation of Christ, then, demands the mission <ad gentes,> which is still not complete among so many peoples who are still waiting for the proclamation of the one savior.
Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, present in the younger churches, are invited to transform themselves from evangelized communities to evangelizing communities and to be missionaries without boundaries.
For the Unity of All Who Believe in Christ
100. Christ’s prayer, “that they all may be one…” (Jn. 17:21) must be in the heart of all consecrated persons. The institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life have specific opportunities to promote the ecumenical ideal and activity, according to their charisms and constitutions. A knowledge of the non-Catholic communities and their spiritual traditions, especially those of the Eastern churches, is the starting point for an authentic practice of ecumenism.
Noteworthy among the activities most suitable for fostering the unity of Christians are the spiritual ecumenism of the conversion of the heart; the spiritual ecumenism of holiness; the spiritual ecumenism of public and private prayer and selfless service of the church and the world; the promotion and achievement of this spiritual ecumenism among the faithful through fostering their spiritual formation; and the organization of prayer gatherings, discussions, retreats and a better knowledge of the different Christian spiritual traditions.
In particular they are asked to maintain relations with monasteries or cenobitic communities of other Christian communions for the exchange of spiritual and intellectual gifts and of experiences of apostolic life so that the development of the religious charisms of such communions can make a real contribution to the whole ecumenical movement. In this way, a fruitful spiritual imitation can be elicited.
Furthermore, all are invited to foster an ecumenical education and, according to their capabilities, a more effective collaboration, through participating in the activities of the church’s ecumenical organizations. It is also considered opportune for the various institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life to have inside their community a delegate or commission entrusted with guaranteeing their own ecumenical commitment in formation and the ecumenical activity of the members of their own institute.
Individuals and communities, involved for various reasons in the dialogue with Judaism, should also be encouraged.
101. Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life can make a valid contribution to dialogue with followers of other religions, where oftentimes there can be found experiences of the “monastic” life dedicated to asceticism and contemplation.
Many men and women religious are in a privileged position to emphasize some values shared with other religions such as prayer, meditation and asceticism. In such a way the followers of other religions can more easily recognize the church’s deep spiritual dimension beyond her organizational and charitable aspects.
The methods of interreligious dialogue and the proclamation of the mystery of Christ can include the following: the sharing of one’s own spiritual wealth, especially in the area of the monastic experience, some of which is already in process; the exchange between centers of theology and spirituality to achieve a greater knowledge of their respective religious heritage; and cooperation in works of charity, which in other religions are often the fruit and sign of the authenticity of the spiritual life as a sharing in God’s compassion for all. The consecrated life, especially the contemplative life, offers a witness to the majesty and charity of God and the union of all people in Christ. In some areas the presence of lay brothers and the members of secular institutes can be of great help for giving the church a silent but effective presence. At the same time, the contribution of consecrated women is invaluable in this area for a proper promotion of the dignity of women and their becoming a more active part of society.
Evangelize With the Fervor of the Saints
102. The new evangelization urges all the sons and daughters of the founders to express with the fervor of the saints their own charism in the unity of their consecration and the variety of ministries in the service of the kingdom.
Paul VI affirmed this in reference to religious; “Today more than ever the world needs to see in you men and women who have believed in the word of the Lord, in his resurrection and in eternal life, even to the point of dedicating their lives to witnessing to the reality of that love, which is offered to all men. In the course of her history, the church has ever been quickened and gladdened by many holy religious who, in the diversity of their vocations, have been living witnesses to love without limit and to the Lord Jesus.”
Thus John Paul II urged the religious of Latin America: “In the same way as they did in their day, today your founders would place in the church’s service the best of their apostolic energies, their profound ecclesial sense, the creativity of their pastoral initiatives and their love for the poor, from which so many ecclesial activities flowed. The same generosity and abnegation which moved your founders must move you, their spiritual children, to keep alive the charisms which, raised up by the power of the same Spirit, may continue to be enriched and adapted without a loss of their genuine character in order to be at the service of the church and bring to fulfillment the inauguration of his kingdom.”
Witnesses to God in the World
103. As the Second Vatican Council states, “Let no one think … that their consecrated way of life alienates religious from other men or makes them useless for human society. Though in some cases they have no direct relations with their contemporaries, still in a deeper way they have their sisters and brothers present with them in the heart of Christ and cooperate with them spiritually, so that the upbuilding of human society may always have its foundation in the Lord and have him as its goal.” Great are the tasks of the consecrated life in today’s society, and the church appeals to these tasks to initiate a renewal of society according to the spirit of the Gospel. It is a matter of becoming directly involved in evangelization through the apostolate and of giving an authentic expression to the church’s pastoral ministry.
Besides the spiritual presence which makes our society fruitful through prayer, especially through the divine fruitfulness of the contemplative life, it is necessary to affirm realistically the need for the presence of consecrated people in society as citizens of this world yet pilgrims advancing toward the homeland (cf. Heb. 13:14).With their charisms and service they want to put into effect the Gospel of the Beatitudes and the works of mercy.
Today the consecrated life is present in our society through its manifold apostolic services on behalf of others, according to the diverse charisms. This presence is a magnificent expression of the charity of Christ for the total formation of persons—from literacy training to the education of children and young people—and for the care of the sick and suffering, the elderly, the needy, the handicapped and those marginalized by society.
In order to perform this work on behalf of their sisters and brothers, some are more involved in the professional work of the women and men of our society or are engaged in the more trafficked and busy areas of life. Everyone, however, is in need of evangelization.
Evangelical Option for the Poor
104. The preferential love for the poor has led many to make generous choices in life, yet not without an element of danger. There is certainly no incompatibility between the consecrated life and the Lord’s option for the poor. Instead, such a choice has been a constant note of the apostolic charisms, often inspired by the words and example of the Lord, who was sent to “preach good news to the poor” (Lk. 4:18) and who invites others to practice the works of mercy toward the “little ones,” as he himself did (cf. Mt. 25:40). An effective presence in situations of poverty, as well as the community’s involvement in areas of misery and marginalization, have been in recent decades a sign of the consecrated life which fully embraces not only poverty but also the life of poor people, including their difficulties, problems and dangers.
In this option it is necessary to open hearts, minds and the creativity of evangelical love to all the new cases of poverty, which are increasing each day. One needs only to think of the following: the growing number of unemployed; the most disadvantaged of countries where people have nothing because of natural disasters; those areas devastated by violence, oppression and civil war; and the growing number of immense groups of refugees. Thoughts turn also to the poverty and suffering of all those who have been affected by drugs and AIDS. There are also uprooted groups and peoples; minorities not respected because of race; minority groups subjected to the practice of ethnic cleansing; and groups suffering because of a systematic exclusion of poorer countries from development plans of international groups more oriented toward methods of exclusion than inclusion.
However, we must not forget the world of those who are totally indifferent to the needs of others: those who seem to be satisfied with themselves because they do not lack material goods, but who frequently suffer from despair and loneliness and are tempted to reject the gift of life. They too are searching for the values of the Gospel and for the peace which comes from Christ, often without even realizing it.
Today more than ever “the cry of the poor” (cf. Ps. 9:13; Jb. 34:28; Prv. 21:13) is heard rising “from their personal poverty and their collective misery.” Today many people have heard this cry and have responded, following the path indicated by Paul VI: “That cry must, first of all, bar you from whatever would be a compromise with any form of social injustice. It obliges you also to awaken consciences to the drama of misery, and to the demands of social justice made by the poor in their situation, and to share their bitter cares. Furthermore, it calls many of your institutes to rededicate for the good of the poor some of their works—something which many have already done with generosity. Finally, it enjoins on you a use of goods limited to what is required, for the fulfillment of the function to which you are called. It is necessary that in your daily lives you should give proof, even externally, of authentic poverty.
Concern for the Sick and Suffering
105. Throughout the course of the centuries the church has strongly felt that the need to serve the sick and suffering is an integral part of her mission. Not only has she fostered the flourishing of various works of mercy, but she has also developed within herself many religious institutions whose specific purpose is to promote, organize, improve and make more widespread the care of the sick. In conducting the work of evangelization the missionaries have constantly associated the preaching of the good news with the assistance and care of the sick.
Today too, the presence and commitment of many religious members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life is a sign of the church’s concern for the suffering members of the body of Christ. In following the example of the Lord, physician of souls and bodies, and in the loving and generous welcome of every human life, especially of the weak and suffering, the church actualizes a fundamental aspect of the Lord’s mission.
Consecrated persons involved in the health-care apostolate because of the charism of their own institute, or a choice inspired by it, seek to bear witness to the “Gospel of suffering.” They do so through their service of the sick, the elderly, the handicapped, the marginalized and all those who are victims of the new ills afflicting humanity.
In order for this witness to be effective, those in authority in institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life must see to the appropriate spiritual, ethical, moral and professional formation of their members. Thus, through them the church herself will be present in places of treatment and care, exercising a humanizing effect on medicine and a concrete attention to individuals. Through the Gospel of charity, which sheds light on the salvific meaning of suffering, the offering of suffering, united to Christ crucified and glorified for the salvation of all, can rise up to God.
In the concern for life one must not overlook the world of bioethics and medical research, and the new problems being raised in the field of genetic engineering. Those who through following Christ are present by vocation and mission in these fields cannot help but make the defense of life a commitment which is justified by God’s original plan and the eternal destiny of every human being.
Educating the Young Toward The Civilization of Love
106. A field open to initiatives by institutes is that of young people, the future of the church and humanity. In some countries of the first world young people today are living in a world characterized by a search for great ideals, a profound disappointment with the broken dreams of ideologies and a surrender to the surrogates of the false idols of entertainment and sport. They are frequently the unwitting victims of manipulations which exploit them and lead them to dehumanizing consumerism and facile pleasure that corrupts and degrades the person and life itself. In other nations—especially in the Third World—young people are threatened by extreme poverty, unemployment and the lack of prospects for the future due to a lack of education or work. The Holy Spirit has planted in the church particular charisms which reflect Jesus’ predilection for young people, their education and integral promotion.
Together with public schools, a specific field is that of the Catholic school, for which so many institutes—particularly of religious—have been founded in times when the education of young people was threatened by a secular mentality; This task is still a valid option today and awaits new and courageous apostles of youth.
At this time when the example of our Holy Father John Paul II urges us to take care of the youth of our world, those who have inherited a particular charism in this field have a special responsibility. They are called to offer the best of their energies to rekindle the dialogue with young people and form them according to the heart of Christ, in an effective and attractive presentation of the ideals of the Gospel.
Today, the world of youth needs an adequate education based on Christian principles and respect for human values. This is shown through an acceptance and education of the young people living on the margins of society as well as through a determination to give a response to the great problems of young people today in diverse cultural contexts: unemployment; the lack of basic education; violence; sexual exploitation; and various forms of dependence. A generous presence in listening to young people and in becoming involved with them is necessary so they might find reasons to believe and hope in a civilization of love.
Artisans and Promoters of Culture
107. The proclamation of Christ is particularly bound to the evangelization of culture and cultures. This does not mean that culture should be the norm and measure of the Gospel, but that Christ is the measure of all human work. The church today undertakes the work of inculturation with profound evangelical freedom for the purpose of introducing respectfully, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the values of the Gospel into all human cultures.
The presence of institutes of consecrated life has had a great influence in the transmission and formation of culture. This happened in the Middle Ages, at the beginning of Europe’s consolidation, when the monasteries were the places in which the cultural riches of the past were handed on and the new culture of Christian humanism was developed. This has proven true whenever the light of the Gospel has enlightened new nations and cultures. Many consecrated persons have been the promotes of culture and often the defenders, researchers and scholars of indigenous cultures. In the church’s mission there is a special need today to contribute to a promotion of culture and to the dialogue between culture and faith.
While respecting the specific role of the laity, consecrated persons have their own tasks—especially those consecrated persons who by a particular gift of the Spirit have been called to enlighten the paths of the Gospel in dialogue with reason and human culture. They must work to offer wise responses to the many problems and challenges of today’s culture, especially in the fields of philosophy, theology, scientific research and university studies in the Catholic universities and other institutions entrusted to their care.
Today the world of social communications is one of the most important “<aeropauses>” for the proclamation of the Gospel and the formation of consciences. The mass media have a fundamental impact on public opinion and the formation—or deformation—of conscience. In fact, it has been noted how they cause a loss of value to religious terms; how they are the cause of an erosion of traditional values; and how they are a challenge to effective training in cultural, social and moral values. Nonetheless, they have a formidable potential for improving communications, uniting the world and transmitting the truth of the Gospel when they are used for these ends in an intelligent manner and with authentic professionalism. The consecrated life is also present in social communications which are serving the needs of the Gospel, through its charisms and activity stirred up by the Holy Spirit and adapted to the demands of the time.
Training people in the proper use of the means of communication and the possibility of transforming them into new “<aeropauses>” for the Gospel of Christ is a challenge to apostolic activity in society—present and future.
In Service of the Family
108. The exhortation made by John Paul II to the heads of institutes of consecrated life is becoming ever more pressing in our day. He urged them “to consider—always with substantial respect for the proper and original charism of each one—the apostolate of the family as one of the priority tasks.” Whether in the area of the ordinary pastoral work or through their contact with families in their diverse apostolic ministries, consecrated persons share in various ways the current situation of families in all parts of the world. Some institutes, because of their inspiration from the mystery of Nazareth or their specific apostolic choice are dedicated to the family apostolate. In bringing about mutual aid and an exchange of gifts they highlight the precious value of the vocation to virginity and the complementary aspect of the call to marriage.
The methods of this apostolate are widely known. One need only recall a key text from <Familiaris Consortio:> “Hence the possibility for men and women religious, and members of secular institutes and other institutes of perfection, either individually or in groups, to develop their service to families, with particular solicitude for children, especially if they are abandoned, unwanted, orphaned, poor or handicapped. They can also visit families and look after the sick; they can foster relationships of respect and charity toward one-parent families or families that are in difficulties or are separated; they can offer their own work of teaching and counseling in the preparation of young people for marriage and in helping couples toward truly responsible parenthood; they can open their own houses for simple and cordial hospitality so that families can find there the sense of God’s presence and gain a taste for prayer and recollection, and see the practical examples of lives lived in charity and fraternal joy as members of the larger family of God.”
Artisans of Peace and Justice
109. One of the dimensions of the new evangelization is human advancement, a task which is becoming more important in that some aspects of modern culture tend to dehumanize human existence. At a time when so many people are marginalized from the benefits which progress can give, it is important to recall that consecrated persons have played a pioneering role in the world of education, health care and authentic human advancement in all its forms. Renewing this commitment in courageous and creative initiatives is already a part of a global response to the new evangelization.
Called to live according to the spirit of the Beatitudes, members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life are the artisans of justice and peace in the world. They do so through prayer, witness and a specific apostolate. In virtue of the link between evangelization and human advancement pointed out in the church’s magisterium, consecrated persons find themselves sharing and applying the church’s concern in the field of justice and peace. Their “conversion to God’s original plan for humanity, as revealed in the new man, Jesus Christ, will be the measure of their contribution to hastening in others that conversion of mind and attitudes which will make more true and stable the reform of economic, social and political structures, ensuring a more just and peaceful society.”
The church’s social doctrine can and must be met with a more profound response. Indeed, it broadens the meaning of traditional apostolates to include the horizons of the integral development of every person and all peoples. This plan must evoke a profound reflection which leads to the search for a new humanism. The consecrated life is often at the crossroads of values and activities promoting not only the dignity of the human person, the orientation of the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good and the desire for peace, but also the recognition of supreme values, above all the faith, whose source and end is in God.
The recent social encyclicals of John Paul II, <Sollicitudo Rei Socialis> and <Centesimus Annus,> converge in a strong appeal for development, which cannot be achieved without a call addressed to all our contemporaries, rich and poor alike, and including all those committed to and sharing responsibility for the true progress of the human family—a progress which has social, cultural and spiritual dimensions, and from which those consecrated to God’s cause cannot exempt themselves. As educators and witnesses to true justice and peace, those who have experienced the newness of the Gospel in their following of Christ are called to offer their specific collaboration in this field, communicating it “to other people in their concrete difficulties, struggles, problems and challenges so that these can be illuminated and made more human in the light of faith.”
Witnessing in their life to the values of peace, justice and development, and patiently teaching people while seeking to get to the root of problems, consecrated persons can be witnesses of Christ, who makes all things new.
Witnesses to God’s Plan for Humanity
110. Serving the cause of humanity according to God’s plan is the task of all Christians. The consecrated life cannot be exempt from the great concerns and tasks of the church in preserving the great values of creation and the Gospel. The cause of peace and justice, the defense of life, the fulfillment of the moral law inscribed on the human conscience and the safeguarding of creation are all values which need to be defended and promoted because of their roots in humanity and in the Gospel. As some emblematic persons in the consecrated life have demonstrated, consecrated persons have the responsibility to be particularly sensitive to these problems and to offer to the church their effective and generous collaboration. Their work can be of great service in building the civilization of love in communion with the laity and with respect for their particular apostolic contribution.
A strong common witness of a holiness based on the Gospel, as well as one promoting the holiness of all the people of God, cannot but produce a more positive influence in the world. The charisms of the saints demonstrate the humanizing power of Christian holiness and point to their generous work in the service of humanity.
For this reason the new evangelization is not limited only to its initial proclamation nor to an apostolate of Christian initiation. Today, the Christian fabric of society needs to be repaired everywhere. The consecrated life has an urgent role and great responsibility in this work. Today, catechetical research is needed. There is urgent need for the proclamation of the Gospel truth about the greatest problems of human existence, that is: the relationship of everyone to God the creator and redeemer; respect for life and the dignity of the human person; and the universal destination of goods achieved in such a way as to make the truth of the Gospel shed light on the grave problems of morality. Many initiatives in pastoral programs of spirituality are needed so as to bring to maturity the Christian experience among individuals and groups.
The consecrated life has as its purpose to encourage the advancement of the Christian vocation of the entire people of God, to promote a response to the universal call to holiness and to form authentic apostles of Christ for our world. The heritage of spirituality and that of the apostolic activity of various institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life must be directed toward this particular service of the faithful so as to offer a unique contribution to the new evangelization.
In this way it will be clear that the consecrated life, following the example of Christ the Lord, has a task in the church of transformation and humanization, and that its charisms are the living words of the Gospel and the presence of the incarnate Word for the salvation of the world.
Fidelity of the Consecrated Life
In a Grace-Filled Moment
111. The celebration of the Synod of Bishops devoted to “the consecrated life and its role in the church and in the world” takes place as the church is preparing to celebrate the great jubilee of the year 2000, the 2,000th anniversary of the incarnation of the Word of God, a time of grace in the spread of the Gospel in the world and its renewed salvific presence for our society.
The memory of the past is interwoven with the holiness and role of the consecrated life. Hope for the future—until the Lord returns in the glory of his kingdom—is also a part of the role to be exercised by the charisms stirred by the Spirit.
Therefore, in view of the appeals, challenges, reflections and proposals collected in this <instrumentum laboris> after taking into account the responses coming from the whole church, the celebration of this synod becomes an important moment of discernment and encouragement for the consecrated life and its future, a future open to a hope in the God of history and the Holy Spirit, who is leading the church to the fullness of truth and of evangelical life.
At this grace-filled moment it is important to recall those four fidelities proposed to the consecrated life which ensure vitality in its present and hope for its future.
First of all, <fidelity to Christ and to his Gospel.> Christ, Lord and bridegroom of the church, master and savior of consecrated persons, is the first and ultimate reason for their life and mission; the Gospel the foundation, rule and joy of their existence.
<Fidelity to the church and her mission in the world.> The gift and duty asked of consecrated persons is to feel with the church, to live her mystery and ecclesial communion, and to identify with her mission, which is open to the needs of our world at this moment in history.
<Fidelity to the consecrated life and to the charism of one’s institute.> In an unbroken unity resulting from the work of the Holy Spirit, the consecrated life is called to be itself in its identity, communion and role, in faithfulness to its essential elements and in the splendor of the variety of the spiritual and apostolic charisms of its saints.
<Fidelity to the person and to our age.> As witnesses to God in the world, consecrated persons are invited to that dynamic fidelity which discovers, through contemplation of the Lord’s countenance and attention to the needs of the men and women of our day, the paths of salvation through the charisms of the Gospel sown by the Spirit.
“Now to him who can strengthen you, according to the Gospel, and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, … made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever” (Rom. 16:25-27).
1 Cf. Vatican II, <Lumen Gentium,> 43, 44, 46.
2 Cf. Congregation for Religious ant Secular Institutes and Congregation for Bishops, <Mutuae Relationes,> 28,
3 Ibid., 1.
4 Cf. John Paul II, <Christifideles Laici,> 19.
5 <Lumen Gentium,> 1.
6 John Paul II, “On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord,” 5: L’Osservatore Romano, Feb. 34, 1992.
7 To participants in the international congress promoted by the Union of Superiors General, 2, 8: L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 27, 1993.
8 Among notable documents about the consecrated life published after Vatican II it will be helpful to recall:
—Paul VI, <Ecclesia Sanctae,> II.
—Ibid., <Evangelica Testificatio.>
—John Paul II, <Redemptionis Donum.>
—Ibid., letter to U.S. bishops “In this extraordinary Holy Year,” April 3, 1983.
—Ibid., letter to religious for the Marian year, May 22, 1988: <Acta Apostolicae Sedis,> 80 (1988) 1639-1652.
—Ibid., letter to the Confederation of Latin American Religious “On the 500th Anniversary of the Evangelization of the New World,” June 29, 1990.
—Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, <Venite Seorsum,> Aug. 15, 1969.
—Ibid., <Renovationis Causam, Jan. 6, 1969.
—Congregation for Divine Worship, Roman Ritual, Rite of Religious Profession, Feb. 2, 1970.
—Ibid., Roman Pontifical, Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.
—Ibid., Rite of Blessing of an Abbot and an Abbess.
—Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, “Religious and Human Promotion,” Aug. 12, 1980.
—Ibid., “The Contemplative Dimension of Religious Life,” Aug. 12, 1980.
—Ibid., “Essential Elements in the Church’s Teaching on Religious Life as Applied to Institutes Dedicated to Works of the Apostolate,” May 31, 1983.
—Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, Feb. 2, 1990 (<Potissimum Institutioni>).
—Catechism of the Catholic Church.
—Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, “Fraternal Life in Communion,” Feb. 2, 1994.
9 <Lumen Gentium,> 43-46; <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.7-11.
10 Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canons 607.2; 710; 603; 604; 731.
11 Cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Chapt. XII.
12 Cf. ibid., Canon 554.
13 Cf. ibid., Canon 563.
14 Cf. ibid., Canon 570.
15 Cf. ibid., Canon 572.
16 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
17 Cf. Canon 573
18 <Perfectae Caritatis,> I; cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 44.
19 Cf. <Orientalium Ecclesiarum,> 6; <Unitatis Redintegratio,> 15.
20 Cf. <Ad Gentes,> 11, 18; <Nostra Aetate> 2.
21 Cf. <Gaudium et Spes,> 1.
22 Paul VI, <Evangelii Nuntiandi,> 69.
23 <Lumen Gentium,> 43; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
24 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 7, 8.
25 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> Chapt. 6.
26 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 2.3.
27 Cf. ibid., 2.
28 <Gaudium et Spes,> 4.
29 Cf. <Evangelica Testificatio,> 52.
30 Cf. <Lumen Gentium> 13, Canon 602.
31 <Christifideles Laici> 49.
32 Ibid., 50.
33 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 6.
34 Cf. ibid., 5.
35 Cf. ibid., 2, a, b.
36 Cf. <Ad Gentes,> 18, 40.
37 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 14.
38 Cf. Letter to CLAR, 22-45; cf. Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, Conclusions, 85-93.
39 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis>, 7; cf. <Venite Seorsum;> cf. “The Contemplative Dimension,” 24-29.
40 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Communion,” 73-85.
41 Cf. <Ad Gentes,> 40.
42 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis> 10; cf. John Paul II, address to plenary assembly of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Jan. 24, 1986.
43 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 10.
44 Pius XII, <Provida Mater Ecclesia,> Feb. 2, 1947; cf. ibid., <Primo Feliciter,> March 12, 1948; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 11; cf. Canons 710-730; cf. Eastern Canons 563- 569; cf. Paul VI, address to moderators of secular institutes, Sept. 20, 1972; cf. John Paul II, “To Secular Institutes,” Aug. 28, 1980.
45 Cf. Canon 604; E. Canon 570; cf. Catechism. 922-924.
46 Cf. E. Canon 570.
47 Cf. E. Canons 481-485; Canon 570.
48 Cf. Canon 603; cf. Catechism, 920-921.
49 Cf. Canons 631-746; cf. E. Canon 572.
50 Cf. E. Canons 554-562.
51 Cf. John Paul II, <Redemptoris Missio,> (Dec. 7, 1990), 82.
52 Cf. Canon 605; cf. E. Canon 571.
53 Cf. ibid.
54 Cf. John Paul II, <Pastor Bonus,> (June 28, 1988) 21.2.
55 Cf. Canon 576.
56 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 1.
57 Cf. ibid., Chapt. 6.
58 Cf. ibid., 44.
59 Cf. ibid., 43, 44, 46; <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1,2.
60 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 44; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 5.
61 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 46; <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
62 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 44; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
63 <Gaudium et Spes,> 41.
64 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 2.
65 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 10.
66 <Christifideles Laici,> 20.
67 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 13.
68 Ibid., 12; cf. 4.
69 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 14.
70 <Lumen Gentium,> 45.
71 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 8.
72 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 42, 43, 44; <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
73 Cf. <Evangelica Testificatio,> 11, 32.
74 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 43; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
75 <Lumen Gentium,> 42, 43.
76 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 2a.
77 St. Stephen the Confessor, <De Unitate et Diversitate Regularum,> Prologue: PL 204, 1136.
78 St. Francis, <Regula Bullata,> Chapt. I, 1: ibid., <Ecrits,> Paris 1981, 180 <Sources Chretiennes,> 285.
79 <Regula S. Alberti Patriarchae Nierosolymitani eremiris montis Carmeli data,> Prologue: B. Zimmerman, <Monumenta Historica Carmelitana,> I, Lirinae 1907, 12.
80 <Formula Instituti Societas Iesu: Monumenta Ignatiana, Constitutiones,> Rome, 1934, 375.
81 “<Christo nihil omnino praeponere,”> St. Benedict, <Regula,> c. 4, 21 and c. 72, 11: CSEL, 75, 30 and 164.
82 Cf. St. Athanasius, <Vita Sancti Antonii:> PG 26, 835-976.
83 Pius XII, <Mystici Corporis.>
84 <Lumen Gentium> 46.
85 Cf. 1 Tm. 5:11-12, cf. St. Basil the Great, <Epistula> 46: PG 32, 372; ibid., <Regulae Brevis Tractatae,> Interr. 2: PG 31, 1081.
86 Cf. ibid., <Regulae Brevis Tractatae,> Interr. 225: PG 31, 1231.
87 Cf. St. Augustine, <Regula ad Servos Dei,> 1, 1: PL 32, 1378.
88 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 11.
89 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 11.
90 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
91 Roman Ritual, Rite of Religious Profession, 72, Solemn Blessing or Consecration of the Professed.
92 <Lumen Gentium,> 13.
93 <Mutuae Relationes,> 12.
94 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 5; <Lumen Gentium,> 44.
95 <Lumen Gentium,> 42, 44; cf. St. Thomas, <Summa Theologiae,> II, II q. 184, a. 3 and q. 188, a. 2.
96 Cf. <Redemptionis Donum,> 8.
97 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 5.
98 “Essential Elements,” 7.
99 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 5; cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 44.
100 Cf. Rite of Religious Profession, 67; Solemn Blessing or Consecration of the Professed, 72; cf. Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, 24: Prayer of Profession.
101 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 12; cf. <Evangelica Testificatio,> 13-15; cf. <Redemptionis Donum,> 11.
102 <Evangelica Testificatio,> 13.
103 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 13, 39-41.
104 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 13; cf. <Evangelica Testificatio,> 16-22; cf. <Redemptionis Donum,> 12.
105 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 14.
106 <Perfectae Caritatis,> 14; cf. <Evangelica Testificatio,> 23-29; cf. <Redemptionis Donum,> 13.
107 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 15.
108 Cf. Letter to CLAR, 17.
109 <Gaudium et Spes,> 41.
110 <Lumen Gentium,> 31.
111 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 15; cf. Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Consecrated Life, “Fraternal Life in Community,” (Feb. 2, 1994), 8-10.
112 Cf. St. Dorothy, abbess, <Doctrina> VI, 9: PG 88, 1695.
113 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 44.
114 Cf. Canon 602.
115 Cf. Canons 607.2; 665.1; 731.1; cf. E. Canons 478, 572.
116 Cf. Canon 714; cf. E. Canons 563, 563.1, 563.3.
117 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 11-21.
118 Cf. ibid., 29-34, 43.
119 Cf. ibid., 47-52; cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 13.
120 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 58-59.
121 <Lumen Gentium,> 1.
122 Cf. <Ad Gentes,> 2.
123 <Lumen Gentium,> 48.
124 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 14; cf. Canon 673.
125 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 7; cf. Canon 674.
126 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 8; cf. Canon 675.
127 Cf. Canon 731.
128 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 11; cf. Canon 710.
129 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 1.
130 Cf. Letter to religious on the Marian year.
131 <Lumen Gentium,> 46.
132 Cf. John Paul II, <Redemptoris Custos> (Aug. 15, 1989), 32.
133 St. Ambrose, <De Virginibus,> II, 2, 15: PL 16, 222; cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 25.
134 Cf. “Essential Elements,” 53.
135 Cf. Final Report, Dec. 10, 1985, II, C, 1.
136 <Christifideles Laici,> 19; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to Bishops on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion,” (May 28, 1992), 16.
137 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 3.
138 Ibid., 4.
139 Cf. “Aspects of the Church as Communion,” 16.
140 Cf. ibid., 15-16; cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 20-21.
141 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 7.
142 Cf. ibid., 23.
143 Cf. ibid., 12, 13.
144 Cf. ibid., 8; previous explanatory note, 2.
145 Cf. ibid., 12, 13, 31.
146 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 2.
147 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 43, 44.
148 Cf. ibid., 7.
149 Cf. ibid., 12; cf. “Aspects of the Church as Communion,” 15-16; cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 9.
150 Cf. Vatican Council II, <Christus Dominus,> 16.
151 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 5.
152 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 43; cf. Canon 207.2.
154 <Christifideles Laici,> 15.
155 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 31.
156 John Paul II, <Pastores Dabo Vobis> (March 25, 1992), 31.
157 Cf. Canon 713.3.
158 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 108.
159 Cf. Canon 705.
160 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 9-12.
161 Cf. ibid., 34-36; cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 14.
162 John Paul II, <Redemptor Hominis> (March 4, 1979), 21.
163 “Aspects of the Church as Communion,” 16.
164 Cf. Canon 590.2; cf. E. Canon 412.1; Canons 555, 564.
165 Cf. Canon 590.1.
166 Cf. ibid., Canon 586.
167 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 23.
168 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 5.
169 John Paul II, address to superiors general, Nov. 24, 1978, 3: L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 25, 1978, 2.
170 Cf. “Religious and Human Promotion,” 24.
171 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 6, 9c.
172 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 23.
173 Cf. ibid., 7; cf. Directory for Bishops, 6.
174 Cf. ibid.
175 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 27; cf. <Christus Dominus,> 11.
176 Cf. <Christus Dominus,> 35,3-4; cf. Canon 586.
177 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 9.
178 Directory for Bishops, 6.
179 Cf. <Christus Dominus,> 35, 1, 4; Cf. Canon 678.1; cf. E. Canon 415.1; Canon 554.2.
180 Cf. Canons 678.2; 715; 738.
181 Cf. ibid., Canons 678.3; 681.2; 682; 738.3.
182 Cf. Roman Pontifical, The Ordination of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, <editio typica altera.> Vatican Polyglot Press, 1990, 62.
183 Cf. Canon 677.1; cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 14, 17, 18.
184 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 10; cf. Canon 676.
185 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 9.
186 Cf. <Christus Dominus,> 35.1.
187 Cf. Canon 680; cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 20, 21, 36-38, 46, 47, 52.
188 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 60.
189 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 2 c.
190 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 61.
191 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 9.
192 Cf. <Ad Gentes,> 18.
193 Cf. Canon 674; cf. E. Canons 481, 570; <Mutuae Relationes,> 25.
194 Cf. Canon 663.
195 Canon 604; cf. E. Canon 570.
196 Cf. Canon 681.2; cf. E. Canon 282.2.
197 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 30.
198 Cf. <Christus Dominus,> 35.1; cf. <Ad Gentes,> 20; cf. <Pastores Dabo Vobis,> 17, 31.
199 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 31; cf. <Apostolicam Actuositatem,> 4, 7; cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 15, 23, 40-44.
200 <Christifideles Laici,> 15.
201 Cf. ibid., 15, 65.
202 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 31.
203 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 62.
204 Cf. Canons 586.1, 578; cf. E. Canon 426.
205 Cf. Canon 586.2.
206 Cf. Canons 618.1, 617, 596; cf. E. Canons 411, 511.
207 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 13.
208 Cf. ibid., 11, 13
209 Cf. ibid., 13.
210 Cf. Canon 594
211 Cf. Canons 590.1, cf. E. Canons 412, 555, 564.
212 Cf. Canon 593.1; E. Canons 413, 554.2.
213 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 22.
214 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 45; <Christus Dominus,> 35.3; cf. Canon 591; E. Canon 412.2.
215 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 21.
216 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 23; cf. Canon 708.
217 Cf. Canon 708.
218 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 23; cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 21; cf. Canon 708.
219 <Gaudium et Spes,> 92.
220 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 12-20.
221 Cf. <Perfectae Caritatis,> 17; Canon 669.1.
222 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 65.
223 Cf. John Paul II, <Mulieris Dignitatem> (Aug. 15, 1988), 20-21.
224 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 41.
225 Cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 49-50.
226 Cf. ibid., 43; cf. Canon 646.
227 Cf. Canon 659.2-.3.
228 Cf. <Pastores Dabo Vobis,> 62.
229 Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Directives Concerning the Preparation of Seminary Educators, Nov. 4, 1993.
230 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 98-100.
231 Cf. ibid., 66-71; cf. <Pastores Dabo Vobis,> 70-81.
232 Cf. John Paul II, <Redemptoris Missio> (Dec. 7, 1990), 90-91.
233 Cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 90-91.
234 Paul VI, <Evangelii Nuntiandi> (Dec. 8, 1975), 69.
235 Ibid., 21.
236 Cf. ibid., 13.
237 Canon 673.
238 John Paul II, address to general assembly of the Latin American Bishops’ Council (Port-au-Prince, March 9, 1983).
239 Cf. <Mutuae Relationes,> 12.
240 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community, 67.
241 Cf. <Redemptoris Missio,> 69.
242 Canon 783.
243 Cf. <Redemptoris Missio,> 69.
244 Cf. <Orientalium Ecclesiarum,> 6; <Unitatis Redintegratio,> 15.
245 Cf. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Ecumenical Directory (March 25, 1993), 50-51.
246 Cf. <AD Gentes,> 40.
247 Cf. <Redemptoris Missio,> 70; cf. Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, “Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (May 19, 1991), 4246.
248 <Evangelica Testificatio,> 53.
249 Cf. Letter to CLAR, 26.
250 Cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 46.
251 Cf. “Fraternal Life in Community,” 63.
252 <Evangelica Testificatio,> 63.
253 Ibid., 18.
254 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Establishing the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, Feb. 11, 1985, 1.
255 Cf. <Redemptoris Missio,> 78.
256 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on Human Suffering (Feb. 11, 1984), 28.
257 Cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 38.
258 Congregation for Catholic Education, “The Catholic School” (June 24, 1977), 74- 76.
259 Cf. <Redemptoris Missio,> 52-54.
260 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities (Aug. 14, 1990).
261 Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction on Social Communications (Feb. 22, 1992).
262 Cf. John Paul II, <Familiaris Consortio,> 74.
263 Cf. ibid.
264 <Evangelii Nuntiandi,> 31; John Paul II, Address to the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate (Santo Domingo, Oct. 12, 1992), 13-19; Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, Conclusions, Chapt. 2.
265 “Religious and Human Promotion, 15.”
266 John Paul II, <Centesimus Annus> (May 1, 1991), 59.
267 Cf. ibid., 62.
268 Cf. “Religious and Human Promotion,” 13-21; cf. Directives for Formation in Religious Institutes, 18.