POPE JOHN PAUL II, APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION
TO MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS ON THEIR CONSECRATION IN THE LIGHT OF THE MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION
(Selected texts that deal with formation based on A. Values and Principles of consecrated life; B. Vocations; C. Initial formation; D. Ongoing formation)
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A. Values and Principles of consecrated life
1. The gift of the Redemption, which this extraordinary Jubilee Year emphasizes, brings with it a particular call to conversion and reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ. While the outward reason for this extraordinary Jubilee is of an historical nature for what is being celebrated is the 1950th anniversary of the crucifixion and resurrection-at the same time it is the interior motive that is dominant, the motive that is connected with the very depth of the mystery of the Redemption. The Church was born from that mystery, and it is by that mystery that she lives throughout her history. The period of the extraordinary Jubilee has an exceptional character. The call to conversion and reconciliation with God means that we must meditate more deeply on our life and our Christian vocation in the light of the mystery of the Redemption, in order to fix that life and vocation ever more firmly in that mystery.
While this call concerns everyone in the Church, in a special way it concerns you, men and women religious, who, in your consecration to God through the vows of the evangelical counsels, strive towards a particular fullness of Christian life. Your special vocation and the whole of your life in the Church and the world take their character and their spiritual power from the same depth of the mystery of the Redemption. By following Christ along the “narrow and…hard” way,(1) you experience in an extraordinary manner how true it is that “with him is plenteous redemption”: copiosa apud eum redemptio.(2)
2. Therefore, as this Holy Year moves towards its close, I wish to address myself in a particular way to all of you, the men and women religious, who are entirely consecrated to contemplation or vowed to the various works of the apostolate. I have already done so in numerous places and on various occasions, confirming and extending the evangelical teaching contained in the whole of the Church’s Tradition, especially in the Magisterium of the recent Ecumenical Council, from the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium to the Decree Perfectae caritatis, in the spirit of the indications of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica testificatio of my Predecessor, Paul VI. The Code of Canon Law, which recently came into force and which in a way can be considered the final conciliar document, will be for all of you a valuable aid and a sure guide in concretely stating the means for faithfully and generously living your magnificent vocation in the Church.
I greet you with the affection of the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter, with whom your communities are united in a characteristic way. From the same See of Rome there also reach you, with an unceasing echo, the words of St. Paul: “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband.”(3) The Church, which receives after the Apostles the treasure of marriage to the divine Spouse, looks with the greatest love towards all her sons and daughters who, by the profession of the evangelical counsels and through her own mediation, have made a special covenant with the Redeemer of the world.
Accept this word of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption precisely as a word of love, spoken by the Church for you. Accept it, wherever you may be: in the cloister of the contemplative communities, or in the commitment to the many different forms of apostolic service: in the missions, in pastoral work, in hospitals or other places where the suffering are served, in educational institutions, schools or universities-in fact, in every one of your houses where, “gathered in the name of Christ,” you live in the knowledge that the Lord is “in your midst.”(4)
May the Church’s loving word, addressed to you in the Jubilee of the Redemption, be the reflection of that loving word that Christ Himself said to each one of you when He spoke one day that mysterious “Follow me”(5) from which your vocation in the Church began.
“And Jesus, Looking Upon Him, Loved Him”
3. “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him,”(6) and said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”(7) Even though we know that those words, addressed to the rich young man, were not accepted by the one being called, their content deserves to be carefully reflected upon, for they present the interior structure of a vocation.
“And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him.” This is the love of the Redeemer: a love that flows from all the human and divine depths of the Redemption. This love reflects the eternal love of the Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(8) The Son, invested with that love, accepted the mission from the Father in the Holy Spirit and became the Redeemer of the world. The Father’s love was revealed in the Son as redeeming love. It is precisely this love that constitutes the true price of the Redemption of man and the world. Christ’s Apostles speak of the price of the Redemption with profound emotion: “You were ransomed…not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,”(9) writes St. Peter And St. Paul states: “You were bought with a price.”(10)
The call to the way of the evangelical counsels springs from the interior encounter with the love of Christ, which is a redeeming love. Christ calls precisely through this love of His. In the structure of a vocation, the encounter with this love becomes something specifically personal. When Christ “looked upon you and loved you,” calling each one of you, dear religious, that redeeming love of His was directed towards a particular person, and at the same time it took on a spousal character: it became a love of choice. This love embraces the whole person, soul and body, whether man or woman, in that person’s unique and unrepeatable personal “I.” The One who, given eternally to the Father, “gives” Himself in the mystery of the Redemption, has now called man in order that he in his turn should give himself entirely to the work of the Redemption through membership in a community of brothers or sisters, recognized and approved by the Church. Surely it is precisely to this call that St. Paul’s words can be applied: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…? You are not your own; you were bought with a price.”(11)
Yes, Christ’s love has reached each one of you, dear brothers and sisters, with that same “price” of the Redemption. As a consequence of this, you have realized that you are not your own, but belong to Christ. This new awareness was the fruit of Christ’s “loving look” in the secret of your heart. You replied to that look by choosing Him who first chose each one of you, calling you with the measurelessness of His redeeming love. Since He calls “by name,” His call always appeals to human freedom. Christ says: “If you wish….” And the response to this call is, therefore, a free choice. You have chosen Jesus of Nazareth, the Redeemer of the world, by choosing the way that He has shown you.
“If You Wish To Be Perfect…”
4. This way is also called the way of perfection. Speaking to the young man, Christ says: “If you wish to be perfect….” Thus the idea of the “way of perfection” has its motivation in the very Gospel source. Moreover, do we not hear, in the Sermon on the Mount: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”(12)? The calling of man to perfection was in a certain way perceived by thinkers and moralists of the ancient world and also afterwards, in the different periods of history. But the biblical call has a completely original nature: it is particularly demanding when it indicates to man perfection in the likeness of God Himself.(13) Precisely in this form the call corresponds to the whole of the internal logic of Revelation, according to which man was created in the image and likeness of God Himself. He must therefore seek the perfection proper to him in the line of this image and likeness. As St. Paul will write in the letter to the Ephesians: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”(14)
Thus the call to perfection belongs to the very essence of the Christian vocation. On the basis of this call we must also understand the words which Christ addressed to the young man in the Gospel. These words are in a particular way linked to the mystery of the Redemption of man in the world. For this Redemption gives back to God the work of creation which had been contaminated by sin, showing the perfection which the whole of creation, and in particular man, possesses in the thought and intention of God Himself Especially man must be given and restored to God, if he is to be fully restored to himself. From this comes the eternal call: “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”(15) Christ’s words: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor,…” clearly bring us into the sphere of the evangelical counsel of poverty, which belongs to the very essence of the religious vocation and profession.
At the same time these words can be understood in a wider and, in a sense, essential way. The Teacher from Nazareth invites the person He is addressing to renounce a program of life in which the first place is seen to be occupied by the category of possessing, of “having,” and to accept in its place a program centered upon the value of the human person: upon personal “being” with all the transcendence that is proper to it.
Such an understanding of Christ’s words constitutes as it were a wider setting for the ideal of evangelical poverty, especially that poverty which, as an evangelical counsel, belongs to the essential content of your mystical marriage with the divine Spouse in the Church. Reading Christ’s words in the light of the superiority of “being” over “having,” especially if the latter is understood in a materialistic and utilitarian sense, we as it were touch the very anthropological bases of a vocation in the Gospel. In the framework of the development of contemporary civilization, this is a particularly relevant discovery. And for this reason the very vocation to “the way of perfection” as laid down by Christ becomes equally relevant. In today’s civilization, especially in the context of the world of well being based on consumerism, man bitterly experiences the essential incompleteness of personal “being” which affects his humanity because of the abundant and various forms of “having”; he then becomes more inclined to accept this truth about vocation which was expressed once and for all in the Gospel. Yes, the call which you, dear brothers and sisters, accepted when you set out on the way of religious profession touches upon the very roots of humanity, the roots of man’s destiny in the temporal world. The evangelical “state of perfection” does not cut you off from these roots. On the contrary, it enables you to anchor yourselves even more firmly in the elements that make man man, permeating this humanity-which in various ways is burdened by sin-with the divine and human leaven of the mystery of the Redemption.
“You Will Have Treasure in Heaven”
5. Vocation carries with it the answer to the question: Why be a human person-and how? This answer adds a new dimension to the whole of life and establishes its definitive meaning. This meaning emerges against the background of the Gospel paradox of losing one’s life in order to save it, and on the other hand saving one’s life by losing it “for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the Gospel,” as we read in Mark.(16)
In the light of these words, Christ’s call becomes perfectly clear: “Go, sell what you possess, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”(17) Between this “go” and the subsequent “come, follow me” there is a close connection. It can be said that these latter words determine the very essence of vocation. For a vocation is a matter of following the footsteps of Christ (sequi-to follow, hence sequela Christi). The terms “go…sell…give” seem to lay down the precondition of a vocation. Nevertheless, this condition is not “external” to a vocation but is already inside it. For a person discovers the new sense of his or her humanity not only in order “to follow” Christ but to the extent that he or she actually does follow Him. When a person “sells what he possesses” and “gives it to the poor,” he discovers that those possessions and the comforts he enjoyed were not the treasure to hold on to. The treasure is in his heart, which Christ makes capable of”giving” to others by the giving of self. The rich person is not the one who possesses but the one who “gives,” the one who is capable of giving.
At this point the Gospel paradox becomes particularly expressive. It becomes a program of being. To be poor in the sense given to this “being” by the Teacher from Nazareth is to become a dispenser of good through one’s own human condition. This also means to discover “the treasure.” This treasure is indestructible. It passes together with man into the dimension of the eternal. It belongs to the divine eschatology of man. Through this treasure man has his definitive future in God. Christ says: “You will have treasure in heaven.” This treasure is not so much a “reward” after death for the good works done following the example of the divine Teacher, but rather the eschatological fulfillment of what was hidden behind these good works here on earth, in the inner “treasure” of the heart. Christ Himself, in fact, when He invited His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount(18) to store up treasure in heaven, added: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”(19) These words indicate the eschatological character of the Christian vocation. They indicate even more the eschatological nature of the vocation that is realized through spiritual marriage to Christ by the practice of the evangelical counsels.
6. The structure of this vocation, as seen from the words addressed to the young man in the synoptic Gospels,(20) is traced little by little as one discovers the fundamental treasure of one’s own humanity in the perspective of that “treasure” which man “has in heaven.” In this perspective the fundamental treasure of one’s own humanity is connected to the fact of “being, by giving oneself.” The direct point of reference in such a vocation is the living person of Jesus Christ. The call to the way of perfection takes shape from Him and through Him in the Holy Spirit, who continually “recalls” to new people, men and women, at different times of their lives but especially in their youth, all that Christ “has said,”(21) and especially what He “said” to the young man who asked him: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”(22) Through the reply of Christ, who “looks upon” His questioner “with love,” the strong leaven of the mystery of the Redemption penetrates the consciousness, heart and will of a person who is searching with truth and sincerity.
Thus the call to the way of the evangelical counsels always has its beginning in God: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”(23) The vocation in which a person discovers in depth the evangelical law of giving, a law inscribed in human nature, is itself a gift! It is a gift overflowing with the deepest content of the Gospel, a gift which reflects the divine and human image of the mystery of the Redemption of the world. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”(24)
C. Initial Formation
Religious Profession Is a “Fuller Expression”of Baptismal Consecration
7. Your vocation, dear brothers and sisters, has led you to religious profession, whereby you have been consecrated to God through the ministry of the Church, and have been at the same time incorporated into your religious family. Hence, the Church thinks of you, above all, as persons who are “consecrated”: consecrated to God in Jesus Christ as His exclusive possession. This consecration determines your place in the vast community of the Church, the People of God. And at the same time this consecration introduces into the universal mission of this people a special source of spiritual and supernatural energy: a particular style of life, witness and apostolate, in fidelity to the mission of your institute and to its identity and spiritual heritage. The universal mission of the People of God is rooted in the messianic mission of Christ Himself-Prophet, Priest and King-a mission in which all share in different ways. The form of sharing proper to “consecrated” persons corresponds to your manner of being rooted in Christ. The depth and power of this being rooted in Christ is decided precisely by religious profession.
Religious profession creates a new bond between the person and the One and Triune God, in Jesus Christ. This bond develops on the foundation of the original bond that is contained in the Sacrament of Baptism. Religious profession “is deeply rooted in baptismal consecration and is a fuller expression of it.”(25) In this way religious profession, in its constitutive content, becomes a new consecration: the consecration and giving of the human person to God, loved above all else. The commitment undertaken by means of the vows to practice the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, according to the determinations proper to each religious family as laid down in the constitutions, is the expression of a total consecration to God and, at the same time, the means that leads to its achievement. This is also the source of the manner proper to consecrated persons of bearing witness and of exercising the apostolate. And yet it is necessary to seek the roots of that conscious and free consecration and of the subsequent giving of self to God as His possession in Baptism, the sacrament that leads us to the Paschal Mystery as the apex and center of the Redemption accomplished by Christ.
Therefore, in order to highlight fully the reality of religious profession, we must turn to the vibrant words of St. Paul in the letter to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ…we too might walk in newness of life” (26); “Our old self was crucified with him so that…we might no longer be enslaved to sin”(27); “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(28)
Upon the sacramental basis of Baptism in which it is rooted, religious profession is a new “burial in the death of Christ”: new, because it is made with awareness and by choice; new, because of love and vocation; new, by reason of unceasing “conversion.” This “burial in death” causes the person “buried together with Christ” to “walk like Christ in newness of life.” In Christ crucified is to be found the ultimate foundation both of baptismal consecration and of the profession of the evangelical counsels, which-in the words of the Second Vatican Council-“constitutes a special consecration.” It is at one and the same time both death and liberation. St. Paul writes: “Consider yourselves dead to sin.” At the same time he calls this death “freedom from the slavery of sin.” Above all, though, religious consecration, through its sacramental foundation in holy Baptism, constitutes a new life “for God in Jesus Christ.”
In this way, simultaneously with the profession of the evangelical counsels, in a much more mature and conscious manner, “the old nature is put off” and likewise “the new nature is put on, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” to use once more the words of the letter to the Ephesians.(29)
A Covenant of Spousal Love
8. Thus, then, dear brothers and sisters, all of you who throughout the Church live the covenant of the profession of the evangelical counsels: renew in this Holy Year of the Redemption your awareness of your special sharing in the Redeemer’s death on the cross-that sharing through which you have risen with Him, and continually rise with Him to a new life. The Lord speaks to each of you, just as He once spoke through the prophet Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are mine.”(30)
The evangelical call: “If you would be perfect, . . .follow me”(31) guides us with the light of the words of the divine Teacher. From the depth of the Redemption there comes Christ’s call, and from that depth it reaches the human soul. By virtue of the grace of the Redemption, this saving call assumes, in the soul of the person called, the actual form of the profession of the evangelical counsels. In this form is contained your answer to the call of redeeming love, and it is also an answer of love: a love of self-giving, which is the heart of consecration, of the consecration of the person. The words of Isaiah-“I have redeemed you…you are mine”-seem to seal precisely this love, which is the love of a total and exclusive consecration to God.
This is how the special covenant of spousal love is made, in which we seem to hear an unceasing echo of the words concerning Israel, whom the Lord “has chosen as his own possession.” For in every consecrated person the Israel of the new and eternal covenant is chosen. The whole messianic people, the entire Church, is chosen in every person whom the Lord selects from the midst of this people; in every person who is consecrated for everyone to God as His exclusive possession. While it is true that not even the greatest saint can repeat the words of Christ: “For their sake I consecrate myself”(33) in the full force of these words, nevertheless, through self-giving love, through the offering of oneself to God as His exclusive possession, each one can through faith stand within the radius of these words.
Are we not reminded of this by the other words of the Apostle in the letter to the Romans that we so often repeat and meditate upon: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”(34)? These words are as it were a distant echo of the One who, when He comes into the world and becomes man, says to the Father: “You have prepared a body for me…. Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.”(35)
In this particular context of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, let us then go back again to the mystery of the body and soul of Christ, as the complete subject of spousal and redemptive love: spousal because it is redemptive. For love He offered Himself, for love He gave His body “for the sin of the world.” By immersing yourselves in the Paschal Mystery of the Redeemer through the consecration of the religious vows, you desire, through the love of total giving, to fill your souls and your bodies with the spirit of sacrifice, even as St. Paul invites you to do in the words of the letter to the Romans, just quoted: “to offer your bodies as a sacrifice.”(36) In this way the likeness of that love which in the heart of Christ is both redemptive and spousal is imprinted on the religious profession. And such love should fill each of you, dear brothers and sisters, from the very source of that particular consecration which-on the sacramental basis of holy Baptism-is the beginning of your new life in Christ and in the Church: it is the beginning of the new creation.
Together with this love, may there grow deeper in each one of you the joy of belonging exclusively to God, of being a particular inheritance of the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now and then repeat with the psalmist the inspired words:
“Whom else have I in heaven?
And when I am with you,
the earth delights me not.
Though my flesh and my heart waste away,
God is the rock of my heart
and my portion for ever.”(37)
“I say to the Lord, my Lord are you.
Apart from you I have no good.
O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup,
You it is who hold fast my lot.”(38)
May the knowledge of belonging to God Himself in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world and Spouse of the Church, seal your hearts,(39) all your thoughts, words and deeds, with the sign of the biblical spouse. As you know, this intimate and profound knowledge of Christ is actuated and grows deeper day by day through the life of personal, community and liturgical prayer proper to each of your religious families. In this too, and especially so, the men and women religious who are dedicated essentially to contemplation are a powerful aid and a stimulating support for their brothers and sisters devoted to the works of the apostolate. May this knowledge of belonging to Christ open your hearts, thoughts and deeds-with the key of the mystery of the Redemption to all the sufferings, needs and hopes of individuals and of the world, in the midst of which your evangelical consecration has been planted as a particular sign of the presence of God for whom all live,(40) embraced by the invisible dimension of His kingdom.
The words “Follow me,” spoken by Christ when He “looked upon and loved” each one of you, dear brothers and sisters, also have this meaning: you take part, in the most complete and radical way possible, in the shaping of that “new creation”(41) which must emerge from the Redemption of the world by means of the power of the Spirit of Truth operating from the abundance of the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
From the Vatican, on March 25, in the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, 1984, the sixth of my Pontificate. – JOHN PAUL II
1. Cf. Mt.7:14.
2. Ps. 130 :7.
3. Cf. 2 Cor. 11:2.
4. Cf Mt. 18:20.
5. Cf. Mt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21; LK. 18:22.
6. Mt. 19:21.
7. Mk. 10:21.
8. Jn. 3:16.
9. 1 Pt. 1:18-19.
10. 1 Cor. 6:20.
11. 1 Cor. 6:19-20.
12. Mt. 5:48.
13. Cf. Lv. 19:2; 11:44.
14. Eph. 5:1-2.
15. Is. 44:22.
16. Mk. 8:35; cf. Mt. 10:39; Lk. 9:24.
17. Mt. 19:21.
18. Cf. Mt. 6:19-20.
19. Mt. 6:21.
20. Cf. Mt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21; Lk. 18:22.
21. Cf. Jn. 14:26.
22. Mt. 19:16.
23. Jn. 15:16.
24. 1 Jn. 4:10.
25. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Perfectae caritatis, no. 5; cf. also Document of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Essential Elements in the Church’s Teaching on Religious Life as Applied to Institutes Dedicated to Works of the Apostolate (May 31, 1983), nos. 5ff.
26. Rom. 6:3-4.
27. Rom. 6:6.
28. Rom. 6:11.
29. Cf. Eph. 4:22-24.
30. Is. 43:1.
31. Mt. 19:21.
32. Ps. 135 :4.
33. Jn. 17:19.
34. Rom. 12:1.
35. Heb. 10:5, 7.
36. Rom. 12:1.
37. Ps. 73 :25-26.
38. Ps. 16 :2, 5.
39. Cf. Sg. 8:6.
40. Cf Lk. 20:38.
41. 2 Cor. 5:17.