The Evangelical Counsels

Chapter 8

The Evangelical Counsels

The life of Claretians wants to be a prolongation in history of the way of life of Jesus, the supreme consecrated person and missionary of the Father, according to the charism of St. Anthony Mary Claret, and like the apostles[1]. It intends to represent in the Church the virginity, poverty and obedience of Christ, dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel. Thus, living the evangelical counsels is an essential part of the Claretian charism and it shapes the life of the congregational community from the novitiate on[2].

In order to present this topic, we are going to develop the following points:

   I. COMMON ASPECTS

      II. CHASTITY

      III. POVERTY

IV. OBEDIENCE

  I. COMMON ASPECTS     

We will introduce the topic of the evangelical counsels, and the vows by which they are professed by presenting some aspects common to all three commitments:

1. Understanding the Evangelical Counsels

In a broad, general sense, avoiding inadequate explanations, the counsels must not be understood as opinions or options one is free to follow or not[3]. Even though this may be one of the meanings of the word counsel, in theology the counsels are understood as the Gospel demands that configure the life of Christ. In this sense:

1.1. There are Many Counsels

The Church’s Magisterium reminds us of this[4]. The Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, while it speaks in n. 1 of Jesus as virginal, poor and obedient[5], in n. 77 makes reference to Christ as chaste, poor, obedient, prayerful and missionary.

1.2. Theology Has Systematized Them into Three

The Church throughout its life and in its tradition has found in the counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, which it distinguishes with the title evangelical, a uniquely profound synthesis of the lifestyle of the Lord and of his preaching. The classic triad is, then, the Church’s systematization of the counsels which expesses the dedication to God of all the components of the person: liberty, affectivity, possessions[6].

1.3. They Are Proposed for All

The evangelical counsels shape the life of Christ. Practicing them, he lived his total self-giving to the Father. They are an integral part of his life and form the essential nucleus of the manner and style of his redemption. This is how Christ attained the fullness of grace that he gave to the Church.

The Church has the task of living Christ. And this must be done completely and thus it must live the evangelical counsels. One can easily understand that the evangelical counsels are passed on to the Church as a treasure of its life that cannot be surrendered, that the Church received from the Lord, and that, with the help of his grace, it preserves forever[7]. At the same time, one can also understand that they are, in some way, called for in the lives of all faithful Christians, a demand they cannot renege on.

1.4. According to One’s Specific Vocation in the Church

Now, although all Christians must live the evangelical counsels, everyone does not have to do this in the same way, but according to each person’s specific gift and vocation[8]:

• Faithful Christians live them through the virtues[9].

• Religious live them effectively through the vows, representing in the Church Christ’s way of life and dedicating themselves exclusively to God and God’s plan of salvation[10]. The efficacious profesion of the evangelical counsels is the hallmark of the religious state[11].

In conclusion, evangelical counsel is understood today in a more precise and theological way like charism, i.e., as a call to certain options within the Christian life, effected by God and through God’s gifts. Nevertheless, and understood in this way, they are free options for those called charismatically by God to effectively live them.

2. Profession Expresses Total Self-Giving

In order to become a part of the consecrated life or, in our case, to officially become a member of the Congregation one has to take on the three counsels and must profess vows in the Church[12].

2.1. Profession

The word profession, taken from the most ancient tradition and from texts of the Magisterium, has a complex meaning, related to the profession of faith in baptism:

• It designates the inner act of freedom by which the baptized commit themselves and irrevocable oblige themselves to effectively practice the counsels continually and faithfully.

• It also indicates the official public act of this commitment in front of witnesses and before the People of God, on the day of profession[13].

• It also involves the effective and visible practice of the counsels that derives from the two preceding realities.

• Finally, the consecrated makes his or her practice of the counsels, in some manner, his or her profession (job), because they allow the person to embody a new form of Christian life. Practicing them becomes his or her profession in the Church.

2.2. Public Vows

In our Congregation this profession is carried out through vows[14], i.e., through the well thought out and free promise to live the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. This promise is made directly to God, as an act of adoration and self-offering. Thus the professed is united to God by a three-fold bond. Our vows are public. Through the superior who receives them in the Church’s name this profession is ratified in God’s name[15].

2.3. Total Self-Giving

The three vows seal the total giving of oneself. Thus, they are the act through which the religious “gives himself or herself totally to God under a new and special title”(LG 44)[16]. They are three ways of committing oneslf to live like Christ those areas that embrace one’s entire life: possession of goods, the emotions, one’s autonomy[17]. They express the total giving of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters and they help one, in a definitive way, to concretely live out that self-giving.

 3. They are Professed in Accord with a Specific Charism

Now, in religious life “there is no one uniform way of living out the evangelical counsels. Each institute has to establish its particular way, taking into account its specific nature and purpose…” (MR 11)[18]. There is no generic form of Religious Life to which is added, like some kind of subsidiary principle, the specific goal and particular charism of each institute. Rather, each institute has its own way of understanding and living out the mystery of Christ and of striving for perfection in virtue of its specific charism[19]. As Claretians, our way of living the evangelical counsels is specified by the charism with which St. Anthony Mary Claret experienced and lived the mystery of Christ the Evangelizer. This way, by a gift of the Spirit, is transmitted to our Congregation[20].

 4. The Evangelical Counsels Are an Acceptance of the Mystery of Christ

These three forms of life, rather than renunciation, are a specific acceptance of the mystery of Christ[21]. The evangelical counsels should not be considered a denial of the values inherent in sexuality, in the legitimate desire to make use of material goods and of making autonomous decisions for oneself. These inclinations, insofar as they are based on nature, are good in themselves[22]. Certainly they require, like the whole Christian vocation, an asceticism and on-going conversion[23]. But they do not mean, first and foremost, a giving up of something, but a call to make oneself free and available for God and for one’s brothers and sisters, like Christ. In this context, “obedience is the source of true freedom, chastity manifests the tension in a heart unsatisfied by any finite love, poverty nourishes the hunger and thirst for justice that God promised to satisfy (cf. Mt 5, 6)”[24].

 5. They Are the Living Out and Expression of the Theological Virtues

Finally, in the three evangelical counsels are expressed the life of the Christian’s heart: the three theological virtues, faith, hope and love (cf. 1 Co. 13). In each one of them we live all three; but we can say, based on specific evidence, that love is lived in celibacy, hope in poverty, faith in obedience. And, going to the deepest part of our Christian life, we can say that in this way we live out our sharing in the very nature of God (cf. 2 Pt. 1:4), who is love (cf. 1 Jn. 4: 8,16), poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given us (cf. Rm. 5:5).

 II. CHASTITY

Christ calls everyone to perfect chastity, according to one’s specific state in life (cf. Mt. 5:27-30,48; 18:8-9; 1 Co. 7).

In our Claretian charism, this call involves living chastity through celibacy, made eunuchs for the Kingdom (cf. Mt. 19:10-12; 1 Co. 7:7; 9:5-6), for a better identification with the lifestyle of the historical Christ, a greater apostolic availability and a clearer eschatological and prophetic meaning.

1. The Theological Meaning of Chastity

The basic meaning of celibacy for the Kingdom is found in Christ, and, through Him, in the Holy Trinity itself. Celibacy expresses the complete, loving gift of oneself to God. It manifests the primacy of God above all and over all things, even the strongest bonds in this world, those of the family. It is the reflection of the infinite love that unites the three divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity. Thus, the consecrated person, embracing virginity, makes his or her own the virginal love of Christ and professes it before the world like the only-begotten Son, one with the Father (cf. Jn. 10:30; 14:11)[25]. The bodily condition of the consecrated person thus becomes a prophetic sign.

Consecrated people remain celibate also for the sake of an effective, universal love. Our celibacy specially highlights the theological virtue of charity and makes us universal brothers, having no biological family of our own so that we may love everyone all the more. Our brothers in the charism and the people are our family, and God is the Father of us all (cf. Mt. 6:9; 23:9).

Chastity has an apostolic significance because, in a culture that often reduces sexuality to a sport and a commodity[26], chastity that is specially consecrated is presented as a charism of being faithful in love. Moreover, it is “a chastity lived by men and women that shows balance, self-control, initiative, psychological and emotional maturity (cf. PC 12) […]. Consecrated chastity appears from this perspective as a joyful and liberating experience “[27].

2. Claret’s Personal Experience

Claret lived his emotional and sexual life in chastity[28]. Recall what he tells us about his childhood[29], about temptation suffered as a young man[30] and the tempation while he was in the seminary[31]. Priestly celibacy was for him the expression of total dedication to evangelization, completely setting him free for this purpose, like Christ, and a witness to the Gospel[32]. His way of relating to women grows out of Gospel radicalism, out of a desire not to give others an occasion to think evil and also out of the religious culture of his times[33]. In his proposals we find no reference to chastity; the reason for this must be sought in the special grace he received in his youth[34].

3. The Charismatic Living of Chastity

The Claretian Missionaries, following the example of Christ the Evangelizer of the Father[35] and of Claret, feel called to practice perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, according to the characteristics expressed in our Constitutions[36]. Thus we live chastity charismatically. We are going to examine this in detail:

3.1. Its Scriptural and Theologcal Basis

In n. 22 of the Constitutions we find the three dimensions or theological meanings of celibacy:

a. The Christological Dimension: The starting point for understanding and living our missionary experience according to our spirit is Christ. With his words, and above all with his life, he left us the witness of his celibacy and meaning of it. We feel called to imitate Him, living our emotional and sexual life in the same way He did. For us chastity is not simply a virtuous reality but the very imitation of Christ. He gives meaning to our renunciations, which is not a kind of disparaging of the things of this world. We also imitate Mary, the Virgin par excellence. Thus we take as our Mother and Mistress the first disciple of Christ[37]. Our celibacy is, then, a life situation by which we express, bear witness to and deepen our configuration to Christ.

b. The Apostolic Dimension: We live chastity for the purpose that Jesus accepted it, i.e., we live chastity at the service of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our celibacy allows us to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the service of the Father’s plan (cf. Lk. 2:49). Thus, is a matter of a chastity at the service of the mission. It is a gift of the Spirit (cf. 1 Co. 7:7) at the service of the mission.

c. The Eschatological Dimension: Consecrated chastity, motivated by God and lived consistently, specifically manifests the transforming power of God’s grace present within us fragile creatures. Being a witness of God’s presence in our lives, it becomes a sign that awakens in other people faith and hope of eternal communion with God. In is a sign of the life to come.

3.2. The Effect of Chastity on Community and Mission

Number 21 of the Constitutions shows us the influence of celbacy on our missionary life.

First of all, chastity makes our community life possible; or, the creation of a fraternal communion and the construction of a community that is not founded on earthly motives but on the common supernatural vocation.

Secondly, celibacy affects the apostolic mission. It makes possible a great fruitfulness (paternity) that is not physical but spiritual; one can engender—like St. Paul—many brothers and sisters in Christ and, it ultimately allows for greater apostolic availability. The writings of Paul (cf. 1 Co. 4:15; cf. Ga. 4:19; 2 Co. 6:13; 1 Thes 2:8,11) make clear the spiritual fecundity of celibacy.

3.3. Juridical Aspects

Reference to these aspects is found in Chapter 18 of this manual[38].

3.4. Pedagogical Aspects

No. 20 of the Constitutions[39] indicates, in the first place, that we must embrace celibacy as a charism. And, since it is a gift from God, we must embrace it joyfully. Thus, we must make every effort to remain faithful to such a gift.

This awareness of the gift we have received must not make us lose sight of the difficulties and risks that a celibate life can involve if it is lived consistently. The reason for this lies in the fact that celibacy touches the deepest inclinations of our nature and imposes on us major, concrete renunciations (the conjugal relationship with all its physical, psychological and spiritual richness). Awareness of this must help us to be prudent and humble before God, mistrusting our own powers and having trust in Him through prayer. The text of the Constitutions reminds us that living in a community where a true fraternal love among all is lived is an excellent means of fostering chastity[40].

This humility and prudence must impel us to be neither naïve nor reckless, and to instinctively avoid dangers and amibiguous situations. For this, we must employ helpful means, such as:

• Hard work; that is, we should not engage in frenetic activity which is pointless, depressing and makes a person exhausted, thus exposing him to new dangers; nor should we be idle[41].

• Pastoral prudence. Without going into detail, the text evidently refers to the need to avoid places, entertainment, reading material, persons and circumstances that create unnecessary dangers to our chastity[42].

• Care for one’s physical and mental health. The healthy person has the advantage. Some elements for good health we can cite are exercise, work, proper rest, stress management, and human balance and maturity.

 III. POVERTY

The virtue of poverty according to the Gospel requires all disciples of Christ to treat God and God’s Kingdom as the only true wealth of the human heart (cf. Mt. 20:28). This involves the readiness to relinquish everything, even one’s own life, accepting even martyrdom, if necessary (cf. Mt. 6:19-21,24-34; 10:37-39; 16:24-26; 19:29).

In our case, impelled by the Claretian charism, we embrace evangelical poverty voluntarily. The vow of poverty involves not only living the virtue but also effectively renouncing the use and usufruct of goods, living an austere personal and ocmmunity life, like the apostles (cf. Mt. 4:18-22; 19:27-28), for the sake of the apostolic mission.

1. The Theological Meaning of Poverty

Evangelical poverty is a clear and concrete way of manifesting that “God is the only true wealth for the human person. Lived according to the example of Christ who being rich became poor (2 Co. 8:9), it is the expression of the total giving of self that happens reciprocally among the three divine Persons “[43]. The consecrated person, imitating Christ’s poverty, acknowledges Him as the Son who receives everything from the Father and divests Himself of everything out of love (cf. Jn. 17:7,10)[44].

We are poor in order to be, like Christ, totally free, available and united. Our poverty specially emphasizes the theological virtue of hope. God is our inheritance (cf. Ps. 15), our brothers in the charism and the people are our property: a hundred times over in houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children and lands, and eternal life (cf. Mt. 19:29).

Evangelical poverty has an apostolic meaning because, in a society marked by a materialistic greed for possessions that blinds people to the needs and sufferings of those who are the weakest and that lacks any consideration for a balanced use of natural resources[45], it appears as a charism of simplicity, austerity and solidarity. It proclaims “God as the true wealth of the human heart “[46]; it receives the poor preferentially, the first after God who is the One and Only, and promotes justice[47]; it loves, with “overflowing thankfulness and love, in a world that runs the risk of being smothered in the maelstrom of the ephemeral”[48]; it practices humility, austerity and hospitality and overcomes any kind of exploitation, bourgeiosization and consumerism.

2. Claret’s Personal Experience

Claret, even in his childhood (age 12) began to work and feel compassion for the poor and marginated and for the workers that were corrected[49]. As a young man, he gave himself totally to work in order to pay rent in Barcelona[50]. A friend’s robbery crushed him[51]. On his first trip to Rome he gave an excellent witness to poverty[52]. Even in the proposals of 1843 he opts for total poverty; and so he lived during his missionary journeys, following Christ’s example[53]. In Vic he lived the life of a poor and apostolic community[54]. When he was archbishop, he lived like the poor, with no other means of transportation than a broken-down horse, which he sold at the end of his mission so that the poor would not be burdened with its upkeep[55]. He also dedicated himself to promoting farming, he set up savings banks in order to foster ways to earn a living; and he opposed slavery as much as he could[56].

As royal confessor, he did not want to live in the palace but in a missionary community and at the end of his life he acknowledges that he had observed holy poverty[57]. He accompanied the Queen into exile and the political Revolution of 1868 made him even poorer: “[…] I now have no house to live in, nor a church in which to celebrate Holy Mass, nor a confessional in which to hear the confessions of the faithful who call me […] I find myself without a diocese, without a benefice and without a steady food supply “[58]. He died in exile from his country and far from the house of his beloved missionaries (Prades, France), in Fontfroide (France), a guest at a monastery[59]. The description of his burial, given to us by Fr. Clotet[60], is deeply moving and shows us the depth of impoverishment that he had come to at the end of his life.

3. The Charismatic Living of Poverty

We Claretian Missionaries feel called to live evangelical poverty charismatically, following the example of Christ, in the style of Claret, according to the characteristics expressed in our Constitutions[61]. Let us examine it in detail:

3.1. The Scriptural and Theological Basis

The Constitutions begin presenting the basis of poverty in n. 23. They distinguish three dimensions:

a. The Christological Dimension: Our poverty is not the result of despising the goods of this world, but of our desire to be configured to Christ and to imitate Him, and of the example of Mary, the poor one of Yahweh. With regard to Christ, the following points are emphasized:

• His interior poverty, poverty of spirit, the origin of all external poverty: his kenosis (self-emptying), the Incarnation; though he was rich he made Himself poor (cf. 2 Co. 8:9); the Word was made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:14)and took the form of a slave (cf. Ph. 2:6-7).

• Exterior poverty, He had nowhere to lay his head (cf. Lk. 9:58), one of Claret’s favorite texts[62].

b. The Apostolic Dimension: Our poverty has a specific purpose: we leave everything in order to better follow Christ, who proclaimed the Good News and demanded that his own leave everything in order to carry out their mission. The important thing is not the leaving, but the following; or, in order to follow it is necessary to leave behind. Thus, if we detach ourselves from people (celibacy), places and things (poverty) and even our own independence, placing our own autonomy at the disposal of others (obedience), it is in order to be free and to be available for mission. Our poverty is essentially apostolic[63].

c. The Eschatological Dimension: By an attitude of emotional and effective detachment from this world and by unconditional self-dedication to the work of the Kingdom, we give a witness of our faith and hope in Christ to the rest of our brothers and sisters. We give witness to what God’s grace is capable of realizing in human beings. We remind others of their eternal destiny and that the things of this world are transitory and tentative in light of the final union with God.

3.2. The Effect of Poverty on Community and Mission

In n. 24, the Constitutions highlight the community and missionary dimension of our poverty.

First, we manifest our poverty by placing all our hope and trust in God, and not in any kind of power or material wealth.

Secondly, our lives are not centered on having possessions or wielding influence, but on an apostolic concern for the Kingdom and on the Church, like Paul (cf. 2 Co. 11:28), who wanted to dedicate himself to all people and to become all things to all people (cf. 1 Co. 9:19-23). This apostolic sense helps us to understand evangelical poverty better. God is our wealth. In this sense, the Virgin becomes our model of poverty: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word ” (Lk. 1:38). In Mary we have the best example of one who is poor in spirit, which breaks forth in the Magnificat, a song typical of the poor of Yahweh (cf. Lk.l:46-55).

The announcement of the Kingdom is not credible if the values of fellowship and solidarity with the poor are not practiced. Christ came to respond to the cry of the poor, going so far as to identify Himself with them. Action in behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world are clearly part of preaching the Gospel. From that perspective our option for the poor must lead us to a personal and collective witness of poverty, to a credible sharing in the condition of the poor, to living with them and sharing their life, and to aiding them in their just aspirations[64].

Poverty, moreover, helps to build fraternal community. The union of hearts and spirits, according to the model of the Jerusalem community (cf. Ac. 4:32)[65], is possible to the extent that each of its members has a material and spiritual attitude of poverty, of overcoming all desire for power over others or for possessions.

Finally, this fraternal community, based on physical and spiritual poverty, is expresssed through communion of goods, both material and spiritual, with the rest of the brothers and with the poor for whom they have opted[66]. In summary, poverty expresses a communication within and outside the community, i.e., toward other Claretians (fraternal life) and toward other people (mission). External communion becomes a sign, an icon (sacrament), of our charismatic, missionary communion.

3.3. Pedagogical Aspects

a. Communal. These are treated in n. 25 of the Constitutions. External poverty is not a goal or value in itself, but a proof and defense of the authenticity of our interior poverty.

Poverty serves our apostolic life. For that very reason it must shape our entire life and activity. No area is exempt from poverty. Our evangelization will be a credible witness and sign by the divestiture and material detachment with which we proclaim the Good News. It was thus understood and lived by Claret, who considered poverty as the second virtue for which he strove[67].

From this arises the need for a collective or communal poverty[68]. Personal poverty is not enough. The external manifestation of poverty is relative to a certain point, insofar as it depends on circumstances of time and place. What may be a sign of wealth in one place will not be such in another. Nevertheless, the Congregation and all its communities, wherever they may be, must give a collective witness to poverty. There follow some details, taken from PC 13. The Constitutions require:

• that any type of luxury be avoided. This means both things that in themselves are luxuries and things that feel like luxuries even though they may not be such in themselves or in given circumstances (things that only appear to be luxuries or luxuries received as gifts or at bargain prices).

• that any immoderate profit be rejected. In keeping with Vatican II, the missionary community is not denied the right to have sources of income; but it must not strive for profits—a money-making, business spirit is excluded. We must settle for what is sufficient to live austerely as a community and a Congregation and to carry out our mission.

• that there be no excessive accumulation of goods. This expression does not take away the right of communities to have just capitalization[69].

• that the furnishings, food and clothing of the house be in keeping with the style of the poor. A poor lifestyle leads us to share with the poor[70]. Nevertheless, poverty does not mean slovenliness or dirtiness…: “I will dress decently and cleanly, but as poorly as I can “[71].

• that the missionary community is always ready to share its good with others, when the needs of the Congregation and the People of God require it. It would be a contradiction for one community to have an abundance in a Province in need or that one Province would be rich while others in tight situations or that a community would have an abundance of goods in a church or a society that is poor. Sharing is not doing something more than what is required; it is an obligation[72].

b. Personal. Something has already been said about this in the previous section; but n. 26 of the Constitutions goes into further detail[73]. Again the number starts with a general statement: Our missionaries should aim at being truly poor both in reality and in spirit. Interior poverty, then is not enough; it must be translated into external behavior.

This personal poverty is manifested by not letting oneself be caught up in a spirit of ownership, i.e., neither retaining nor acquiring anything that might be contrary to our style of poverty. Moreover, one must avoid the desire for possessions, even of things that we legitimately make use of.

It is also manifested by feeling obligated by the common law of work in order to earn one’s sustenance. Our work is carrying out the mission that has been entrusted to us. Idlesness, laziness, not giving our all…, are failures of poverty. In this regard, it is significant to note that the Lord and the Virgin did not have to say a single thing to Claret to encourage his apostolic work. On the contrary, several times they had to restrain him. He himself had to aim at controlling himself: “I will work like a servant who only does what his master wants him to do […] Not like the meddlesome and obstinate servant, who works hard but what he does is not approved of and and he is always being scolded. What a pity!”[74]. “Later you will work”[75].

Nonetheless, awareness of our duty to work must not lead us to accept ministries for financial reasons. Although we have a right to live from sacred ministry, we must show ourselves to be generous, detached and not hungry for profits. To give up one ministry for another, simply because one is less profitable, would go against the spirit of Claretian poverty.

From all this the conclusion is drawn that when we experience the effects of poverty we should even rejoice. In a society that judges people by what they have and not by what they are, the Gospel requires that we trust in the Lord’s Providence before anything else[76].

3.4. Juridical Aspects

References to these aspects is made in chapter 18 of this manual[77].

IV. OBEDIENCE

Christ demands that all His disciples obey God and God’s representatives in the Church. Likewise, He demands that each one submit to the others (cf. Ep. 5:21) and serve one another (cf. Mt. 20:26; 23:11), and help bear one another’s burdens (cf. Ga. 6:2), because all are brothers and sisters (cf. Mt. 23:8), members one of another (cf. Rm. 12:5; 1 Co. 12:25; Ep. 4:25); he commands them to wash each other’s feet (cf. Jn. 13: 2-15) and to give their lives for their brothers and sisters, like Christ (cf. Jn. 15:12-14).

By virtue of the Claretian charism, obedience obliges us to submit our own will to the legitimate superiors when they order something in keeping with the Constitutions[78]. They preside over the community and its mission. Obedience or mutual acceptance is manifested through our fraternal life (cf. Mt. 20:20-28; Ac. 2:42-44; 4:32-35; Ep. 5:21; 1 Pt. 3:8-9; 5:1-5).

1. The Theological Meaning of Obedience

Obedience, practiced in imitation of Christ, whose food was to do the will of the Father (cf. Jn. 4:34), manifests a dependence characteristic of a son, not a slave. The consecrated person, adhering to the ministry of filial obedience through the sacrifice of his or her own will, acknowledges Christ infinitely loving and beloved, as the One who takes pleasure only in the will of the Father (cf. Jn. 4: 34), to whom He is perfectly united and on whom He depends for everything[79].

We are obedient to God, to the community and to our superiors by virtue of our faith. Obedience in particular emphasizes the theological virtue of faith. We trust in God and in the brothers that He has given us. God is the One in whom we basically and decisively trust, and we know the One we put our faith in (cf. 2 Tm. 1:12). Obedience makes us brothers concerned with serving one another, because we have freely placed ourself at the service of the rest.

Obedience has an apostolic meaning because mission involves sending and because obedience bears witness to the free adherence to the Father’s will. In the face of “concepts of freedom that, in this basic human prerogative, prescind from its consitutive relationship to truth and to moral norms (cf. VS 31-35)”[80], obedience manifests itself as a charism of service, testifying that there is no contradiction between obedience and freedom, since in the Father’s will we find the true meaning of human life and, thus, its goal, its true freedom and the love which we are due[81]. We have the experience of being sons and daughters of one Father and that, as a consequence, we are all brothers and sisters (cf. Mt. 23:8-9). This is the reason for our mutual acceptance, respect and submission (cf. Ep. 5:21), aiming to bear one another’s burdens (cf. Ga. 6:2), overcoming any kind of individualism and seeing, with a spirit of faith, God acting through our brothers, especially those who preside over the religious community[82], because we trust in God despite the human limitations of those who are God’s representatives[83].

2. Claret’s Personal Experience

From childhood Claret always did as he was told, even when, as a teenager, his father ordered him to work at the loom or sent him to Barcelona to learn the latest techniques of his trade[84]. The first time he went against his father’s wishes was when he believed that God was calling him to the priestly life[85]; sadly, but with faith, his father did not raise objections to his vocation[86]. Claret totally dedicated himself to seeking what God wanted from him by consulting, praying over and reading the Word of God[87]. He left the parish when he believed that God was calling him to a more universal mission[88].

In Rome he experienced what Jesuit obedience was[89]. When he returned to Spain he finally discovered his vocation to be an apostolic missionary, but he lived that role as a mission involving obedience, always making sure that the Bishop sent him to preach, convinced that the missionary must be sent in order to be successful[90]. When, against his own plans, the Church asked him to become Archbishop of Cuba, he clearly and loyally presented his misgiving, but in the end was ready to obey[91]. In light of the virulent campaigns against him and the assassination attempt at Holguín (1 February 1856), he submitted his resignation to Pius IX; but he showed his readiness to stay on until death if the Pope decided he should[92]. The Pope declined to accept his resignation. Some time later, on 18 March 1857, he received a letter from Isabella II in which she requested that he move to Madrid to be her confessor. When he got to Madrid, he did not impose himself on the Congregation of Missionaries. On the contrary, he always showed reluctance on the many occasions when Fr. Xifré sought his opinion[93]. For Claret, the essence of religious life is obedience[94]. Thus, he will exclaim: “Lord, I do not seek or wish to know anything but your most holy will, that I may do it, and do it, Lord, as perfectly as possible “[95].

3. The Charismatic Living of Obedience

We Claretians feel called to live charismatically obedience to God, mutual submission among our brothers and obedience to superiors, following the example of Christ, like Claret, according to the characteristics we find in our Constitutions[96]. Let us look at this in detail:

3.1. The Scriptural and Theological Basis

N. 28 of the Constitutions is devoted to the scriptural and theological basis of our obedience.

This number begins by explaining the christological or, better still, the trinitarian dimension of our obedience. Configuration to Christ demands that we, like Him, moved by the Spirit, position ourselves in an attitude of radical obedience to the Father’s will, within the milieu of the Congregation. The Virgin is also an example of obedience for us. She totally consecrated herself to the service of the Mystery of her Son.

In religious profession, moved by the Holy Spirit, we offer our lives to God and not simply to the Institute or to the superiors. The Congregation is the milieu and the place where we express and live out our obedience to God. Only God is the final determinant of our obedience[97]. We configure ourselves to Christ in order to offer ourselves with Him trustingly to the Father, ready to be faithful, if necessary, even unto death, death on a cross. We want to conform our will to that of the Father: it is from this that our obedience derives its ultimate and deepest meaning.

In summary, the trinitarian and Marian view of our obedience involves having the will of the Father as our determining goal. In order to strive for this we configure ourselves to Christ, through the action of the Spirit within us, and through the sublime example of Mary’s attitude of obedience.

3.2. The Communal and Apostolic Dimension

This is explained in n. 29 of the Constitutions. It begins with a statement that typifies the Claretian: a true missionary may be known by his obedience. This is the way Claret always lived[98].

All of us, both superiors and those under them, must obey. What n. 28 of the Constitutions says applies equally to the Congregation and to the communities that make it up. Now, precisely because we share the same vocation and must be obedient to it, we all must participate in seeking God’s will. In this sense, we are all obliged to offer our help to the rest of our brothers. We should offer this help through prayer, counsel and fraternal dialogue. The Superior offers his specific help to the brothers by terminating the dialogue when an agreement cannot be reached and determining what must be done, as we will say below.

Obedience also has an apostolic dimension: we obey in order to better carry out our common mission in the Church. Obedience, like chastity[99] and poverty[100], creates the apostolic community. Our obedience does not show contempt for human freedom, autonomy and independence, but rather a free and loving dedication of our lives to our brothers and to the mission.

The last number on obedience in the Constitutions, n. 32, treats the universal missionary availablity of the Claretian[101]. He should manifest this in accepting being sent to any part of the world and in being prepared or ready to accept whatever ministry that may be assigned him by the Congregation through the superiors[102].

3.3. The Person of the Superior in the Community

The revised style of government in the Congregation responds to its missionary nature and is also based on criteria of fraternal life, being a government of communion. Thus it is exercised in an order way and subordinately[103]. Characterized in this way, n. 30 of the Constitutions explains the role and specific mission of the superior in the community.

Above all, the superior is the visible expression of the unity of love and mission that prevails in our communities. His role, then is not merely juridical or one of control. It is, instead, spiritual, charismatic: he is a visible sign of union, of the love and mission of all the members of the community.

The superior is also first in obedience in the community, since his role is not to make the others do his will, but to help them to know and carry out the will of God. He is not an end, but a means; he is at the service of his brothers in the personal and communal search for the Father’s will. His mission is to be a servant, a servant of the servants of God.

Since superiors do not automatically know God’s will, they must seek it. The way of doing this and of helping the brothers is that of listening to them in a quality way. The superior, using methods the Church recognizes as legitimate[104], represents God in carrying out his duties, despite his human limitations[105]. Thus, after this search, he has the authority to decide and prescribe what must be done[106], when there is no agreement or when urgency requires. He is not, then, a person at the mercy of strict community democracy. It is his right on those occasions to have the final say.

The authority of superiors is motivated and exercised according to the standards, limits and style set down by the Constitutions. The amnner of exercising authority must always be characterized by the spirit of love and service to others.

3.4. The Practice of Obedience on the Part of the Rest of the Brothers

First of all, the text of n. 31 of the Constitutions reminds us, once again, that the ultimate determinant of our obedience is always God. God manifests Himself to us through various human mediations. That of the superior is not the only one, but it is particularly apt. God comes to us, challenges us, awaits our loving response, through the events and people that we encounter in our lives. The superior is not identified with God without further ado (only God is God); but he is God’s valid mediator, legitimate and qualified in himself. Thus, our attitude of acceptance of God through His mediations must be prompt and perfect.

From this arises the idea that we should not oppose but support what the superiors determine and propose to the community. Nevertheless, conflict may arise along with the conviction that we must propose a solution that differs from that decided on by the superiors. In these cases, we must express our opinion freely, after having consulted with God in prayer and remaining ready to accept what is finally decided.

Our personal attitude toward what is prescribed and in the carrying out of the duties assigned must be total self-giving—with creativity, with a voluntary, active and responsive obedience[107]. Our obedience must be sincere, loyal, responsive, open and dialogical. It implies an attitude of readiness born of human and spiritual maturity.

3.5. Juridical Aspects

Reference to these aspects is made in chapter 18 of this manual[108].

3.6. Pedagogical Aspects

Formation for obedience involves: fully accepting the life project presented in the Constitutions and being docile to the directions of the Church’s Magisterium and that of the Congregation; taking on an appropriate conception of what religious obedience involves in our missionary life; fostering a healthy critical spirit, developing the capacity for creativity and for trusting superiors; fostering spiritual attitudes of discernment, dialogue and personal and communal seeking of God’s will; carrying out exactly apostolic commitments and community assignments; practicing dialogue and responsibility in the apostolate and discerning the gifts we have received and using them correctly[109].



[1] Cf. CC 3; CC 4; cf. VC 22; cf. 9, 72.

[2] Cf. CC 61; cf. also CC 7, 10-19; Dir 36-54, 195; OPML II, pp.171-263.

[3] In the Middle Ages, the term counsel was the opposite of the word precept and this resulted in an unfortunate and misleading theory about the two-fold way of holiness.

[4]Cf. LG 42; cf. also LG 39; PDV 27.

[5] Cf. VC 19, 31.

[6] The classic triad arose in the canonical context of the 12th century as a substitute for the Benedictine one (stability, conversion, obedience) and is adopted by the later mendicant orders: the Rule of the Trinitarians 1198, Rule of St. Francis 1221, Carmelites 1226. St. Thomas presents the 3 counsels as the hinges on which all religious life turns(cf. I, II, 108, 4).

[7] Cf. LG 43.

[8] Cf. LG 39.

[9] VC 30.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Cf. LG 44; PC 1.

[12] Cf. Dir 311.

[13] Cf. LG 45.

[14] On the concept of vows in general and their different kinds cf. CIC 1191-92.

[15] Cf. LG 45c; CIC 607,2; 654; 1192,1. Some institutes have added a fourth or fifth vow, related to their specific charism.

[16] EERL II, 14.

[17] Cf. EERL II, 15.

[18] Cf. PI 16.

[19] Cf. PI 16-17; ET 11; CIC 598.

[20] Cf. CC 1-3; Aut 488-494.

[21] Cf. VC 16.

[22] Cf. VC 87.

[23] Cf. VC 35, 38.

[24] VC 36.

[25] Cf. VC 16.

[26] Cf. VC 88.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Cf. OPML II, pp. 269-278.

[29] Cf. Aut 53.

[30] Cf. Aut 72.

[31] Cf. Aut 95-98.

[32] Cf. Aut 101.

[33] Cf. Aut 393-397.

[34] Cf. Aut 95-98, EA 518.

[35] Cf. CC 2-5, 20.

[36] Cf. CC 20-22; cf. also Dir 55-62; OPML II, pp.265-315; GPF 61-65.

[37] Cf. CC 8, 61; Dir 35; EERL 431-506.

 

[38] Cf. “Juridical Aspects of the Novitiate”, IV, 1.3, 1º.

[39] Cf. also GPF 65.

[40] Cf. PC 12. It does not talk about friendship as a possible aid, although it does not deny this either. And CC 16 actually considers it something positive. Cf. Dir 151; 1VR 29, 36.

[41] Cf. VFC 28.

[42] Cf. Dir 60.

[43] VC 21; cf. 22.

[44] Cf. VC 16.

[45] Cf. VC 89.

[46] Cf. VC 90.

[47] Cf. VC 82, 90.

[48] Cf. VC 105.

[49] Cf. Aut 31; cf. also Aut 9, 10, 20, 32; on Claret’s poverty in general, cf. OPML II, pp. 323-329.

[50] Cf. Aut 56, 59.

[51] Cf. Aut 73-75.

[52] Cf. Aut 130-135.

[53] Cf. EA, pp. 523-524; Aut 357-371; Aut 429-433.

[54] Cf. Letter to Most Rev. José Caixal EC, I, p. 316.

[55] Testimony of the Marquess of Pezuela (cf. OPML II, pp. 328-329, note 11).

[56] Cf. Aut 562-572.

[57] Cf. Letter to Most Rev. Paladio Curríus EC II, 1423; EAE, p. 916.

[58] Cf. EAE, pp. 462-46; EA, p. 445. Poor in everything except the witness of a good conscience (cf. EC II, p. 1410; EAE, pp. 912-914).

[59] Cf. PIC ses. 4; on his desires for martyrdom, in 1868, cf. EA, pp. 662, 683, 687; on Claret and his imitation of the poverty of Christ and the apostles, cf. EE, pp. 298-299; OPML I, pp. 241-247. The Lord granted him the death he desired (cf. Aut 467).

[60] Cf. Vida admirable…, 350; cf. also EA, pp. 692-694.

[61] Cf. CC 5, 23-27; GPF 66-71.

[62] Cf. CC 1870 and 1924.

[63] Cf. CC 49.

[64] Cf. ET 17-18; CC 26; MCT 25, 100, 175-176, 184; CPR 87-88; SP 20; IPM 25.

[65] Cf. CC 10.

[66] Cf. MCT 173-176.

[67] Aut 357-371.

[68] Cf. CPR 87-90.

[69] Cf. Dir 531-532.

[70] Cf. ET 17.

[71] EA, p. 524.

[72] The post-conciliar General Chapters have insisted on living out the demands of our poverty and our mission from the perspective of the poor and needy: evangelizing option (cf. MCT 173), lifestyle (cf. MCT 225; CPR 87-90 and IPM 25-26)and community and formation insertion (cf. CPR 80; SW 27.5 and GPF 71, 177-178).

[73] Cfr. Also PGF 69.

[74] EA, p. 551, prop. 7; cf. also EA, pp. 518-519.

[75] EA, pp. 640, 654.

[76] Cf. Aut 363.

[77] Cf. “Juridical Aspects of the Novitiate”, IV, 1.3, sect. 2.

[78] “In those matters that pertain directly or indirectly to the life of the Institute” CC 28; cf. also CC 30.

[79] Cf. VC 16.

[80] VC 91.

[81] Cf. Ibid.

[82] Cf. VC 43, 46, 47.

[83] Cf. VC 92.

[84] Cf. Aut 29; Aut 36; Aut 56. On Claret’s obedience in general, cf. OPML II, pp.397-407.

[85] Cf. Aut 63-64.

[86] Cf. Aut 77-78.

[87] Cf. Aut 85; cf. also Aut 113-120.

[88] Cf. Aut 121.

[89] Cf. Aut 149-151.

[90] Cf. Aut 192-198.

[91] Cf. Letter to Nuncio Brunelli: EC I, p. 306; EAE, pp. 822-823.

[92] Cf. Letter to Pius IX: EC I, pp. 1172-1176; EAE, pp. 838-840.

[93] Cf. Letter to Fr. Xifré: EC II, pp. 1171-1173.

[94] Cf. Letter to Mother Antonia París: EC II, pp. 1201-1204.

[95] Aut 445, 755; cf. 671: the dog metaphor; OPML I, pp. 247-250.

[96] Cf. CC 5, 28-32, 65; cf. also Dir 74-83; GPF 72-76; OPML II, pp. 391-444, III, pp. 230-247.

[97] Cf. PC 14.

[98] Cf. Aut 192, 194, 195, 198, 454.

[99] Cf. CC 21.

[100] Cf. CC 24.

[101] Cf. CC 49; OPML II, pp. 706-724.

[102] See the numbers of the Constitutions commented on in other chapters: CC 6 on obedience to the Pope; CC 65 on the obedience of the novices; CC 93-96 on the means of exercising authority; and CC 110 on the plenary meeting of the local community.

[103] Cf. CC 93-97.

[104] Among them, the Word of God, the Constitutions, the Directory and other directives of the Congregation, the good of the Church and of the brothers, sincere dialogue, the signs of the times…

[105] Cf. VC 92; cf. MR 12.

[106] Cf. CC 30; PC 14.

[107] Cf. PC 14.

[108] Cf. “Juridical Aspects of the Novitiate”, IV, 1.3, section 3.

[109] Cf. GPF 76.