The mission of Consecrated life in the Church and the world
Your vocation is God’s response to the cry of God’s people. Hence in consecrated life both Life and mission are intrinsically united. The very life of consecration with its total and radical consecration to Christ and his Church is itself the primary mission of consecrated life. We identify three important factors in relation to the mission of the Religious in the Church.
1. Witness of Christ (Passion for Christ)
The primary mission of the Religious in the Church and the world is to “present Christ to believers and non-believers alike in a striking manner daily” (LG 44). In other words, the form of life itself is a mission of consecrated life as it is called to manifest to the world the primacy of the love of God (ET 1) and helps the whole Church to remember that the most important thing is to serve God freely, through Christ’s grace given to believers through the gifts of the Spirit . Vita consecrate (72b) states this beautifully:
“Indeed, more than in external works, the mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness. This is the challenge, this is the primary task of the consecrated life! The more consecrated persons allow themselves to be conformed to Christ, the more Christ is made present and active in the world for the salvation of all. Thus it can be said that consecrated persons are “in mission” by virtue of their very consecration, to which they bear witness in accordance with the ideal of their Institute.”.
It is by growing in the sense of being consecrated and being more and more open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the consecrated persons fulfil their primary mission in the church (VC 25).
2. Witness of Christ’s love to others (passion for humanity)
Growing in the sentiments of Christ urges the consecrated persons to be “necessarily and deeply committed to the mission of Christ” (EE 24). The sense of mission is at the very heart of every form of consecrated life (VC 25) because following Christ more closely and making him “all” in their lives naturally includes devoting themselves to his mission (VC 25, 72). For those in institutes dedicated to works of the apostolate, apostolic and charitable activity in accordance with the charism of the Institute belongs to the very nature of their consecrated life and their whole religious life should be inspired by an apostolic spirit and their apostolic activity flow from their consecration (PC 8; ET 9; PI 17; VC 72).
Both the aspects described above point to the dimensions of Contemplation and action in consecrated life. There is a deep, interior relationship between one’s dedication to Christ and dedication to others in apostolate which needs to be safeguarded in order to be authentic in ones consecrated life. As authentic apostolic activity springs from intimate union with Christ”, (PC 8) “there is no place for dichotomy between the generic end of religious life and specific end of the institute; between consecration to God and mission in the world; nor between religious life itself on the one hand, and apostolic activities on the other” (PI 17).
3.Fraternal life as mission (Experts in Communion)
An important aspect of missionary service to the world is the witness of fraternal life in community. Witness of God’s love has a concrete and particular manifestation in the quality of community life. Religious community is a not just a collection of Christians seeking personal perfection, but a living expression and privileged fulfilment of its own particular “communion”, of the great Trinitarian “koinonia” (FLC2a). The religious community has the mission “to be and to be seen to be a living organism of intense fraternal communion, a sign and stimulus for all the baptized.” (FLC 2b, VC 42, 45, 92). In the exercise of the mission both as an essential witness of evangelization and as a source of vigor, “fraternal communion is at the beginning and the end of apostolate’ (ibid 2.d, VC 72). In his letter to the all the consecrated persons in the year of consecrated life Pope Francis invited all religious to be “experts in communion” and “make the Church the home and the school of communion”(II.3).
It is clear that mission is not just apostolic activities. Mission is intimately related to the being of the consecrated person and the communion it engenders with others and the manifestation of the love of Christ through apostolic works .
Two important characteristics of the mission of the consecrated
As Church is missionary, every Christian is sent by God the father to continue the mission of Christ. Consecrated people share this mission in a specific way. We shall see two of the important characteristics of the mission of consecrated persons in the Church,
1. A prophetic mission (Cf. VC 84).
Vita consecrate points out that “there is a prophetic dimension which belongs to the consecrated life as such, resulting from the radical nature of the following of Christ and of the subsequent dedication to the mission characteristic of the consecrated life”. Church history presents many men and women consecrated to God whose friendship with God enabled them to speak in the name of God even to the pastors of the Church . This prophetic witness requires the constant and passionate search for God’s will, for self-giving, for unfailing communion in the Church, for the practice of spiritual discernment and love of the truth. It involves announcing the Word of God as well as denouncing all that is contrary to the will of God. (VC 84). Pope Francis continuously invites the consecrated persons to “wake up the world” through their prophetic way of following Jesus and witnessing how Jesus lived on this earth. He told them to resist the temptations of prophets as faced by Elijah and Jonah to flee and abandon the task of being a prophet of God because it is demanding, wearisome and fruitless. One trust in God as did Jeremiah who assures: Be not afraid, for I am with you to deliver you (Letter to consecrated People II.2).
Richard Rohr rightly defines that a prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. On one hand the task of the prophet is keeping God totally free for people by unveiling the mask of those who make God less accessible to people by presenting false images of God. On the other hand it is also their job to keep people free for God by challenging their slavery to sin and worship of idols which prevent them to experience God’s unconditional love. But we need to be aware that the persuasive power of prophecy derives from the consistency between proclamation and life, the capacity to walk the talk (VC 85). Authenticity of life is the hallmark of a prophet as it speaks more eloquently than words uttered by mouth.
2. Going forth to the existential peripheries
The preferential love for the poor is another characteristics of the mission of consecrated people. Loving with the heart of Christ entails accepting Jesus’ favoritism for the poor and imitating his “washing of feet”, that is, service directed in particular to the poorest and neediest (VC 75). Pope Francis invited the consecrated people to come out of themselves and go forth to the existential peripheries, to men and women who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without future, the elderly, the sick an abandoned, those impoverished within, men and women looking for a purpose in life, thirsting fo the divine (Letter to Consecrated People II, 4).
Bible is perhaps the most subversive text in history where the people chosen by God are the powerless who are at the bottom line of society: the rejected son, the barren women, the sinner, the leper, the poor of Yahweh (anawim), a country girl like Mary, fishermen, tax collector and so forth. From their powerlessness God creates a new kind of power.
Following Jesus closely entails accepting his bias toward the little ones, the powerless, and those on the bottom. We see this favoritism for the poor very radically in the life of the founders and saints. When the poor have no place in the heart of a consecrated person, God too have no place there. The poor teach the consecrated persons vital lessons about their consecration: radical self-giving without strings attached. It is the basic lesson of freedom to love and serve as Christ loved.
Even when a religious is not directly serving the materially poor, his or her heart would keep the sensitivity of God towards the people in need of His love and mercy.
See this PowerPoint and be in touch with the Jonah in you.
Look for concrete evidence for the following questions in your life:
How do you cultivate the sentiments of Christ so that God’s concern becomes your sole concern in life?
How do you exercise your prophetic mission in the way you live your consecrated life today?
What place do the poor occupy in your life?