Year of Consecrated life-2015

special1What is “new and special” and “particular” about your consecration life?

In this module we shall look into the repeated assertions in the documents of the Church that ours is a “new”, “special” and “particular” consecration founded on the baptismal consecration. Do you experience this “newness” and “specialness” about your consecrated life? In this year of consecrated life, you are invited to embrace your consecration with its lasting “newness” and uniqueness. You may need a reflective reading accompanied by prayer to make sense of this module.

Common call of all baptized to holiness and perfection

Lumen Gentium affirmed that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (LG 40b). The whole Church is being called to holiness and all faithful are initiated into it by the consecration through the sacrament of baptism. This bold affirmation of the council has rocked the traditional understanding of religious life as a call to perfection and holiness. If Christ is the measure of all holiness and perfection, all Christians are called to follow Christand become Christ-like in holiness and perfection. The holiness of the Church is derived precisely from her union with her spouse and his love for her. This union with Christ is the work of the Holy Spiritwhom Christ has sent upon all men who inwardly move them to love God with their whole being and love each other as Christ loves them (LG 40a). The wealth of the teaching of the Council on holiness becomes clear when we can glance through the text substituting the term “holiness” and “sanctification” with the term “Union” and “unification”. Both Marriage and virginity are signs of the union between Christ and the Church.

Christian holiness is fundamentally “ one”, but not the ‘same” for all. It is lived and finds expression according to the distribution of the gifts of the spirit and forms and tasks of life. Thus the life of union with Christ is radically one, but it is realized and actualized by the different members of the mystical body of Christ in different ways according to the distribution of gifts, charisms and vocations. It is in the diversity of gifts, charisms and vocations that the “specific call” of consecrated life finds its place. As pope Francis said, all the faithful are called to the radical following of Christ. Every Christian, whether male of female, is the bride of Christ through the baptismal consecration.

Both marriage and holy orders are sacraments, but religious profession is not a sacrament, Neither is consecrated life an intermediary state between clerical and lay states, though consecrated persons come from those two states of life.

Why consecrated life not a sacrament?

The fact is that religious consecration is not among the seven sacraments in the Church. Any explanation why consecrated life is not a sacrament is at best a good conjecture as there is no official teaching on why consecrated life is not a sacrament.

A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace. Of course it makes sense when we consider that consecrated life embodies not just a sign, but the very reality of union with Christ, a deepening of baptismal grace, the spousal union with Christ. All the sacraments pertain to the dispensation of God’s grace in time and history (For example, marriage and sacred orders are of this world), but in consecrated life the reality signified by it is exactly what the human soul expects beyond death. No wonder, consecrated life gives witness to the Christian hope that “the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart” (VC.16).

After Vatican II, the documents of the Church repeatedly speak of a “new”, “special” and “particular” call and consecrationwhen speaking of consecrated life. We shall reflect on these terms in order to appreciate the deeper meaning of the consecration of the religious.

“Special” and “particular” consecration of the Religious

The term “special” is used in relation to consecrated life 43 times out of 76 in Vita Consecrata, 17 out of 23 times in Redemptionis Donum and 7 out of 16 in Starting Afresh in Christ. The term “particular” is used 18 times out of 60 uses of it to refer to consecrated life in Vita Consecrata and 8 out of 23 uses in Starting Afresh in Christ. The expression “new and special consecration” is used in Vita Consecrata when it speaks of the difference between the different states of Christian life (VC.31).

What is this “special” and “particular” character proper to consecrated life? The “special” about consecrated life is the “closer following of Christ in his poverty, chastity, and obedience through the public profession of these counsels mediated by the Church”. It is that type of chaste and detached life which Christ the Lord chose for Himself and which His Mother also embraced” (LG 46b). In this form of life the baptismal consecration of the Christian “develops into a radical response in the following of Christ through the acceptance of the evangelical counsels” (VC 14). In this way the baptismal consecration that initiates discipleship of the Lord becomes in consecrated life the fuller expression of it and “scales the heights of love, a complete love, dedicated to Christ under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and , though Christ offered to the Father”(Catechesis of John Paul II, October 26, 1994) . Pope John Paul II explains as follows:

“Christ already takes possession of the persospecialn from within through Baptism, in which he begins his sanctifying action. He consecrates him and instills in him the need for a response that Christ himself makes possible by his grace, to the extend of the subject’s physical, psychological, spiritual and moral capacity” (ibid).

The pope further clarifies the “newness” of consecrated life in Redemtionis Donum:

“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” (No. 7).

Vita consecrata explains the new and specialconsecration as following:

“Consecrated persons, who embrace the evangelical counsels, receive a new and special consecration which, without being sacramental, commits them to making their own — in chastity, poverty and obedience — the way of life practiced personally by Jesusand proposed by him to his disciples” (No. 31).

No amount of explanation will make the world to grasp the “new and special” nature of religious consecration. The heart of the consecrated person who has “fallen in love” with the mystery of Christ and has received the grace to give up everything to embrace the gift of his/her religious vocation knows the unfading newness and what constitutes the “special” about this consecration. Even partners in a graced Christian marriage who have graduated through suffering into the “indissolubility and unity” of their marital bond testify to the unfading “newness” and “specialness” of their love when they both discover the love of Christ in their lives!

Perhaps, the key to understand the “newness” and “specialness” of the consecration is the crucial role of the Holy Spirit who “creates everything new” and galvanizes in the human heart the “special intimacy” with Christ which is proper to consecrated life. Life in the Spirit is ever new and always special.

Externally it is the profession evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience embraced for the sake of the Kingdom which characterizes the “new consecration”. It also manifests the “special” fruitfulness in the mission of the Church. But it is in the interior life of the consecrated person that the “new and special consecration”[1] engenders the transforming effect. This “newness” and “specialness” of consecrated life is better expressed in its “nuptial character” (PI. 9, 55) or “spousal nature”[2] which celebrates the “special intimacy with Christ” which embodies the union of Christ with the Church. The source of joy of the consecrated is the experience of the Love of the beloved of their souls and the love that flows from their hearts towards the people beloved to their Lord.

Points to ponder

The beauty of consecrated life cannot be found by comparing it to lay vocations or roles in the hierarchy. It’s uniqueness and beauty is discovered only in relation to the life of Christ. If the disfigured, swollen, pierced and nude figure on the cross is paradoxically the supreme beauty of love unveiled, any closeness to that life is beautiful and special. The cross was only a culmination of a style of life lived before his being crucified. A mendicant life of an itinerant, preacher who formed a community of simple men chosen from all walks of life to go around preaching God’s closeness to the people, and his choice of a poor, celibate and obedient life style could in no way be an enviable form of life for any young man of right mindin his time. Paradoxically his form of life gave access to all types of people to approach himwith ease and enabled him to reach out to the least and the lastin the society with the mercy of God. Unchained to any power structures of his time, he was free to confront the privileged and the powerfulabout how they were before the justice of God and invite all to welcome the Kingdom of God. It was “special” because He was the “special” way God was revealing His love for humans. It was totally “new” because it was inconceivable for humans and totally out of the way of nature’s way of acting. His way of living and loving was not something humans were accustomed to. Neither was it spurred by the guiding rule of evolution (survival of the fittest), unless the very end of evolution was anticipated in him (the “already” of the Kingdom of God in his person).

Indeed, among the forms of Christian life, consecrated life comes closer to the form of life Christ chose for himself. In the wisdom of the world it is not an enviable life at all. Who would be envious of a celibate who has no sexual partner in our highly sexualized society, someone who seeks no wealth in a world that idolizes millionaires, or someone who refuses to be in command when success is sought high in the ladder of power. No way!

Even in consecrated life no one would envy nor compete to live like a friar or a nun who lives a poor, chaste and obedient life like that of Christ. Much of smoke inside the communities comes not from the fire in the hearts of those who have found the joy of living the form of life Christ lived, but from the fuming egoic minds of those whose fire in the heart is smothered. Thus we come across often the noise of competition for power and position, of gossips about sneaky escapades of the lonely souls seeking mirages in their affective deserts, and of squabbles over financial mishandling and unworthy acquisitions of some members. Sane life of the consecrated persons are silent witnesses of the beauty of the cross. Even today authentic consecrated life has the fragrance of a “new”, “special” and “particular” consecration that draws one closer to the form of life which Christ has chosen for himself to reveal the love of the Father.

For personal reflection

Awareness of this relational aspect of consecrated life is important for those called to this form of life to live to the full. The quality of our life is the quality of our relationships-with God, oneself and others. Authentic and life enhancing relationships retain their “freshness (new)”, “specialness” and “uniqueness (particular)” as times goes, while ego-centric and superficial relationships become boring, sterile and irksome over time.

Do you cherish the freshness of the “first love” of your consecrated life? As you progress in your consecrated life, does your intimacy with the Lord grow more “special” and you discover its newness each day? Do you love your people (parishioners, patients, students, formees…) with “fresh” and “special” love? When you see others through mystical eyes and love them with a contemplative heart, everyone becomes “special” and “unique (particular) because you have discovered it from the beloved of your soul.

Exercise: Meditate on a story (even if you know the story already) Read and apply this story to your life

Opening the Album of the First Love

Sr. Anne hurried to the guestroom when she was sent word to her office that she had a special visitor waiting for her. She could not believe her eyes. “Oh Julie, what a surprise!”, She welcomed her old college friend with a warm embrace. Julie was the college beauty and the boys competed to win her heart. Now she has grown older, wrinkles in her face, her cute eyes betraying deep sadness and  her hair hiding its graying behind a hair spray. 

albumThey had many things to share… the story of the many years since they left college. 

“What about your Romeo?”, Anne  inquired curiously about their classmate Henry whom Julie had passionately loved. Anne was their trusted common friend. As Julie’s eyes began to fill and tears began to drop, Anne hugged her closely to console her. 

“Well, it is a long story”, Julie sobbed. 

The two friends, went out to the little lake park near the convent and sat on a bench. The old college buddies shared their stories since they left the college. Anne was active in her parish youth group and eventually entered the convent. Julie and Henry continued being lovers and celebrated many valentine days while they continued their studies. After graduation both got married. Julie took out an old Album to show Anne those special moments when their love was flowering.

Looking at those snaps of the lovers, Anne  Could not contain her curiosity, “What happened to Henry?”.  Julie narrated the story of their marriage, the initial bliss, their passion to make a fortune, their  love slowly getting bitter, their frequent arguments and the eventual separation. Henry has found a new love. “It was my fault”, Julie sobbed bitterly,  “we had no time for ourselves but for our work and our career.. If only I had opened this album occasionally and remembered our first love! Henry would have been mine.”.nun pray

It flashed deep into the heart of Sr. Anne.. the need to continue connected to the first love. Disconnected from the first love you are sure to fall out. Tears began to well up in her eyes.. She knew deep down that there were ashes beginning to cover the fire of her first love. She saw through the danger lurking behind her busy schedules, packed programs with no time for silent prayer or for leisurely moments with her sisters. She noted that she had become more irritable lately.

The two friends spent the evening together reviving the memories of their youthful old days. After bidding good bye to her friend, Anne rushed to the chapel with tears in her eyes. She knew she needed to open the album of her first love again and again.

 -Mathew Vattamattam cmf

[1] Cf. VC 31, SAC 8, 13, 20

[2] There are numerous citations that refer to the spousal nature of consecrated life. Cf. PC 12; PI 56; ET 7; RD 2, 4. 8, 11, 14; VC 3, 15, 19, 34, 59,93.