CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE
AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE
STARTING AFRESH FROM CHRIST:
A RENEWED COMMITMENT TO CONSECRATED LIFE
IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
(Selected texts that deal with formation based on A. Values and Principles of consecrated life, B. Vocations, C. Initial formation and D. Ongoing formation. )
A. Values and Principles of Consecrated Life
Contemplating the Splendour of the Face of Christ
1. Contemplating Christ’s crucified and glorious face1 and witnessing to his love in the world, consecrated persons joyfully accept the Holy Father John Paul II’s pressing invitation at the beginning of the third millennium to cast out into the deep: “Duc in altum!” (Lk 5:4). These words, echoed throughout the whole Church have enlivened a powerful new hope, reawakened the desire for a more intense evangelical life, and broken open the horizons of dialogue and mission.
Perhaps today, more than ever, Jesus’ invitation to cast out into the deep appears as a response to the human drama which is the victim of hate and death. The Holy Spirit is always active in history and can draw from human dramas a discernment of the events which is open to the mystery of mercy and peace among peoples. The Spirit, in fact, from the very troubled nature of the nations calls forth in many the dream of a different world already present among us. John Paul II assures young people of this when he exhorts them to be “sentinels of the dawn” who, strong in the faith, keep watch, awaiting the dawn.2
Certainly the dramatic events which have taken place in the world in these recent years have given rise to new and more weighty questions added to those already present, which grow out of a globalized Society. A society with its positive and negative forces in which “not only are technology and economy globalized but also insecurity and fear, crime and violence, injustices and war”.3
In this situation, consecrated persons are called by the Spirit to a continual conversion to give new vigour to the prophetic dimension of their vocation. They who, in fact, are “called to place their very existence at the service of the cause of the Kingdom of God, leaving everything behind and closely imitating the form of life of Jesus Christ, assume a most important teaching role for the whole People of God”.4
The Holy Father made this expectation clear in his message to the members of the last Plenary Session of our Congregation: “The Church”—he writes—“counts on the continual dedication of this chosen host of her sons and daughters, on their yearning for holiness and upon the enthusiasm of their service to foster and sustain every Christian’s striving for perfection and to enhance the common welcoming of neighbor, especially those most in need. In this way, witness is given to the love of Christ among all people”.5
Walking in the Footsteps of Christ
2. But how do we recognize in the reflection of history and at the present time the signs of the Spirit and the seeds of the Word, present now as always in human life and culture?6 How do we interpret the signs of the times in a reality such as ours in which areas of darkness and mystery abound? As with the disciples on the walk towards Emmaus, the Lord himself must be our travelling companion and grant us his Spirit. Only the Lord, present among us, can help us to fully understand and carry out his word, he can enlighten minds and warm hearts.
“Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). The Risen Lord has remained faithful to this promise. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, from her very beginnings, the Lord has always been present in the Church, lighting her way, flooding her with graces, giving her the strength to live his word ever more intensely and to carry out the mission of salvation as a sign of the unity of all with God and with each other.7
Consecrated life, in its continuous development and experience of new forms, is already in itself an eloquent expression of this very presence, almost a kind of Gospel spread out through the centuries. It appears in fact as a “prolongation in history of a special presence of the Risen Lord”.8 With this assurance, consecrated persons must seek a new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires their journey of faith.9
Today’s world is expecting to see in consecrated men and women the concrete reflection of Jesus’ way of acting, of his love for every person without distinction or qualification. It wants to experience that, with the Apostle Paul, it is possible to say: “I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me” (Gal 2:20).
Five years after the Apostolic Exhortation “Vita Consecrata”
3. In order to help in the discernment which safeguards this particular vocation, and to support the courageous choice of evangelical witness, at this time, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life held its Plenary Session 25-28 September 2001.
In 1994 the IX Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, having completed the treatment “of the specific identity of the various states of life willed by Jesus for his Church”,10 following the Synods dedicated to the laity and to priests, studied Consecrated Life and its mission in the Church and in the world. The Holy Father John Paul II, gathering together the reflections and the hopes of that Assembly, gifted the whole Church with the Post-Synodal Apostolic ExhortationVita Consecrata.
Five years after the publication of this fundamental Document of the Church’s Magisterium, our Dicastery, in Plenary Session, considered the effectiveness with which it has been received and put into practice within communities and Institutes and in the local Churches.
The Apostolic ExhortationVita Consecrata clearly and profoundly expressed the Christological and ecclesial dimensions of consecrated life in a Trinitarian theological perspective, shedding new light on the theology of the following of Christ and of consecration, of communion in community and of mission. It contributed to the creation of a new mentality regarding the mission of consecrated life within the people of God. It helped consecrated persons themselves to capture a greater awareness of the grace of their own vocation.
This programmatic document remains the most significant and necessary point of reference guiding the path of fidelity and renewal of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life while at the same time, allowing for the rising of valid proposals for new forms of consecrated and evangelical life. It must continue to be studied, understood and put into practice.
16. One of the first fruits of a path of ongoing formation is the daily ability to live one’s vocation as a gift which is always new and to be accepted with a grateful heart: a gift which calls for an ever more responsible attitude, to be witnessed to with an ongoing conviction and attractiveness so that others might feel called to God either in this particular vocation or through other paths. The consecrated person is, by nature, also a vocation animator: one who is called cannot not become a caller. There is, therefore, a natural link between ongoing formation and vocation animation.
Service to vocations is one of the most demanding challenges which consecrated life must face today. On the one hand, the globalization of culture and the complexity of social relations make radical and lifelong choices difficult; on the other hand, the world is living through a growing experience of moral and material sufferings which undermine the very dignity of the human being and is silently calling for persons who will powerfully announce a message of peace and hope, persons who will bring the salvation of Christ. We are reminded of the words of Jesus: “The harvest is great but the labourers are few. Pray the master of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2; Mt 9:37-38).
The first task of any vocational pastoral program is always prayer. Especially in those places where few are choosing to enter into consecrated life, a renewed faith in God who can raise Children of Abraham even from stone (cf. Mt 3:9) and make sterile wombs fruitful if called upon in faith, is urgently needed. All the faithful, and especially youth, should be involved in this manifestation of faith in God who alone can call and send workers. The entire local Church—bishops, priests, laity, consecrated persons—is called to assume responsibility for vocations to this particular consecration.
The master plan of vocational promotion to consecrated life is that which the Lord himself began when he said to the apostles John and Andrew, “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). This encounter accompanied by the sharing of life requires that consecrated persons deeply live their consecration in order to become a visible sign of the joy which God gives to those who listen to his call. For this reason, there is a need for communities which are welcoming and able to share the ideal of their life with young people, allowing themselves to be challenged by the demands of authenticity, and willing to accept them.
The local Church is the privileged place for this vocational announcement. Here all the ministries and charisms express their complimentarity.52 Together they realize communion in the one Spirit of Christ in the many ways that it is manifested. The active presence of consecrated persons will help Christian communities to become laboratories of faith,53 places of research, of reflection and of meeting, of communion and apostolic service, in which all feel part of the building up of the Kingdom of God. In this way the characteristic climate of the church as God’s family, an environment which facilitates mutual knowledge, sharing and the contagion of those very values which are at the origin of the choice to give one’s whole life to the cause of the Kingdom, is created.
17. Care for vocations is a crucial task for the future of consecrated life. The decrease in vocations particularly in the Western world and their growth in Asia and Africa are drawing a new geography of the presence of consecrated life in the Church and new cultural balances in the lives of Institutes. This state of life which, through the profession of the evangelical counsels gives a constant visibility to the characteristic features of Jesus in the midst of the world,54 is today undergoing a particular period of rethinking and of research with new methods in new cultures. This is certainly a promising beginning for the development of unexplored expressions of its multiple charismatic forms.
The transformations which are taking place directly involve each Institute of Consecrated Life and Society of Apostolic Life, calling them to give strong Gospel-based meaning to their presence in the Church and their service to humanity. Vocational ministry requires the development of new and deeper means of encounter; of offering a living witness of the characteristics of the following of Christ and of holiness, of presenting ways which strongly and clearly announce the freedom which springs from a life of poverty whose only treasure is the kingdom of God, the depths of love of a chaste existence which seeks only one heart, that of Christ, and the strength for sanctification and renewal contained in an obedient life whose only goal is to carry out the will of God for the salvation of the world.
Today vocation promotion is not something which can be delegated in an exclusive way to some specialists dedicated to the task, nor can it be separated from a true, specific youth ministry which first and foremost communicates Christ’s love for youth. Every community and all the members of the Institute are called to take on the tasks of contact with youth, of an evangelical teaching of the following of Christ and of handing on the charism. Young people are searching for others who are able to propose styles of authentic evangelical life and ways of arriving at the great spiritual values of human and Christian life. Consecrated persons must rediscover the teaching art of bringing to the surface and freeing the deep questions which are too often kept hidden in one’s heart. This is especially true when dealing with young people. As they accompany others on the path of vocational discernment, consecrated persons will be forced to share the source of their identity. Communicating one’s own life experience always entails remembering and revisiting that light which guided the person to his or her own particular vocational choice.
C. Inititial formation
18. As far as formation is concerned, our Dicastery has issued two documents, Potissimum Institutioni, and Inter-Institute Collaboration for Formation. However, we are well aware of the constant challenges which Institutes must face in this field.
The new vocations knocking at the doors of consecrated life present great diversity and require personal attention and methods which are able to respond to their concrete human, spiritual and cultural situations. For this reason, a peaceful discernment, freed from the temptations of numbers or efficiency, must take place in order to verify the authenticity of the vocation and the purity of motivation in the light of faith and of possible contradictions. Young people need to be challenged to meet the high ideals of a radical following of Christ and the profound demands of holiness, when discerning a vocation which is beyond them and which perhaps goes beyond the initial ideas which attracted them to enter a particular Institute. For this reason, formation must have the characteristics of the initiation to the radical following of Christ. “Since the very purpose of consecrated life is conformity to the Lord Jesus” it is necessary to begin “a path of gradual identification with the attitude of Christ towards the Father”.55 This will help to integrate theological, humanistic and technical studies with the spiritual and apostolic life of the Institute and will always conserve the characteristic of a “school of holiness”.
The most pressing challenges which formation must face grow out of the values of today’s globalized culture. The Christian announcement of life as vocation, that is, one which flows from God’s loving plan and requires a personal and salvific encounter with Christ in the the Church must confront the dominant ideals and plans of cultures and social histories which are extremely diversified. There is the risk that subjective choices, individual projects and local customs will prevail over the rule, the style of community life and the apostolic projects of the community. This calls for a formative dialogue capable of bringing together the human, social and spiritual characteristics borne by each person, discerning in them the human limitations which must be overcome and the promptings of the Spirit which can renew the lives of individuals and Institutes. In a period of profound changes, formation must be attentive to the need to plant in the hearts of young consecrated persons those human, spiritual and charismatic values necessary to make them suitable to carry out a “creative fidelity”56 in the paths of the spiritual and apostolic tradition of the Institute.
Institutes of Consecrated Life are increasingly characterized by cultural, age and project differences. Formation should prepare for community dialogue in the cordiality and charity of Christ, teaching to see diversity as richness and to integrate the various ways of seeing and feeling. Thus the constant search for unity in charity will become a school of communion for Christian communities and an example of people living together in communion.
Particular attention must be given to a cultural formation in line with the times and in dialogue with the research of the meaning of human life today. This calls for a greater preparation in the philosophical, theological and psychological fields and a more profound orientation to the spiritual life, models more adapted to the cultures in which new vocations are being born and well-planned programs for ongoing formation. Above all it is hoped that the best forces are destined for formation even when this calls for great sacrifices. The use of qualified personnel and their adequate preparation must be a priority commitment.
We must be very generous in dedicating our time and best energies to formation. The consecrated persons themselves are, in fact, the best resources that we have. Without them all formative and apostolic plans remain theory and useless desires. In an era as rushed as ours, perseverance and patient waiting to realize the scope of formation are called for more than ever. In circumstances in which rapidity and superficiality prevail we need serenity and depth because, in reality, a person is fashioned very slowly.
19. Importance has been placed on the quality of life and the demands of formation because these seem to be the areas which are in most need of attention. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life wishes to be close to consecrated persons in all problem areas and to continue an ever more sincere and constructive dialogue. The members of the Plenary are aware of this need and have manifested the desire for a greater knowledge of and collaboration with Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Their presence in the local Church and particularly that of congregations of diocesan right, consecrated virgins and hermits require special attention on the part of the Bishops and their presbyterates.
In the same way they are aware of the questions posed by religious regarding the great works in which up to now they have been allowed to serve in line with their respective charisms: hospitals, schools, houses of welcome and of retreat. In some parts of the world these are urgently needed, in other parts they are becoming difficult to administer. Creativity, wisdom and dialogue among members of the Institute, among Institutes with similar works and with those responsible for the local Church are necessary in order to find the right answers.
The themes of inculturation are also very much alive. These deal with the way in which to incarnate consecrated life, adaptation of forms of spirituality and apostolate, ways of governing, formation, use of resources and material goods and the carrying out of mission. The appeals expressed by the Pope regarding the whole Church are also applicable to consecrated life. “In the third millennium, Christianity will have to respond ever more effectively to this need for inculturation. Christianity, while remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving faith to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root”.57 A true inculturation in consecrated life and in the whole Church will result in a notable enrichment and a new season of spiritual and apostolic growth.
We could endlessly list other expectations of consecrated life at the beginning of this new millennium because the Spirit always pushes us above and beyond. It is the word of the Teacher who, with great enthusiasm, must provoke all of the disciples to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future in confidence.58
Listening to the invitation given to the whole Church by John Paul II, consecrated life must clearly start afresh from Christ, contemplating his face, giving preference to the ways of spirituality as life, teaching and pastoral practice. “The Church also awaits your contribution, Consecrated Brothers and Sisters, to advance this new track of street according to the paths which I outlined in the Apostolic LetterNovo millennio ineunte: contemplate the face of Christ, start afresh from Him, witness to His love”.59 Only then will consecrated life find new vitality to place itself at the service of the whole Church and all of humanity.
D. On going formation
15. The times in which we are living call for a general rethinking of the formation of consecrated men and women, which is no longer limited to one period of life. Not only to enable them to become better able to insert themselves into a reality which changes with a rhythm which is often frenetic but also and more importantly because consecrated life itself, of its nature, calls for the constant openness of those who are called to it. If, in fact, consecrated life is in itself “a progressive taking on of the attitude of Christ”,50 it seems evident that such a path must endure for a lifetime and involve the whole person, heart, mind and strength (cf. Mt 22:37) reshaping the person in the likeness of the Son who gives himself to the Father for the good of humanity. Thus understood, formation is no longer only a teaching period in preparation for vows but also represents a theological way of thinking of consecrated life which is in itself a never ending formation “sharing in the work of the Father who, through the Spirit, fashions in the heart the inner attitudes of the Son”.51
Thus it will be important that all consecrated persons be formed in the freedom to learn throughout life, in every age and season, in every human ambient and context, from every person and every culture open to be taught by any fragment of truth and beauty found around them. But above all they must learn to be formed by everyday life, by their own community, by their brothers and sisters, by everyday things, ordinary and extraordinary, by prayer and by apostolic fatigue, in joy and in suffering, until the moment of death.
Openness to the other and to otherness, particularly a relation with time become most important. People in ongoing formation take advantage of time, they don’t submit to it. They accept it as a gift and wisely enter into the various rhythms of life itself (days, weeks, months, years) with wisdom, seeking the harmony between them and the rhythm, fixed by an immutable and eternal God which marks the days, centuries and times. In a very unique way consecrated persons learn to allow themselves to be moulded by the liturgical year in which the mysteries of the life of the Son of God are relived in order to start afresh from Christ and from his death and resurrection everyday of their lives.
On May 16, 2002 the Holy Father approved this Document of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Rome, 19 May 2002, The Solemnity of Pentecost.
Eduardo Card. Martínez Somalo
1Cf. John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, Rome, 25 March 1996, 14.
2John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 6 January 2001, 9.
3John Paul II, Talk given to Caritas Italiana (24 November 2001): L’Osservatore Romano, 25 November 2001, n.4.
4John Paul II, Message to the Plenary Session of The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (21 September 2001): L’Osservatore Romano, 28September 2001.
6Cf. Ad Gentes, 11.
7Cf. Lumen Gentium, 1.
8Vita Consecrata, 19.
9Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29.
50Vita Consecrata, 65.
51Vita Consecrata, 66.
52Cf. Christifideles Laici, 55.
53Cf. John Paul II, Homily at the Vigil of Torvergata (20 August 2000): L’Osservatore Romano, 21-22 August 2000, n.3, p.4.
54Cf. Vita Consecrata, 1.
55Cf. Vita Consecrata, 65.
56Vita Consecrata, 37.
57Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40.
58Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 1.
59John Paul II, Homily (2 February 2001): L’Osservatore Romano, 4 February 2001, p.4.