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Starting afresh from Christ

Starting afresh from Christ

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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life

Starting afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third MillenniumInstruction

June 14, 2002

INDEX

Introduction

Contemplating the Splendour of the face of Christ
Walking in the Footsteps of Christ
Five Years after the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata
Starting Afresh in Hope

Part One

Consecrated Life: the Presence of the Love of Christ in the midst of Humanity
A Walk in Time
For the Holiness of the People of God
On Mission for the Kingdom
Open to the Spirit

Part Two

Courage to Face Trials and Challenges
Rediscovering the Meaning and Quality of Consecrated Life
The Task of Superiors
Ongoing Formation
Vocation Animation
The Formative Courses
Some Particular Challenges

Part Three

Spiritual Life in the First Place
Starting Afresh from Christ
Contemplating the Faces of Christ
The Word of God
Prayer and Contemplation
The Eucharist, a Privileged Place for Encounter with the Lord
The Face of Christ in Trials
The Spirituality of Communion
Communion between Old and New Charisms
In Communion with the Laity
In Communion with Bishops

Part Four

Witnesses to Love
Knowing and Serving Christ
In the Creativity of Charity
Announcing the Gospel
Serving Life
Spreading the Truth
Openness to the Great Dialogues
The Daily Challenges
Looking Forward and Beyond

INTRODUCTION

Contemplating the Splendor 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 September 25-28, 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 Exhortation Vita 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 Exhortation Vita 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.

Starting Afresh in Hope

4. The Great Jubilee of 2000, which profoundly involved all forms of consecrated life throughout the world, has had a great impact on the life of the Church. On February 2, 2000, preceded by a prayerful preparation, the Jubilee of Consecrated life was celebrated in all the local Churches.

At the end of the Jubilee Year, in the hope that we might cross the threshold of the new millennium together, the Holy Father sought to summarize the heritage of the Jubilee Celebrations in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte. This text presents, with extraordinary yet predictable continuity, some fundamental themes already mentioned in the Exhortation Vita Consecrata: Christ, the centre of life for every Christian,11 the pastoral practice and teaching on holiness, its demanding character, its high standard of ordinary Christian living,12 the widespread need for spirituality and prayer realized principally in contemplation and in listening to the Word of God,13 the irreplaceable effects of the sacramental life,14 the spirituality of communion,15 and the witness of Love which is expressed in a new creativity of charity towards those who suffer, towards a wounded world enslaved in hatred, in a spirit of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.16

The Members of the Plenary, taking as points of departure the elements received from the Apostolic Exhortation and presented by the experience of the Jubilee as well as the call for a new commitment to holiness, highlighted the questions and hopes pointed out by consecrated persons throughout the world, concentrating on the most important aspects. Their intention was not to produce another doctrinal document but rather to help consecrated life enter into the great pastoral guidelines of the Holy Father with the contribution of his authority and of charismatic service to unity and to the universal mission of the Church. A gift which is shared and put into practice with fidelity to the following of Christ through the evangelical counsels and with the strength of charity daily lived in fraternal communion and in a generous apostolic spirituality.

The special Continental Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops which served as preparations for the Jubilee Year have already addressed the hopes and challenges of consecrated life in the context of the local Churches and cultures. The members of the Plenary did not intend to offer another analysis of the situation. More simply, taking into account the present state of religious life and seeking to remain attentive to the guidelines of the Holy Father, they invite consecrated men and women in their particular situation and culture to focus primarily on spirituality. Their reflections contained in these pages are articulated in four parts. Having recognized the rich experiences which consecrated life is experiencing in the Church at the present time, they wished to express their gratitude and their wholehearted esteem for what consecrated life is and for what it does (Part 1). They did not close their eyes to the difficulties, trials and challenges which consecrated persons are experiencing today but looked upon them as a new opportunity to rediscover, more profoundly, the meaning and quality of consecrated life (Part II). The most important challenge is that of a renewed commitment to the spiritual life, starting afresh from Christ in adhering to the Gospel and living the spirituality of communionin a unique way (Part III). Finally, they wanted to accompany consecrated persons on the streets of the world where Christ walked and today is present, where the Church proclaims him as Savior of the world, where the Trinitarian life spreads communion in a renewed mission (Part IV).

PART ONE

Consecrated Life: The Presence of the Love of Christ in the Midst of Humanity

5. Considering the presence and many commitments of consecrated men and women in all areas of ecclesial and social life, the members of the Plenary Session wanted to express to them their sincere appreciation, recognition, and solidarity. This is the feeling of the whole Church which the Pope, addressing the Father, the Source of all good, expressed in this way: " We thank you for the gift of consecrated life which seeks you in faith and which through its universal mission invites all people to draw near to you".17 Through a transformed existence, it participates in the life of the Trinity and confesses it as the love which saves.18

Consecrated persons-monks and nuns, contemplatives, religious dedicated to the works of the apostolate, members of Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic life, hermits and consecrated virgins-truly deserve the gratitude of the ecclesial community. Their existence witnesses to their love for Christ as they walk the path proposed in the Gospel and with deep joy commit themselves to the same style of life which he chose for himself.19 This praiseworthy fidelity, while not seeking any other approval than that of the Lord, "also becomes a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren".20

A Walk in Time

6. It is precisely in the simple day-to-day living that consecrated life progressively matures to become the proclamation of an alternative way of living to that of the world and the dominant culture. Given this style of life and the search for the Absolute, it suggests, as it were, a spiritual therapy for the evils of our time. Thus, it is a blessing and a reason for hope, in the heart of the Church, for human life and the very life of the Church.21

In addition to the active presence of new generations of consecrated persons who bring the presence of Christ to the world and the splendour of the ecclesial charisms to life, the hidden and fruitful presence of consecrated men and women who are experiencing old age, loneliness, illness and suffering is also particularly significant. In addition to the service already rendered and the wisdom which they can share with others, they add their own particular precious contribution by joining themselves in their sufferings to the patient and glorious Christ for his Body, the Church (cf. Col 1:24).

7. In recent years consecrated life has undertaken paths of deepening, purification, communion and mission. In the realm of community dynamics, personal relationships have intensified and at the same time intercultural exchanges, recognized as a benefit and stimulus for the institutions themselves, have been strengthened. The praiseworthy effort to find an exercise of authority and obedience which affirms, enlightens, brings together, integrates and reconciles, more closely inspired by the Gospel, is appreciated. In response to the Pope’s recommendations, sensitivity to the requests of Bishops is increasing and there is a growing collaboration among Institutes in the areas of formation and the apostolate.

Relationships within the whole Christian community are improving with a mutual and complimentary interchange of gifts among the various ecclesial vocations.22 It is in fact within the local Churches that concrete pastoral plans which respond to Christ’s challenges to reach out to people, to mould communities and to have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture can be established.23

From simple formal relationships one willingly moves to a communion lived in mutual charismatic enrichment. This effort can be helpful to all God’s people, since the spirituality of communion supplies institutional reality with a soul by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every baptized person.24

For the Holiness of the Whole People of God

8. The call to follow Christ with a special consecration is a gift of the Trinity for Gods Chosen People. Recognizing in Baptism the common sacramental origin, consecrated men and women share a common vocation to holiness and to the apostolate with other members of the faithful. By being signs of this universal vocation they manifest the specific mission of consecrated life.25

Consecrated women and men have received a call to a "new and special consecration",26 for the good of the Church, which impels them to live a life in imitation of Christ, the Virgin, and the Apostles with impassioned love.27 In our world this lifestyle stresses the urgency of a prophetic witness which entails "the affirmation of the primacy of God and of eternal life, as evidenced in the following and imitation of the chaste, poor and obedient Christ, who was completely consecrated to the glory of God and to the love of his brethren".28

Consecrated persons extend a persuasive invitation to reflect upon the primacy of grace and to respond to it through a generous spiritual commitment.29 Despite widespread secularization, there is a widespread demand for spirituality which is often expressed as a renewed need for prayer.30 Life’s events, even in their ordinariness, present themselves as challenges which should be seen in light of conversion. The dedication of consecrated persons to the service of an evangelical quality of life contributes to the keeping alive in many ways the spiritual practices among the Christian people. Religious communities increasingly seek to be places for hearing and sharing the Word, for liturgical celebration, for the teaching of prayer, and for accompaniment through spiritual direction. Thus, even without realizing it, this help given to others offers mutual advantages.31

On Mission for the Kingdom

9. In imitation of Jesus, those whom God calls to follow him are consecrated and invited to continue his mission in the world. Indeed, consecrated life itself, guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, becomes a mission. The more consecrated persons allow themselves to be conformed to Christ, the more Christ is made present and active in history for the salvation of all.32 Open to the needs of the world as seen through the eyes of God, they point to a future with the hope of resurrection, ready to follow the example of Christ who came among us that we "might have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10).

Zeal for the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the salvation of brothers and sisters thus constitutes the best proof of a self-offering authentically lived by consecrated persons. That is why every new attempt at renewal can be seen as a new impetus for the evangelizing mission.33 With the help of ongoing formation consecrated persons learn to choose from among intense spiritual experiences which lead to courageous decisions.

The interventions of the members in the Plenary and the reports presented called forth admiration for the varied missionary activity of consecrated persons. In a particular way we recognise the preciousness of apostolic work carried out with generosity and the particular richness of the "feminine genius" of consecrated women. This merits the greatest recognition on the part of all, of pastors and of the faithful. But the path embarked upon must be deepened and extended. "It is therefore urgently necessary to take certain concrete steps beginning by providing room for women to participatein different fields and at all levels including decision making processes".34

A word of thanks is especially extended to those who find themselves on the front lines. Availability for the mission is attested to with a courageous outreach to people who are still waiting to hear the first proclamation of the Gospel. Perhaps more than ever before, precisely at a time when some Institutes are experiencing a decrease in numbers, many new foundations have come into being. Looking through the lessons of history for an answer to the hopes of humanity, some Gospel-inspired initiatives and daring have compelled consecrated men and women into difficult positions even to the risk of and the effective sacrificing of life.35

While carrying out the Gospel works of mercy with renewed concern, many consecrated persons are encountering sick people to care for and those in every kind of need, afflicted by old and new forms of poverty. They are making crucial contributions in other ministries as well, such as that of education which enables the faith to mature through catechesis or even in exercising a true intellectual apostolate. With sacrifice and greater collaboration they also sustain the voice of the Church in the means of communication which promote social transformation.36 Deeply convinced of the need, an increased number of men and women religious has chosen to live among those who are excluded. Amidst a humanity in movement, where many are forced to emigrate, these men and women of the Gospel push forward to the border for the love of Christ, making the last first.

The highly spiritual contribution which nuns offer to evangelization is also very significant. It is "the soul and yeast of apostolic activity leaving the active participation in it to those whose vocation it is".37 "Thus their lives become a mysterious source of apostolic fruitfulness and blessing for the Christian Community and the whole world".38

Finally, it is fitting to recall that in recent years the Martyrology of the witnesses of faith and love in consecrated life has been further and notably enriched. Difficult situations have required from not a few consecrated persons the extreme proof of love in genuine faithfulness to the Kingdom. Consecrated to Christ and to the service of his Kingdom, their witness in following him, has brought them to the point of the cross. Though circumstances might differ and situations might vary the cause of martyrdom is always the same-fidelity to the Lord and to his Gospel: "since it is not the pain which makes the martyr but rather the cause".39

Open to the Spirit

10. This is a time when the Spirit is breaking forth, opening up new possibilities. The charismatic dimension of the diverse forms of consecrated life, while always in progress, is never finished. Cooperating with the Spirit, consecrated persons prepare in the Church for the coming of the One who must come, the One who is already the future of humanity in progress. Like Mary, the first consecrated woman, who in virtue of the Holy Spirit and her total self-giving brought Christ into the world to redeem it through a loving self-sacrifice, consecrated persons, remaining open to the Spirit are today called to stake everything on charity, "living the commandment of a practical and concrete love for every human being".40 There is a particular bond of life and dynamism between the Holy Spirit and consecrated life. For this reason, consecrated persons must remain open to the Creator Spirit who works in accord with the Father’s will, praising the grace which has been given to them in the beloved Son. This same Spirit radiates the splendour of the mystery on all of existence, spent for the Kingdom of God and the needy and abandoned multitude. The future of consecrated life is therefore entrusted to the dynamism of the author and donor of ecclesial charisms which are placed at the service of the full knowledge and realization of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

PART TWO

Courage to face trials and challenges

11. A realistic look at the situation of the Church and of the world impels us to also consider the difficulties encountered in living consecrated life. We are all aware of the trials and purification which consecrated life is undergoing in these days. The great treasure of the gift of God is held in fragile earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7) and the mystery of evil also threatens those who dedicate their whole lives to God. In turning our attention now to the sufferings and challenges which trouble consecrated life today, we do so, not to bring a critical judgment or condemnation but to once again show our wholehearted solidarity and loving closeness as those who seek to share not only the joys but also the sufferings. As we consider some particular difficulties, we will seek to do so from the point of view of those who know that the history of the Church is being led by God and that all things work out unto good for those who love him (cf. Rom 8:28). With this vision of faith even the negative can be an occasion for a new beginning, if one recognizes therein the face of the abandoned and Crucified Christ who took on our limitations even to the point of "bearing our sins in his body on the wood of the cross" (1Pt 2:24).41 In fact, the grace of God is fully manifested in weakness (cf. 2Cor 12:9).

Rediscovering the Meaning and Quality of Consecrated Life

12. The difficulties which consecrated persons face today take on many faces, especially if we take into account the different cultural contexts in which they live.

The decrease in members in many Institutes and their ageing, evident in some parts of the world give rise to the question of whether consecrated life is still a visible witness, capable of attracting young people. If, as is affirmed in some places, the third millennium will be the time of promotion of the laity, of associations, and of ecclesial movements, we can rightfully ask: what place will be reserved for the traditional forms of consecrated life? Consecrated life, John Paul II reminds us, still has a history to be written together with all the faithful.42

We cannot however ignore that, at times, consecrated life has not seemed to have been held in its proper consideration. There have even been times when there was a lack of confidence in it. Given the ongoing religious crisis which heavily confronts parts of our society, consecrated persons, particularly today, are obliged to look for new forms of presence and to raise not a few questions regarding the meaning of their identity and future.

In addition to the life giving thrust, capable of witness and self-sacrifice to the point of martyrdom, consecrated life also experiences the insidiousness of mediocrity in the spiritual life, of the progressive taking on of middle class values and of a consumer mentality. The complex management of works, while required by new social demands and norms of the State, together with the temptations presented by efficiency and activism, run the risk of obscuring Gospel originality and of weakening spiritual motivations. The prevalence of personal projects over community endeavours can deeply corrode the communion of brotherly and sisterly love.

These are real problems which should not be taken lightly. Consecrated persons are not alone in living the tension between secularism and an authentic life of faith, between the fragility of humanity itself and the power of grace; this is the experience of all members of the Church.

13.The difficulties and the questioning which religious life is experiencing today can give rise to a new kairos, a time of grace. In these challenges lies hidden an authentic call of the Holy Spirit to rediscover the wealth and potentialities of this form of life.

Having to live in a society where a culture of death often reigns can become a challenge to be stronger witnesses, bearers and servants of life.

The evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, lived by Christ in the fullness of his human nature as the Son of God and embraced for the love of God, appear as a way for the full realization of persons opposed to dehumanization. They are a powerful antidote to the pollution of spirit, life and culture; they proclaim the liberty of the children of God and the joy of living according to the evangelical beatitudes.

The impression which some have of a decline of appreciation of consecrated life in some sectors of the Church can be seen as an invitation to a liberating purification. Consecrated life does not seek praise and human appreciation, it is repaid by the joy of continuing to work untiringly for the kingdom of God, to be a seed of life which grows in secret, without expecting any reward other than that which the Lord will give in the end (cf. Mt 6:6). It finds its identity in the call of the Lord, in following him, in unconditional love and service, which are capable of filling a life to the brim and giving it fulness of meaning.

If in some places consecrated persons become little flocks because of a decrease in numbers, this can be seen as a providential sign which invites them to recover their very essential tasks of being leaven, sign and prophecy. The greater the mass of dough to be raised, the greater the quality evangelical leaven called for, and the more exquisite the witness of life and charismatic service of consecrated persons.

The growing awareness of the universality of the call to holiness on the part of all Christians,43 far from making the belonging to a state of life particularly adapted to the realization of evangelical perfection superfluous can become an added motive for joy for consecrated persons. They are now closer to the other members of the People of God with whom they share a common path in the following of Christ, in a more authentic communion, in mutual respect, without being superior or inferior. At the same time this awareness challenges them to understand the sign value of consecrated life in relation to the holiness of all the members of the Church.

If in fact it is true that all Christians are called "to the holiness and perfection of their particular state"44 consecrated persons, thanks to a "new and special consecration"45 have as their mission that of making Christ’s way of life shine through the witness of the evangelical counsels, thereby supporting the faithfulness of the whole body of Christ. This is not a difficulty, it is rather a challenge to originality and to the specific contribution of the charisms of consecrated life, which are at the same time charisms of shared spirituality and of mission which fosters the holiness of the Church.

Clearly these challenges can constitute a powerful call to deepen the living of consecrated life itself whose witness is needed today more than ever. It is fitting to remember the ability of holy foundresses and founders to respond to the challenges and difficulties of their times with a genuine charismatic creativity.

The Task of Superiors

14. In rediscovering the meaning and quality of consecrated life a fundamental task is that of superiors, to whom the service of authority has been entrusted, a demanding and at times disputed task. It requires a constant presence which is able to animate and propose, to recall the raison d’être of consecrated life, and to help those entrusted to them to live in a constantly renewed fidelity to the call of the Spirit. A superior cannot renounce the mission of animation, of brotherly/sisterly support, of proposing, of listening and of dialogue. Only in this way can the entire community find itself united in full communion and in apostolic and ministerial service. The directives offered in our Congregation’s document Fraternal Life in Community remain a topic of great interest, when, in speaking of the aspects of authority which should be evaluated today, recalls the task of spiritual authority, of authority conducive to unity and an authority capable of making final decisions and assuring their implementation.46

A personal and confident participation in the community’s life and mission is required of all its members. Even if, in the end, according to proper law, it is the task of authority to make choices and decisions, daily living in community requires a participation which allows for the exercise of dialogue and discernment. Each individual, then, and the whole community can work out their own life with the plan of God, together carrying out God’s will.47 Coresponsibility and participation are also exercised even in various types of councils at various levels, in order to ensure the constant presence of the Lord who enlightens and guides. The Holy Father did not hesitate to recall the ancient wisdom of the monastic tradition for a correct concrete exercise of the spirituality of communion which promotes and assures the effective participation of all.48

A serious ongoing formation program, built into a radical reconsideration of the problem of formation in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, will help light the way to an authentic path to renewal: renewal in fact " depends primarily upon the formation of their members".49

Ongoing 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.

Vocation Animation

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.

The Formative Courses

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.

Some Particular Challenges

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 Letter Novo 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.

PART THREE

Spiritual Life in the First Place

20. Consecrated Life, like all forms of Christian life, is by its nature dynamic and all who are called by the Spirit to embrace it must constantly renew themselves in growing towards that perfect stature of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). It came into being through the creative prompting of the Spirit who moved founders and foundresses along the Gospel path, giving rise to an admirable variety of charisms. These founders and foundresses, open and docile to the Spirit’s guidance, followed Christ more closely, entered into intimacy with him and fully shared in his mission.

Their experience of the Spirit must not only be preserved by those who follow them but must also be deepened and developed.60 Today, too, an openness and docility to the Spirit’s action which is always new and creative is required. The Spirit alone can keep alive the freshness and authenticity of the beginnings while at the same time instilling the courage of interdependence and inventiveness needed to respond to the signs of the times.

We must therefore allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit to a constantly renewed discovery of God and of his Word, to a burning love for God and for humanity and to a new understanding of the charism which has been given. It calls for a concentration on an intense spirituality in the strongest sense of the word, that is, life according to the Spirit. Consecrated life today needs a spiritual rebirth which will help to concretely bring about the spiritual and evangelical meaning of baptismal consecration and of its new and special consecration.

"The spiritual life must therefore have first place in the programme of Families of consecrated life, in such a way that every Institute and community will be a school of true evangelical spirituality".61 We must allow the Spirit to superabundantly break open the streams of living water which flow from Christ. It is the Spirit who allows us to recognize the Lord in Jesus of Nazareth (cf. 1Cor 12:3) who makes us hear the call to follow him and who unifies us in him. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to Christ (cf. Rom 8:9). It is the Spirit who, making us sons and daughters in the Son, gives witness to the paternity of God, makes us aware of our status as sons and daughters and gives us the courage to dare to call him "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15). It is the Spirit who instills love and gives birth to communion. Clearly consecrated life needs a renewed striving for holiness which in the simplicity of everyday life, aims at the radicalness of the Sermon on the Mount62 and demanding love, lived in a personal relationship with the Lord, in a life of communion and in the service to every man and woman. It is such an interior newness, entirely animated by the strength of the Spirit and reaching out to the Father, seeking the Kingdom, which will allow consecrated persons to start afresh from Christ and be witnesses of his love.

The call to return to one’s own roots and choices in spirituality opens paths to the future. First of all it requires living the fullness of the theology of the evangelical counsels with the model of Trinitarian life as the starting point, according to the teachings of Vita Consecrata,63 with a new opportunity to come into contact with the sources of one’s own charism and constitutional texts, which are always open to new and more demanding interpretations. This dynamic sense of spirituality provides the opportunity to develop, at this stage of the Church’s history, a deeper spirituality which is more ecclesial and communitarian, more demanding and mature in mutual support in striving for holiness, more generous in apostolic choices; finally, a spirituality which is more open to becoming a teaching and pastoral plan for holiness within consecrated life its

The Editors