afresh from Christ:
A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life
in the Third Millennium
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life
Instruction June 14, 2002
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 itself and in its radiance for the entire people of God.
The Holy Spirit is the soul and animator of Christian
spirituality; for this reason we must entrust ourselves to the
Spirit's action which departs from the intimacy of hearts,
manifests itself in communion and spreads itself in mission.
Starting Afresh from Christ
21. Therefore it is necessary to adhere ever more closely to
Christ, the centre of consecrated life and once again take up
the path of conversion and renewal which, like the initial
experience of the apostles, before and after the resurrection,
was a starting afresh from Christ. Yes, one must start afresh
from Christ because it was from him that the first disciples
started in Galilee; from him, that throughout history men and
women of every status and culture, consecrated by the Spirit in
the strength of their call, have started out; for him they have
left family and homeland, following him unconditionally, making
themselves available for the announcement of the Kingdom and
doing good for all (cf. Acts 10:38).
The awareness of one's own poverty and fragility and the
greatness of the call have often resulted in the repetition of
the words of the apostle Peter, "Leave me Lord, I am a sinful
man" (Lk 5:8). And yet God's gift was stronger than human
weakness. In fact, it is Christ who has made himself present in
the communities of those who throughout the centuries have
gathered in his name, he taught them about himself and about his
Spirit, he oriented them towards the Father, he guided them
along the streets of the world to encounter brothers and
sisters, he made them instruments of his love and builders of
his Kingdom in communion with all the other vocations in the
Consecrated persons can and must start afresh from Christ
because he himself first came to them and accompanied them on
the path (cf. Lk. 24:13-22). Their life is the proclamation of
the primacy of grace.64 Without Christ they can do nothing (cf.
Jn 15:5); however, in him who gives strength they can do all
(cf. Phil 4:13).
22. Staring afresh from Christ means proclaiming that
consecrated life is a special following of Christ, "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".65 This implies a particular communion of love for
Christ who has become the centre of their life and the continual
source of every initiative. It is, as the Apostolic Exhortation
Vita Consecrata reminds us, an experience of sharing, "a special
grace of intimacy".66 It is "becoming one with him, taking on
his mind and his way of life",67 and it is a life "taken up by
Christ",68 "touched by the hand of Christ, a life where his
voice is heard, a life sustained by his grace".69
The whole life of consecration can be summarized by this point
of departure alone: the evangelical counsels make sense only in
as much as they help to safeguard and foster love for the Lord
in full openness to his will; Community life is motivated by the
One who gathers others around himself and has as its goal the
enjoyment of his constant presence; the mission is his command
leading us to seek his face in the faces of those to whom we are
sent to share with them the experience of Christ.
These were the intentions of the founders and foundresses of
different communities and Institutes of Consecrated Life. These
are the ideals which have motivated generations of consecrated
women and men.
Starting afresh from Christ means once again finding one's first
love, the inspiring spark which first gave rise to the
following. The primacy of love is his. The following is only a
response in love to the love of God. If "we love" it is "because
he first loved us"(1Jn 4:10,19). This means recognizing his
personal love with that heartfelt awareness which made the
apostle Paul say: "Christ loved me and gave up his life for me"
Only the awareness of being infinitely loved can help us
overcome every personal and institutional difficulty.
Consecrated persons cannot be creative, capable of renewing the
Institute and opening new pastoral paths if they do not feel
loved with this love. It is this love which makes them strong
and courageous which instills fire and enables them to dareall.
The vows with which one commits oneself to live the evangelical
counsels confer their radicalness as a response to love.
Virginity opens the heart to the measure of Christ's heart and
makes it possible to love as he loved. Poverty frees one from
the slavery to things and to artificial needs which drive
consumer society and leads to the rediscovery of Christ, the
only treasure truly worth living for. Obedience places life
entirely in Christ's hands so that he may use it according to
God's design and make it a masterpiece. Courage is needed for a
generous and joyous following.
Contemplating the Faces of Christ
23. The path which consecrated life is called to take up at the
beginning of the new millennium is guided by the contemplation
of Christ with a gaze fixed, more than ever, on the face of the
Lord.70 But where does one concretely contemplate the face of
Christ? There are a multiplicity of presences to be discovered
in ways that are ever new.
Christ is truly present in his Word and in the Sacraments,
especially in the Eucharist. Christ lives in the Church, he
makes himself present in the community of those who are gathered
in his name. He is before us in every person, identifying
himself in a special way with the small, the poor, those who
suffer and those most in need. He meets us in every event happy
or sad, in trials and in joys, in pain and in sickness.
Holiness is the fruit of the encounter with him in the many
presences in which we can discover his face as the Son of God, a
suffering face and at the same time the face of the Risen One.
As he once made himself present in daily life he is still
present in daily life today where he continues to show his face.
Recognizing him requires a gaze of faith which is acquired
through the habitual reading of the Word of God, through prayer
and above all through the exercise of charity because the
Mystery can only be fully known through love.
We can recall some privileged places in which the face of Christ
can be contemplated, for a renewed commitment in the life of the
Spirit. These are walking the paths of a lived spirituality, a
priority commitment in this time, taking the opportunity to
re-read in life and in daily experiences the spiritual riches of
one's own charism, through of a renewed contact with the same
sources which, inspired by the founders' and foundress'
experience of the Spirit, gave rise to the spark of new life and
new works, the specific re-reading of the Gospel found in every
The Word of God
24. John Paul II reminds consecrated persons that living
spirituality means first of all starting afresh from the person
of Christ, true God and true man, present in his Word, "the
first source of all spirituality".71Holiness is inconceivable
without a renewed listening to the word of God. In Novo
Millennio Ineunte, we read: "It is especially necessary that
listening to the Word of God should become a life giving
encounter... which draws from the biblical text the living Word
which questions, directs and shapes our lives".72 It is there,
in fact, where the Master reveals himself and educates the mind
and the heart: It is there that the vision of faith matures,
learning to look at reality and events through the eyes of God,
to the point of having "the mind of Christ" (1Cor 2:16).
It was the Holy Spirit who sparked the Word of God with new
light for the founders and foundresses. Every charism and every
Rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it. In
continuity with founders and foundresses their disciples today
are called to take up the Word of God and to cherish it in their
hearts so that it may be a lamp for their feet and a light for
their path (cf. Ps 118:105). The Holy Spirit will then be able
to lead them to the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).
The Word of God is nourishment for life, for prayer and for the
daily journey, the principle which unifies the community in
oneness of thought, the inspiration for ongoing renewal and
apostolic creativity. The Second Vatican Council had already
indicated that the first great principle of renewal is a return
to the Gospel.73
Within communities and in groups of consecrated men and women,
as in the whole Church, a more lively and immediate contact with
the Word of God has developed in recent years. It is a path
which must continue to be walked down with an ever greater
intensity. The Pope has said: "You must not tire of meditating
on Holy Scripture and above all on the Gospels so that they can
imprint upon you the features of the Incarnate Word".74
Community life also fosters the rediscovery of the ecclesial
dimension of the Word: receive it, meditate upon it, live it
together, communicate the experiences which blossom from it and
thus submit yourself to an authentic spirituality of communion.
In this context it is good to remember the need for constant
reference to the Rule, because in the Rule and in the
Constitutions "there is a map for the whole journey of
discipleship in accordance with a specific charism confirmed by
the Church".75 This way of following translates the particular
interpretation of the Gospel given by the founders and
foundresses as the result of a particular prompting of the
Spirit and it helps the members of the Institute live concretely
according to the Word of God.
Nourished by the word, made new, free and conformed to the
Gospels, consecrated men and women can be authentic servants of
the Word in the task of evangelization. This is how they carry
out a priority for the Church at the beginning of the new
millennium: "we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the
beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of
the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost".76
Prayer and Contemplation
25. Prayer and contemplation provide the ambient for the
reception of the Word of God and at the same time they spring
from listening to the Word. Without an interior life of love
which draws the Word, the Father and the Spirit to itself, an
outlook of faith is impossible (cf. Jn14:23). As a consequence
life itself loses meaning, the faces of brothers and sisters are
obscured and it becomes impossible to recognize the face of God
in them, historical events remain ambiguous and deprived of hope
and apostolic and charitable mission become nothing more than
Every vocation to consecrated life is born in contemplation,
from moments of intense communion and from a deep relationship
of friendship with Christ, from the beauty and light which was
seen shining on his face. From there the desire to always be
with the Lord-and to follow him-matures:"how good it is for us
to be here" (Mt 17:4). Every vocation must constantly mature in
this intimacy with Christ. "Your first task therefore"-John Paul
reminds consecrated persons- "cannot not be in the line of
contemplation. Every reality of consecrated life is born and is
regenerated each day in the unending contemplation of the face
Monks and cloistered nuns like hermits dedicate more time to
praise of God as well as to prolonged silent prayer. Members of
Secular Institutes, like consecrated virgins in the world, offer
to God the joys and sorrows, the hopes and petitions of all
people and contemplate the face of Christ which they recognize
in the faces of their brothers and sisters, in the historical
events, in the apostolate and in everyday work. Religious men
and women dedicated to teaching, to the care of the sick, to the
poor, encounter the face of the Lord there. For missionaries and
members of Societies of Apostolic Life the proclamation of the
Gospel is lived according to the example of St. Paul, as
authentic cult (cf. Rm1:6). The whole Church enjoys and benefits
from the many forms of prayer and the variety of ways in which
the one face of Christ is contemplated.
At the same time it is noticeable that, for many years now, the
liturgical prayer of the Hours and the celebration of the
Eucharist have assumed a central position in the life of all
types of communities and of fraternities, once again giving them
a biblical and ecclesial vigour. They also foster mutual
edification and can become a witness to be before God and with
God, "a house and a school of communion".78 An authentic
spiritual life requires that everyone, in all the diverse
vocations, regularly dedicate, every day, appropriate times to
enter deeply into silent conversation with him by whom they know
they are loved, to share their very lives with him and to
receive enlightenment to continue on the daily journey. It is an
exercise which requires fidelity, because we are constantly
being bombarded by the estrangements and excesses which come
from today's society, especially from the means of
communication. At times fidelity to personal and liturgical
prayer will require a true effort not to allow oneself to be
swallowed up in frenetic activism. Otherwise it will be
impossible to bear fruit. "No more than a branch can bear fruit
of itself apart from the vine can you bear fruit apart from me"
The Eucharist, a Privileged Place for Encounter with the
26. Giving a priority place to spirituality means starting
afresh from the rediscovered centrality of the Eucharistic
celebration, a privileged place of encounter with the Lord.
There he once again makes himself present in the midst of the
disciples, he explains the Scriptures, he warms the heart and
enlightens the mind, he opens eyes and allows himself to be
recognized (cf. Lk. 24:13-35). John Paul II's invitation
extended to consecrated persons is particularly vibrant: "My
dearest ones, encounter him and contemplate him in a very
special way in the Eucharist, celebrated and adored every day as
source and summit of existence and apostolic action".79 In the
Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata he called for
participation in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and assiduous
and prolonged Eucharistic adoration daily.80 The Eucharist, the
memorial of the Lord's sacrifice, the heart of the life of the
Church and of every community, fashions from within the renewed
offering of one's very existence, the project of community life
and the apostolic mission. We all need the daily viaticum of
encounter with the Lord in order to bring every day life into
sacred time which is made present in celebration of the Lord's
Here the fulness of intimacy with Christ is realized, becoming
one with him, total conformity to him to whom consecrated
persons are called by vocation.81 In fact, in the Eucharist,
Jesus joins us to himself in his very paschal offering to the
Father. We offer and are offered. Religious consecration itself
assumes a Eucharistic structure, it is the total offering of
self closely joined to the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
In the Eucharist all forms of prayer come together, the Word of
God is proclaimed and received, relationships with God, with
brothers and sisters, with all men and women are challenged. It
is the Sacrament of filiation, of communion and of mission. The
Eucharist, the Sacrament of unity with Christ, is at the same
time the Sacrament of Church unity and community unity for the
consecrated person. Clearly it is "The source of spirituality
both for individuals and for communities".82
In order to fully produce the expected fruits of communion and
renewal, the essential conditions must be present, especially
mutual forgiveness and the commitment to love one another in
accord with the Lord's teaching; full reconciliation is
necessary before presenting ones's offering at the altar (cf. Mt
5:23). The Sacrament of unity cannot be celebrated while
remaining indifferent to others. On the other hand, it must be
remembered that these essential conditions are also the fruit
and sign of a well-celebrated Eucharist because it is especially
in communion with the Eucharistic Jesus that we are enabled to
love and to forgive. Moreover, every celebration should become
the occasion to renew the commitment of giving one's life for
others in acceptance and in service. Thus, Christ's promise,
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their
midst" (Mt 18:20), would hold true, in the fullest sense, for
the Eucharistic celebration, and gathered around the Eucharist,
the community will be renewed daily.
Meeting these conditions the community of consecrated persons
which lives the Paschal Mystery, renewed daily in the Eucharist,
becomes a witness of communion and a prophetic sign of
solidarity for a divided and wounded society. In fact, the
spirituality of communion, so necessary to establish the
dialogue of charity needed in today's world, is born in the
The Face of Christ in Trials
27. Living spirituality in a continual starting afresh from
Christ means always starting from the greatest expression of his
love-and the Eucharist relives the mystery of this moment-when
on the cross Jesus gives his very life as the greatest gift of
self. Those who have been called to live the evangelical
counsels through profession must frequently contemplate the face
of the Crucified One.84 He is the source from whom we learn what
love is and how God and humanity should be loved, the source of
all charisms, the summary of all vocations.85 Consecration, a
total sacrifice and perfect holocaust, is the way suggested to
them by the Spirit to relive the mystery of the Crucified
Christ, who came into the world to give his life as a ransom for
many (cf. Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45) and to respond to his infinite
The history of consecrated life has expressed this configuration
to Christ in many ascetic forms which "have constituted and
continue to constitute an authentic path to holiness.
Asceticism... is truly indispensable if consecrated persons are
to remain faithful to their own vocation and follow Jesus on the
way of the cross".86 Today, consecrated persons, while
maintaining the experience of the centuries, are called to find
forms which are consonant with our times. Forms which assure a
generosity of service and support the fatigue of apostolic work.
Today, the cross which they take up daily (cf. Lk 9:23), such as
the age of the Institute, structural inadequacy, and uncertainty
regarding the future, can also take on collective value.
In the face of so many personal, communal and social sufferings
one can hear the cry of Christ on the cross, "Why have you
abandoned me?" (Mk 15:34), reechoed in the hearts of individuals
or of whole communities. In that cry, addressed to the Father,
Jesus makes us understand that his solidarity with humanity was
so radical that it penetrated, shared and assumed every negative
aspect even to death, the fruit of sin. "In order to bring men
back to the Father's face, Jesus not only had to take on the
face of man, but he had to burden himself with the `face' of
Starting afresh from Christ means recognizing that sin is still
radically present in the heart and life of all, and discovering
in the suffering face of Christ that offering which reconciled
humanity with God.
Throughout the history of the Church, consecrated women and men
have contemplated the suffering face even outside themselves.
They recognized it in the sick, the imprisoned, the poor and the
sinner. Their battle was primarily against sin and its fatal
consequences: Jesus' proclamation " Convert and believe the Good
News" (Mk 1:15) moved them to reach out to others and provided
the hope of new life where discouragement and death reigned.
Their service has brought many men and women to experience the
merciful embrace of God the Father in the Sacrament of Penance.
Today too, there is a need to strongly repropose this ministry
of reconciliation (cf. 2Cor 5:18 ) entrusted by Jesus Christ to
the Church. This is the mysterium pietatis88 which consecrated
men and women are called to experience frequently in the
Sacrament of Penance.
Today new faces are appearing in which to recognize, love and
serve the face of Christ where he has made himself present; they
are the new material moral and spiritual poverties produced by
contemporary society. The cry of Jesus on the cross reveals how
he took all this evil upon himself in order to redeem it. The
vocation of consecrated persons continues to be that of Jesus
and like him they take upon themselves the pain and the sin of
the world, consuming them in love.
The Spirituality of Communion
28. If "the spiritual life must have first place in the program
of the Families of consecrated life"89 it should be above all a
spirituality of communion suitable for the present time. "To
make the Church the home and school of communion: that is the
great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now
beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond
to the world's deepest yearnings".90
The whole Church expects a clear contribution to this
undertaking from consecrated life because of its specific
vocation to a life of communion in love. In Vita Consecrata we
read "Consecrated Persons are asked to be true experts of
communion and to practice its spirituality as witnesses and
artisans of that plan of communion which stands at the center of
history according to God".91
Moreover, we are reminded that one of the tasks of consecrated
life today is that of spreading the spirituality of communion,
first of all in their internal life and then in the Church
community, and even beyond its boundaries, by beginning or
continuing a dialogue in charity, especially in those places
where today's world is torn apart by ethnic hatred or senseless
violence".92 This is a task which requires spiritual persons
interiorly shaped by God, by loving and merciful communion and
by mature communities where the spirituality of communion is the
rule of life.
29. But what is the spirituality of communion? With incisive
words, capable of giving new life to relationships and programs,
John Paul II teaches: "A spirituality of communion indicates
above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the
Trinity dwelling within us and whose light we must also be able
to see shining on the faces of the brothers and sisters around
us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think
of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity
of the Mystical Body and therefore as `those who are part of
me'...". Some consequences of feeling and doing derive from this
principal with convincing logic: sharing the joys and sufferings
of our brothers and sisters; sensing their desires and attending
to their needs; offering them true and profound friendship. The
spirituality of communion also implies the ability to see what
is positive in others, to welcome it and to prize it as a gift
from God, and to know how to make room for others, sharing each
other's burdens. Unless we follow this spiritual path, the
external structures of communion serve very little purpose.93
The spirituality of communion which appears to reflect the
spiritual climate of the Church at the beginning of the third
millennium is an active and exemplary task for consecrated life
on all levels. It is the principle highway for the future of
life and witness. Holiness and mission come through the
community because in and through it Christ makes himself
present. Brother and sister become Sacraments of Christ and of
the encounter with God, the concrete possibility, and even more,
the unsurpassable necessity in carrying out the commandment to
love one another and bring about Trinitarian communion.
In recent years communities and various types of fraternities of
consecrated persons are seen as places of communion where
relationships seem to be less formal and where acceptance and
mutual understanding are facilitated. The divine and human value
of being together freely in friendship and sharing even moments
of relaxation and recreation together as disciples gathered
around Christ the Teacher is being rediscovered.
Moreover there is a more intense communion among the different
communities of the same Institute: multi-cultural and
International communities, called to "witness to the sense of
communion among peoples, races, and cultures",94 are already in
many areas a positive reality where mutual knowledge, respect,
esteem and enrichment are being experienced. They prove to be
training grounds for integration and inculturation and at the
same time a witness to the universality of the Christian
The Exhortation Vita Consecrata, presenting this form of life as
a sign of communion in the Church, emphasized all the wealth and
demands expected of community life. Earlier our Dicastery had
promulgated the document Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor,
on community life. Every community should periodically go back
to these documents to evaluate its own journey of faith and
progress in communion.
Communion between Old and New Charisms
30. The communion which consecrated persons are called to live
goes far beyond their own religious family or Institute. Opening
themselves to communion with other Institutes and other forms of
consecration, they can spread communion, rediscover their common
Gospel roots and together grasp the beauty of their own identity
in the variety of charisms with greater clarity. They should
compete in mutual esteem (cf. Rm 12:10), striving for the
greater gift, charity (cf. 1Cor 12:31).
Meeting and solidarity among institutes are thus encouraged,
aware that "communion is closely linked to the Christian
community's ability to make room for all the gifts of the
Spirit. The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an
organic blending of legitimate diversities. It is the reality of
many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ
(cf. 1Cor. 12:12)".95
It can be the beginning of a joint search for common ways of
serving the Church. External factors, such as having to comply
with the new demands of States and internal Institute factors
such as the decrease in the number of members, have already led
to the coordination of efforts in the fields of formation, the
management of goods, education and evangelization. Even in these
situations we can find the Spirit's invitation to a more intense
communion. The Conferences of Major Superiors and Conferences of
Secular Institutes are to be supported at all levels in this
The future can no longer be faced in isolation. There is a need
to be Church, to together live the adventure of the Spirit and
of the following of Christ, communicating the experience of the
Gospel, learning to love the other's community and religious
family as one's own. The joys and sorrows, the concerns and
successes belong to everyone and can be shared.
Dialogue and communion are also sought from new forms of
evangelical life. These new associations of evangelical life,
Vita Consecrata reminds us, "are not alternatives to already
existing Institutions, which continue to hold the pre-eminent
place assigned to them by tradition... The older institutes,
many of which have been tested by the severest of hardships,
which they have accepted courageously down the centuries, can be
enriched through dialogue and an exchange of gifts with the
Foundations appearing in our own day".96
Finally, a new richness can spring from an encounter and
communion with the charisms of ecclesial movements. Movements
can often offer the example of evangelical and charismatic
freshness such as the generous, creative initiatives in
evangelization. On the other hand, movements as well as new
forms of evangelical life can learn a great deal from the
faithful, joyful and charismatic witness of consecrated life
which bears a very rich spiritual patrimony, the many treasures
of experience and wisdom and a great variety of apostolates and
Our Dicastery has already offered criteria and directives for
the insertion of Religious men and women into ecclesial
movements which are still valid.97 What we would rather stress
here is the relationship of knowledge and collaboration, of
esteem and sharing which could be inserted not only among
individuals but also among Institutes, ecclesial movements, and
new forms of consecrated life in view of a growth in life in the
Spirit and of the carrying out of the Church's one mission. It
is a question of recognizing which came about through the
promptings of the same Spirit to bring about the fullness of
evangelical life in the world, coming together to realize God's
one plan for the salvation of all. The spirituality of communion
is realized precisely in this vast dialogue of evangelical
fraternity among all segments of the people of God.98
In Communion with the Laity
31. The experience of communion among consecrated persons
results in an even greater openness to all other members of the
Church. The command to love one another experienced in the
internal life of the community must be transferred from the
personal level to that of the different ecclesial realities.
Only in an integrated ecclesiology, wherein the various
vocations are gathered together as the one people of God, can
the vocation to consecrated life once again find its specific
identity as sign and witness. The fact that the charisms of
founders and foundresses, having been born of the Spirit for the
good of all, must once again be placed at the centre of the
Church, open to communion and participation by all the People of
God, is being increasingly discovered.
In this line we can see that a new type of communion and
collaboration within the various vocations and states of life
especially among consecrated persons and laity is beginning.99
Monastic and contemplative Institutes can offer the laity a
relationship that is primarily spiritual and the necessary
spaces for silence and prayer. Institutes committed to the
apostolate can involve them in forms of pastoral collaboration.
Members of Secular Institutes, lay or clerical, relate to other
members of the faithful at the level of everyday life.100
The new phenomenon being experienced in these days is that some
members of the laity are asking to participate in the
charismatic ideals of Institutes. This has given rise to
interesting initiatives and new institutional forms of
association. We are experiencing an authentic re-flourishing of
ancient institutions, such as the secular orders or third
orders, and the birth of new lay associations and movements
linked to religious Families and Secular Institutes. Whereas at
times in the recent past, collaboration came about as a means of
supplementing the decline of consecrated persons necessary to
carry out activities, now it is growing out of the need to share
responsibility not only in the carrying out of the Institute's
works but especially in the hope of sharing specific aspects and
moments of the spirituality and mission of the Institute. This
calls for an adequate formation of both consecrated persons and
laity to ensure a collaboration which is mutually enriching.
Whereas in times past it was especially the task of religious
men and women to create, spiritually nourish and direct
aggregate forms of laity, today, thanks to an every increasing
formation of the laity, there can be a mutual assistance which
fosters an understanding of the specificity and beauty of each
state of life. Communion and mutuality in the Church are never
one way streets. In this new climate of ecclesial communion,
priests, religious and laity, far from ignoring each other or
coming together only for a common activity, can once again find
the just relationships of communion and a renewed experience of
evangelical communion and mutual charismatic esteem resulting in
a complementarity which respects the differences.
This ecclesial dynamic will be helpful to the renewal and
identity of consecrated life. As the understanding of the
charism deepens, ever new ways of carrying it out will be
In Communion with Bishops
32. A unique aspect in this relationship of ecclesial communion
with all the vocations and states of life is that of unity with
Bishops. The hope of cultivating a spirituality of communion
without an effective and affective relationship with the
Bishops, primarily with the Pope, the center of unity of the
Church and with his Magisterium, would be in vain.
It is the concrete application of feeling with the church proper
to all the faithful101 which especially shines in the founders
and foundresses of consecrated life and which becomes the
charismatic task of all Institutes. It is impossible to
contemplate the face of God without seeing it shine in that of
the Church. To love Christ is to love the Church in her persons
Today, more than ever, in the face of the recurring centrifugal
forces which place fundamental principles of the Catholic faith
and morals in doubt, consecrated persons and their institutions
are called to give proof of unity without disagreement with the
Magisterium of the Church, becoming convinced and joyful
spokespersons before all.
It is fitting to stress what the Pope has already affirmed in
Vita Consecrata: "A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is
allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium (of the Pope
and) of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly
and clearly witnessed to before the People of God by all
consecrated persons, especially those involved in theological
research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use of the
means of social communications".102 At the same time it is
recognized that many theologians are Religious and many centres
of research are directed by Institutes of Consecrated Life. They
praiseworthily carry out this responsibility in the cultural
world. The Church guards with confident attention their
intellectual commitment in the face of the delicate front line
issues which the Magisterium must face.103
The Church documents of the past ten years have constantly taken
up the conciliar style which invites the Bishops to evaluate the
specific charisms in the overall pastoral picture. At the same
time they encourage consecrated persons to clearly and
confidently make known and to offer their own proposals for
presence and work in conformity with their specific vocation.
This also holds true, in some ways, in relationships with the
Diocesan clergy. The majority of religious daily collaborate
with priests in pastoral ministry. It is therefore essential to
make use of all initiatives which foster greater mutual
knowledge and esteem.
Only in harmony with the spirituality of communion and with the
teaching outlined in Novo Millennio Ineunte can the Holy
Spirit's gifts to the Church through the charisms of consecrated
life be recognized. The coexistence in the life of the Church
between the charismatic elements and the hierarchical elements
which John Paul II has often mentioned when referring to new
ecclesial movements104 also holds true, in a special way, for
consecrated life. Love and service in the Church must always be
lived in a reciprocity of mutual charity.
Witnesses to Love
Knowing and Serving Christ
33. A life transformed by the evangelical counsels
becomes a prophetic and silent witness and at the same time an
eloquent protest against an inhuman world. It calls for the
promotion of the individual and for a new creativity of charity.
We have seen it in the holy founders. It is manifested not only
in the effectiveness of their service but especially in their
ability to identify with those who suffer in such a way that the
helping hand is experienced as heartfelt sharing. This kind of
evangelization, realized through works characterized by love and
dedication, ensures an unmistakable efficacy to the charity of
In its own right, the life of communion is the first message of
consecrated life, since it is an efficacious sign and persuasive
force which leads to belief in Christ. Thus, communion itself is
mission, indeed "communion begets communion and is essentially a
missionary communion".106 Communities once again find themselves
wanting to follow Christ on the paths of human history,107 with
an apostolic fervour and a witness of life which conforms to
their individual charism.108 "Those who have come into genuine
contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must
proclaim him. A new apostolic outreach, which will be lived as
the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups is
34. When one starts afresh from Christ the spirituality of
communion becomes a strong and solid spirituality of disciples
and apostles of his Kingdom. For consecrated persons this means
committing themselves in service to their brothers and sisters
in whom they recognize the face of Christ. In the exercise of
this apostolic mission being and doing are inseparable because
the mystery of Christ constitutes the absolute base for all
pastoral action.110 "The contribution of consecrated persons,
both men and women, to evangelization is, first of all, the
witness of a life given totally to God and to their brothers and
sisters, imitating the Saviour who, out of love for humanity,
made himself a servant".111 Consecrated persons do not limit
themselves to giving only part of their time but rather give
their whole life to participating in the mission of the Church.
In Novo Millennio Ineunte, it seems that the Pope wants to make
even greater strides in concrete love for the poor. "The century
and the new millennium now beginning will need to see, and
hopefully with still greater clarity, to what length of
dedication the Christian community can go in charity towards the
poorest. If we have truly started out anew from the
contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in
the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified:
`I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave
me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and
you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison
and you came to me' (Mt 25:35-36). This Gospel text is not a
simple invitation to charity, it is a page of Christology which
sheds a ray of light on the mystery of Christ. By these words,
no less than by the orthodoxy of her doctrine, the Church
measures her fidelity as the Bride of Christ".112 The Pope also
offers a concrete direction of spirituality with the invitation
to recognize in the person of the poor a special presence of
Christ which imposes upon the Church a preferential option for
them. It is through such an option that consecrated persons
also113 must witness to "the nature of God's love, to his
providence and mercy".114
35. The field in which John Paul invites us to work encompasses
the whole world. Facing this scenario, consecrated persons "must
make their act of faith in Christ by discerning his voice in the
cry for help that rises from this world of poverty".115 Finding
the proper balance between the universal breath of a missionary
vocation and its insertion into the context of a local church
will be the primary challenge for all apostolic activity.
Despair at the lack of meaning in life, drug addiction, fear of
abandonment in old age or sickness, marginalization or social
discrimination are new forms of poverty which have been added to
its traditional forms.116 Mission, in its traditional and new
forms, is first of all a service to the dignity of the person in
a dehumanized society because the greatest and most serious
poverty of our time is the callous treading upon the rights of
the human person. With the dynamism of charity, of forgiveness
and of reconciliation, consecrated persons strive in justice to
build a world which offers new and better possibilities for the
life and development of the individual. Having the spirit of one
who is poor, cleansed of self-interest, ready to exercise a
service of peace and non-violence in a spirit of solidarity and
full of compassion for the suffering of others is essential for
this intervention to be effective. The way of proclaiming God's
word and carrying out God's deeds, begun by Jesus (cf. Lk
4:15-21) and lived by the primitive Church cannot be forgotten
at the end of the Jubilee or the passing of a millennium, but
presses to be realized with greater urgency in charity towards a
different future. One must be ready to pay the price of
persecution because in our day the most frequent cause of
martyrdom is the struggle for justice in faithfulness to the
Gospel. John Paul affirms this witness: "even recently this has
led to the martyrdom of some of your brothers and sisters in
various parts of the world".117
In the Creativity of Charity
36. Throughout the centuries, works of charity have always
provided the ambient for the concrete living out of the Gospel.
In the practice of charity, consecrated persons have emphasized
the prophetic nature of their charism and the richness of their
spirituality in the Church and in the world.118 They recognized
that they were called to be the "manifestation of God's love in
the world".119 This dynamism must continue to be exercised with
creative fidelity because it constitutes an irreplaceable
resource in the Church's pastoral work. At a time when a
creativity in charity and an authentic proof and confirmation of
the charity of word and action are called for,120 consecrated
life admirably safeguards the apostolic creativity which has
given rise to thousands of faces of charity and holiness in
specific forms; therefore, it cannot help but feel the urgency
to continue, with the Spirit's creativity, to surprise the world
with new forms of effective evangelical love which respond to
the needs of our time.
Consecrated life has manifested the desire to reflect upon its
specific charisms and its own traditions in order to place them
at the service of the new boundaries of evangelization. This
means becoming one with the poor, the aged, the addicted, those
suffering with AIDS, and exiled people who undergo any form of
suffering because of the particular reality in which they find
themselves. Attentive to the change in models, since mere
assistance is no longer seen as sufficient, they seek to
eradicate the causes of the needs. Poverty is caused by the
ambition and indifference of many and by sinful structures which
must be eliminated through a serious commitment to the field of
Many traditional and new foundations bring consecrated men and
women to places where others usually cannot go. In recent years
consecrated persons were able to leave the security of the known
to thrust themselves into unknown places and works. Thanks to
their total consecration they are in fact free to step in
wherever there are critical needs. This has been witnessed in
the recent foundations in new countries which present unique
challenges, involving many provinces at the same time and
creating international communities. With discerning eyes and
generous hearts121 they have responded to the call of many who
suffer in a concrete service of charity. Wherever they are, they
have constituted a link between the Church and marginal groups
and those not reached by ordinary pastoral ministry.
Even some charisms which seemed to have responded to times which
have since passed have taken on a renewed vigour in this world
which is experiencing trafficking of women and children into
slavery; at the same time children, often the victims of abuse,
run the risk of abandonment or conscription into armies.
Today there is a greater freedom in the exercise of the
apostolates, a flourishing with greater awareness, a solidarity
expressed through knowing how to stand with the people, assuming
their problems, in order to respond to them, paying close
attention to the signs of the times and to their needs. This
multiplication of initiatives has demonstrated the importance of
planning in mission if one desires to act in an ordered and
efficient manner rather than haphazardly.
Announcing the Gospel
37. The first task which must be once again assumed with
enthusiasm is the proclamation of Christ to all. This task falls
especially to consecrated men and women who bring the message to
the growing number of those who ignore it. This mission is still
in its beginning stages and we must commit ourselves with all
our resources to bring it about.122 The confident and mutually
dependent action of missionaries must always seek better ways of
responding to the demands of inculturation in such a way that
the specific values of each people are not rejected but purified
and brought to their fullness.123 While remaining totally
faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel, Christianity of the
third millennium will also be characterized by the face of the
many cultures and peoples where it is taken up and rooted.124
38. Following a glorious tradition, a great number of
consecrated persons, especially women, exercise their apostolate
in health care ministries continuing Christ's mission of mercy.
In the footsteps of the Divine Samaritan, they draw close to
those who suffer, seeking to ease their pain. Their professional
competence, attentively seeking to make the practice of medicine
more human, gives space to the Gospel which enlightens even the
most difficult experiences of human life and death with goodness
and confidence. For this reason the poorest and most abandoned
patients will be those who are the preferred recipients of their
For Christian witness to be effective, it is important,
especially in delicate and controversial matters, to know how to
explain the reasons for the Church's position, stressing that it
is not a case of imposing on non-believers a vision based on
faith, but rather of interpreting and defending the values
rooted in the very nature of the human person.126 Charity, then,
especially for religious who work in this ministry, is at the
service of intelligence, to ensure that the fundamental
principles, upon which a civilization worthy of the human person
is built, are everywhere respected.
Spreading the Truth
39. The world of education also calls for the qualified presence
of consecrated men and women. The mystery of the Incarnation
provides the basis for an anthropology which is capable of going
beyond its own limitations and contradictions to Jesus, "the new
man" (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10). Because the Son of God truly
became man, men and women, in and through him, can truly become
children of God.127
Consecrated persons are able to develop a particularly incisive
ministry in this field, thanks to their experience of the
particular gifts of the Spirit, their careful listening to to
the Word, their constant practice of discernment and their rich
heritage of pedagogical traditions amassed since the
establishment of their Institutes. Equipped with this charism,
consecrated persons give life to educational undertakings
permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom, justice and charity
in which young people are helped to mature humanly under the
action of the Spirit, while at the same time proposing sanctity
as the goal of education for teachers and students alike.128
A renewed cultural commitment which seeks to raise the level of
personal preparation and prepares for a dialogue between faith
and the contemporary mentality, which fosters, an intense
evangelization of culture, as service to the truth, in the
academic institutions themselves,129 must be promoted in
consecrated life. A presence in social communication is also
needed more than ever.130 Every effort in this new and strategic
apostolic field is encouraged so that initiatives in various
sectors may be better coordinated and reach higher levels of
quality and effectiveness.
Openness to the Great Dialogues
40. Starting afresh from Christ means, ultimately, following him
where he has made himself present in the work of salvation and
living within the vast horizons opened by him. Consecrated life
cannot be content living only in and for the Church. It reaches
out with Christ to other Christian Churches, to other religions
and to every man and woman who do not profess any religious
Consecrated life is thus called to make its specific
contribution in all of the great dialogues opened to the Church
by the Second Vatican Council. "Engaged in dialogue with
everyone" is the significant title of the last chapter of Vita
Consecrata, the logical conclusion to the entire Apostolic
41. The document recalls, above all, how the Synod on
Consecrated life highlighted the close connection between
consecrated life and ecumenism. "Since the soul of Ecumenism is
prayer and conversion, Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life certainly have a special duty to
foster this commitment".131 There is an urgent need for
consecrated persons to give more space in their lives to
ecumenical prayer and genuine evangelical witness so that by the
power of the Holy Spirit the walls of division and prejudice can
be broken down. No Institute of Consecrated Life should feel
itself dispensed from working for this cause.
Speaking of various forms of ecumenical dialogue, Vita
Consecrata points out that the sharing of lectio divina and
taking part in common prayers in which the Lord guarantees his
presence (cf. Mt 18:20) are ways which are particularly suitable
for members of religious communities. Friendship, charity and
collaboration on common initiatives of service and witness will
give life to the experience of how pleasant it is where brothers
and sisters dwell as one (cf. Ps 133 ). Of equal importance
is the knowledge of the history, doctrine, liturgy, and
charitable and apostolic works of other Christians.132
42. Vita Consecrata poses two fundamental requirements for
interreligious dialogue: Gospel witness and freedom of spirit.
It also suggests some particular aids such as mutual knowledge,
respect for one another, cordial friendship and reciprocal
sincerity with monastic communities of other religions.133
Common concern for human life ranging from compassion for those
who suffer physically and spiritually to commitment to work for
peace, justice and the integrity of creation provides another
area for cooperation.134 John Paul reminds us that a particular
field for successful common action with people of other
religious traditions is that of the search for and promotion of
the dignity of women which consecrated women are called to
contribute to in a special way.135
43. Finally, the dialogue with those who do not profess any
religious belief is brought to mind. Consecrated persons, by the
very nature of their choice, become privileged partners in the
search for God which has always stirred the human heart and has
led to the different forms of asceticism and spirituality. Their
sensitivity to values (cf. Phil 4:8) and their willingness to
meet give witness to the characteristics of an authentic search
for God. "For this reason", the document concludes, "consecrated
persons are in duty bound to offer a generous welcome and
spiritual support to all those who, moved by a thirst for God
and a desire to live the demands of faith, turn to them".136
44. This dialogue necessarily opens up to the proclamation of
Christ. In communion there is a mutual gifting. An authentic
listening to the other provides the proper occasion to share
one's own spiritual experiences and their evangelical content
which nourish consecrated life. Thus we give witness to the hope
that is within us (cf. 1Peter 3:15). We should not fear that
speaking of our own faith might be seen as an offense to someone
who professes a different belief. It is rather an occasion for
the joyful proclamation of the gift which is for all and is
offered to all with the greatest respect for each person's
freedom, the gift of revelation of the God of Love who "so loved
the world to give his only Son" (Jn 3:16).
The missionary obligation, on the other hand, does not stop us
from entering into dialogue with others fully open to receive,
since from among the resources and limits of every culture
consecrated persons can gather the seeds of the Word in which
they encounter precious values for their life and mission. "The
Spirit of God who 'blows where he wills' (Jn 3:8) not
infrequently reveals signs of his presence which help Christ's
followers to understand more deeply the message which they
The Daily Challenges
45. It is not possible to remain indifferent to the prospect of
an ecological crisis which is making vast areas of our planet
inhabitable and hostile to humanity. The rich countries are
consuming resources at a rate which cannot sustain the
equilibrium of the system, thus causing poor countries to become
even poorer. Nor can one forget the problems of peace so often
threatened by the spectre of catastrophic wars.138
Greed, the craving of pleasure, the idolatry of power, the
triple concupiscence which marks history and is also at the root
of present evils can only be overcome if the Gospel values of
poverty, chastity and service are rediscovered.139 Consecrated
persons must know how to proclaim, with their lives and with
their words, the beauty of poverty of spirit and of chastity of
heart which free one for service to brothers and sisters and of
obedience which gives longevity to the fruits of charity.
How can we remain passive in the face of contempt for
fundamental human rights?140 A special commitment must be made
to certain radical aspects of the Gospel which are often less
understood but which cannot, because of this, be given less
importance in the Church's agenda of charity. First among these
is the respect for every human life from the moment of
conception to natural death.
In this openness to the world which must be ordered to Christ in
such a way that all realities find their true meaning in him,
consecrated lay men and women who are members of Secular
Institutes hold a privileged position. Sharing the common
conditions of life, they effectively work for the Kingdom of God
by participating in the political and social reality bringing to
them a new value, in view of their following of Christ.
Precisely through their consecration lived without external
signs, as lay people among lay people, they can be salt and
light even in those situations in which a visible sign of
consecration would be rejected or serve as an impediment.
Looking Forward and Beyond
46. "Sentinels of the Dawn": young men and women are also found
among consecrated persons.141 We truly need courageous young
people who, allowing themselves to be configured by the Father
with the work of the Spirit and becoming "persons conformed to
Christ",142 offer to all a joyful and transparent witness of
their "specific acceptance of the mystery of Christ"143 and of
the particular spirituality of their own Institute.144
May they therefore be seen more decisively as protagonists of
their own formation.145 Since, for generational motives, they
will have to carry on the renewal of their own institutes, it is
fitting that-following an adequate preparation-they gradually
assume guiding and governing tasks. Strengthened by their spark
of idealism they become true witnesses to the striving for
holiness, to the high standard of Christian living.146 The
future of consecrated life and its mission rests in a large part
on the strength of their faith, on the attitudes which they have
joyfully manifested and on what the Spirit wishes to tell them.
Let us look upon Mary, Mother and Teacher of all. She, the first
consecrated person, lived the fullness of charity. Fervent in
the Spirit, she served the Lord, joyful in hope, strong in
trial, persevering in prayer; she intercedes for us (cf. Rom
12:11-13). She reflects all the aspects of the Gospel; all the
charisms of consecrated life are mirrored and renewed in her.
She supports us in our daily commitments, making them a splendid
witness of love in accord with the invitation of St. Paul: "Live
a life worthy of the calling you have received!" (Eph 4:1).
We once again turn to the words of John Paul II to confirm these
orientations, because in them we find the encouragement and
confidence which we all need to face the task which seems beyond
our strength: "A new century, a new millennium are opening in
the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours
is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its
`reflection'... This is a daunting task if we consider our human
weakness, which so often renders us opaque and full of shadows.
But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light
of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new
creation".147 This is the hope proclaimed in the Church by
consecrated men and women as through the centuries, with their
brothers and sisters, they encounter the Risen Christ.
On May 16, 2002 the Holy Father approved this Document of the
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of
Rome, May 19, 2002, The Solemnity of Pentecost.
Eduardo Cardinal Martínez Somalo
Piergiorgio Silvano Nesti, CP
1 Cf. John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita
Consecrata, Rome, 25 March 1996, 14.
2 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 6
January 2001, 9.
3 John Paul II, Talk given to Caritas Italiana (24 November
2001): L'Osservatore Romano, 25 November 2001, n.4.
4 John 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,
6 Cf. Ad Gentes, 11.
7 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 1.
8 Vita Consecrata, 19.
9 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29.
10 Vita Consecrata, 4.
11 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29.
12 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30-31.
13 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 32-34, 35-39.
14 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 35-37.
15 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43-44.
16 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49, 57.
17 Vita Consecrata, 111.
18 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 16.
19 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 44.
20 Vita Consecrata, 22.
21 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 87.
22 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 13; John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Christifideles Laici, December 30, 1988, 20; Vita
23 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29.
24 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 45.
25 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 32.
26 Vita Consecrata, 31.
27 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 28, 94.
28 Vita Consecrata, 85.
29 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 38.
30 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33.
31 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 103.
32 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 72.
33 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2.
34 Vita Consecrata, 58.
35 Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 69; cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 7.
36 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 99.
37 Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies
of Apostolic Life, Verbi Sponsa, Instruction on the
Contemplative Life and the Enclosure of Nuns, Vatican City, 13
May 1999, 7.
38 Ibid.; cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 7; cf. Vita Consecrata, 8,
39 St. Augustine, Sermo 331, 2: PL 38, 1460.
40 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49.
41 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 25-26.
42 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 110.
43 Cf. Lumen Gentium, ChapterV.
44 Lumen Gentium, 42.
45 Vita Consecrata, 31; cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 46.
46 Cf. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life, Fraternal Life in Community, "Congregavit
nos in unum Christi amor", Rome, 2 February 1994, 50.
47 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 92.
48 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 45.
49 Cf. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life, Directives on Formation in
Religious Institutes, Potissimum Institutioni, Rome, 2 February
50 Vita Consecrata, 65.
51 Vita Consecrata, 66.
52 Cf. Christifideles Laici, 55.
53 Cf. John Paul II, Homily at the Vigil of Torvergata ( August
20, 2000): L'Osservatore Romano, 21-22 August 2000, n.3, p.4.
54 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 1.
55 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 65.
56 Vita Consecrata, 37.
57 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40.
58 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 1.
59 John Paul II, Homily (February 2, 2001): L'Osservatore
Romano, February 4, 2001, p.4.
60 Cf. Mutuae Relationes, 11; Vita Consecrata, 37.
61 Vita Consecrata, 93.
62 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31.
63 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 20-21.
64 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 38.
65 Vita Consecrata, 22.
66 Vita Consecrata, 16.
67 Vita Consecrata, 18.
68 Vita Consecrata, 25.
69 Vita Consecrata, 40.
70 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 16.
71 Vita Consecrata, 94.
72 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 39.
73 Cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 2.
74 John Paul II, Homily (February 2, 2001): L'Osservatore
Romano, February 4, 2001.
75 Vita Consecrata, 37.
76 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40.
77 John Paul II, Homily (February 2, 2001): L'Osservatore
Romano, February 4, 2001.
78 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43.
79 John Paul II, Homily (February 2, 2001): L'Osservatore
Romano, February 4, 2001.
80 Vita Consecrata, 95.
81 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 18.
82 Vita Consecrata, 95.
83 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 51.
84 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 25-27.
85 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 23.
86 Vita Consecrata, 38.
87 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 25.
88 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 37.
89 Vita Consecrata, 93.
90 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43.
91 Vita Consecrata, 46.
92 Vita Consecrata, 51.
93 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43.
94 Vita Consecrata, 51.
95 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 46.
96 Vita Consecrata, 62.
97 Cf. Fraternal Life in Community, 62; cf. Vita Consecrata, 56.
98 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 45.
99 Cf. Fraternal Life in Community, 70.
100 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 54.
101 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 12; Vita Consecrata, 46.
102 Vita Consecrata, 46.
103 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 98.
104 John Paul II, in Movements in the Church, Acts of the II
International Colloquium, Milan 1987, pp.24-25; Movements in the
Church, Vatican City 1999, p.18.
105 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50.
106 Christifideles Laici, 31-32.
107 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 46.
108 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Church in Africa,
Yaoundé, September 14, 1995, 94.
109 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40.
110 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 15.
111 Vita Consecrata, 76.
112 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49.
113 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 82.
114 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49.
115 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50.
116 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50.
117 John Paul II, Homily (February 2, 2001): L'Osservatore
Romano, February 4, 2001.
118 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 84.
119 Cf. Vita Consecrata, Title of Chapter III.
120 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50.
121 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 58.
122 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Rome,
December 7, 1990, 1.
123 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Post-Synodal Exhortation The
Church in Asia, New Delhi, November 6, 1999, 22.
124 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40.
125 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 83.
126 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 51.
127 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 23.
128 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 96.
129 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 98.
130 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 99.
131 Vita Consecrata, 100.
132 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 101.
133 Cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 31, 34.
134 Cf. The Church in Asia, 44.
135 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 102.
136 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 103.
137 Novo Millennio Ineunte, 56.
138 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 51.
139 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 88-91.
140 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 51.
141 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 9.
142 Vita Consecrata, 19.
143 Vita Consecrata, 16.
144 Cf. Vita Consecrata, 93.
145 Cf. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life, Potissimum Institutioni, Rome,
February 2, 1990, 29.
146 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31.
147 Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 54.
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