The Heart of John Paul II - On the Consecrated Life

John Paul II

March 25, 1996.

To the Bishops and Clergy, Religious Orders and Congregations, Societies of Apostolic Life, Secular Institutes and All the Faithful on the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World


1. The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels <the characteristic features of Jesus>—the chaste, poor and obedient one—<are made constantly "visible" in the midst of the world>, and the eyes of the faithful are directed toward the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.

In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father's call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ in order to devote themselves to him with an "undivided" heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.

Thanksgiving for consecrated life

2. Because the role of consecrated life in the Church is so important, I decided to convene a Synod in order to examine in depth its significance and its future prospects, especially in view of the approaching new millennium. It was my wish that the Synodal Assembly should include, together with the Bishops, a considerable number of consecrated men and women in order that they too might contribute to the common reflection.

We are all aware of the treasure which the gift of the consecrated life in the variety of its charisms and institutions represents for the ecclesial community. <Together let us thank God> for the Religious Orders and Institutes devoted to contemplation or the works of the apostolate, for Societies of Apostolic Life, for Secular Institutes and for other groups of consecrated persons as well as for all those individuals who, in their inmost hearts, dedicate themselves to God by a special consecration.

The Synod was a tangible sign of the universal extension of the consecrated life present in the local Churches throughout the world. The consecrated life inspires and accompanies the spread of evangelization in the different parts of the world, where Institutes from abroad are gratefully welcomed and new ones are being founded in a great variety of forms and expressions.

Consequently, although in some parts of the world Institutes of Consecrated Life seem to be experiencing a period of difficulty, in other places they are prospering with remarkable vitality. This shows that the choice of total self-giving to God in Christ is in no way incompatible with any human culture or historical situation. Nor is the consecrated life flourishing within the Catholic Church alone. In fact it is particularly vibrant in the monasticism of the Orthodox Churches, where it is an essential feature of their life. It is also taking root or reemerging in the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which originated in the Reformation and is the sign of a grace shared by all of Christ's disciples. This fact is an incentive to ecumenism, which fosters the desire for an ever fuller communion between Christians "that the world may believe" (Jn. 17:21).

The consecrated life: a gift to the Church

3. Its universal presence and the evangelical nature of its witness are clear evidence—if any were needed—that the consecrated life <is not something isolated and marginal>, but a reality which affects the whole Church. The Bishops at the Synod frequently reaffirmed this: "<De re nostra agitur>" ("this is something which concerns us all").[1] In effect, <the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church> as a decisive element for her mission, since it "manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling"[2] and the striving of the whole Church as Bride toward union with her one Spouse.[3] At the Synod it was stated on several occasions that the consecrated life has not only proved a help and support for the Church in the past, but is also a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission.[4]

The present difficulties which a number of Institutes are encountering in some parts of the world must not lead to a questioning of the fact that the profession of the evangelical counsels is <an integral part of the Church's life> and a much-needed incentive toward ever greater fidelity to the Gospel[5] The consecrated life may experience further changes in its historical forms, but there will be no change in the substance of a choice which finds expression in a radical gift of self for love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family. <This certainty>, which has inspired countless individuals in the course of the centuries, <continues to reassure the Christian people>, for they know that they can draw from the contribution of these generous souls powerful support on their journey toward the heavenly home.

Gathering fruits of the Synod

4. In response to the desire expressed by the ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops which met to discuss the theme "The Consecrated Life and Its Mission in the Church and in the World," I intend to set forth in this Apostolic Exhortation the results of the Synod process[6] and to point out to all the faithful—Bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons and laity, and to any others who might be interested—the wondrous things which today too the Lord wishes to accomplish through the consecrated life.

This Synod, coming after the ones dedicated to the lay faithful and to priests, completes the treatment of the distinctive features of the states of life willed by the Lord Jesus for his Church. Whereas the Second Vatican Council emphasized the profound reality of ecclesial communion, in which all gifts converge for the building up of the Body of Christ and for the Church's mission in the world, in recent years there has been felt the need to clarify <the specific identity of the various states of life>, their vocation and their particular mission in the Church.

Communion in the Church is not uniformity, but a gift of the Spirit, who is present in the variety of charisms and states of life. These will be all the more helpful to the Church and her mission the more their specific identity is respected. For every gift of the Spirit is granted in order to bear fruit for the Lord[7] in the growth of fraternity and mission.

The work of the Spirit in the various forms of the consecrated life

5. How can we not recall with gratitude to the Spirit <the many different forms of consecrated life> which he has raised up throughout history and which still exist in the Church today? They can be compared to a plant with many branches[8] which sinks its roots into the Gospel and brings forth abundant fruit in every season of the Church's life. What an extraordinary richness! I myself at the conclusion of the Synod felt the need to stress this permanent element in the history of the Church: the host of founders and foundresses, of holy men and women who chose Christ by radically following the Gospel and by serving their brothers and sisters, especially the poor and the outcast.[9] Such service is itself a sign of how the consecrated life manifests the <organic unity of the commandment of love>, in the inseparable link between love of God and love of neighbor.

The Synod recalled this unceasing work of the Holy Spirit, who in every age shows forth the richness of the practice of the evangelical counsels through a multiplicity of charisms. In this way too he makes ever present in the Church and in the world, in time and space, the mystery of Christ.

Monastic life in the East and West

6. The Synod Fathers from the Eastern Catholic Churches and the representatives of the other Churches of the East emphasized <the evangelical values of monastic life>,[10] which appeared at the dawn of Christianity and which still flourishes in their territories, especially in the Orthodox Churches.

From the first centuries of the Church, men and women have felt called to imitate the Incarnate Word, who took on the condition of a servant. They have sought to follow him by living in a particularly radical way, through monastic profession, the demands flowing from baptismal participation in the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection. In this way, by becoming bearers of the Cross (<staurophoroi>), they have striven to become bearers of the Spirit (<pneumatophoroi>), authentically spiritual men and women capable of endowing history with hidden fruitfulness by unceasing praise and intercession, by spiritual counsels and works of charity.

In its desire to transfigure the world and life itself in expectation of the definitive vision of God's countenance, Eastern monasticism gives pride of place to conversion, self-renunciation and compunction of heart, the quest for <hesychia>, or interior peace, ceaseless prayer, fasting and vigils, spiritual combat and silence, Paschal joy in the presence of the Lord and the expectation of his definitive coming, and the oblation of self and personal possessions, lived in the holy communion of the monastery or in the solitude of the hermitage.[11]

The West too from the first centuries of the Church has practiced the monastic life and has experienced a great variety of expressions of it, both cenobitic and eremetical. In its present form, inspired above all by St. Benedict, Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and dedicated themselves to him, "preferring nothing to the love of Christ."[12] The monks of today likewise strive to <create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work> in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience and stability, and in persevering dedication to meditation on God's word (<lectio divina>), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer. In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself in expectation of the heavenly city.

The Order of Virgins; hermits and widows

7. It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of <the ancient Order of Virgins>, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times.[13] Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute <a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come> when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.

<Men and women hermits>, belonging to ancient orders or new Institutes or being directly dependent on the Bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world. By fasting and penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God (cf. Mt. 4:4). Such a life "in the desert" is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself <never to lose sight of the supreme vocation>, which is to be always with the Lord.

Again being practiced today is the consecration of <widows>,[14] known since apostolic times (cf. 1 Tm. 5:5, 9-10; 1 Cor. 7:8), as well as the consecration of widowers. These women and men, through a vow of perpetual chastity as a sign of the Kingdom of God, consecrate their state of life in order to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the Church.

Institutes completely devoted to contemplation

8. Institutes completely devoted to contemplation, composed of either women or men, are for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces. By their lives and mission, the members of these Institutes imitate Christ in his prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God's lordship over history and anticipate the glory which is to come.

In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. In this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church's love for her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the People of God.[15]

Thus there is good reason to hope that the different forms of contemplative life will experience <continued growth in the younger Churches> as an evident sign that the Gospel has taken firm root, especially in those areas of the world where other religions predominate. This will make it possible to bear witness to the vitality of the traditions of Christian asceticism and mysticism, and will contribute to interreligious dialogue.[16]

Apostolic Religious Life

9. The West has also known down the centuries a variety of other expressions of religious life in which countless persons, renouncing the world, have consecrated themselves to God through the public profession of the evangelical counsels in accordance with a specific charism and in a stable form of common life,[17] <for the sake of carrying out different forms of apostolic service to the People of God.> Thus there arose the different families of canons regular, the mendicant orders, the clerics regular and in general the religious congregations of men and women devoted to apostolic and missionary activity and to the many different works inspired by Christian charity.

This is a splendid and varied testimony, reflecting the multiplicity of gifts bestowed by God on founders and foundresses who, in openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, successfully interpreted the signs of the times and responded wisely to new needs. Following in their footsteps, many other people have sought by word and deed to embody the Gospel in their own lives, bringing anew to their own times the living presence of Jesus, the consecrated one <par excellence>, the one sent by the Father. In every age consecrated men and women must continue to be images of Christ the Lord, fostering through prayer a profound communion of mind with him (cf. Phil. 2:5-11), so that their whole lives may be penetrated by an apostolic spirit and their apostolic work with contemplation.[18]

Secular Institutes

10. The Holy Spirit, who wondrously fashions the variety of charisms, has given rise in our time to <new expressions of consecrated life>, which appear as a providential response to the new needs encountered by the Church today as she carries out her mission in the world.

One thinks in the first place of members of <Secular Institutes seeking to live out their consecration to God in the world> through the profession of the evangelical counsels in the midst of temporal realities; they wish in this way to be a leaven of wisdom and a witness of grace within cultural, economic and political life. Through their own specific blending of presence in the world and consecration, they seek <to make present in society the newness and power of Christ's Kingdom>, striving to transfigure the world from within by the power of the Beatitudes. In this way, while they belong completely to God and are thus fully consecrated to his service, their activity in the ordinary life of the world contributes, by the power of the Spirit, to shedding the light of the Gospel on temporal realities. Secular Institutes, each in accordance with its specific nature, thus help to ensure that the Church has an effective presence in society.[19]

A valuable role is also played by <Clerical Secular Institutes>, in which priests who belong to the diocesan clergy, even when some of them are recognized as being incardinated in the Institute, consecrate themselves to Christ through the practice of the evangelical counsels in accordance with a specific charism. They discover in the spiritual riches of the Institute to which they belong great help for living more deeply the spirituality proper to the priesthood, and thus they are enabled to be a leaven of communion and apostolic generosity among their fellow clergy.

Societies of Apostolic Life

11. Also worthy of special mention are Societies of Apostolic Life or of common life, composed of men or women. These pursue, each in its own particular way, a specific apostolic or missionary end. In many of them an explicit commitment to the evangelical counsels is made through sacred bonds officially recognized by the Church. Even in this case, however, the specific nature of their consecration distinguishes them from Religious Institutes and Secular Institutes. The specific identity of this form of life is to be preserved and promoted; in recent centuries it has produced many fruits of holiness and of the apostolate, especially in the field of charity and in the spread of the Gospel in the missions.[20]

New Expressions of consecrated life

12. The perennial youth of the Church continues to be evident even today. In recent years following the Second Vatican Council, <new or renewed forms of the consecrated life> have arisen. In many cases these are Institutes similar to those already existing, but inspired by new spiritual and apostolic impulses. Their vitality must be judged by the authority of the Church, which has the responsibility of examining them in order to discern the authenticity of the purpose for their foundation and to prevent the proliferation of institutions similar to one another, with the consequent risk of a harmful fragmentation into excessively small groups. In other cases it is a question of new experiments which are seeking an identity of their own in the Church and awaiting official recognition from the Apostolic See, which alone has final judgment in these matters.[21]

These new forms of consecrated life now taking their place alongside the older ones bear witness to the constant attraction which the total gift of self to the Lord, the ideal of the apostolic community and the founding charisms continue to exert, even on the present generation. They also show how the gifts of the Holy Spirit complement one another.

In this newness, however, the Spirit does not contradict himself. Proof of this is the fact that the new forms of consecrated life have not supplanted the earlier ones. Amid such wide variety the underlying unity has been successfully preserved, thanks to the one call to follow Jesus—chaste, poor and obedient—in the pursuit of perfect charity. This call, which is found in all the existing forms of consecrated life, must also mark those which present themselves as new.

Purpose of the Apostolic Exhortation

13. Gathering together the fruits of the Synod's labors, in this Apostolic Exhortation I wish to address the whole Church in order to offer not only to consecrated persons but also to the Bishops and the faithful <the results of a stimulating exchange>, guided by the Holy Spirit with his gifts of truth and love.

During these years of renewal, the consecrated life, like other ways of life in the Church, has gone through a difficult and trying period. It has been a period full of hopes, new experiments and proposals aimed at giving fresh vigor to the profession of the evangelical counsels. But it has also been a time of tension and struggle in which well-meaning endeavors have not always met with positive results.

The difficulties however must not lead to discouragement. Rather, we need to commit ourselves with fresh enthusiasm, for the Church needs the spiritual and apostolic contribution of a renewed and revitalized consecrated life. In this Post-Synodal Exhortation I wish to address religious communities and consecrated persons in the same spirit which inspired the letter sent by the Council of Jerusalem to the Christians of Antioch, and I am hopeful that it will meet with the same response: "When they read it, they rejoiced at the encouragement which it gave" (Acts 15:31). And not only this. I also hope to increase the joy of the whole People of God. As they become better acquainted with the consecrated life, they will be able with greater awareness to thank Almighty God for this great gift.

In an attitude of heartfelt openness toward the Synod Fathers, I have carefully considered the valuable contributions made during the intense work of the assembly, at which I made a point of being present throughout. During the Synod, I also sought to offer the entire People of God a number of systematic talks on the consecrated life in the Church. In them I presented anew the teachings found in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, which was an enlightening point of reference for subsequent doctrinal developments and for the reflections of the Synod during the busy weeks of its work.[22]

I am confident that the sons and daughters of the Church, and consecrated persons in particular, will receive this Exhortation with open hearts. At the same time I hope that reflection will continue and lead to a deeper understanding of the great gift of the consecrated life in its three aspects of consecration, communion and mission. I also hope that consecrated men and women, in full harmony with the Church and her Magisterium, will discover in this exhortation further encouragement to face in a spiritual and apostolic manner the new challenges of our time.


The Origins of the Consecrated Life in the Mystery of Christ and of the Trinity

Icon of the Transfigured Christ

14. The evangelical basis of consecrated life is to be sought in the special relationship which Jesus in his earthly life established with some of his disciples. He called them not only to welcome the Kingdom of God into their own lives, but also to put their lives at its service, leaving everything behind and closely imitating his own <way of life>.

Many of the baptized throughout history have been invited to live such a life "in the image of Christ." But this is possible only on the basis of a special vocation and in virtue of a particular gift of the Spirit. For in such a life baptismal consecration develops into a radical response in the following of Christ through acceptance of the evangelical counsels, the first and essential of which is the sacred bond of chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.[23] This special way of "following Christ," at the origin of which is always the initiative of the Father, has an essential Christological and pneumatological meaning: It expresses in a particularly vivid way the <Trinitarian> nature of the Christian life, and it anticipates in a certain way that <eschatological> fulfillment toward which the whole Church is tending.[24]

In the Gospel, many of Christ's words and actions shed light on the meaning of this special vocation. But for an overall picture of its essential characteristics, it is singularly helpful to fix our gaze on Christ's radiant face in the mystery of the Transfiguration. A whole ancient spiritual tradition refers to this "icon" when it links the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus "on the mountain."[25] Even the "active" dimensions of consecrated life can in a way be included here, for the Transfiguration is not only the revelation of Christ's glory, but also a preparation for facing Christ's Cross. It involves both "going up the mountain" and "coming down the mountain." The disciples who have enjoyed this intimacy with the Master, surrounded for a moment by the splendor of the Trinitarian life and of the communion of saints, and as it were caught up in the horizon of eternity, are immediately brought back to daily reality, where they see "Jesus only," in the lowliness of his human nature and are invited to return to the valley, to share with him the toil of God's plan and to set off courageously on the way of the Cross.

"And He Was Transfigured Before Them."

15. "<And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.' He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.' When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and have no fear.' And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.>

"And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, 'Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead"' (Mt. 17:1-9).

The event of the Transfiguration marks <a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus.> It is a revelatory event which strengthens the faith in the disciples' hearts, prepares them for the tragedy of the Cross and prefigures the glory of the Resurrection. This mystery is constantly relived by the Church, the people on its way to the eschatological encounter with its Lord. Like the three chosen disciples, the Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ in order to be confirmed in faith and to avoid being dismayed at his disfigured face on the Cross. In both cases, she is the Bride before her Spouse, sharing in his mystery and surrounded by his light.

This light shines on all the Church's children. <All are equally called to follow Christ> to discover in him the ultimate meaning of their lives, until they are able to say with the apostle: 'For to me, to live is Christ' (Phil. 1:21). But those who are called to the consecrated life have <a special experience of the light which shines forth from the Incarnate Word> For the profession of the evangelical counsels makes them <a kind of sign and prophetic statement>for the community of the brethren and for the world; consequently they can echo in a particular way the ecstatic words spoken by Peter: "Lord, it is well that we are here" (Mt. 17:4). These words bespeak the Christocentric orientation of the whole Christian life. But they also eloquently express the <radical> nature of the vocation to the consecrated life: How good it is for us to be with you, to devote ourselves to you, to make you the one focus of our lives! Truly those who have been given the grace of this special communion of love with Christ feel as it were caught up in his splendor: He is "the fairest of the sons of men" (Ps 45:2), the one beyond compare.

"This is my beloved Son": listen to him!

16. The three disciples caught up in ecstasy hear the Father's call to listen to Christ, to place all their trust in him, to make him the center of their lives. The words from on high give new depth to the invitation by which Jesus himself at the beginning of his public life called them to follow him, to leave their ordinary lives behind and to enter into a close relationship to him. It is precisely this special grace of intimacy which in the consecrated life makes possible and even demands the total gift of self in the profession of the evangelical counsels. The counsels, more than a simple renunciation, are <a specific acceptance of the mystery of Christ lived within the Church.>

In the unity of the Christian life, the various vocations are like so many rays of the one light of Christ, whose radiance "brightens the countenance of the Church."[26] The <laity>, by virtue of the secular character of their vocation, reflect the mystery of the Incarnate Word particularly insofar as he is the Alpha and the Omega of the world, the foundation and measure of the value of all created things. <Sacred ministers>, for their part, are living images of Christ the Head and Shepherd, who guides his people during this time of "already and not yet," as they await his coming in glory. It is the duty of the <consecrated life> to show that the Incarnate Son of God is <the eschatological goal toward which all things tend>, the splendor before which every other light pales and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart. In the consecrated life, then, it is not only a matter of following Christ with one's whole heart, of loving him "more than father or mother, more than son or daughter" (cf. Mt. 10:37)— for this is required of every disciple— but of living and expressing this <by conforming one's whole existence to Christ> in an all-encompassing commitment which foreshadows the eschatological perfection to the extent that this is possible in time and in accordance with the different charisms.

By professing the evangelical counsels, consecrated persons not only make Christ the whole meaning of their lives, but strive to reproduce in themselves as far as possible "that form of life which he, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world."[27] By embracing <chastity>, they make their own the pure love of Christ and proclaim to the world that he is the Only Begotten Son, who is one with the Father (cf. Jn. 10:30, 14:11). By imitating Christ's <poverty>, they profess that he is the Son who receives everything from the Father and gives everything back to the Father in love (cf. Jn. 17:7, 10). By accepting through the sacrifice of their own freedom the mystery of Christ's filial <obedience>, they profess that he is infinitely beloved and loving, as the one who delights only in the will of the Father (cf. Jn. 4:34), to whom he is perfectly united and on whom he depends for everything.

By this profound "configuration" to the mystery of Christ, the consecrated life brings about in a special way that <confessio Trinitatis> which is the mark of all Christian life; it acknowledges with wonder the sublime beauty of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and bears joyful witness to his loving concern for every human being.

I. In Praise of the Trinity

"A Patre ad Patrem": God's initiative

17. Contemplation of the glory of the Lord Jesus in the icon of the Transfiguration reveals to consecrated persons first of all the Father, the creator and giver of every good thing, who draws his creatures to himself (cf. Jn. 6:44) with a special love and for a special mission. "This is my beloved Son: listen to him!" (cf. Mt. 17:5). In response to this call and the interior attraction which accompanies it, those who are called entrust themselves to the love of God, who wishes them to be exclusively at his service, and they consecrate themselves totally to him and to his plan of salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34).

This is the meaning of the call to the consecrated life: It is an initiative coming wholly from the Father (cf. Jn. 15: 16), who asks those whom he has chosen to respond with complete and exclusive devotion.[28] The experience of this gracious love of God is so deep and so powerful that the person called senses the need to respond by unconditionally dedicating his or her life to God, consecrating to him all things present and future, and placing them in his hands. This is why, with St. Thomas, we come to understand the identity of the consecrated person, beginning with his or her complete self-offering, as being comparable to a genuine holocaust.[29]

"Per Filium": in the footsteps of the Son

18. The Son, who is the way which leads to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6), calls all those whom the Father has given to him (cf. Jn. 17:9) to make the following of himself the whole purpose of their lives. But of some, those called to the consecrated life, he asks a total commitment, one which involves leaving everything behind (cf. Mt. 19:27) in order to live at his side[30] and to follow him wherever he goes (cf. Rv. 14:4). In the countenance of Jesus, the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15) and the reflection of the Father's glory (cf. Heb. 1:3), we glimpse the depths of an eternal and infinite love which is at the very root of our being.[31] Those who let themselves be seized by this love cannot help abandoning everything to follow him (cf. Mk. 1:16-20; 2:14; 10:21, 28). Like St. Paul, they consider all else as loss "because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ, by comparison with which they do not hesitate to count all things as "refuse, in order that they "may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8). They strive to become one with him, taking on his mind and his way of life. This leaving of everything and following the Lord (cf. Lk. 18:28) is a worthy program of life for all whom he calls in every age.

The evangelical counsels, by which Christ invites some people to share his experience as the chaste, poor and obedient one, call for and make manifest in those who accept them <an explicit desire to be totally conformed to him>. Living "in obedience, with nothing of one's own and in chastity,"[32] consecrated persons profess that Jesus is the model in whom every virtue comes to perfection. His way of living in chastity, poverty and obedience appears as the most radical way of living the Gospel on this earth, a way which may be called <divine>, for it was embraced by him, God and man, as the expression of his relationship as the Only Begotten Son with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. This is why Christian tradition has always spoken of the <objective superiority of the consecrated life.>

Nor can it be denied that the practice of the evangelical counsels is also a particularly profound and fruitful way of sharing in <Christ's mission>, in imitation of the example of Mary of Nazareth, the first disciple, who willingly put herself at the service of God's plan by the total gift of self. Every mission begins with the attitude expressed by Mary at the Annunciation: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk. 1:38).

"In Spiritu": consecrated by the Holy Spirit

19. "A bright cloud overshadowed them" (Mt. 17:5). A significant spiritual interpretation of the Transfiguration sees this cloud as an image of the Holy Spirit.[33]

Like the whole of Christian life, the call to the consecrated life is closely linked to the working of the Holy Spirit. In every age the Spirit enables new men and women to recognize the appeal of such a demanding choice. Through his power, they relive, in a way, the experience of the prophet Jeremiah: "You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced (Jer. 20:7). It is the Spirit who awakens the desire to respond fully; it is he who guides the growth of this desire, helping it to mature into a positive response and sustaining it as it is faithfully translated into action; it is he who shapes and molds the hearts of those who are called, configuring them to Christ, the chaste, poor and obedient one, and prompting them to make his mission their own. By allowing them selves to be guided by the Spirit on an endless journey of purification, they become, day after day, <conformed to Christ>, the prolongation in history of a special presence of the risen Lord.

With penetrating insight, the Fathers of the Church have called this spiritual path <philokalia,> or <love of the divine beauty>, which is the reflection of the divine goodness. Those who by the power of the Holy Spirit are led progressively into full configuration to Christ reflect in themselves a ray of the unapproachable light. During their earthly pilgrimage, they press on toward the inexhaustible source of light. The consecrated life thus becomes a particularly profound expression of the Church as the Bride who, prompted by the Spirit to imitate her Spouse, stands before him "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

The same Spirit, far from removing from the life of humanity those whom the Father has called, puts them at the service of their brothers and sisters in accordance with their particular state of life and inspires them to undertake special tasks in response to the needs of the Church and the world by means of the charisms proper to the various Institutes. Hence many different forms of the consecrated life have arisen whereby the Church is "adorned by the various gifts of her children ... like a bride made beautiful for her Spouse (cf. Rv. 21:2)"[34] and is enriched by the means necessary for carrying out her mission in the world.

The evangelical counsels, gift of the Trinity

20. The evangelical counsels are thus above all <a gift of the Holy Trinity>. The consecrated life proclaims what the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, brings about by his love, his goodness and his beauty. In fact, "the religious state reveals the transcendence of the Kingdom of God and its requirements over all earthly things. To all people it shows wonderfully at work within the Church the surpassing greatness of the force of Christ the King and the boundless power of the Holy Spirit."[35]

The first duty of the consecrated life is <to make visible> the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world. To people's astonishment they respond by proclaiming the wonders of grace accomplished by the Lord in those whom he loves. To the degree that consecrated persons let themselves be guided by the Spirit to the heights of perfection they can exclaim:

"I see the beauty of your grace, I contemplate its radiance, I reflect its light; I am caught up in its ineffable splendor; I am taken outside myself as I think of myself; I see how I was and what I have become. O wonder! I am vigilant, I am full of respect for myself, of reverence and of fear, as I would be were I before you; I do not know what to do, I am seized by fear, I do not know where to sit, where to go, where to put these members which are yours; in what deeds, in what works shall I use them, these amazing divine marvels![36]

The consecrated life thus becomes one of the tangible seals which the Trinity impresses upon history, so that people can sense with longing the attraction of divine beauty.

Reflection of Trinitarian life in the evangelical counsels

21. The deepest meaning of the evangelical counsels is revealed when they are viewed in relation to the Holy Trinity, the source of holiness. They are in fact an expression of the love of the Son for the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. By practicing the evangelical counsels, the consecrated person lives with particular intensity the Trinitarian and Christological dimension which marks the whole of Christian life.

The <chastity> of celibates and virgins as a manifestation of dedication to God with <an undivided heart> (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34) is a reflection of the <infinite love> which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.

Poverty proclaims that God is man's only real treasure. When poverty is lived according to the example of Christ who, "though he was rich ... became poor" (2 Cor. 8:9), it becomes an expression of that <total gift of self> which the three Divine Persons make to one another. This gift overflows into creation and is fully revealed in the Incarnation of the Word and in His redemptive death.

Obedience, practiced in imitation of Christ, whose food was to do the Father's will (cf. Jn. 4:34), shows the liberating beauty of a <dependence which is not servile but filial>, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust, which is a reflection in history of the loving <harmony> between the three Divine Persons.

The consecrated life is thus called constantly to deepen the gift of the evangelical counsels with a love which grows ever more genuine and strong in the <Trinitarian> dimension: love <for Christ>, which leads to closeness with him; love <for the Holy Spirit>, who opens our hearts to his inspiration; love <for the Father>, the first origin and supreme goal of the consecrated life.[37] The consecrated life thus becomes a confession and a sign of the Trinity, whose mystery is held up to the Church as the model and source of every form of Christian life.

Even <fraternal life>, whereby consecrated persons strive to live in Christ with "one heart and soul"' (Acts 4:32), is put forward as an eloquent witness to the Trinity. It proclaims <the Father>, who desires to make all of humanity one family. It proclaims <the Incarnate Son>, who gathers the redeemed into unity, pointing the way by his example, his prayer, his words and above all his death, which is the source of reconciliation for a divided and scattered humanity. It proclaims <the Holy Spirit> as the principle of unity in the Church, wherein he ceaselessly raises up spiritual families and fraternal communities.

Consecrated Like Christ for the Kingdom of God

22. The consecrated life, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, "constitutes a closer imitation and an abiding reenactment in the Church"[38] of the way of life which Jesus, the supreme consecrated one and missionary of the Father for the sake of his Kingdom, embraced and proposed to his disciples (cf. Mt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:10-11; Jn. 15:16). In the light of Jesus' consecration, we can see in the initiative of the Father, the source of all holiness, the ultimate origin of the consecrated life. Jesus is the one whom "God anointed ... with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38), the one "whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn. 10:36). Accepting his consecration by the Father, the Son in turn consecrates himself to the Father for the sake of humanity (cf. Jn. 17:19). His life of virginity, obedience and poverty expresses his complete filial acceptance of the Father's plan (cf. Jn. 10:30; 14:11). His perfect offering confers an aspect of consecration upon all the events of His earthly existence.

Jesus is <the exemplar of obedience>, who came down from heaven not to do his own will but the will of the one who sent him (cf. Jn. 6:38; Heb. 10:5, 7). He places his way of living and acting in the hands of the Father (cf. Lk. 2:49). In filial obedience, he assumes the condition of a servant: He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant ... and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross" (Phil. 2:7-8). In this attitude of submissiveness to the Father, Christ lives his life as a virgin even while affirming and defending the dignity and sanctity of married life. He thus reveals <the sublime excellence and mysterious spiritual fruitfulness of virginity>. His full acceptance of the Father's plan is also seen in his detachment from earthly goods: "Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). <The depth of his poverty> is revealed in the perfect offering of all that is his to the Father.

The consecrated life truly constitutes <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. It is a living tradition of the Savior's life and message.

II. Between Easter and Fulfillment

From Tabor to Calvary

23. The dazzling event of the Transfiguration is a preparation for the tragic but no less glorious event of Calvary. Peter, James and John contemplate the Lord Jesus together with Moses and Elijah, with whom, according to the evangelist Luke, Jesus speaks "of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (9:31). The eyes of the Apostles are therefore fixed upon Jesus, who is thinking of the Cross (cf. Lk. 9:43-45). There his virginal love for the Father and for all mankind will attain its highest expression. His poverty will reach complete self-emptying, his obedience the giving of his life.

The disciples are invited to contemplate Jesus raised up on the Cross where, in his silence and solitude, "the Word come forth from silence"[39] prophetically affirms the absolute transcendence of God over all created things; in his own flesh he conquers our sin and draws every man and every woman to himself, giving to all the new life of the Resurrection (cf. Jn. 12:32; 19:34, 37). It is in the contemplation of the Crucified Christ that all vocations find their inspiration. From this contemplation, together with the primordial gift of the Spirit, all gifts, and in particular the gift of the consecrated life, take their origin.

After Mary, the Mother of Jesus, it is John who receives this gift. John is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the witness who together with Mary stood at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn. 19:26-27). His decision to consecrate himself totally is the fruit of the divine love which envelops him, sustains him and fills his heart. John, together with Mary, is among the first in a long line of men and women who, from the beginning of the Church until the end, are touched by God's love and feel called to follow the Lamb, once sacrificed and now alive, wherever he goes (cf. Rv. 14:1-5).[40]

The Paschal dimension of the consecrated life

24. In the different forms of life inspired by the Spirit throughout history, consecrated persons discover that the more they stand at the foot of the Cross of Christ, the more immediately and profoundly they experience the truth of God, who is love. It is precisely on the Cross that the One who in death appears to human eyes as disfigured and without beauty, so much so that the bystanders cover their faces (cf. Is. 53:2-3), fully reveals the beauty and power of God's love. St. Augustine says:

"Beautiful is God, the Word with God.... He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents' arms, beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings; beautiful in inviting to life, beautiful in not worrying about death, beautiful in giving up his life and beautiful in taking it up again; he is beautiful on the Cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendor of his beauty."[41]

The consecrated life reflects the splendor of this love because, by its fidelity to the mystery of the Cross, it confesses that it believes and lives by the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this way it helps the Church to remain aware that< the Cross is the superabundance of God's love poured out upon this world>, and that it is the great sign of Christ's saving presence, especially in the midst of difficulties and trials. This is the testimony given constantly and with deeply admirable courage by a great number of consecrated persons, many of whom live in difficult situations, even suffering persecution and martyrdom. Their fidelity to the one Love is revealed and confirmed in the humility of a hidden life, in the acceptance of sufferings for the sake of completing in their own flesh "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Col. 1:24), in silent sacrifice and abandonment to God's holy will and in serene fidelity even as their strength and personal authority wane. Fidelity to God also inspires devotion to neighbor, a devotion which consecrated persons live out not without sacrifice by constantly interceding for the needs of their brothers and sisters, generously serving the poor and the sick, sharing the hardships of others and participating in the concerns and trials of the Church.

Witnesses to Christ in the World

25. The Paschal Mystery is also the wellspring of the Church's <missionary nature>, which is reflected in the whole of the Church's life. It is expressed in a distinctive way in the consecrated life. Over and above the charisms proper to those Institutes which are devoted to the mission <ad gentes> or which are engaged in ordinary apostolic activity, it can be said that <the sense of mission is at the very heart of every form of consecrated life>. To the extent that consecrated persons live a life completely devoted to the Father (cf. Lk. 2:49; Jn. 4:34), held fast by Christ (cf. Jn. 15:16; Gal. 1:15-16) and animated by the Spirit (cf. Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:4), they cooperate effectively in the mission of the Lord Jesus (cf. Jn 20:21) and contribute in a particularly profound way to the renewal of the world.

The first missionary duty of consecrated persons is to themselves, and they fulfill it by opening their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit of Christ. Their witness helps the whole Church to remember that the most important thing is to serve God freely, through Christ's grace which is communicated to believers through the gift of the Spirit. Thus they proclaim to the world the peace which comes from the Father, the dedication witnessed to by the Son and the joy which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Consecrated persons will be missionaries above all by continually deepening their awareness of having been called and chosen by God, to whom they must therefore direct and offer everything that they are and have, freeing themselves from the obstacles which could hinder the totality of their response. In this way they will become <true signs of Christ in the world.> Their lifestyle too must clearly show the ideal which they profess and thus present itself as a living sign of God and as an eloquent, albeit often silent, proclamation of the Gospel.

The Church must always seek <to make her presence visible in everyday life>, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularized and yet sensitive to the language of signs. In this regard the Church has a right to expect a significant contribution from consecrated persons, called as they are in every situation to bear clear witness that they belong to Christ.

Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.[42] Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.

Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.[43]

Eschatological dimension of the consecrated life

26. Since the demands of the apostolate today are increasingly urgent and since involvement in temporal affairs risks becoming ever more absorbing, it is particularly opportune to draw attention once more to the <eschatological nature of the consecrated life.>

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt. 6:21). The unique treasure of the Kingdom gives rise to desire, anticipation, commitment and witness. In the early Church, the expectation of the Lord's coming was lived in a particularly intense way. With the passing of the centuries, the Church has not ceased to foster this attitude of hope: She has continued to invite the faithful to look to the salvation which is waiting to be revealed, "for the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31; cf. 1 Pt. 1:3-6).[44]

It is in this perspective that we can understand more clearly <the role> of consecrated life as an <eschatological sign>. In fact it has constantly been taught that the consecrated life is a foreshadowing of the future Kingdom. The Second Vatican Council proposes this teaching anew when it states that consecration better "foretells the resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly Kingdom."[45] It does this above all by means of <the vow of virginity>, which tradition has always understood as <an anticipation of the world to come> already at work for the total transformation of man.

Those who have dedicated their lives to Christ cannot fail to live in the hope of meeting him, in order to be with him forever. Hence the ardent expectation and desire to "be plunged into the Fire of Love which burns in them and which is none other than the Holy Spirit,"[46] an expectation and desire sustained by the gifts which the Lord freely bestows on those who yearn for the things that are above (cf. Col. 3:1).

Immersed in the things of the Lord, the consecrated person remembers that "here we have no lasting city" (Heb. 13:14), for "our commonwealth is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). The one thing necessary is to seek God's "Kingdom and his righteousness" (Mt. 6:33), with unceasing prayer for the Lord's coming.

Active expectation: commitment and watchfulness

27. "Come, Lord Jesus!"(Rv. 22:20). This expectation is <anything but passive>: Although directed toward the future Kingdom, it expresses itself in work and mission, that the Kingdom may become present here and now through the spirit of the Beatitudes, a spirit capable of giving rise in human society to effective aspirations for justice, peace, solidarity and forgiveness.

This is clearly shown by the history of the consecrated life, which has always borne abundant fruit even for this world. By their charisms, consecrated persons become signs of the Spirit pointing to a new future enlightened by faith and by Christian hope. <Eschatological expectation becomes mission>, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now. The prayer "Come, Lord Jesus!" is accompanied by another: "Thy Kingdom come!" (Mt. 6:10).

Those who vigilantly await the fulfillment of Christ's promises are able to bring hope to their brothers and sisters who are often discouraged and pessimistic about the future. Theirs is a hope founded on God's promise contained in the revealed word: The history of humanity is moving toward "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rv. 21:1), where the Lord "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rv. 21:4).

The consecrated life is at the service of this definitive manifestation of the divine glory, when all flesh will see the salvation of God (cf. Lk. 3:6; Is. 40:5). The Christian East emphasizes this dimension when it considers monks as <angels of God> on earth who proclaim the renewal of the world in Christ. In the West, monasticism is the celebration of memory and expectation: <memory> of the wonders God has wrought and <expectation> of the final fulfillment of our hope. Monasticism and the contemplative life are a constant reminder that the primacy of God gives full meaning and joy to human lives, because men and women are made for God, and their hearts are restless until they rest in him.[47]

The Virgin Mary, model of consecration and discipleship

28. Mary is the one who from the moment of her Immaculate Conception most perfectly reflects the divine beauty. "All beautiful" is the title with which the Church invokes her. "The relationship with Mary most holy, which for every believer stems from his or her union with Christ, is even more pronounced in the life of consecrated persons.... Mary's presence is of fundamental importance both for the spiritual life of each consecrated person and for the solidity, unity and progress of the whole community.[48]

Mary in fact is the <sublime example of perfect consecration>, since she belongs completely to God and is totally devoted to him. Chosen by the Lord, who wished to accomplish in her the mystery of the Incarnation, she reminds consecrated persons of <the primacy of God's initiative.> At the same time, having given her assent to the divine Word made flesh in her, Mary is the <model of the acceptance of grace> by human creatures.

Having lived with Jesus and Joseph in the hidden years of Nazareth, and present at her Son's side at crucial moments of his public life, the Blessed Virgin teaches unconditional discipleship and diligent service. In Mary, "the temple of the Holy Spirit,"[49] all the splendor of the new creation shines forth. Consecrated life looks to her as the sublime model of consecration to the Father, union with the Son and openness to the Spirit, in the knowledge that acceptance of the "virginal and humble life"[50] of Christ also means imitation of Mary's way of life.

In the Blessed Virgin Mary consecrated persons also find a <Mother who is altogether unique>. Indeed, if the new motherhood conferred on Mary at Calvary is a gift for all Christians, it has a specific value for those who have completely consecrated their lives to Christ. "Behold your mother!" (Jn. 19:27): Jesus' words to the disciple "whom he loved" (Jn. 19:26) are particularly significant for the lives of consecrated persons. They, like John, are called to take the Blessed Virgin Mary to themselves (cf. Jn. 19:27), loving her and imitating her in the radical manner which befits their vocation, and experiencing in return her special motherly love. The Blessed Virgin shares with them the love which enables them to offer their lives every day for Christ and to cooperate with him in the salvation of the world. Hence a filial relationship to Mary is the royal road to fidelity to one's vocation and a most effective help for advancing in that vocation and living it fully.[51]

III. In the Church and for the Church

"It is well that we are here": the consecrated life in the mystery of the Church

29. In the episode of the Transfiguration, Peter speaks on behalf of the other Apostles: "It is well that we are here" (Mt. 17:4). The experience of Christ's glory, though completely filling his mind and heart, does not set him apart but rather unites him more closely to the "we" of the Apostles.

This dimension of "we" invites us to consider the place which the consecrated life occupies in the <mystery of the Church>. In recent years theological reflection on the nature of the consecrated life has deepened the new insights which emerged from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. In the light of that teaching it has been recognized that the profession of the evangelical counsels <indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church.>[52] This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential and characteristic elements, for it expresses her very nature.

This is clearly seen from the fact that the profession of the evangelical counsels is intimately connected with the mystery of Christ and has the duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value. Jesus himself, by calling some men and women to abandon everything in order to follow him, established this type of life which, under the guidance of the Spirit, would gradually develop down the centuries into the various forms of the consecrated life. The idea of a Church made up only of sacred ministers and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine Founder, as revealed to us by the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament.

New and special consecration

30. In the Church's tradition religious profession is considered to be <a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism>, inasmuch as it is the means by which the close union with Christ already begun in Baptism develops in the gift of a fuller, more explicit and authentic configuration to him through the profession of the evangelical counsels.[53]

This further consecration, however, differs in a special way from baptismal consecration, of which it is not a necessary consequence.[54] In fact, all those reborn in Christ are called to live out with the strength which is the Spirit's gift the chastity appropriate to their state of life, obedience to God and to the Church, and a reasonable detachment from material possessions: For all are called to holiness, which consists in the perfection of love.[55] But baptism in itself does not include the call to celibacy or virginity, the renunciation of possessions or obedience to a superior, in the form proper to the evangelical counsels. The profession of the evangelical counsels thus presupposes a particular gift of God not given to everyone, as Jesus himself emphasizes with respect to voluntary celibacy (cf. Mt. 19:10-12).

This call is accompanied, moreover, by <a specific gift of the Holy Spirit>, so that consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission. For this reason, as the liturgies of the East and West testify in the rite of monastic or religious profession and the consecration of virgins, the Church invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit upon those who have been chosen and joins their oblation to the sacrifice of Christ.[56]

The profession of the evangelical counsels is <also a development of the grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation>, but it goes beyond the ordinary demands of the consecration received in Confirmation by virtue of a special gift of the Spirit which opens the way to new possibilities and fruits of holiness and apostolic work. This can clearly be seen from the history of the consecrated life.

As for priests who profess the evangelical counsels, experience itself shows that <the Sacrament of Holy Orders finds a particular fruitfulness in this consecration>, inasmuch as it requires and fosters a closer union with the Lord. The priest who professes the evangelical counsels is especially favored in that he reproduces in his life the fullness of the mystery of Christ, thanks also to the specific spirituality of his Institute and the apostolic dimension of its proper charism. In the priest, in fact, the vocation to the priesthood and the vocation to the consecrated life converge in a profound and dynamic unity.

Also of immeasurable value is the contribution made to the Church's life by religious priests completely devoted to contemplation. Especially in the celebration of the Eucharist they carry out an act of the Church and for the Church, to which they join the offering of themselves, in communion with Christ, who offers himself to the Father for the salvation of the whole world.[57]

Relationships between states of Christian life

31. The different ways of life which, in accordance with the plan of the Lord Jesus, make up the life of the Church have mutual relationships which merit consideration.

By virtue of their rebirth in Christ, all the faithful share a common dignity; all are called to holiness; all cooperate in the building up of the one Body of Christ, each in accordance with the proper vocation and gift which he or she has received from the Spirit (cf. Rom. 12:3-8).[58] The equal dignity of all members of the Church is the work of the Spirit, is rooted in Baptism and Confirmation, and is strengthened by the Eucharist. But diversity is also a work of the Spirit. It is he who establishes the Church as an organic communion in the diversity of vocations, charisms and ministries.[59]

The vocations to the lay life, to the ordained ministry and to the consecrated life can be considered paradigmatic inasmuch as all particular vocations, considered separately or as a whole, are in one way or another derived from them or lead back to them in accordance with the richness of God's gift. These vocations are also at the service of one another for the growth of the Body of Christ in history and for its mission in the world. Everyone in the Church is consecrated in Baptism and Confirmation, but the ordained ministry and the consecrated life each presuppose a distinct vocation and a specific form of consecration, with a view to a particular mission.

For the mission of the <lay faithful>, whose proper task is to "seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God,"[60] the consecration of Baptism and Confirmation common to all members of the People of God is a sufficient foundation. In addition to this basic consecration, <ordained ministers> receive the consecration of ordination in order to carry on the apostolic ministry in time. <Consecrated persons>, who embrace the evangelical counsels, receive a new and special consecration which, without being sacramental, commits them to making their own—in chastity, poverty and obedience—the way of life practiced personally by Jesus and proposed by him to his disciples. Although these different categories are a manifestation of the one mystery of Christ, the lay faithful have as their specific but not exclusive characteristic activity in the world; the clergy, ministry; consecrated men and women, special conformity to Christ chaste, poor and obedient.

The special value of consecrated life

32. Within this harmonious constellation of gifts, each of the fundamental states of life is entrusted with the task of expressing in its own way one or other aspect of the one mystery of Christ. While <the lay life has a particular mission> of ensuring that the Gospel message is proclaimed in the temporal sphere, in the sphere of ecclesial communion <an indispensable ministry is carried out by those in Holy Orders> and in a special way by Bishops. The latter have the task of guiding the People of God by the teaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of sacred power in the service of ecclesial communion, which is an organic communion, hierarchically structured.[61]

As a way of showing forth the Church's holiness, <it is to be recognized that the consecrated life>, which mirrors Christ's own way of life, <has an objective superiority>. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church's purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery,[62] will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt. 22:30).

The Church has always taught the pre-eminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom,[63] and rightly considers it the "door" of the whole consecrated life.[64] She also shows great esteem for the vocation to marriage, which makes spouses "witnesses to and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church, who signify and share in the love with which Christ has loved his Bride and because of which he delivered himself up on her behalf."[65]

In this perspective, common to all consecrated life, there are many different but complementary paths. Men and women Religious <completely devoted to contemplation> are in a special way an image of Christ praying on the mountain.[66] Consecrated persons engaged <in the active life> manifest Christ "in his proclamation of the Kingdom of God to the multitudes, in his healing of the sick and the suffering, in his work of converting sinners to a better life, in his solicitude for youth and his goodness to all."[67] Consecrated persons in Secular Institutes contribute in a special way to the coming of the Kingdom of God; they unite in a distinctive synthesis the value of consecration and that of being in the world. As they live their consecration in the world and from the world,[68] "they strive to imbue everything with an evangelical spirit for the strengthening and growth of the Body of Christ."[69] For this purpose they share in the Church's evangelizing mission through their personal witness of Christian living, their commitment to ordering temporal affairs according to God's plan and their cooperation in service of the ecclesial community, in accordance with the secular way of life which is proper to them.[70]

Bearing witness to the Gospel of the Beatitudes

33. A particular duty of the consecrated life is <to remind the baptized of the fundamental values of the Gospel>, by bearing "splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the Beatitudes."[71] The consecrated life thus continually fosters in the People of God an awareness of the need to respond with holiness of life to the love of God poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5), by reflecting in their conduct the sacramental consecration which is brought about by God's power in Baptism, Confirmation or Holy Orders. In fact it is necessary to pass from the holiness communicated in the sacraments to the holiness of daily life. The consecrated life, by its very existence in the Church, seeks to serve the consecration of the lives of all the faithful, clergy and laity alike.

Nor must it be forgotten that consecrated persons themselves are helped by the witness of the other vocations to live fully and completely their union with the mystery of Christ and the Church in its many different dimensions. By virtue of this mutual enrichment, the mission of consecrated persons becomes more eloquent and effective: This mission is to remind their other brothers and sisters to keep their eyes fixed on the peace which is to come and to strive for the definitive happiness found in God.

The living image of the Church as Bride

34. In the consecrated life particular importance attaches to the spousal meaning, which recalls the Church's duty to be completely and exclusively devoted to her Spouse, from whom she receives every good thing. This spousal dimension, which is part of all consecrated life, has a particular meaning for women, who find therein their feminine identity and as it were discover the special genius of their relationship with the Lord.

A moving sign of this is seen in the New Testament passage which portrays Mary with the Apostles in the Upper Room, in prayerful expectation of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:13-14). We can see here a vivid image of the Church as Bride, fully attentive to her Bridegroom and ready to accept his gift. In Peter and the other Apostles there emerges above all the aspect of fruitfulness as it is expressed in ecclesial ministry, which becomes an instrument of the Spirit for bringing new sons and daughters to birth through the preaching of the word, the celebration of the Sacraments and the giving of pastoral care. In Mary the aspect of spousal receptivity is particularly clear; it is under this aspect that the Church, through her perfect virginal life, brings divine life to fruition within herself.

The consecrated life has always been seen primarily in terms of Mary— Virgin and Bride. This virginal love is the source of a particular fruitfulness which fosters the birth and growth of divine life in people's hearts.[72] Following in the footsteps of Mary, the New Eve, consecrated persons express their spiritual fruitfulness by becoming receptive to the word, in order to contribute to the growth of a new humanity by their unconditional dedication and their living witness. Thus the Church fully reveals her motherhood both in the communication of divine grace entrusted to Peter and in the responsible acceptance of God's gift, exemplified by Mary.

God's people, for their part, find in the ordained ministry the means of salvation and in the consecrated life the incentive to make a full and loving response through all the different forms of Christian service.[73]

IV. Guided by the Spirit of Holiness

A "transfigured" life: the call to holiness

35. "When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were filled with fear (Mt. 17:6). In the episode of the Transfiguration the synoptic Gospels, with varying nuances, point out the fear which overcomes the disciples. Their fascination at the transfigured face of Christ does not prevent them from being fearful before the divine Majesty which overshadows them. Whenever human beings become aware of the glory of God, they also become aware of their own insignificance and experience a sense of fear. Such fear is salutary. It reminds man of God's perfection and at the same time urges him on with a pressing call to "holiness."

All the sons and daughters of the Church, called by God to "listen to Christ, necessarily feel a <deep need for conversion and holiness>. But, as the Synod emphasized, this need in the first place challenges the consecrated life. In fact the vocation of consecrated persons to seek first the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord, so that God may be all in all. Called to contemplate and bear witness to the transfigured face of Christ, consecrated men and women are also called to a "transfigured" existence.

The <Final Report> of the Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops made a significant observation in this regard:

"Holy men and women have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances throughout the Church's history. Today we have a tremendous need of saints, for whom we must assiduously implore God. The Institutes of Consecrated Life, through the profession of the evangelical counsels, must be conscious of their special mission in today's Church, and we must encourage them in that mission.[74] The Fathers of the Ninth Assembly of the Synod of Bishops echoed this conviction: "Throughout the Church's history, consecrated life has been a living presence of the Spirit's work, a kind of privileged milieu for absolute love of God and of neighbor, for witness to the divine plan of gathering all humanity into the civilization of love, the great family of the children of God.[75]

The Church has always seen in the profession of the evangelical counsels a special path to holiness. The very expressions used to describe it—the school of the Lord's service, the school of love and holiness, the way or state of perfection— indicate the effectiveness and the wealth of means which are proper to this form of evangelical life and the particular commitment made by those who embrace it.[76] It is not by chance that there have been so many consecrated persons down the centuries who have left behind eloquent testimonies of holiness and have undertaken particularly generous and demanding works of evangelization and service.

Faithfulness to the charism

36. In Christian discipleship and love for the person of Christ there are a number of points concerning the growth of holiness in the consecrated life which merit particular emphasis today.

In the first place, there is the need for <fidelity to the founding charism> and subsequent spiritual heritage of each Institute. It is precisely in this fidelity to the inspiration of the founders and foundresses, an inspiration which is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, that the essential elements of the consecrated life can be more readily discerned and more fervently put into practice.

Fundamental to every charism is a threefold orientation. First, charisms <lead to the Father> in the filial desire to seek his will through a process of unceasing conversion, wherein obedience is the source of true freedom, chastity expresses the yearning of a heart unsatisfied by any finite love and poverty nourishes that hunger and thirst for justice which God has promised to satisfy (cf. Mt. 5:6). Consequently the charism of each Institute will lead the consecrated person to belong wholly to God, to speak with God or about God, as is said of St. Dominic,[77] so that he or she can taste the goodness of the Lord (cf. Ps 34:8) in every situation.

Second, the charisms of the consecrated life also lead <to the Son>, fostering an intimate and joyful communion of life with him in the school of his generous service of God and neighbor. Thus the attitude of consecrated persons is progressively conformed to Christ; they learn detachment from externals, from the tumult of the senses, from all that keeps man from that freedom which allows him to be grasped by the Spirit."[78] As a result, consecrated persons are enabled to take up the mission of Christ, working and suffering with him in the spreading of his Kingdom.

Finally, every charism leads <to the Holy Spirit>, insofar as it prepares individuals to let themselves be guided and sustained by him, both in their personal spiritual journeys and in their lives of communion and apostolic work, in order to embody that attitude of service which should inspire the true Christian's every choice.

In fact it is this threefold relationship which emerges in every founding charism, though with the specific nuances of the various patterns of living. This is so because in every charism there predominates a profound desire to be conformed to Christ to give witness to some aspect of his mystery."[79] This specific aspect is meant to take shape and develop according to the most authentic tradition of the Institute as present in its Rule, Constitutions and Statutes.[80]

Creative fidelity

37. Institutes of Consecrated Life are thus invited courageously to propose anew the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of their founders and foundresses in response to the signs of the times emerging in today's world.[81] This invitation is first of all a call to perseverance on the path of holiness in the midst of the material and spiritual difficulties of daily life. But it is also a call to pursue competence in personal work and to develop a dynamic fidelity to their mission, adapting forms if need be to new situations and different needs in complete openness to God's inspiration and to the Church's discernment. But all must be fully convinced that the quest for ever greater conformity to the Lord is the guarantee of any renewal which seeks to remain faithful to an Institute's original inspiration.[82]

In this spirit there is a pressing need today for every Institute <to return to the Rule>, since the Rule and Constitutions provide a map for the whole journey of discipleship in accordance with a specific charism confirmed by the Church. A greater regard for the Rule will not fail to offer consecrated persons a reliable criterion in their search for the appropriate forms of a witness which is capable of responding to the needs of the times without departing from an Institute's initial inspiration.

Prayer and asceticism: spiritual combat

38. The call to holiness is accepted and can be cultivated only <in the silence of adoration> before the infinite transcendence of God: "We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex. 34:33); in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. All, believers and nonbelievers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words."[83] In practice this involves great fidelity to liturgical and personal prayer, to periods devoted to mental prayer and contemplation, to Eucharist adoration, to monthly retreats and to spiritual exercises.

There is also a need to rediscover the <ascetic practices> typical of the spiritual tradition of the Church and of the individual's own Institute. These have been and continue to be a powerful aid to authentic progress in holiness. Asceticism, by helping to master and correct the inclinations of human nature wounded by sin, is truly indispensable if consecrated persons are to remain faithful to their own vocation and follow Jesus on the way of the Cross.

It is also necessary to recognize and overcome certain temptations which sometimes by diabolical deceit present themselves under the appearance of good. Thus, for example, the legitimate need to be familiar with today's society in order to respond to its challenges can lead to a surrender to passing fashions, with a consequent lessening of spiritual fervor or a succumbing to discouragement. The possibility of a deeper spiritual formation might lead consecrated persons to feel somehow superior to other members of the faithful, while the urgent need for appropriate and necessary training can turn into a frantic quest for efficiency, as if apostolic service depended primarily on human means rather than on God. The praiseworthy desire to become close to the men and women of our day, believers and nonbelievers, rich and poor, can lead to the adoption of a secularized lifestyle or the promotion of human values in a merely horizontal direction. Sharing in the legitimate aspirations of one's own nation or culture could lead to embracing forms of nationalism or accepting customs which instead need to be purified and elevated in the light of the Gospel.

The path to holiness thus involves <the acceptance of spiritual combat>. This is a demanding reality which is not always given due attention today. Tradition has often seen an image of this spiritual combat in Jacob's wrestling with the mystery of God, whom he confronts in order to receive his blessing and to see him (cf. Gn. 32:23-31). In this episode from the beginnings of biblical history, consecrated persons can recognize a symbol of the asceticism which they need in order to open their hearts to the Lord and to their brothers and sisters.

Fostering holiness

39. Today a renewed commitment to holiness by consecrated persons is more necessary than ever, also <as a means of promoting and supporting every Christian's desire for perfection>. "It is therefore necessary to inspire in all the faithful a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with one's neighbor, especially the most needy."[84]

To the degree that they deepen their friendship with God, consecrated persons become better prepared to help their brothers and sisters through valuable spiritual activities such as schools of prayer, spiritual exercises and retreats, days of recollection, spiritual dialogue and direction. In this way people are helped to grow in prayer and will then be better able to discern God's will in their lives and to commit themselves to the courageous and sometimes heroic demands which faith makes of them. Consecrated persons "at the deepest level of their being ... are caught up in the dynamism of the Church's life, which is thirsty for the divine Absolute and called to holiness. It is to this holiness that they bear witness."[85] The fact that all are called to become saints cannot fail to inspire more and more those who by their very choice of life have the mission of reminding others of that call.

"Rise, and have no fear": a renewed trust

40. "Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and have no fear"' (Mt. 17:7). Like the three Apostles in the episode of the Transfiguration, consecrated persons know from experience that their lives are not always marked by the fervor which makes us exclaim: "It is well that we are here" (Mt. 17:4). But it is always a life "touched" by the hand of Christ, a life where his voice is heard, a life sustained by his grace.

"Rise, and have no fear." Obviously, the Master's encouragement is addressed to every Christian. All the more does it apply to those called to "leave everything" and thus to "risk everything" for Christ. This is particularly true whenever one descends from the "mountain" with the Master and sets off on the road which leads from Tabor to Calvary.

When Luke relates that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Christ about his Paschal Mystery, it is significant that he uses the term <departure> (<exodos>): "They spoke about his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (9:31). <Exodus> is a basic term in revelation; it evokes the whole of salvation history and expresses the deep meaning of the Paschal Mystery. It is a theme particularly dear to the spirituality of the consecrated life and well expresses its meaning. It inevitably includes everything that pertains to the <mysterium crucis>. But this difficult "exodus journey," when viewed from the perspective of Tabor, is seen to be a road situated between two lights: the anticipatory light of the Transfiguration and the definitive light of the Resurrection.

From the standpoint of the Christian life as a whole, the vocation to the consecrated life is, despite its renunciations and trials, and indeed because of them, <a path "of light"> over which the Redeemer keeps constant watch: <"Rise, and have no fear.">


Consecrated Life as a Sign of Communion in the Church

I. Permanent Values

In the image of the Trinity

41. During his earthly life, the Lord Jesus called those whom he wished in order to have them at his side and to train them to live according to his example, for the Father and for the mission which he had received from the Father (cf. Mk. 3: 13-15). He thus inaugurated the new family which down the centuries would include all those ready to "do the will of God" (cf. Mk. 3:32-35). After the Ascension, as a result of the gift of the Spirit, a fraternal community formed around the Apostles gathered in the praise of God and in a concrete experience of communion (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-

35). The life of that community and even more the experience of complete sharing with Christ lived out by the Twelve have always been the <model to which the Church has looked> whenever she has sought to return to her original fervor and to resume with fresh evangelical vigor her journey through history.[86]

The Church is essentially a mystery of communion, "a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."[87] The fraternal life seeks to reflect the depth and richness of this mystery, taking shape as a human community in which the Trinity dwells, in order to extend in history the gifts of communion proper to the three divine Persons. Many are the settings and the ways in which fraternal communion is expressed in the life of the Church. The consecrated life can certainly be credited with having effectively helped to keep alive in the Church the obligation of fraternity as a form of witness to the Trinity. By constantly promoting fraternal love, also in the form of common life, the consecrated life has shown that <sharing in the Trinitarian communion can change human relationships> and create a new type of solidarity. In this way it speaks to people both of the beauty of fraternal communion and of the ways which actually lead to it. Consecrated persons live "for" God and "from" God, and precisely for this reason they are able to bear witness to the reconciling power of grace, which overcomes the divisive tendencies present in the human heart and in society.

Fraternal life in love

42. The fraternal life, understood as a life shared in love, is an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion. It is practiced with special care in Religious Institutes and in Societies of Apostolic Life, where community living acquires special significance.[88] Nor is the dimension of fraternal communion alien to Secular Institutes or even to forms of the consecrated life lived individually. Hermits, in their profound solitude, do not withdraw from ecclesial communion but serve that communion by their specific charism of contemplation. Consecrated virgins in the world live out their consecration in a special relationship of communion with the particular and universal Church. The same is true of consecrated widows and widowers.

All these people, by practicing evangelical discipleship, commit themselves to fulfilling the Lord's "new commandment," to love one another as he has loved us (cf. Jn. 13:34). Love led Christ to the gift of self, even to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross. So too, among his disciples, <there can be no true unity without that unconditional mutual love> which demands a readiness to serve others generously, a willingness to welcome them as they are, without "judging" them (cf. Mt. 7:1-2) and an ability to forgive up to "70 times seven" (Mt. 18:22). Consecrated persons, who become "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32) through the love poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5), experience an interior call <to share everything in common>: material goods and spiritual experiences, talents and inspirations, apostolic ideals and charitable service: "In community life, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in one individual passes at the same time to all. Here not only does each enjoy his own gift, but makes it abound by sharing it with others; and each one enjoys the fruits of the other's gift as if they were his own."[89]

In community life, then, it should in some way be evident that, more than an instrument for carrying out a specific mission, fraternal communion is <a God enlightened space> in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord (cf. Mt. 18:20).[90] This comes about through the mutual love of all the members of the community, a love nourished by the word and by the Eucharist, purified in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and sustained by prayer for unity, the special gift of the Spirit to those who obediently listen to the Gospel. It is the Spirit himself who leads the soul to the experience of communion with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 1:3), a communion which is the source of fraternal life. It is the Spirit who guides communities of the consecrated life in carrying out their mission of service to the Church and to all humanity, in accordance with their original inspiration.

In this perspective, special importance attaches to Chapters (or similar meetings), whether particular or general, at which Institutes are called to elect Superiors according to the norms set out in their Constitutions, and to discern, in the light of the Spirit, the best ways to preserve and adapt their charism and their spiritual patrimony to changing historical and cultural situations.[91]

The task of authority

43. In the consecrated life <the role of Superiors>, including local Superiors, has always been of great importance for the spiritual life and for mission. In these years of change and experimentation, the need to revise this office has sometimes been felt. But it should be recognized that those who exercise authority <cannot renounce their obligation as those first responsible> for the community, as guides of their brothers and sisters in the spiritual and apostolic life.

In an atmosphere strongly affected by individualism, it is not an easy thing to foster recognition and acceptance of the role which authority plays for the benefit of all. Nevertheless, its importance must be reaffirmed as essential for strengthening fraternal communion and in order not to render vain the obedience professed. While authority must be above all fraternal and spiritual, and while those entrusted with it must know how to involve their brothers and sisters in the decision-making process, it should still be remembered that <the final word belongs to authority> and consequently that authority has the right to see that decisions taken are respected.[92]

The role of the elderly

44. Caring for the elderly and the sick has an important place in the fraternal life, especially at times like the present when in some parts of the world the percentage of elderly consecrated persons is increasing. The care and concern which these persons deserve arises not only from a clear obligation of charity and gratitude, but also from an awareness that their witness greatly serves the Church and their own Institutes, and that their mission continues to be worthwhile and meritorious even when for reasons of age or infirmity they have had to abandon their specific apostolate. <The elderly and the sick have a great deal to give> in wisdom and experience to the community, if only the community can remain close to them with concern and an ability to listen.

More than in any activity, the apostolate consists in the witness of one's own complete dedication to the Lord's saving will, a dedication nourished by the practice of prayer and of penance. The elderly are called in many ways to live out their vocation: by persevering prayer, by patient acceptance of their condition and by their readiness to serve as spiritual directors, confessors or mentors in prayer.[93]

In the image of the apostolic community

45. The fraternal life plays a fundamental role in the spiritual journey of consecrated persons, both for their constant renewal and for the full accomplishment of their mission in the world. This is evident from the theological motivations which sustain it and is amply confirmed by experience. I therefore exhort consecrated men and women to commit themselves to strengthening their fraternal life, following the example of the first Christians in Jerusalem, who were assiduous in accepting the teaching of the Apostles, in common prayer, in celebrating the Eucharist and in sharing whatever goods of nature and grace they had (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Above all I call upon men and women religious and members of Societies of Apostolic Life to show generous mutual love, expressing it in ways which are in keeping with the nature of each Institute, so that every community will be revealed as a luminous sign of the new Jerusalem, "the dwelling of God with men" (Rv. 21:3).

The whole Church greatly depends on the witness of communities filled "with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52). She wishes to hold up before the world the example of communities in which solitude is overcome through concern for one another, in which communication inspires in everyone a sense of shared responsibility and in which wounds are healed through forgiveness and each person's commitment to communion is strengthened. The nature of the charism in communities of this kind directs their energies, sustains their fidelity and directs the apostolic work of all toward the one mission. If the Church is to reveal her true face to today's world, she urgently needs such fraternal communities, which by their very existence contribute to the new evangelization inasmuch as they disclose in a concrete way the fruitfulness of the "new commandment."

"Sentire Cum Ecclesia"

46. A great task also belongs to the consecrated life in the light of the teaching about the Church as communion so strongly proposed by the Second Vatican Council. Consecrated persons are asked to be true experts of communion and to practice the spirituality of communion[94] as "witnesses and architects of the plan for unity which is the crowning point of human history in God's design."[95] The sense of ecclesial communion, developing into a <spirituality of communion>, promotes a way of thinking, speaking and acting which enables the Church to grow in depth and extension. The life of communion in fact "becomes a <sign> for all the world and a compelling <force> that leads people to faith in Christ.... In this way communion leads to <mission> and itself becomes mission"; indeed, "<communion begets communion>: In essence it is a <communion that is missionary.>"[96]

In founders and foundresses <we see a constant and lively sense of the Church>, which they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church's life and in their ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. Against this background of love toward Holy Church (1 Tm. 3:15), we readily understand the devotion of St. Francis of Assisi for "the Lord Pope,"[97] the daughterly outspokenness of St. Catherine of Siena toward the one whom she called "sweet Christ on earth,"[98] the apostolic obedience and the <sentire cum ecclesia> of St. Ignatius Loyola[99] and the joyful profession of faith made by St. Teresa of Avila: "I am a daughter of the Church."[100] We can also understand the deep desire of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus: "In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love."[101] These testimonies are representative of the full ecclesial communion which the Saints, founders and foundresses have shared in diverse and often difficult times and circumstances. They are examples which consecrated persons need constantly to recall if they are to resist the particularly strong centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today.

A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly and clearly testified 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 communication.[102] Because consecrated persons have a special place in the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of God. Their witness of filial love will give power and forcefulness to their apostolic activity which, in the context of the prophetic mission of all the baptized, is generally distinguished by special forms of cooperation with the Hierarchy.[103] In a specific way, through the richness of their charisms, consecrated persons help the Church to reveal ever more deeply her nature as the sacrament "of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind."[104]

Fraternity in the universal Church

47. Consecrated persons are called to be a leaven of communion at the service of the mission of the universal Church by the very fact that the manifold charisms of their respective Institutes are granted by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Mystical Body, whose upbuilding they must serve (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11). Significantly, "the more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31), the "greatest of all" (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13), as the apostle says, is charity, which brings all diversity into one and strengthens everyone to support one another in apostolic zeal. This, precisely, is the scope of <the particular bond of communion> which the different Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life <have with the Successor of Peter in his ministry of unity and missionary universality.> The history of spirituality amply illustrates this bond and shows its providential function both in safeguarding the specific identity of the consecrated life and in advancing the missionary expansion of the Gospel. The vigorous spread of the Gospel message, the firm rooting of the Church in so many areas of the world and the Christian springtime which the young Churches are experiencing today would be unthinkable—as the Synod Fathers observed— without the contribution of numerous Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Down the centuries they have maintained strong bonds of communion with the Successors of Peter, who found in them a generous readiness to devote themselves to the Church's missionary activity with an availability which, when necessary, went as far as heroism.

All this brings out <the character of universality and communion> proper to Institutes of Consecrated Life and to Societies of Apostolic Life. Because of their supradiocesan character, grounded in their special relation to the Petrine ministry, they are also at the service of cooperation between the particular Churches ,[105] since they can effectively promote an "exchange of gifts" among them and thus contribute to an inculturation of the Gospel which purifies, strengthens and ennobles the treasures found in the cultures of all peoples.[106] Today too the flowering of vocations to the consecrated life in the younger Churches demonstrates the ability of the consecrated life to make present in Catholic unity the needs of different peoples and cultures.

The consecrated life and the particular Church

48. Again, a significant role is played by consecrated persons <within the particular Churches>. On the basis of the Council's teaching on the Church as communion and mystery, and on the particular Churches as portions of the People of God in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative,"[107] this aspect of the consecrated life has been systematically explored and codified in various postconciliar documents. These texts bring out clearly the fundamental importance of cooperation between consecrated persons and Bishops for the organic development of diocesan pastoral life. The charisms of the consecrated life can greatly contribute to the building up of charity in the particular Churches .

The various ways of living the evangelical counsels are in fact the expression and fruit of spiritual gifts received by founders and foundresses. As such, they constitute an "<experience of the Spirit,> transmitted to their disciples to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed by them in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in the process of growth."[108] The identity of each Institute is bound up with a particular spirituality and apostolate, which takes shape in a specific tradition marked by objective elements.[109] For this reason the Church is concerned that Institutes should grow and develop in accordance with the spirit of their founders and foundresses, and their own sound traditions.[110]

Consequently, each Institute is recognized as having <a rightful autonomy>, enabling it to follow its own discipline and to keep intact its spiritual and apostolic patrimony. It is the responsibility of local Ordinaries to preserve and safeguard this autonomy.[111] Thus Bishops are asked to welcome and esteem the charisms of the consecrated life and to give them a place in the pastoral plans of the Diocese. They should have a particular concern for Institutes of diocesan right, which are entrusted to the special care of the local Bishop. A Diocese which lacked the consecrated life would not only be deprived of many spiritual gifts, of suitable places for people to seek God, of specific apostolic activities and pastoral approaches, but it would also risk a great weakening of that missionary spirit which is characteristic of the majority of Institutes.[112] There is a duty then to respond to the gift of the consecrated life which the Spirit awakens in the particular Churches by welcoming it with generosity and thanksgiving.

Fruitful and ordered ecclesial communion

49. The Bishop is the father and pastor of the particular Church in its entirety. It is his task to discern and respect individual charisms, and to promote and coordinate them. In his pastoral charity he will therefore welcome the charism of the consecrated life as a grace which is not restricted to any one Institute, but which benefits the whole Church. Bishops will thus seek to support and help consecrated persons so that, in communion with the Church, they open themselves to spiritual and pastoral initiatives responding to the needs of our time, while remaining faithful to their founding charism. For their part, consecrated persons will not fail to cooperate generously with the particular Churches as much as they can and with respect for their own charism, <working in full communion with the Bishop> in the areas of evangelization, catechesis and parish life.

It is helpful to recall that in coordinating their service to the universal Church with their service to the particular Churches Institutes may not invoke rightful autonomy, or even the exemption which a number of them enjoy,[113] in order to justify choices which actually conflict with the demands of organic communion called for by a healthy ecclesial life. Instead, the pastoral initiatives of consecrated persons should be determined and carried out in cordial and open dialogue between Bishops and Superiors of the different Institutes. Special attention by Bishops to the vocation and mission of Institutes, and respect by the latter for the ministry of Bishops with ready acceptance of their concrete pastoral directives for the life of the Diocese: These are two intimately linked expressions of that one ecclesial charity by which all work to build up the organic communion — charismatic and at the same time hierarchically structured—of the whole People of God.

A constant dialogue animated by charity

50. Constant dialogue between Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and Bishops is most valuable in order to promote mutual understanding, which is the necessary precondition for effective cooperation, especially in pastoral matters. Thanks to regular contacts of this kind, Superiors, both men and women, can inform Bishops about the apostolic undertakings which they are planning in Dioceses, in order to agree on the necessary practical arrangements. In the same way, it is helpful for delegates of the Conferences of Major Superiors to be invited to meetings of the Bishops' Conferences and, in turn, for delegates of the Episcopal Conferences to be invited to attend the Conferences of Major Superiors following predetermined formats. It would be a great help if, where they do not yet exist, <mixed commissions of Bishops and Major Superiors>[114] were set up at the national level for the joint study of problems of common interest. Likewise, better reciprocal knowledge will result if the theology and the spirituality of the consecrated life are made part of the theological preparation of diocesan priests, and if adequate attention to the theology of the particular Church and to the spirituality of the diocesan clergy is included in the formation of consecrated persons.[115]

Finally, it is reassuring to mention that at the Synod not only were there many interventions on the doctrine of communion, but great satisfaction was expressed for the experience of dialogue conducted in a climate of mutual trust and openness between the Bishops and the men and women religious present. This led to a desire that "this spiritual experience of communion and cooperation be extended to the whole Church," even after the Synod.[116] It is my hope too that all will grow in the understanding and spirituality of communion.

Fraternity in a divided and unjust world

51. The Church entrusts to communities of consecrated life the particular task of <spreading the spirituality of communion>, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community and even beyond its boundaries, by opening or continuing a dialogue in charity, especially where today's world is torn apart by ethnic hatred or senseless violence. Placed as they are within the world's different societies — societies frequently marked by conflicting passions and interests, seeking unity but uncertain about the ways to attain it—communities of consecrated life, where persons of different ages, languages and cultures meet as brothers and sisters, are <signs that dialogue is always possible> and that communion can bring differences into harmony.

Consecrated men and women are sent forth to proclaim by the witness of their lives the value of Christian fraternity and the transforming power of the Good News,[117] which makes it possible to see all people as sons and daughters of God, and inspires a self-giving love toward everyone, especially the least of our brothers and sisters. Such communities are places of hope and of the discovery of the Beatitudes, where love, drawing strength from prayer, the wellspring of communion, is called to become a pattern of life and source of joy.

In an age characterized by the globalization of problems and the return of the idols of nationalism, international Institutes especially are called to uphold and to bear witness to the sense of communion between peoples, races and cultures. In a climate of fraternity, an openness to the global dimension of problems will not detract from the richness of particular gifts nor will the affirmation of a particular gift conflict with other gifts or with unity itself. International Institutes can achieve this effectively inasmuch as they have to face in a creative way the challenge of inculturation while at the same time preserving their identity.

Communion among different Institutes

52. Fraternal spiritual relations and mutual cooperation among different Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are sustained and nourished by the sense of ecclesial communion. Those who are united by a common commitment to the following of Christ and are inspired by the same Spirit cannot fail to manifest visibly, as branches of the one Vine, the fullness of the Gospel of love. Mindful of the spiritual friendship which often united founders and foundresses during their lives, consecrated persons, while remaining faithful to the character of their own Institute, are called to practice a fraternity which is exemplary and which will serve to encourage the other members of the Church in the daily task of bearing witness to the Gospel.

St. Bernard's words about the various Religious Orders remain ever timely: "I admire them all. I belong to one of them by observance, but to all of them by charity. We all need one another: The spiritual good which I do not own and possess, I receive from others.... In this exile, the Church is still on pilgrimage and is, in a certain sense, plural: She is a single plurality and a plural unity. All our diversities, which make manifest the richness of God's gifts, will continue to exist in the one house of the Father, which has many rooms. Now there is a division of graces; then there will be distinctions of glory. Unity, both here and there, consists in one and the same charity."[118]

Co-ordinating Bodies

53. A significant contribution to communion can be made by the Conferences of Major Superiors and by the Conferences of Secular Institutes. Encouraged and regulated by the Second Vatican Council[119] and by subsequent documents,[120] these bodies have as their principal purpose the promotion of the consecrated life within the framework of the Church's mission.

By means of these bodies, Institutes express the communion which unites them, and they seek the means to reinforce that communion with respect and esteem for the uniqueness of their different charisms, which reflect the mystery of the Church and the richness of divine wisdom.[121] I encourage Institutes of Consecrated Life to work together, especially in those countries where particularly difficult situations increase the temptation for them to withdraw into themselves, to the detriment of the consecrated life itself and of the Church. Rather, these Institutes should help one another in trying to discern God's plan in this troubled moment of history in order better to respond to it with appropriate works of the apostolate.[122] In the perspective of a communion open to the challenges of our time, Superiors, men and women, "working in harmony with the Bishops," should seek "to make use of the accomplishments of the best members of each Institute and to offer services which not only help to overcome eventual limits, but which create a valid style of formation in consecrated life."[123]

I exhort the Conferences of Major Superiors and the Conferences of Secular Institutes to maintain frequent and regular contacts with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life as a sign of their communion with the Holy See. An active and trusting relationship ought also to be maintained with the Episcopal Conference of each country. In the spirit of the document <Mutuae Relationes>, these contacts should be established on a stable basis in order to provide for constant and timely coordination of initiatives as they come up. If all of this is done with perseverance and a spirit of faithful adherence to the directives of the Magisterium, the organizations which promote coordination and communion will prove to be particularly helpful in formulating solutions which avoid misunderstandings and tensions both on the theoretical and practical levels.[124] In this way they will make a positive contribution not only to the growth of communion between Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Bishops, but also to the advancement of the mission of the particular Churches .

Communion and Cooperation With Laity

54. In recent years, one of the fruits of the teaching on the Church as communion has been the growing awareness that her members can and must unite their efforts, with a view to cooperation and exchange of gifts, in order to participate more effectively in the Church's mission. This helps to give a clearer and more complete picture of the Church herself, while rendering more effective the response to the great challenges of our time, thanks to the combined contributions of the various gifts.

Contacts with the laity, in the case of monastic or contemplative Institutes, take the form of a relationship that is primarily spiritual, while for Institutes involved in works of the apostolate these contacts also translate into forms of pastoral cooperation. Members of Secular Institutes, lay or clerical, relate to other members of the faithful at the level of everyday life. Today, often as a result of new situations, many Institutes have come to the conclusion that <their charism can be shared with the laity>. The laity are therefore invited to share more intensely in the spirituality and mission of these Institutes. We may say that, in the light of certain historical experiences such as those of the Secular or Third Orders, a new chapter, rich in hope, has begun in the history of relations between consecrated persons and the laity.

For a renewed spiritual and apostolic dynamism

55. These new experiences of communion and cooperation should be encouraged for various reasons. They can in fact give rise to the spread of a fruitful spirituality beyond the confines of the Institute, which will then be in a position to ensure the continuity in the Church of the services typical of the Institute. Another positive consequence will be to facilitate more intense cooperation between consecrated persons and the laity in view of the Institute's mission. Moved by the examples of holiness of the consecrated members, lay men and women will experience at firsthand the spirit of the evangelical counsels and will thus be encouraged to live and bear witness to the spirit of the Beatitudes in order to transform the world according to God's design.[125]

The participation of the laity often brings unexpected and rich insights into certain aspects of the charism, leading to a more spiritual interpretation of it and helping to draw from it directions for new activities in the apostolate. In whatever activity or ministry they are involved, consecrated persons should remember that before all else they must be expert guides in the spiritual life, and in this perspective they should cultivate "the most precious gift: the spirit."[126] For their part, the laity should offer Religious families the invaluable contribution of their "being in the world" and their specific service.

Associates and lay volunteers

56. A significant expression of lay people's sharing in the richness of the consecrated life is their participation in various Institutes under the new form of so-called associate members or, in response to conditions present in certain cultures, as people who share fully for a certain period of time the Institute's community life and its particular dedication to contemplation or the apostolate. This should always be done in such a way that the identity of the Institute in its internal life is not harmed.[127]

This voluntary service, which draws from the richness of the consecrated life, should be held in great esteem; it is however necessary to provide proper formation so that, besides being competent, volunteers always have supernaturally motivated intentions and, in their projects, a strong sense of community and of the Church.[128] Moreover, it should be borne in mind that initiatives involving laypersons at the decision-making level, in order to be considered the work of a specific Institute, must promote the ends of that Institute and be carried out under its responsibility. Therefore, if laypersons take on a directive role, they will be accountable for their actions to the competent Superiors. It is necessary for all this to be examined and regulated by special directives in each Institute, to be approved by higher authority; these directives should indicate the respective responsibilities of the Institute itself, of its communities, associate members and volunteers.

Consecrated persons, sent by their Superiors and remaining subject to them, can take part in <specific forms of cooperation in lay initiatives>, particularly in organizations and institutions which work with those on the margins of society and which have the purpose of alleviating human suffering. Such collaboration, if prompted and sustained by a clear and strong Christian identity and respectful of the particular character of the consecrated life, can make the radiant power of the Gospel shine forth brightly even in the darkest situations of human life.

In recent years many consecrated persons have become members of one or other of the <ecclesial movements> which have spread in our time. From these experiences, those involved usually draw benefit, especially in the area of spiritual renewal. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that in certain cases this involvement causes uneasiness and disorientation at the personal or community level, especially when these experiences come into conflict with the demands of the common life or of the Institute's spirituality. It is therefore necessary to take care that membership in these ecclesial movements does not endanger the charism or discipline of the Institute of origin,[129] and that all is done with the permission of Superiors and with the full intention of accepting their decisions.

The dignity and role of consecrated women

57. The Church fully reveals her varied- spiritual richness when she overcomes all discrimination and welcomes as a true blessing the gifts lavished by God upon both men and women, considering them in their equal dignity. By virtue of their dedication lived in fullness and in joy, consecrated women are called in a very special way to be <signs of God's tender love toward the human race> and to be special witnesses to the mystery of the Church, Virgin, Bride and Mother.[130] This mission of theirs was noted by the Synod, in which many consecrated women participated and made their voices heard. Those voices were listened to and appreciated. Thanks also to their contribution, useful directions for the Church's life and her evangelizing mission have emerged. Certainly the validity of many assertions relating to the position of women in different sectors of society and of the Church cannot be denied. It is equally important to point out that women's new self-awareness also helps men to reconsider their way of looking at things, the way they understand themselves, where they place themselves in history and how they interpret it, and the way they organize social, political, economic, religious and ecclesial life.

Having received from Christ a message of liberation, the Church has the mission to proclaim this message prophetically, promoting ways of thinking and acting which correspond to the mind of the Lord. In this context the consecrated woman, on the basis of her experience of the Church and as a woman in the Church, can help eliminate certain one-sided perspectives which do not fully recognize her dignity and her specific contribution to the Church's life and pastoral and missionary activity. Consecrated women therefore rightly aspire to have their identity, ability, mission and responsibility more clearly recognized, both in the awareness of the Church and in everyday life.

Likewise, the future of the new evangelization, as of all other forms of missionary activity, is unthinkable without a renewed contribution from women, especially consecrated women.

New possibilities of presence and action

58. It is therefore urgently necessary to take certain concrete steps, beginning by <providing room for women to participate> in different fields and at all levels, including decision-making processes, above all in matters which concern women themselves.

Moreover, the formation of consecrated women, no less than that of men, should be adapted to modern needs and should provide sufficient time and suitable institutional opportunities for a systematic education extending to all areas from the theological-pastoral to the professional. Pastoral and catechetical formation, always important, is particularly relevant in view of the new evangelization, which calls for new forms of participation also on the part of women.

Clearly a more solid formation, while helping consecrated women to understand better their own gifts, cannot but encourage within the Church the reciprocity which is needed. In the field of theological, cultural and spiritual studies, much can be expected from the genius of women, not only in relation to specific aspects of feminine consecrated life, but also in understanding the faith in all its expressions. In this regard the history of spirituality owes much to saints like Teresa of Jesus and Catherine of Siena, the first two women to be given the title "Doctor of the Church," and to so many other mystics for the exploration of the mystery of God and their analysis of his action in believers! The Church depends a great deal on consecrated women for new efforts in fostering Christian doctrine and morals, family and social life, and especially in everything that affects the dignity of women and respect for human life.[131] In fact, "<women> occupy a place in thought and action which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a 'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of 'male domination' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.[132]

There is reason to hope that a fuller acknowledgment of the mission of women will provide feminine consecrated life with a heightened awareness of its specific role and increased dedication to the cause of the Kingdom of God. This will be expressed in many different works such as involvement in evangelization, educational activities, participation in the formation of future priests and consecrated persons, animating Christian communities, giving spiritual support and promoting the fundamental values of life and peace. To consecrated women and their extraordinary capacity for dedication, I once again express the gratitude and admiration of the whole Church, which supports them so that they will live their vocation fully and joyfully, and feel called to the great task of helping to educate the woman of today.

II. Continuity in the Work of the Spirit: Faithfulness in the Course of Change

Cloistered nuns

59. The monastic life of women and the cloister deserve special attention because of the great esteem in which the Christian community holds this type of life, which is a sign of the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with her Lord, whom she loves above all things. Indeed, the life of cloistered nuns, devoted in a special way to prayer, to asceticism and diligent progress in the spiritual life, "is nothing other than a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem and an anticipation of the eschatological Church immutable in its possession and contemplation of God"[133] In the light of this vocation and ecclesial mission, the cloister responds to the need, felt as paramount, <to be with the Lord>. Choosing an enclosed space where they will live their lives, cloistered nuns share in Christ's emptying of himself by means of a radical poverty expressed in their renunciation not only of things but also of "space," of contacts, of so many benefits of creation. This particular way of offering up the "body" allows them to enter more fully into the Eucharist mystery. They offer themselves with Jesus for the world's salvation. Their offering, besides its elements of sacrifice and expiation, takes on the aspect of thanksgiving to the Father by sharing in the thanksgiving of the beloved Son.

Rooted in this profound spiritual aspiration, the cloister is not only an ascetic practice of very great value, but also <a way of living Christ's Passover>.[134] From being an experience of "death," it becomes a superabundance of life, representing a joyful proclamation and prophetic anticipation of the possibility offered to every person and to the whole of humanity to live solely for God in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom. 6: 11). The cloister brings to mind that <space in the heart> where every person is called to union with the Lord. Accepted as a gift and chosen as a free response of love, the cloister is the place of spiritual communion with God and with the brethren, where the limitation of space and contacts works to the advantage of interiorizing Gospel values (cf. Jn. 13:34; Mt. 5:3, 8).

Even in the simplicity of their life, cloistered communities, set like cities on a hilltop or lights on a lampstand (cf. Mt. 5:14-15), visibly represent the goal toward which the entire community of the Church travels. "Eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation,"[135] the Church advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ, when she will appear "in glory with her Spouse (cf. Col. 3:1-

4),"[136] and Christ will deliver "the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power ... that God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor. 15:24, 28).

To these dear sisters, therefore, I extend my gratitude and I encourage them to remain faithful to the cloistered life according to their particular charism. Thanks to their example, this way of life continues to draw many vocations, attracting people by the radical nature of a "spousal" existence dedicated totally to God in contemplation. As an expression of pure love, which is worth more than any work, the contemplative life generates an extraordinary apostolic and missionary effectiveness.[137]

The Synod Fathers expressed great esteem for the cloistered life while at the same time giving attention to requests made by some with respect to its concrete discipline. The Synod's suggestions in this regard and especially the desire that provision be made for giving Major Superiors more authority to grant dispensations from enclosure for just and sufficient reasons,[138] will be carefully considered in the light of the path of renewal already undertaken since the Second Vatican Council.[139] In this way, the various forms and degrees of cloister—from papal and constitutional cloister to monastic cloister—will better correspond to the variety of contemplative Institutes and monastic traditions.

As the Synod itself emphasized, <associations> and <federations> of monasteries are to be encouraged, as already recommended by Pope Pius XII and the Second Vatican Council,[140] especially where there are no other effective forms of coordination or help, with a view to safeguarding and promoting the values of contemplative life. Such bodies, which must always respect the legitimate autonomy of monasteries, can in fact offer valuable help in adequately resolving common problems such as appropriate renewal, initial and continuing formation, mutual economic support and even the reorganization of the monasteries themselves.

Religious Brothers

60. According to the traditional doctrine of the Church, the consecrated life by its nature <is neither lay nor clerical>.[141] For this reason the "lay consecration" of both men and women constitutes a state which in its profession of the evangelical counsels is complete in itself.[142] Consequently, both for the individual and for the Church it is a value in itself apart from the sacred ministry.

Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council,[143] the Synod expressed great esteem for the kind of consecrated life in which religious brothers provide valuable services of various kinds, inside or outside the community, participating in this way in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and bearing witness to it with charity in everyday life. Indeed, some of these services can be considered <ecclesial ministries>, granted by legitimate authority. This requires an appropriate and integral formation: human, spiritual, theological, pastoral and professional.

According to the terminology currently in use, Institutes which by reason of their founders' design or by legitimate tradition have a character and purpose which do not entail the exercise of Holy Orders are called "Lay Institutes".[144] Nonetheless the Synod pointed out that this terminology does not adequately express the particular nature of the vocation of the members of these Religious Institutes. In fact, although they perform many works in common with the lay faithful, these men do so insofar as they are consecrated and thereby express the spirit of total self-giving to Christ and the Church, in accordance with their specific charism.

For this reason the Synod Fathers, in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion with the secular state of the lay faithful,[145] proposed the term <Religious Institutes of Brothers>.[146] This proposal is significant, especially when we consider that the term "brother" suggests a rich spirituality. "These Religious are called to be brothers of Christ, deeply united with him, 'the firstborn among many brothers' (Rom. 8:29); brothers to one another in mutual love and working together in the Church in the same service of what is good; brothers to everyone in their witness to Christ's love for all, especially the lowliest, the neediest; brothers for a greater brotherhood in the Church."[147] By living in a special way this aspect of Christian and consecrated life, Religious Brothers are an effective reminder to Religious Priests themselves of the fundamental dimension of brotherhood in Christ, to be lived among themselves and with every man and woman, and they proclaim to all the Lord's words: "And you are all brothers" (Mt. 23:8).

In these Religious Institutes of brothers nothing prevents certain members from receiving Holy Orders for the priestly service of the religious community, provided that this is approved by the General Chapter.[148] However, the Second Vatican Council does not give any explicit encouragement for this, precisely because it wishes Institutes of Brothers to remain faithful to their vocation and mission. The same holds true with regard to assuming the office of Superior, since that office reflects in a special way the nature of the Institute itself.

The vocation of Brothers in what are known as clerical Institutes is different since, according to the design of the founder or by reason of legitimate tradition, these Institutes presuppose the exercise of holy orders, are governed by clerics and as such are approved by Church authority.[149] In these Institutes the sacred ministry is constitutive of the charism itself and determines its nature, purpose and spirit" The Presence of Brothers constitutes a different form of participation in an Institute's mission, through services rendered both within the community and in the apostolate in collaboration with those who exercise the priestly ministry.

Mixed Institutes

61. Some Religious Institutes, which in the founder's original design were envisaged as a brotherhood in which all the members, priests and those who were not priests, were considered equal among themselves, have acquired a different form with the passing of time. It is necessary that these Institutes, known as mixed, evaluate on the basis of a deeper understanding of their founding charism whether it is appropriate and possible to return to their original inspiration.

The Synod Fathers expressed the hope that in these Institutes all the religious would be recognized as having equal rights and obligations, with the exception of those which stem from Holy Orders.[150] A special Commission has been established to examine and resolve the problems connected with this issue; it is necessary to await this Commission's conclusions before coming to suitable decisions in accordance with what will be authoritatively determined.

New Forms of the evangelical life

62. The Spirit, who at different times has inspired numerous forms of consecrated life, does not cease to assist the Church, whether by fostering in already existing Institutes a commitment to renewed faithfulness to the founding charism or by giving new charisms to men and women of our own day so that they can start institutions responding to the challenges of our times. A sign of this divine intervention is to be found in the so-called <new Foundations>, which display new characteristics compared to those of traditional Foundations.

The originality of the new communities often consists in the fact that they are composed of mixed groups of men and women, of clerics and laypersons, of married couples and celibates, all of whom pursue a particular style of life. These communities are sometimes inspired by one or other traditional form adapted to the needs of modern society. Their commitment to the evangelical life also takes on different forms, while, as a general rule, they are all characterized by an intense aspiration to community life, poverty and prayer. Both clerics and laypersons share in the duties of governing according to the responsibilities assigned to them, and the apostolate focuses on the demands of the new evangelization.

If on one hand there is reason to rejoice at the Holy Spirit's action, there is on the other a need for <discernment regarding these charisms>. A fundamental principle when speaking of the consecrated life is that the specific features of the new communities and their styles of life must be founded on the essential theological and canonical elements proper to the consecrated life.[151] This discernment is necessary at both the local and universal level in order to manifest a common obedience to the one Spirit. In Dioceses, Bishops should examine the witness of life and the orthodoxy of the founders of such communities, their spirituality, the ecclesial awareness shown in carrying out their mission, the methods of formation and the manner of incorporation into the community. They should wisely evaluate possible weaknesses, watching patiently for the sign of results (cf. Mt. 7:16), so that they may acknowledge the authenticity of the charism.[152] In a special way Bishops are required to determine, according to clearly established criteria, the suitability of any members of these communities who wish to receive Holy Orders.[153]

Worthy of praise are those forms of commitment which some Christian married couples assume in certain associations and movements. They confirm by means of a vow the obligation of chastity proper to the married state and, without neglecting their duties toward their children, profess poverty and obedience.[154] They do so with the intention of bringing to the perfection of charity their love, already "consecrated" in the Sacrament of Matrimony.[155] However, by reason of the above-mentioned principle of discernment, these forms of commitment cannot be included in the specific category of the consecrated life. This necessary clarification regarding the nature of such experiences in no way intends to underestimate this particular path of holiness, from which the action of the Holy Spirit, infinitely rich in gifts and inspirations, is certainly not absent.

In view of such a wealth of gifts and creative energies, it seems appropriate to <set up a Commission to deal with questions relating to new forms of consecrated life>. The purpose of this Commission will be to determine criteria of authenticity which will help discernment and decision making.[156] Among its other tasks, this Commission will evaluate in the light of the experience of recent decades which new forms of consecration can, with pastoral prudence and to the advantage of all, be officially approved by Church authority in order to be proposed to the faithful who are seeking a more perfect Christian life.

New associations of evangelical life <are not alternatives> to already existing Institutions, which continue to hold the pre-eminent place assigned to them by tradition. Nonetheless, the new forms are also a gift of the Spirit, enabling the Church to follow her Lord in a constant outpouring of generosity, attentive to God's invitations revealed through the signs of the times. Thus the Church appears before the world with many forms of holiness and service, as "a kind of instrument or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of mankind."[157] 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.

In this way the vigor of the different forms of consecrated life, from the oldest to the most recent, as well as the vitality of the new communities will renew faithfulness to the Holy Spirit, who is the source of communion and unceasing newness of life.

III. Looking to the Future

Difficulties and future prospects

63. The changes taking place in society and the decrease in the number of vocations are weighing heavily on the consecrated life in some regions of the world. The apostolic works of many Institutes and their very presence in certain local Churches

are endangered. As has already occurred at other times in history, there are Institutes which even run the risk of disappearing altogether. The universal Church is profoundly grateful for the great contribution which these Institutes have made to building her up through their witness and service.[158] The trials of the present do not take away from their merits and the positive results of their efforts.

For other Institutes, there is the problem of reassessing their apostolate. This task, which is difficult and often painful, requires study and discernment in the light of certain criteria. For example, it is necessary to safeguard the significance of an Institute's own charism, to foster community life, to be attentive to the needs of both the universal and particular Church, to show concern for what the world neglects, and to respond generously and boldly to the new forms of poverty through concrete efforts, even if necessarily on a small scale, and above all in the most abandoned areas.[159]

The various difficulties stemming from the decline in personnel and apostolates <must in no way lead to a loss of confidence in the evangelical vitality of the consecrated life>, which will always be present and active in the Church. While individual Institutes have no claim to permanence, the consecrated life itself will continue to sustain among the faithful the response of love toward God and neighbor. Thus it is necessary to distinguish the <historical destiny> of a specific Institute or form of consecrated life from the <ecclesial mission> of the consecrated life as such. The former is affected by changing circumstances; the latter is destined to perdure.

This is true of both the contemplative and apostolic forms of consecrated life. On the whole, under the ever creative guidance of the Spirit the consecrated life is destined to remain a shining witness to the inseparable unity of love of God and love of neighbor. It appears as the living memory of the fruitfulness of God's love. New situations of difficulty are therefore to be faced with the serenity of those who know that what is required of each individual is <not success, but commitment to faithfulness.> What must be avoided at all costs is the actual breakdown of the consecrated life, a collapse which is not measured by a decrease in numbers but by a failure to cling steadfastly to the Lord and to personal vocation and mission. Rather, by persevering faithfully in the consecrated life, consecrated persons confess with great effectiveness before the world their unwavering trust in the Lord of history, in whose hands are the history and destiny of individuals, institutions and peoples, and therefore also the realization in time of his gifts. Sad situations of crisis invite consecrated persons courageously to proclaim their faith in Christ's Death and Resurrection that they may become a visible sign of the passage from death to life.

Fresh efforts in the promotion of vocations

64. The mission of the consecrated life, as well as the vitality of Institutes, undoubtedly depend on the faithful commitment with which consecrated persons respond to their vocation. But they have a future to the extent that <still other men and women generously welcome the Lord's call.> The problem of vocations is a real challenge which directly concerns the various Institutes but also involves the whole Church. Great spiritual and material energies are being expended in the sphere of vocational promotion, but the results do not always match expectations and efforts. Thus, while vocations to the consecrated life are flourishing in the young Churches and in those which suffered persecution at the hands of totalitarian regimes, they are lacking in countries traditionally rich in vocations, including vocations for the missions.

This difficult situation puts consecrated persons to the test. Sometimes they ask themselves: Have we perhaps lost the capacity to attract new vocations? They must have confidence in the Lord Jesus, who continues to call men and women to follow him. They must entrust themselves to the Holy Spirit, who inspires and bestows the charisms of the consecrated life. Therefore, while we rejoice in the action of the Spirit who rejuvenates the Bride of Christ by enabling the consecrated life to flourish in many nations, we must also pray unceasingly to the Lord of the harvest that he will send workers to his Church in order to meet the needs of the new evangelization (cf. Mt. 9:37-38). Besides promoting prayer for vocations, it is essential to act, by means of explicit presentation and appropriate catechesis, with a view to encouraging in those called to the consecrated life that free, willing and generous response which carries into effect the grace of vocation.

The invitation of Jesus, "Come and see" (Jn. 1:39), is <the golden rule> of pastoral work for promoting vocations even today. Following the example of founders and foundresses, this work aims at presenting <the attraction of the person of the Lord Jesus> and the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel. A primary responsibility of all consecrated men and women is therefore to propose with courage, by word and example, the ideal of the following of Christ and then to support the response to the Spirit's action in the heart of those who are called.

After the enthusiasm of the first meeting with Christ, there comes the constant struggle of everyday life, a struggle which turns a vocation into a tale of friendship with the Lord. In view of this, the pastoral work of promoting vocations should make use of suitable help such as <spiritual direction> in order to nourish that personal response of love of the Lord which is the necessary condition for becoming disciples and apostles of his Kingdom. Moreover, if the flourishing of vocations evident in some parts of the world justifies optimism and hope, the lack of them in other areas must not lead either to discouragement or to the temptation to practice lax and unwise recruitment. The task of promoting vocations should increasingly express <a joint commitment of the whole Church.>[160] It calls for the active collaboration of pastors, religious, families and teachers as required in something which forms an integral part of the overall pastoral plan of every particular Church. In every Diocese there should be this <common endeavor>, which coordinates and promotes the efforts of everyone, not jeopardizing, but rather supporting, the vocational activity of each Institute.[161]

The effective cooperation of the whole People of God, with the support of Providence, cannot but give rise to an abundance of divine gifts. Christian solidarity should abound in meeting the needs of vocational formation in countries which are economically poorer. The recruitment of vocations in these countries should be carried out by the various Institutes in full accord with the Churches of the region and on the basis of an active and long-term involvement in their pastoral life.[162] The most authentic way to support the Spirit's action is for Institutes to invest their best resources generously in vocational work, especially by their serious involvement in working with youth.

Commitment to initial formation

65. The Synod Assembly paid special attention to the <formation> of those who wish to consecrate themselves to the Lord[163] and recognized its decisive importance. The <primary objective> of the formation process is to prepare people for the total consecration of themselves to God in the following of Christ, at the service of the Church's mission. To say yes to the Lord's call by taking personal responsibility for maturing in one's vocation is the inescapable duty of all who have been called. One's whole life must be open to the action of the Holy Spirit, traveling the road of formation with generosity and accepting in faith the means of grace offered by the Lord and the Church.[164]

Formation should therefore have a profound effect on individuals, so that their every attitude and action at important moments as well as in the ordinary events of life will show that they belong completely and joyfully to God.[165] Since the very purpose of consecrated life is conformity to the Lord Jesus in his <total self-giving>,[166] this must also be the principal objective of formation. Formation is a path of gradual identification with the attitude of Christ toward the Father.

If this is the purpose of the consecrated life, the manner of preparing for it should include and express <the character of wholeness>. Formation should involve the whole person[167] in every aspect of the personality, in behavior and intentions. Precisely because it aims at the transformation of the whole person, it is clear that <the commitment of formation never> ends. Indeed, at every stage of life, consecrated persons must be offered opportunities to grow in their commitment to the charism and mission of their Institute.

For formation to be complete, it must include every aspect of Christian life. It must therefore provide a human, cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation which pays special attention to the harmonious integration of all its various aspects. Sufficient time should be reserved for initial formation, understood as a process of development which passes through every stage of personal maturity—from the psychological and spiritual to the theological and pastoral. In the case of those studying for the priesthood, this initial formation coincides with and fits well into a specific course of studies as part of a broader formation program.

The work of those responsible for formation

66. God the Father, through the unceasing gift of Christ and the Spirit, is the educator <par excellence> of those who consecrate themselves to him. But in this work he makes use of human instruments, placing more mature brothers and sisters at the side of those whom he calls. Formation then is a sharing in the work of the Father who, through the Spirit, fashions the inner attitudes of the Son in the hearts of young men and women. Those in charge of formation must therefore be very familiar with the path of seeking God, so as to be able to accompany others on this journey.

Sensitive to the action of grace, they will also be able to point out those obstacles which are less obvious. But above all they will disclose the beauty of following Christ and the value of the charism by which this is accomplished. They will combine the illumination of spiritual wisdom with the light shed by human means, which can be a help both in discerning the call and in forming the new man or woman until they are genuinely free. The chief instrument of formation is personal dialogue, a practice of irreplaceable and commendable effectiveness which should take place regularly and with a certain frequency.

Because sensitive tasks are involved, the training of suitable directors of formation who will fulfill their task in a spirit of communion with the whole Church is very important. It will be helpful to establish appropriate structures for <the training of those responsible for formation>, preferably in places where they can be in contact with the culture in which their pastoral service will later be carried out. In the work of formation, the more solidly established Institutes should help those of more recent foundation by contributing some of their best members.[168]

Formation in community and for the apostolate

67. Since formation must also have a <communal> dimension, the community is the chief place of formation in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Initiation into the hardships and joys of community life takes place in the community itself. Through the fraternal life each one learns to live with those whom God has put at his or her side, accepting their positive traits along with their differences and limitations. Each one learns to share the gifts received for the building up of all, because "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Cor. 12:7).[169] At the same time, from the moment of initial formation community life must disclose the essential missionary dimension of consecration. Thus, during the period of initial formation, Institutes of Consecrated Life do well to provide practical experiences which are prudently followed by the one responsible for formation, enabling candidates to test in the context of the local culture their skills for the apostolate, their ability to adapt and their spirit of initiative.

On the one hand, it is important for consecrated persons gradually to develop a critical judgment based on the Gospel regarding the positive and negative values of their own culture and of the culture in which they will eventually work. On the other hand, they must be trained in the difficult art of interior harmony, of the interaction between love of God and love of one's brothers and sisters; they must likewise learn that prayer is the soul of the apostolate, but also that the apostolate animates and inspires prayer.

The need for a complete and updated "ratio"

68. A definite period of formation extending up to final profession is recommended both for women's Institutes and for men's Institutes as regards Religious Brothers. Essentially, this is also true for cloistered communities, which ought to set up suitable programs aimed at imparting a genuine preparation for the contemplative life and its particular mission in the Church.

The Synod Fathers earnestly asked all Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to draw up as soon as possible a <ratio institutionis>, that is, a formation program inspired by their particular charism presenting clearly and in all its stages the course to be followed in order to assimilate fully the spirituality of the respective Institute. The <ratio> responds to a pressing need today. On the one hand it shows how to pass on the Institute's spirit so that it will be lived in its integrity by future generations in different cultures and geographical regions; on the other hand it explains to consecrated persons how to live that spirit in the different stages of life on the way to full maturity of faith in Christ.

While it is true that the renewal of the consecrated life depends primarily on formation, it is equally certain that this training is in turn linked to the ability to establish a method characterized by spiritual and pedagogical wisdom, which will gradually lead those wishing to consecrate themselves to put on the mind of Christ the Lord. Formation is a dynamic process by means of which individuals are converted to the Word of God in the depths of their being and at the same time learn how to discover the signs of God in earthly realities. At a time when religious values are increasingly being ignored by society, this plan of formation is doubly important: As a result of it, consecrated persons will not only continue to "see" God with the eyes of faith in a world which ignores his presence, but will also be effective in making his presence in some way "perceptible" through the witness of their charism.

Continuing formation

69. Continuing formation, whether in Institutes of apostolic or contemplative life, is an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration. As mentioned above, the formation process is not limited to the initial phase. Due to human limitations, the consecrated person can never claim to have completely brought to life the "new creature" who in every circumstance of life reflects the very mind of Christ. <Initial> formation, then, should be closely connected with <continuing> formation, thereby creating a readiness on everyone's part to let themselves be formed every day of their lives.[170]

Consequently, it will be very important for every Institute to provide as part of its <ratio institutionis> a precise and systematic description of its plan of continuing formation. The chief purpose of this plan is to provide all consecrated persons with a program which encompasses their whole life. None are exempt from the obligation to grow humanly and as Religious; by the same token, no one can be overconfident and live in self-sufficient isolation. At no stage of life can people feel so secure and committed that they do not need to give careful attention to ensuring perseverance in faithfulness; just as there is no age at which a person has completely achieved maturity.

Part II


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