The Origins of the Consecrated Life in the Mystery of Christ and of the Trinity
Icon of the Transfigured ChristTransfiguration of Christ
14. The evangelical basis of the consecrated life is Jesus’ special relationship with the disciples who, responding to His call, left everything behind and closely imitated His life. In the consecrated life, the baptismal consecration develops into a radical response to Christ through acceptance of the evangelical counsels. To discern the essential characteristics of this special vocation, one must fix one’s gaze on the radiant face of Christ in the mystery of the Transfiguration. This vision of Christ captures the contemplative and the “active” dimensions of consecrated life. The ascending to spiritual heights and the descending to work in the world is the core dynamic of the consecrated life.
“And he was transfigured before them…”
15. The Transfiguration marks a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus. It strengthened the disciples’ faith, prepared them for the Crucifixion, and prefigured the glory of the Resurrection. This mystery is constantly relived by the Church. All people are equally called to follow Christ, but consecrated persons have a special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word. The profession of the evangelical counsels makes them a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the world. Peter’s ecstatic words, “Lord, it is well that we are here,” express the radical nature of the vocation to the consecrated life.
“This is my beloved Son”: listen to Him!
16. The counsels, more than a simple renunciation, are a specific acceptance of the mystery of Christ, lived within the Church. Each state of life is a ray of the one light of Christ in the unity of the Church: the laity reflect the mystery of Christ as the beginning and the end of all creation; sacred ministers are living images of Christ as Head and Shepherd of the People of God; and the consecrated life shows Christ as the eschatological goal toward which all things tend. By embracing chastity, consecrated persons make their own the pure love of Christ. Through poverty, they profess that Christ is the Son who receives everything from the Father and gives all back to the Father in love. By accepting obedience, they express that Christ is infinitely beloved and loving, as the one who delights only in the will of the Father.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- If the imitation of Christ is the basis of the consecrated life, what can be done to learn more about the Lord Jesus and to enter more deeply into a personal relationship with Him?
- Read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9). How was the Transfiguration a decisive moment in Christ’s ministry? Why must the Church, especially in those living consecrated lives, constantly strive to relive this mystery?
- How do the various states of consecrated life complement one another and contribute to the unity of the Church’s life and mission?
I. In Praise of the Trinity
“A Patre ad Patrem”: God’s initiative
17. The call to the consecrated life is an initiative coming wholly from the Father, who asks for complete and exclusive devotion. The experience of His love is so powerful that the person called senses the need to respond unconditionally. Saint Thomas Aquinas compares the identity of the consecrated person—the complete self-offering—to a genuine holocaust.
“Per Filium”: in the footsteps of the Son
18. The Son calls all those whom the Father has given to Him to make the following of Him the whole purpose of their lives. The evangelical counsels, by which Christ invites some to share His experience as the chaste, poor and obedient one, call for an explicit desire to be totally conformed to Him. As it is modeled on the example of Christ, this way of life may be called divine. This is why Christian tradition speaks of objective superiority of the consecrated life. The practice of the evangelical counsels is a particularly fruitful way of sharing in Christ’s mission, in imitation of the example of Mary, the first disciple.
“In Spiritu”: consecrated by the Holy Spirit
19. The call to the consecrated life is closely linked with the working of the Holy Spirit, who enables men and women to see the appeal of such a demanding choice. The Spirit awakens the desire to respond fully. The Spirit guides consecrated persons ever closer to conformity to Christ. The Fathers of the Church calls this spiritual path philokalia, or the love of the divine beauty. The Spirit puts consecrated persons at the service of their brothers and sisters, the Church and the world, by means of each institute’s charism.
The evangelical counsels, gift of the Trinity
The counsels are above all a gift of the Holy Trinity.
20. The counsels are 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. 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 to bear witness by the eloquent language of a transfigured life. The consecrated life is a tangible seal impressed upon history by the Trinity, so that people may see the attraction of divine beauty.
Reflection of Trinitarian life in the evangelical counsels
21. The counsels show their deepest meaning when seen in relation to the Holy Trinity. They are an expression of the love of the Son for the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Chastity is a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart; it reflects the infinite love that binds the three Persons of the Trinity. Poverty is an expression of the total gift of self that the three Persons make to one another. Obedience, in imitation of Christ, shows the liberating beauty of a dependence that is not servile but filial; it reflects the harmony of the Trinity.
Consecrated like Christ for the Kingdom of God
22. Jesus, who came to do the will of the One who sent Him, is the exemplar of obedience. His life as a virgin reveals the sublime excellence and mysterious fruitfulness of virginity. The depth of His poverty is revealed in His perfect offering of self to the Father. The consecrated life is truly a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and to the brethren.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Why do the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience help conform a person more completely to Christ?
- In what way are consecrated persons the “living tradition” of Christ’s life and message?
- How can those called to the consecrated life live in continuous awareness of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the world?
II. Between Easter and Fulfillment
From Tabor to Calvary
23. The dazzling event of the Transfiguration is a preparation for the event of Calvary. In the Crucifixion Jesus’ love attains its highest expression; His poverty reaches complete self-emptying; and His obedience, the giving of His life. It is in contemplation of the Crucifixion that all vocations find their inspiration.
The Paschal dimension of the consecrated life
24. The more consecrated persons stand at the foot of the Cross, the more deeply they experience the truth of God who is love. In death, the crucified One appears to human eyes to be disfigured, but fully reveals the beauty and power of God’s love. The consecrated life reflects the splendor of this love by believing and living by the love of the Holy Trinity. It thus helps the Church to remain aware that the Cross is the superabundance of God’s love poured out upon the world, the great sign of Christ’s saving presence.
Witnesses to Christ in the world
25. The Paschal Mystery is the wellspring of the Church’s missionary nature, which is reflected in the whole of the Church’s life. The sense of mission is at the heart of every form of consecrated life. An ever-deepening awareness of their calling leads consecrated persons to become true signs of Christ in the world. The Church always seeks to make her presence visible in everyday life, and has the right to expect a significant contribution toward this from consecrated persons. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that religious men and women wear a suitable habit, though there may be specific exceptions to this if for valid reasons.
Eschatological dimension of the consecrated life
26. Because there is a risk today of being drawn too deeply into temporal affairs, the eschatological nature of the consecrated life needs more attention. The consecrated life has a role as an eschatological sign; it is a foreshadowing of the future Kingdom. 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.
Active expectation: commitment and watchfulness
27. This expectation is anything but passive. It expresses itself in work and mission, so the Kingdom may become present here and now through the spirit of the Beatitudes. For that purpose, eschatological expectation becomes mission. Those who vigilantly await the fulfillment of Christ’s promises are able to bring hope to their brothers and sisters. The Christian East emphasizes this dimension when it considers monks angels of God on earth. In the Christian West, monasticism is the celebration of the memory of the wonders God has worked and the expectation of the final fulfillment of our hope.
The Virgin Mary, model of consecration and discipleship
28. Mary, from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, most perfectly reflects the divine beauty. She is the sublime example of perfect consecration. Chosen by the Lord, she reminds consecrated persons of the primacy of God’s initiative; by her fiat, she is the model of the acceptance of grace by human creatures. Her example teaches unconditional discipleship and diligent service. Like the Apostle John, consecrated persons are called to take Mary to themselves, loving her and imitating her in a radical manner, and experiencing in return her special motherly love.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- How are the Calvary events a rich source of prayer and reflection to deepen one’s commitment to be a living “holocaust” through the consecrated life?
- Why does the consecrated life participate uniquely in Christ’s missionary activity?
- In what ways is the consecrated life an eschatological sign of the Second Coming of Christ?
- Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary considered a model of perfect consecration? How does she play a vital role in the renewal of consecrated life?
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. The Second Vatican Council reaffirms that the consecrated life indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church. This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, must always be one of the Church’s essential elements, because it expresses the Church’s very nature. A Church of only sacred ministers and lay people is not what her divine Founder intended.
New and special consecration
30. Religious consecration is a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism, but differs from it because, while all Christians are expected to be chaste, obedient, and detached from the world, not all are expected to live in celibacy and poverty, or in obedience to a superior, as are those in the consecrated life. The call to the consecrated life is a specific gift of the Holy Spirit so that consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission. It is also a development of the grace of Confirmation, but it is different by virtue of the special call and gift of the Spirit to a unique apostolic mission. For priests who profess the evangelical counsels, the Sacrament of Holy Orders finds a particular fruitfulness in the consecrated life.
Religious consecration is a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism
Relationships between the different states of Christian life
31. All the faithful share a common dignity and all are called to holiness. All states of Christian life cooperate in building up the Body of Christ, but the Spirit also promotes diversity of vocations, charisms and ministries, all at the service of one another. The laity work to bring about the Kingdom through ordering the affairs of the world according to the plan of God. For this the consecration of Baptism and Confirmation is sufficient foundation. Ordained ministers receive the consecration of Holy Orders to carry on the apostolic ministry. Consecrated persons receive a consecration, though not sacramental, that impels them to make Jesus’ way of life their own through the evangelical counsels.
The special value of the consecrated life
Francis E. Cardinal George at IRL National Meeting32. While the laity have a particular mission in ensuring that the Gospel message is proclaimed, ordained ministers are indispensable to the life of the Church. As a way of expressing the holiness of the Church, the consecrated state of life has an objective superiority. It is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values.
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 testimony that the world cannot be transfigured without the spirit of the Beatitudes. It is through this example that the consecrated life fosters in the conduct of the People of God a reflection of their sacramental consecration. This enrichment is mutual, for consecrated persons are helped by the witness of the other vocations.
The living image of the Church as Bride
34. The Church’s role as the Bride of Christ finds special expression in the consecrated life, which has an important spousal nature, best exemplified by Mary, Virgin and Bride, whose spousal receptivity is particularly clear. Such virginal love fosters the birth and growth of divine life in people’s hearts. Consecrated persons express their spiritual fruitfulness by becoming receptive to the Word, like Mary, in order to contribute to a new humanity.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- How is the consecrated life an expression of the Church’s nature? Since religious consecration is a deepening of one’s personal consecration at Baptism and Confirmation, how can it be viewed as a special gift of the Holy Spirit?
- If the virginal love of Mary and of consecrated persons fosters the birth and development of the divine life in all Christians, how can the Church revive herself through the promotion of the consecrated life? Why is Our Lady the perfect example of a full and total response to God?
- In comparison to the laity and those ordained, why does the consecrated state of life possess an objective superiority in expressing the holiness of the Church?
IV. Guided by the Spirit of Holiness
A “transfigured” life: the call to holiness
For consecrated persons, their vocation is first and foremost a call to complete conversion
35. All members of the Church have a need for conversion and holiness. For consecrated persons, their vocation is first and foremost a call to complete conversion in self-renunciation, to live fully for the Lord—a “transfigured” existence. The evangelical counsels are a special path to holiness.
Faithfulness to the Charism
36. Extremely important to the growth of holiness is fidelity to the founding charism of each institute. All charisms of the consecrated life lead to the Father, in the filial desire to seek His will through obedience, chastity and poverty; to the Son, through detachment from worldly things, to the Holy Spirit, who guides and sustains consecrated persons in their spiritual journeys and lives of apostolic work.
37. There is a great need today for institutes of consecrated men and women to return to the rule of their founder, as the rule and constitutions are a map for the whole journey of discipleship. A greater regard for the rule, while being open to God’s will and the needs of the times, will offer a reliable criterion for new initiatives and genuine renewal.
Prayer and asceticism: spiritual combat
Friar from Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word praying before Bl. Sacrament38. The call to holiness can only be cultivated in the silence of adoration before the infinite transcendence of God. Silence allows God to speak and us to understand His words. In addition, there is a need to rediscover ascetic practices, which help to master human weakness. It is necessary to recognize and overcome temptations that appear in the form of good and can lead to a surrender to passing fashion, undue self-reliance, or a secularized lifestyle. The path to holiness thus involves the acceptance of spiritual combat.
39. A renewed commitment to holiness is needed now more than ever as a means of promoting and supporting every Christian’s desire for perfection. To the degree that they deepen their friendship with God, consecrated persons become better prepared by such valuable spiritual activities as schools of prayer, spiritual exercises and retreats, days of recollection, spiritual dialogue and direction.
“Rise, and have no fear”: a renewed trust
40. Christ’s encouragement, “Rise, and have no fear,” is addressed to every Christian, and all the more so to those who are called to leave everything and to risk everything for Christ. From the perspective of Tabor, the difficult exodus journey is a road between the anticipatory light of the Transfiguration and the definitive light of the Resurrection. Consecrated persons must have no fear, for their vocation is a path of light over which the Redeemer keeps constant watch.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- I one reviews the various stages of Church history, how has the consecrated life been a source of renewal in the most difficult times?
- The Holy Father highlights the great need for communities to return to their founding charism to discover the “blueprint for holiness.” How can religious today seek out important sources of renewal through the life, writings and ideal of their founders?
- Since all the Christian faithful are called to become saints, how can consecrated persons serve as visible reminders and spiritual stimulants of this common vocation?