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Servitium Caritatis

Consecrated Life: Manifestation of God's Love in the World

Christ calling the apostlesConsecrated for mission

72. The devotion of self wholly to “mission” is part of the call to the consecrated life. A sense of mission is essential to every institute, not only those devoted to the active apostolic works, but to contemplatives as well. The primary mission of the consecrated life is to make Christ present to the world through personal witness. One of the distinctive features of religious life is fraternal life in community for the sake of the mission.

At the service of God and humanity

73. To carry out their task of recalling and serving the divine plan for the salvation and reconciliation of humanity, consecrated persons need a profound experience of God. They must discern the signs of the times, listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and present new answers to today’s new problems. Guided by supernatural discernment, with fidelity to the rules and constitutions, the consecrated life will thus effect new initiatives of evangelization.

Ecclesial cooperation and apostolic spirituality

74. Everything must be done in communion and dialogue with the rest of the Church, to meet the challenges of evangelization. Effective communion among those with different charisms will ensure mutual enrichment and more fruitful results in the mission. For this reason, institutes must foster a solid spirituality of action. Just as the active life must lead to the contemplative, the contemplative must lead back to the active.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How can religious communities foster a deeper sense of “mission” as they perform their various apostolic works?
  • Why is supernatural discernment such an important task? How should it be properly exercised, especially in terms of selecting an individual or communal apostolate?
  • How can those in consecrated life foster a “spirituality of action” that seeks to balance the active and contemplative life?

I. Love to the End

Loving with the heart of Christ

Sister of the Resurrection, Castleton, NY giving communion to elderly woman75. Just as Jesus placed Himself at the service of human beings, Christian life—but most especially the consecrated life—means a life of humble self-giving love, of practical and generous service. Fixing one’s gaze on the Lord’s countenance strengthens this commitment. The quest for divine beauty impels consecrated persons to care for the deformed image of God on the faces of their brothers and sisters. A special form of such works of charity is the fervent proclamation of Christ to those who do not know Him, those who have forgotten Him, and to the poor in a preferential way.

The specific contribution of the consecrated life to evangelization

76. The specific contribution of religious life to evangelization is, first of all, the witness of a life given totally to God and service to humanity in imitation of Christ. The more one lives in Christ, the better one can serve Him in others.

The first evangelization: proclaiming Christ to the nation

It is the task of consecrated persons ... to make present ... Christ who is chaste, poor, obedient, prayerful and missionary.

77. It is the task of consecrated persons, whether of the active or contemplative life, to make present among all their fellow human beings, even non-Christians, Christ who is chaste, poor, obedient, prayerful and missionary. Countless holy men and women testify to the unsuppressible missionary drive that distinguishes and ennobles the consecrated life.
Present in every part of the world

78. The proclamation of the Gospel even to the most far off regions is the task of the consecrated life. Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life are expected to make the greatest possible contribution to the proclamation of the Gospel, according to their charism. An equitable distribution of the various forms of the consecrated life is necessary for new momentum in evangelization.

The proclamation of Christ and inculturation

79. Inculturation and interreligious dialogue have roles to play in the context of missionary activity. Genuine inculturation requires the self-emptying attitude of Christ as a servant, with love, meekness and detachment. In ancient cultures where religion represents the transcendent dimension of the culture, true inculturation requires serious and open interreligious dialogue, but not at the expense of evangelization.

The inculturation of the consecrated life

80. The consecrated life, authentically lived, can make innovative contributions to the challenges of inculturation. If the consecrated life maintains its prophetic impact, it is a Gospel leaven within a culture, purifying and perfecting it. As the imitation of Christ provides a true and proper reference point for culture, it bears witness that God alone strengthens and perfects values. A genuine inculturation helps consecrated persons in their service to the people of the world.

The new evangelization

81. The new evangelization demands that consecrated persons have a thorough awareness of the theological significance of the challenges of the times. The challenges of the times can best be faced if consecrated persons proclaim from the rooftops what they have first lived in intimacy with Jesus Christ.

Preference for the poor and the promotion of justice

... she has a true “preferential option” for those in situations of greater weakness

82. Though the Church proclaims the Gospel to all people, she has a true “preferential option” for those in situations of greater weakness: the poor, the marginalized, the elderly, the sick, the young, and “the least.” Consecrated persons embrace the cause of the poor by living a simple and austere life. In this way they are able, independent of political ideology, to denounce injustices and to commit themselves to the promotion of justice. The Gospel is made effective through charity. Serving the needy is not only evangelization; it is a seal of Gospel authenticity and a catalyst for permanent conversion in the consecrated life.
Care of the Sick

83. Down the centuries, many consecrated persons have heroically given their lives ministering to the sick. Those with this charism should persevere in their witness of love toward the sick. Consecrated persons should strengthen in the sick the awareness that they can carry out their own pastoral ministry by joining their suffering to the Cross. Consecrated persons must also evangelize the healthcare centers to promote the Gospel of life.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways is the consecrated life an expression of “self-giving love”? How do the works of charity and a life of contemplative prayer manifest such love to others?
  • Why do you think “faith is strengthened when it is given to others”? How does the evangelical witness of consecrated persons affirm this profound truth?
  • How does the consecrated life make an important contribution to the process of inculturation? How can consecrated persons play an essential role in the task of the “new evangelization” as envisioned by the Pope?
  • Why is an authentic life of poverty and austerity so crucial to the Church’s proclamation of a “preferential option” for those in situations of greater weakness—the poor, the marginalized, the elderly, the sick, the young and “the least”?

II. A Prophetic Witness in the Face of Great Challenges

The prophetic character of the consecrated lifePoor Clare Nun, St. Louis, MO in front of Bl. Sacrament

84. The prophetic character of the consecrated life is a special sharing of Christ’s prophetic office, which the Holy Spirit communicates to the whole People of God. This results from the radical nature and dedication to mission that characterize the consecrated life. True prophecy is born of God, from friendship with Him, from attentive listening to His word.

Significance for the contemporary world

85. A convincing prophetic witness by consecrated persons is increasingly needed in our world, where visible signs of God have diminished. Such witness should entail the affirmation of the primacy of God and of eternal life. Witness derives a particularly persuasive power from consistency between proclamation and life. When in full harmony with the Magisterium, this prophetic witness leads to a great exchange of charismatic gifts within the Church.

Faithfulness to the point of martyrdom

86. In our times, as before, consecrated persons have borne witness to Christ through martyrdom. The Church recognizes this sacrifice by canonizing many martyrs, but communities of consecrated life can help to keep alive the memory of 20th century martyrs by compiling testimonials about them.

The major challenges facing the consecrated life

87. Three major challenges relate directly to the evangelical counsels and show their profound anthropological significance. The counsels should not be seen as a denial of legitimate sexuality, ownership or decision-making. Rather, living them is a warning not to underestimate the wound of original sin, and it relativizes created goods by pointing to God as the absolute good.

The challenge of consecrated chastity

The first challenge is the culture of hedonism, separating sexuality from moral norms

88. The first challenge is the culture of hedonism, separating sexuality from moral norms, to which consecrated life responds with the joyful living of perfect chastity, with its liberating character. Through living this chastity, consecrated persons show that the power of God’s love can accomplish great things.
The challenge of poverty

89. The second challenge is the craving for material possessions, regardless of the many costs. Consecrated life responds to this with the profession of evangelical poverty, which is lived and expressed in many different ways.

Evangelical poverty at the service of the poor

90. Even before service to the poor, evangelical poverty is an absolute value in itself, for it recalls the first Beatitude in the imitation of the poor Christ. It attests that God is the true wealth of the human heart. The need for renewal of the witness to self-denial and restraint is greater than ever. Always, this witness will be accompanied by a preferential option for the poor.

The challenge of freedom in obedience

91. The third challenge to consecrated life is the notion of an absolute freedom divorced from truth and moral norms. Obedience is the response of the consecrated life, which shows that there need be no conflict between obedience and true freedom.

Carrying out together the Father’s will

92. The communal life and spirit of fraternity that characterize the consecrated life are the sign of the bond that comes from the same call and the common desire to be obedient to that call. Authority and obedience are a shining sign of God’s fatherhood, the brotherhood born of the Spirit, and the interior freedom of those who trust in God despite the human limitations of His representatives.

A decisive commitment to the spiritual life

93.  The consecrated life should be nourished from the wellspring of a sound and deep spirituality. To tend toward holiness is in summary the program of every consecrated life. The spiritual life must have first place in the program of families of consecrated life, such that they will be schools of true evangelical spirituality.   
The consecrated life should be nourished from the wellspring of a sound and deep spirituality.

Listening to the word of God

94. The word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality. Consecrated persons should meditate regularly on the Bible, especially the New Testament and Gospels. To do this in common is of great value. Through meditation on the word of God, consecrated persons gain a kind of supernatural intuition which leads them to resist the mentality of this world and to be renewed in their own minds, so as to draw closer to God’s will.

In communion with Christ

95. An indispensable means to sustain communion with Christ is the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours. The Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, Christ Himself. It is the daily viaticum and source of the spiritual life for individuals and communities. Frequent, prolonged Eucharistic adoration enables in some way the reliving of Peter’s experience at the Transfiguration. The Liturgy of the Hours, celebrated in communion with the prayer of the Church, calls consecrated persons to raise their hearts in praise and intercession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation purifies and renews hearts. Spiritual direction is a great help to maintain fidelity to the Gospel. All consecrated persons are urged to renew daily their consecration to Mary, especially by praying the Rosary.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How do those in the consecrated life manifest a prophetic witness for our society? Why is a certain consistency of message and life essential for such an evangelical witness to derive a greater force for renewal?
  • Why does Pope John Paul II continually remind the Church of the powerful testimony of the martyrs? How ought religious embody this heroic witness by the expression of their very lives?
  • Review the Holy Father’s thoughts on the three major challenges facing the consecrated life today. How can these challenges empower religious and other consecrated persons to respond more fully to their sublime calling?
  • If the Word of God is the first source of the spiritual life, how can frequent meditation on Sacred Scripture, especially at Mass and during the Liturgy of the Hours, assist one to deepen one’s commitment to the consecrated life?

III. Some New Fields of Mission

Presence in the world of education

Sister of the Resurrection, Castleton, NY, with girl in class 96. Education is an essential dimension of the Church’s mission. Consecrated persons have a specific duty in this regard and are called to bring to bear their radical witness to the values of the Kingdom. Because of their many spiritual gifts and practices, consecrated persons can be especially effective in educational activities. They can give life to educational undertakings permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity. 

Need for a renewed commitment in the field of education

97. The Synod emphatically urges consecrated persons to take up again the mission of education in every kind of school and university. Because of the great importance of this task, the institutes that do this should be mindful of their great responsibility for teaching in harmony with the Magisterium.

Evangelizing culture

98. Institutes of consecrated life have always had great influence on the formation and transmission of culture. Within the consecrated life today, there is a need for a renewed and loving commitment to the intellectual life, for a dedication to study as a means of formation and a path of asceticism, and not merely as abstract intellectualism. Countless challenges are today emerging in the world of ideas and there is an urgent need to be watchful and attentive.

Presence in the field of social communications

99. Historically consecrated persons have taken advantage of every means at the service of evangelization. Today there is a great need for consecrated persons to bear witness to the Gospel through the communications media. All efforts to promote this endeavor should be supported fully, not only to proclaim the Gospel with programming respectful of moral law and rich in human and Christian values, but also to offset the inappropriate use of the media.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How can consecrated persons still serve the needs of Catholic education despite a diminishing number of vocations in recent years?
  • What contribution can consecrated persons play in the preservation and evangelization of culture, especially through a renewed commitment to the intellectual life?
  • What type of involvement should consecrated persons play in the mass media in communicating the truth of the Gospel?

IV. Engaged in Dialogue with Everyone

At the service of Christian unity

100. A wound of disunity still exists among believers in Christ. There is an urgent need to pray and work for Christian unity. The consecrated life is closely connected to ecumenism, as the soul of ecumenism is prayer and conversion. Consecrated persons have a special commitment to intense witness in the area of ecumenism.

Forms of ecumenical dialogue

101. There are many forms of ecumenical dialogue pleasing to the Father, such as sharing of the lectio divina, common prayer, the dialogue of friendship, and hospitality. These actions show the will to journey toward perfect unity through truth and love. No institute is dispensed from working for Christian unity. Indeed, monastic institutes of the Eastern Catholic Churches may help to bring about unity with the Orthodox through the dialogue of charity and the sharing of a common spirituality.

Interreligious dialogue

102. The witness of poverty, humility and chastity, lived in fraternal love, is the first form of interreligious dialogue. A shared concern for human life is another area of interreligious cooperation. One particular area of successful common action with other religious traditions is the promotion of the dignity of women.

Spirituality as a response to the search for the sacred and the desire for God

103. The asceticism and spirituality of the consecrated life, lived consistently and fully, are a response to the longings of others for the religious dimension of life. Personal and communal asceticism bear witness against the temptations of our times. The consecrated person points to Christ and the Trinity as the ultimate goal of every religious journey sincerely open to transcendence, and must offer support to those who thirst for God.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What is the connection between consecrated life and ecumenism? How can institutes of consecrated life, especially monasteries, take a more active role in this process of deeper conversion through dialogue, hospitality and friendship?
  • In what ways can religious promote the inestimable dignity and value of all human life? How does the promotion of the dignity of women aid this overall effort?
  • How can religious serve the spiritual needs of all those who “thirst” for God? How can their charisms and evangelical lives testify to the importance of Christ amidst the problems and confusion of our times?
Introduction Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Conclusion