We are in the year specially dedicated for consecrated life in the Church. Consecrated life is as old as the Church itself. This form of life has been present in Christianity from the very beginning right up to the present day. It is a stable form of Christian living by those faithful who feel called to follow Jesus Christ. “It is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the church.” The Code of Canon Law defines it as “a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the holy spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honor, to the building up of the church and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of the charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the church, to foretell the heavenly glory.”
Why Year of Consecrated Life?
At a meeting with the Union of Superiors General, held in Vatican on 29 November 2013, Pope Francis announced that he dedicates the year 2015 to Consecrated Life. According to Pope Francis: this year aims to know the challenges the consecrated people face and to awaken them with the following inspirations:
- Call to awaken the religious: It is a call to awaken the religious to the beauty and challenges of the consecrated life, to deepen their call and widen their vision.
- Call to awaken the world:A radical approach is required of all Christians, but religious are the one who are called to follow the Lord in a most special way. Like a prophet, every consecrated person must give the wake up call.
- Be frontiers of the world: Pope Francis says in the letter to the consecrated life that “God asks us to fly away from the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to ‘domesticate’ them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord.”
- Be Attractive Religious:Religious life ought to prompt growth in the Church by way of attraction. Pope Francis says: “Wake up the world! Be witness of a different way of doing things, of acting and living.” The model that can really attract is that associated with attitudes which are uncommon, generosity, detachment, sacrifice and self forgetfulness inorder to care for others. This is the witness, ‘the martyrdom’ of religious life. It sounds analarm for people. Religious speak to people by their life.
Through this paper I make an attempt to explain the meaning of consecrated life, its biblical background, challenges the consecrated face in this present day and some tips for consecrated to wake up the world.
- 1. MEANING AND NATURE OF RELIGIOUS LIFE
The call to religious life springs from an interior encounter with the redeeming love of Christ. “Jesus looking upon him loved him” (Mk 10:21), has a spousal character as well as a love of choice. On the part of a man or woman this choice and decision is founded on new life in Christ. Religious life is a form of life to which some Christians, both clerical and lay, are freely called by God to continue the saving mission in the Church, this grace is freely given. In their response, they dedicate themselves to live for God alone. Renunciation of the world makes it easier to concentrate to a closer imitation of Christ.
While dealing with the nature of the religious state, the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution Lumen Gentium, teaches that “evangelical life is a sign inspiring all the faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, a religious, liberated from earthly cares according to the highest demands of the kingdom of God, witnesses to the reality that the people of God have no permanent city here below.” It is also a sign of the earthly life of Christ through the imitation of his virtues in the power of his Holy Spirit. It is a life-long offering to God, to the Church and it is in the Church and it is God-centred, Christ-centred and Church-centred. The goal of religious life is union with God in imitation of Christ. Religious consecration is a profession of faith and a witness to the evangelical life, to show the world the depths of Christian life through the consecration lived out in a continuous offering and thanksgiving, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
- A PARTICULAR FORM OF CONSECRATION
Religious life is a state consecrated to God and this consecration enriches the Church with steadfast and humble fidelity together with charity. Religious consecration consists of the Gospel paradox: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). The dedication of the whole life of a religious to God’s service constitutes and signifies particular consecration as a sign of the future life. By vows, religious are made completely consecrated to God through the ministry of the Church.
As in the case of any consecration, religious consecration also imparts a share in the consecration and mission of Christ through the Holy Spirit. It enables the recipient to share in the priesthood of Christ the inseparable elements of ‘offering’ and becoming ‘victim.’ The evangelical consecration calls for a development of “being victim” and of which humility, dependence and service are part and parcel of it. Evangelical consecration and martyrdom are intense ways of expressing total offering of self to God as an act of faith hope and charity; both express imitation of Christ who laid down his life for the salvation of the world, a supreme testimony of charity; both dying with Christ in order to live with him.
The efficacy of religious vocation as a consecration is because of God himself. Lumen Gentium placed religious consecration in relationship to a liturgical act in which profession is made. “Besides giving legal sanction to the religious form of life and thus raising it to the dignity of a canonical state, the Church sets it liturgically also at a state of consecration to God.” The decree Ad Gentes reflecting the doctrine of ‘Lumen Gentium’ and ‘Perfectae Caritati’s’ states that the deeper consecration made in the church signifies the specific nature of Christian vocation. Consecrated religious, as they are solely set apart at God’s disposal constantly strive for a more powerful positive belonging.
1.2. A FULLER EXPRESSION OF BAPTISMAL CONSECRATION
Consecration is the essence of religious life. It is a total belonging to God because of the far reaching obligation contracted through evangelical profession. Religious consecration which derives its roots from baptismal consecration is strengthened and nourished from the same source. Religious life therefore, is in the same line and continuation of it. Both Christian life and religious life share a common source from ‘baptism’ and the same ‘end’ the perfection of charity; though they differ in their means. Religious profession establishes a new relation between the person and the Triune God in Jesus Christ and develops on the foundation of original bond that is created in the sacrament of baptism. In the words of the council:
When the religious make the profession of the evangelical counsels, they are responding to a divine call, till the end that, not merely being dead to sin (Rom 6:11) but renouncing the world that they might live for God alone… this constitutes as a special consecration, which is deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration and is a fuller expression of it.
It is a commission not only to die to sin but to renounce the world and to live for God alone, focusing in him the point of reference in every dimension of life. Carrying out the baptismal consecration to a degree of total dedication to God by an act of love, religious life becomes a sign of higher life, a life that is more than food and clothing (Lk 12:23); pointing to the “treasure that does not fail” (Lk 12:33). The words of St. Paul highlight the reality of religious consecration: Do you know that……with him by baptism into death……….we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). Since the religious consecration is based upon baptismal grace and is made with awareness and choice, it is buried in the death of Christ, to walk like Christ in the newness of life. Profession of the evangelical counsels is “at one and the same time both death and liberation”, “the old nature is put off, and the new nature is put on” (Eph 4:22-24) in a more mature manner.
Religious consecration does not affect the essence of being as does baptism which imprints a character, but the grace endowed in baptism enables the religious to live the consecrated life to the full and bear its fruits in abundance. It reveals the inherent capacityof baptismal consecration more immensely. Profession of the evangelical vows perfects the consecration proper to baptism. Religious life is a history begun in baptism and continued with more enthusiasm along the road in imitation of Christ who is the only way, the measure, the scope and fullness of life.
1.3. CONSECRATED LIFE AND EVANGELICAL COUNSELS
Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the church’s current understanding of a vow. It is “a deliberate and a free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason by virtue of religion.” No Christian is obliged to practice the evangelical counsel to the full, except in extra ordinary circumstances.
But consecrated person, who has accepted God’s call to do so, vows their constant practice. Chastity, Poverty and Obedience are the three elements essential to the religious state. It is because together they bring about the total consecration of the baptized person before God. These consecrating elements are Christ’s evangelical counsels for becoming perfect followers, vowed before God and His people and accepted by God through the church.
1.3.1. CONSECRATED CHASTITY
Through the vow of chastity, consecrated person becomes spouse of God and so develop complete union with the triune God. Chastity includes sharing of oneself with God. Such a prospect is nonsense to human reason if it is not guided by divine faith.
This radical way of following Christ is a stunning mystery to most of our contemporaries. The chief reason for the mystery is that vowed celibacy is a way of life given by God. One of the features of consecrated chastity is that, it is a prophetic sign; it exhibits the church’s transcendent and eschatological nature.
1.3.2. CONSECRATED POVERTY
The consecrated poverty is yet another mystery of the ways of the Lord which surpasses merely human ways. It is a mystery of the “Master’s poverty…..and of his sincere, active love for the poor …the ideal of poverty preached and practiced. Vowed poverty can also be thought of as a mystery of personal emptiness, an imitation of the kenosis, or self-emptying, of the Word made flesh and crucified. It is a renunciation of being personally stripped off the burden of earthly belongings, of being poor among the poor, so as to possess the heavenly good and charity towards the poor, bringing them true wealth which is spiritual in nature.
1.3.3. CONSECRATED OBEDIENCE
Through vowed obedience, a consecrated person renounces his/her own free will permanently identifying it in faith with the divine will known through the commands of legitimate ecclesial authority. Obedience best fulfills Christ mission and it is therefore the most basic principle of our salvation. Jesus is the perfect pattern of unconditional religious and filial response to the plan of God. Primarily a consecrated person must follow Jesus way of life with his and Mary’s attitude of religious submission to God. Secondarily, the Christian must give attention to fulfilling precepts coming directly or indirectly from the father of all legitimate authority.
- THE THEOLOGY OF CONSECRATED LIFE
The consecrated life, which is inspired by the Gospel, is a sharing in the consecration of Jesus, the Son of God and Savior, and it applies to all who are baptized. However, we can also find in other religions the life-giving act of god comes from all that is true, good, just and beautiful and the devotees pay their homage to their god’s in attitude of gratitude of their life lived for him alone.
Consecrated people are totally dedicated to God, who is love. Only those who receive the special grace to such total self-giving to God become consecrated people. Their love of God is total in sacrifice, by their vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. It is a total commitment because their dedication is for life so as to say no one receives a temporary vocation to the consecrated life to the service of the church, which is the mystical body of Christ. For Consecrated life is a memorial of the teachings and example of Christ and the gospel values lived.
2.1. THE BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING
Consecration is often found in the Bible in the Old Testament in reference to items that are to be set apart as holy for the purposes of worshipping God. It is also used to describe the setting apart of priests, who are to be consecrated of the Lord. Although the word is not used extensively in the New Testament, it occurs in reference to the consecrated bread and it is applied to individuals and the purposes of God. However for Christians, consecration is not optional, since we are all priests for God. Consecration is a fruit of God’s love and man’s loving obedience. Consecration indicates mutual belonging and fidelity to God. Consecration is for both men and women, is a free and personal commitment of one’s whole existence to God. This consecration implies movement towards perfection.
The Hebrew Scripture gives varied witnesses to this transforming initiative: the hovering Spirit at creation (Gen 1:2); the bow as the pledge of the covenant (Gen.19:3); the blood on the doorposts at the Exodus (Exodus 12:22); Kings are anointed by God (1 Sam.16; 13) priests are ordained and consecrated (Exodus29; 1-9): elders are given a share of the Spirit that was upon Moses (Num.11; 17); and the prophets proclamations of the day when God’s own Spirit will be placed in every human heart (Ezek. 36:27).
In the New Testament the action of God is directed to Jesus Himself. This is most manifested in the narratives of Jesus’ Baptism, Transfiguration, and Resurrection. At the heart of the Gospel is the proclamation that God has responded to Jesus’ life and his obedient offering by transforming death into life and the old creation into new. The Christian church was formed, and its imagination shaped, by this definitive act of God which is recognized to be not only on Jesus but even more on all who believe, and by baptism united with Him.
Consecration is an act by which an object or person is set apart as holy or directed to divine uses. It is closely related to the act of blessing and differs from it chiefly in suggesting a more solemn or definitive act of dedication to God. “Consecrated” is used as the proper word of the ordination and hallowing of people to sacred offices or to sacred services (Exodus 29:9; Lev 8:33; 1Chr 29:5; IIChr.29:31) and the setting apart and dedication through religious rites of things from common to sacred uses (Josh6:19; IIChr31:6). Consecration and Holiness are the words though derived, exclusively not always, rendering of the following words: “to separate or set apart”, the most prominent of the Hebrew words which convey the idea of “cleanliness” or “holiness” (Ex.13:2; Num.3:13; Deut. 15:19; 33:3, Judge. 17:3; 1Sam. 7:1; 16:5, 1Kings 8:64; 9:3,7; 1Chr. 23:13; 2Chr. 7;7,16,; Neh. 3:1, Is. 13:3; Jer. 1:5; Ezek. 48:11; Zeph. 1:7).
2.1.1. IN THE OLD TESTEMENT
Consecration to God is, above all for Israel: God’s possession, kingdom of priests and holy nation (Ex 19:5-6). In Deuteronomy we may find “formula of holiness” “for you are a people of holy/consecrated to the Lord your God” (Dt. 7:6; 14:2, 2; 26:19; 28:9). This formula indicates Israel’s particular relationship to Yahweh, the covenant and the ethics-religious consequences that go with this covenant relationship. The sons of Levi are consecrated to Yahweh in a particular way and in an eminent way (Ex 28:36; 39:30) and consecration entails cultic holiness and observance of norms of purity (Lev 21; 22:1-9). The category “consecrated to God” refers above all, to the entire chosen people…men consecrated to me”, In the Old testament the first born child can stay with his mother for seven days and then offered to God (Ex 22:30). The priests and most especially the high priests are anointed. At the command of Yahweh (Ex 29:7) Moses anoints Aaron (Lev 8:12; Ex 28:41; 40:15; Num 3:3), consecration and anointing are closely associated in the case of priesthood (Ex 30:30; Lev 16:32; 4:5; Ex 40:15).
Consecration is intimately linked with the concept of holiness that God alone is holy (Is 6:3; Rev 4:8) and therefore He is the only source of consecration. When God consecrates He shares with the subject His holiness and His spirit (I sam16:13). It is also intervened with that of anointing (Ex 30:30-32; I Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1). Consecration is applied first and foremost to the “chosen people” (Ex 19:5-6; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19:9). Consecration is God’s gift to his people (Am 2:6-9) consecration life is a living sign of the abiding salvific presence of God and a constant reminder of humanity’s final goal.
2.1.2. IN THE NEW TESTEMENT
In synoptic Gospels and in John, Jesus is called the “Holy one of God” (Mk 1:24; Jn 6:69). God the Father consecrated Him and sent to the world. This expression indicates an essential meaning of consecration of Jesus, and, therefore that of the Christians. Christian consecration is “consecration for the world.” Jesus prayer is clearly reflected in the gospel of John: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrate in truth” (17:17-20).
The first letter of St. Peter applies to all the baptized in Christ the titles of the chosen people, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In the Pauline literature, the word ‘Holy’ is essentially consecrated to the sacraments and entails a new life, a new mode of being and acting (Rom 6: 3-11; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Gal 3:27; Eph 1:13-14; Col 2:12). Christians are made suitable to a new spiritual worship, which consists in offering their own obedience as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1).
For the New Testament, the anointed one, is Jesus of Nazareth; although, neither a prophet nor a priest has ever poured oil on his head. He is anointed, not through human intervention, but by the direct action of the Holy Spirit as in the case of Isaiah (Is 61:1), We find only a single anointing of Jesus during his earthly life, that was at his Baptism: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). Followed by baptism we find Jesus announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. This text is applied with (Is 61:1) at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18-21).
Consecration and mission are intimately intertwined. The mission of Jesus, who isconsecrated and sent by the Father is prophetic (Lk 4:18, 21). Likewise all those who are baptized and consecrated in Him, share in the prophetic mission. Scripture makes an un-mistakable connection between holiness and solidarity with the people (Ex5:25; 3:78) andtherefore between consecration and liberation, life giving involvement.
In St. John’s Gospel the Passover of Christ is described as a consecration. “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19). According to St. John the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the beginning of His consecration and glorification (10:18; 12:23), the way of renunciation or sacrifice, is more than just a means. It is in itself the beginning of a glorified and consecrated life. Renunciation is part of the central event of Christ’s life, His paschal mystery. For Jesus, renunciation is both means and beginning of a consecrated life in the fullness of God.
2.2. IN THE CHURCH
Life Consecrated through profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living, in which faithful follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, and are totally dedicated to God, who is supremely loved. Christ’s faithful freely assume this manner of life in institutes of Consecrated life which are canonically established by the competent ecclesiastical authority. By vows or other sacred bonds, in accordance with the laws of their own institutes; they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Because of the charity to which these lead, they are linked in a special way to the church and its mystery.
Consecrated life signifies the total dedication to God and to his service at his will. The fundamental idea is that each person who is baptized is totally consecrated to God and to the church. They are totally involved in the service of God. Consecration is considered like ordination, religious profession, and confirmation. Another way of thinking is that, the person or individual not only belongs to God but also free to choose the life which she or he wants. In Baptism we have the responsibility that is imposed on us to undertake the good works and to practice the obligations.
Mary is model and Mother of all the consecrated people. Pope John Paul II points to the primacy of being as ‘communion with God’ over ‘doing apostolate’ is the consecrated life. It does not consist in any specific apostolic activity but solely an internal activity, in attitude of complete dedication to God; as a consequence it is unconditional availability for his salvific plan. In annunciation Mother Mary is united herself most intimately to Christ. Speaking about consecration life Mother Teresa says that, we must more and more fall in love with Jesus. Love him with all the powers of body and soul. Our vows and our community life are the fruit of our love and union with Jesus. Consecrated life is being than doing.
The meaning of the consecration is to bless or set apart for God’s service, as in the consecration of a missionary. To consecrate means to invoke or call down upon a person’s, place and activities, or things, the power of God through the Holy Spirit. It also means to set apart certain believers for a bishop or a Pope. The practice of consecration is as old as biblical religion. The Hebrews were set apart by circumcision and Christians are set apart by baptism.
Consecrated person has to be a person of prayer and teacher of spiritual life, who is able to lead others to the heights of evangelical perfection. Pope John Paul II writes in his document, “As a path of increasing faithfulness, on which consecrated person is guided by the spirit and configured by him to Christ in full communion of love and service in the church.”
Pope John Paul II says “called to contemplate and bear witness to the transfigured face of Christ, Consecrated men and women are also called to transfigured existence.” Like the whole of Christian life, the call to consecrated life is closely linked to the working of the Holy Spirit. Consecrated person is led by the work of the Holy Spirit and accompanied by the Holy Spirit. Consecration enables the person to recognize the life of total dedication to God and to his kingdom. Holy Spirit guides the growth of a person. Holy Spirit helps them to transfigure into the likeness of Christ. Holy Spirit moulds and shapes the hearts of those who are called. Those who led by the Holy Spirit gradually adapt the life style of Jesus. The continuing process of formation of the consecrated men and women are completely under the guidance and impulse of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is author of consecrated person’s specific form of life and the source of the Charism that consecrated persons receive.
John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata says that the consecrated life is not an isolated marginal reality which affects the church. The same document says that the whole Christian life is a call to the consecrated life and it is closely linked with the working of the Holy Spirit. The love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray better. The Holy Spirit also makes us possible to know and experience Christ.
In the gospel we see Jesus is consecrated and sent by the Father (Jn 10; 36). Jesus’ consecration was part of the real and fundamental nature of something linked with Father’s mission and to His life giving communion with all humanity. Jesus called twelve to be with communion with Him. The Father consecrated His own Son so that in Him and through Him we may share His holiness. So consecrated life basically means:
- It is a new and special consecration rooted in baptism.
- It is fundamentally lived by the evangelical councils.
- The evangelical councils continuously enabling us to transform the grace upon person.
- It brings covenantal love between God and church and,
- Blessed Virgin Mary is the sublime example for perfect consecration.
Pope Benedict XVI on 2 Feb, on the Feast of Presentation of the Lord and the 14th world day of consecration life he said: Consecrated life bases its faith and the profession of faith in Jesus Christ the only definitive mediator. If Christ were not truly God and the same time fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would be lacking in quite significant way. Thus the consecrated life in fact “power full” witnesses and expresses the reciprocal seeking of God and man and the love that attracts them to each other.
Like a bride who has said yes to the marriage proposal of love from her spouse, the consecrated person says yes to Jesus, to follow Him in an absolute way. The Holy Father has made this point clear on many occasions, and never as clearly as when he has encouraged prayer as a primary component of the consecrated life. All service to one’s neighbor must flow from this life of prayer.
Consecrated life is a gift of Father to the church by means of the spirit so that in faithfulness to the Gospel in the most characteristic of the life of Jesus who is the chaste, poor and obedient. One might be present in the world and might draw everyone towards to God, church and the world at large.
- SOME CHALLENGES OF CONSECRATED LIFE
Religious life is a long life response to an invitation from God, to collaborate with God in realizing God’s plan for humanity. So a religious is ultimately a prayerful person. Religious community is a praying community. But at the same time religious live in this world to witness Christ and accomplish his mission. So a mystic spirituality is to be adapted and inherited by a religious for accomplishing his mission on earth. Pope Francis says that, “the consecrated have to rejuvenate themselves spiritually to wake up the church within.” But we know that it is not an easy thing because human limitations and also the modern culture and society pose many threats and challenges to the stability of religious life. Let’s see some of the challenges that religious face in this present age.
3.1. PROPHETIC VOCATION
Propheticism is a non-negotiable facet of consecrated life. In the words of Jesus, a prophet takes a risk-filled stand to say “yes” when “yes” has to be said and also to say “no” when “no” has to be said. Pope Francis says “the Consecrated have to be prophets and not pretending to be them.”
The first challenge is the prophetic vocation within the Church. Everybody agrees that the Religious have a prophetic function at the level of the Church, Congregation, Community and the World. If they are ready to remain faithful to their vocation as prophets, they have a future and a necessary role to play in the Church. For an example, take the area of leadership in the Church. Here is where, following the pattern of the imperial model of authority condemned by Jesus, the Church authorities have gone miles away from the ideals laid down by Jesus, calling themselves and living as Lords, Eminences, Excellencies, etc., instead of being servants. The hierarchy needs to be challenged so that they follow Jesus’ teaching. Challenging the Church hierarchy through one’s own life witnessing is an aspect of the prophetic call.
There is another and equally fundamental dimension: challenging the value system at work in the world which is opposed to the outlook of Jesus. At this level the religious have a role to play, namely, to show that the outlook of the world is foolish, against human dignity and the Gospel of Jesus. The value system at work in the world is one that equates persons with their possessions, positions, appearance, actions, and the group they belong to. This is a damaging value system as it leads to competition, pride, jealousy, hatred, fear, and opposition to one another, insecurity and ultimately a love-less life. Most religious are unaware of how much they are controlled by this value system and hence are truly unloving, un-free, governed by ambition, hatred, tear, anxiety, jealousy and narrow ethnicity. They are unaffected by the outlook of Jesus. They need to look into their life, into the Church and the world and denounce what is contrary to Jesus and live the new outlook brought by him.
3.2. BEING JOYFUL WITNESSES
Another challenge is to be witnesses to the joy of following Jesus and being his messengers. Pope Francis says: “Joy…..joy…..wherever consecrated people are, there is always joy, it is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus and true joy is contagious, it impels one to move forward.” Joy ought to be the main characteristic of a consecrated person, for as St. Paul says ‘Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.’ Consecrated people are called “to wear God’s smile and radiate His joy, for joy is not a useless ornament but it is a ultimate necessity and true foundation of human life.” There is often lack of joy in the world we live. Religious are not called to accomplish epic fears or to proclaim high sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing that we are loved, from the confidence we are saved.
3.3. LIVING THE VOWS
In a world of materialism and consumerism each one is for self alone. Through the vows the religious promise to follow another path, a path of true love for all, of non- possession and a life lived not for oneself but for all. The charism of consecrated virginity is to let oneself be ‘personalized,’ and possessed by Christ, to let one’s love-ability blossom limitlessly to be channels of God’s love. Celibacy is a beautiful and fulfilling life if based on one’s love for Jesus expressed in a life of genuine love for all. In a world where what goes under the name of love is anything but love, the religious are called to witness to the possibility of true love, “Love others as I have loved you” (Jn. 14:12). From this follows the non-possession of anything for self alone. The religious choose to live in poverty/simplicity, following Christ in the poor and in solidarity with them. This is counter cultural in a world of consumerism, where one is equated with one’s possessions. Jesus’ invitation here is to live a life of solidarity with the poor, practicing justice.
The vow of Obedience which is distinct from submissiveness is an expression of freedom: freely, knowingly a person surrenders self to Love and truth, and hence it is liberating and enriching. Thus the three vows are expressions of the promise to be free with regard to the three realms that make up our lives: the personal sphere (interpersonal relationship), relation to things and relation to works. Following Micah (6.8) we may say that the call of the Religious is to love tenderly (chastity), act justly (poverty) and walk humbly with God (obedience).
3.4. COMMUNITY LIFE
Living in community is another major challenge. People coming from different culture, language and ethnic background, give up their original affiliations, to a new family, promising to be truly other- oriented. This is a mighty witness to the power of God’s love. But it is indeed a tragedy that the religious of this present age forget about the meaning and depth of community life and loses its beauty by not living it in its proper sense. A recent empirical study has found that” nearly half of the respondents expressed overall dissatisfaction with their communities. This means that most of the religious in India today live in a community where he/she is not happy with and the primary reason is poor quality of interpersonal relationship among the members of religious community.
Here we have the reminder of Pope Francis: “it always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation and jealousy…whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we live and act.” Called to witness in community is the most believable gospel that the religious can preach.
The Religious life from its very inception has always had a great impact on society at large and on the Church. This is also evident in India. The Religious in spite of their limited numbers have an effect on society in the field of education, medicine, literature, art, science, etc. There is a lot of activity, but no clear activity to mission as such. According to Vatican II, “The pilgrim church is missionary by her very nature.” Here one has to become more creative, look to new horizons. The old charisms have to be re-interpreted to meet today’s needs. For running elite schools, etc. there are NGOs and the governments.
The challenge precisely is to search for the needy, in the context of today. To mention some of the areas that we need to focus more definitely: illiteracy, trafficking of women, modern day slavery, female infanticide, child marriages, child labourers, home- less children and victims of various forms of abuse; refugees and migrant workers, especially their children; physically and mentally challenged persons, broken families and disunity among people. Another area is that of co-operatives, self-help groups, empowering the weaker sections of society. The empowerment of women and other oppressed groups is one of the main tasks of the religious. Building solidarity among humans is an important and urgent task.
3.6. RESHAPING RELIGIOUS LIFE IN COLLABORATION WITH THE LAITY
Another challenge religious communities face are: falling in number of vocations, quality of new entrants and the growing number of senior citizens in communities. This is more acute in Europe and America, but in India too, this is going to be a challenge in the coming years. This may lead to looking for quantity instead of quality and to the closure of many of the works the religious carry out. On the other hand, this is an invitation to rethink, to find new ways of being religious and refashion the religious life in collaboration with the laity. Church is a “communion of life, charity and truth”, brought about by Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit dwells in the church and in the hearts of the faithful. As a result the religious and lay people are Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people. And this is the primary basis of their collaboration.
Also this is an opportunity for laity to broaden their outlook on life and mission of religious to advance the cause of God’s kingdom. Moreover, lay people could develop greater clarity focusing on the apostolic ventures of religious so that they can contribute to the mission more effectively and fruitfully. Also such collaboration can help the religious for enriching their own formation.
3.7. SECULAR SPIRITUALITY
In the context of the growing secularization and especially communalizing of the Indian civil society where minorities are threatened, human rights are violated; the religious need to involve themselves in protests against the violation of human rights and dignity, and struggle for justice, along with secular minded civilian groups.
Fundamentalism has become one of the stumbling blocks for human development. We need to join hands with all those who are concerned with human rights, freedom and dignity. Finding ways of collaboration with people even with people of other faith is an urgent need of the day. Because living and working in a country like India, the religious have to foster collaboration with people of other faiths, since more than 97 percent of the populations of India do not belong to the Christian churches. Also it is quite likely that many of the neighbors and co-workers of the religious are people of other faiths and ideologies, it is a need of the time and at the same time a challenge to foster the collaboration with people outside in secular world.
- SOME TIPS FOR RELIGIOUS TO WAKE UP THE WORLD
It is easy to wake up a sleeping religious, but not the one who “pretends” to be asleep. An opening heart and a listening heart are the essential criteria of waking up. The following tips are meant to help the religious to wake up to their identity, mission and life so that they may wake up the world. These tips are drawn from church documents such as: Vita Consecrata, Starting afresh from Christ, the service of authority and obedience, and finally from the writings and homilies of Pope Francis. They are:
4.1. RETURN TO THE CHARISM
The word “Charism” appears in the post-Conciliar document, Vita Consecrata (1996). The Apostolic Exhortation explains the following three basic dimensions of Charism:
- Founding Spirit,
- Witness to some aspects of Christ’s mystery.
- Specific traditions expressed in the constitutions.
These three elements in a way embrace the whole Milieu of Religious Life, namely, the Evangelical Counsels, in community or solitary life, and Mission. But unfortunately the word ‘Charism’ is one of the words that have been overused, misused and misunderstood in religious life. Some have encapsulated their Charism in short phrases as: adoration- liberation, education and human formation, education of youth, while some others use Bible verse to express their Charism. Remember the words of our Pope Francis: “Charism is not a bottle of distilled waters.” We need to discover our Charism together with true norms of the church and which enables us to live with clarity and true identity of our founder in a more creative and contextual manner.
4.2. BE CREATIVELY FAITHFUL RELIGIOUS
The term, Creative Fidelity, figures prominently in the entire exhortation, Vita Consecrata. The two words of the concept briefly clarify the attitude that is needed for the today’s religious. It has to be rooted in charism, church tradition, and above all in Christ and Gospels, that is Fidelity. At the same time, it is not a static fidelity. It is the ability to adapt to the culture, to the signs of Fidelity and Creativity. Many a time, this has led to confusion and at times, mistaken goals. The combined image of Fidelity and Creativity was chosen as the focus for the International Congress on Consecrated Life in Rome (2004), in terms of Contemplation (passion for Christ) and Compassion (passion for humanity). However, this exhortation seems to be still considered abstract and consequently has yet to see the light of day among many Religious Groups.
4.3. BE DARING SAINTLY RELIGIOUS
The ultimate purpose of all Christian vocation is to attain Sanctity. But it is a very disturbing reality that there is a lot of piety among us but lack of spirituality. Spirituality is a way of life, an inward quest for growth towards God and this has to be manifested in the quality of one’s life. But religious of present context is very much influenced by the prevailing culture of consumerism, hedonism, increasing relativism and so on forgetting the reality that they are to be the light that should lead the darkened world to blissful world.
Religious should make it a point that ‘they are in the world but not of the world.’ Living in this world does not mean that we should imitate and imbibe the worldly culture but religious ought to make a real alternative way of life based on the Gospel. The world needs saints who are able to get into any sphere of life and still be holy and this is a real challenge for religious in the present context.
4.4. BE COMMUNITY EXPERTS
Pope Francis exhorts religious to be “experts in community life” in his Letter to the Religious on the Occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life. As the society is moving towards community-less living, religious communities will be rare specimen in the future. Religious Life in the West mostly consists of uniform/uni-cultural communities. In India, with the entry of local vocations, communities became increasingly pluralistic. Even if a community comprised members from same a single group or State, each member exhibited his/her own little world of complexity. This was the moment when the Church advocated the Spirituality of Communion in the Instruction, Starting Afresh from Christ (2002). The point of departure is the conviction that “the life of communion is the first announcement of consecrated life” (n. 33). The instruction: The Service of Authority and Obedience (2008) affirms that ‘community holiness and community life are more important than individual holiness and individual mission (n. 19).’
4.5. BE RESPONSIBLE RELIGIOUS FORMATORS
Psychologists who have been in touch with several religious especially in India opine that the Indian religious maturity process is slow. There are several factors behind this like culture, social taboos and formation patterns. By the time a religious is able to assume the responsibility of a ministry, he/she often touches the age of over 30 or 40. This can be partly explained by the fact that the formation programme often makes them overly dependent and, at times childish in their responses. Pope Francis says that “it is important to recall that the language of young people in the formation today which is different from that of the past because we are living through an epochal change,” he said. “Formation is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God.”
4.6. BE “WITH A SMELL” ‘Shepherds with the smell of the sheep, Church on the street, Poor church for the poor’ etc. are the favorite phrases of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis is concerned about pastors who are confined to deskbound theology. Pope asks, do we find our religious as CEOs or desk bound pastors? And laterhe exhorted in his Letter to Religious that they should be at the periphery of the society.
The Pope also exhorts religious to learn the art of pastoral ministry, such as catechesis, teaching people to pray, proclamation of the Word. He also stressed the need of adequate discernment and support before sending religious to the margins. Unfortunately we make our services to the poor only as ‘optional and additional.’ Option for the poor is not realized as a fundamental but as optional accidental to our own essentials. In this sickening and weakening scenario this special year calls every religiouscommunities to “get back to the roots” and thus befriend the marginalized and to be at their service.
4.7. BE JOYFUL DISCIPLES
Pope Francis repeats the old axiom, “Where there are religious there is joy.” He says “joy comes through our life of community and mission to people, none of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom.” In Evangelii Gaudium, he says, “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” Francis believes in the power of joy, so he exhorts us to have the same power.
4.8. BE GENUINE VOCATION PROMOTERS
Present day vocation-crisis is the result of identity crisis. A vocation promoter of any religious group has the duty and responsibility to provide proper and complete information about the ways of religious life in the church. The Instruction, Starting Afresh from Christ, opines that ‘vocational discernment and initial formation should be handled with serene discernment, free from the temptation of numbers.’ And we need to be mindful of the truth that the most effective vocation promotion is done through witnessing of our own lives.
4.9. BE NETWORKING RELIGIOUS
We cannot think of an isolated religious today. We live in an age of connectivity and in the information age. Information is free and available at our finger tips. This culture has turned the world into a global village. But for most of the religious, their community is their world. The world of religious is limited at times to the four walls of the community. At times, a dualistic concept of spirituality makes us abhor what is secular, materialistic and the worldly matters. Issues like global warming, terrorism, floods, drought or economic recession do not affect our daily lives. Some are sympathetic to these issues though many still remain at an apathetic level.
As the number of religious in formation centers is coming down, there is a greater need to network with other congregations and centers. This networking helps us to have better vision of mission, culture and life at large. These inter religious formation centers will save time, space, personnel, and above all resources and infrastructure.
4.10. LAUDATO SI (BE ECO-FRIENDLY RELIGIOUS)
We live in a world, where nature and its diverse richness are mercilessly exploited and corrupted. Man out of his greed, competition and false idea of infinite and unlimited growth, with the help of scientific and technological specializations squeeze the rich resource of nature in the fake façade of so called ‘human life development programme.’
With respect to nature, each creature has its own purpose and the contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching that God wishes to hand on to us. As part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion that fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.
It is in this context, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “LAUDATO SI” calls not only Christians but every person living on this planet to make a strong response to save our nature and its resource through their acts and living. It is interesting that even the title of the encyclical is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’; ‘canticle of nature.’ In this encyclical, it starts with present deterioration of nature, its causes especially created by consumeristic and globalized culture of modern man and practical solutions to the problems. So in this context religious especially Franciscans since St. Francis of Assisi is considered to be universal patron of ecology, are called for an ‘ecological conversion,’ through which our spirituality can motivate world to a more passionate concern for the protection, preservation and enrichment of the world.
All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are called to holiness by following Christ and to be the heralds of His Gospel. We have seen that the primary distinguishing mark of a religious is public commitment that is recognized and legitimized by the church, to seek consistently and radically to live the evangelical Counsels and prophetic mission in today’s world. Therefore Christ continuously invites us to come out of ourselves and continue His mission because religious vocation is a special call to follow Christ more closely. “Religious are to find their supreme rule of life in the following of Christ as proposed in the Gospel and as expressed in the constitutions of their own institute” (Can.662). The profession and practice of evangelical counsels are the concrete expressions of their total consecration to God that enables them to love Christ with an undivided heart and to dedicate themselves fully to the mission of Christ.
We should be reminded of the words of our Pope Francis, who on asking the intention of dedicating the consecrated year, said, “To look the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope.” He also said “I am counting on you to wake up the world” and this is the priority that consecrated life is needed of right now. He urged religious communities to live ‘in synergy’ with other vocations in the church, and to step more courageously from the confines of our respective institutes and to work together to achieve this goal.
Thus as we live in this world which is driven by harmful effects of globalization and consumerism, may the religious through this year dedicated for consecrated life be able to enlighten themselves about their true call and identity more clearly and contribute meaningfully to ‘wake up the world’ with their testimony of faith, hope and holiness.
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