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Consecrated life in community

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March 15, 2016

vita consCONSECRATED LIFE - The Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life welcomes this experience of new life which is born in the sign of communion. It invites all Consecrated Men and Women to continue their journey as God’s People, nurturing the wisdom of treading within the Church pathways of inter-action in the charismatic spirit and that of service. Keep vigil, pray steadfastly in faith, follow Christ, be bold to take evangelical decisions. Be fruitful in joy, strong in hope; be close to the others and tireless pilgrims on the trail of Beauty.

Consecrated Life in Communion – International Meeting

Ordo Virginum – Hermits and Monastic, Canonical and Mendicant Orders

Communities of Contemplative Life

Institutes of Apostolic Life – Societies of Apostolic Life –

Secular Institutes – New Institutes and ‘New Forms’

Vatican City – Rome, 28 January- 2 February 2016

 To all consecrated men and women scattered among the peoples

In communion with the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which has summoned us from all parts of the world to celebrate, close the Peter’s tomb, with Pope Francis, the conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life, we greet you from Rome with Paul’s words: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1, 7).

Unique event lived out in communion

Many members of the Ordo virginum, of the Monastic, Canonical and Conventual Life, of Apostolic Religious Life, of the Societies of Apostolic Life, of Secular Institutes, of New Institutes and ‘New Forms’ came from all parts of the world in the powerful and fruitful sign of communion.

This is the first time that all the forms of existing Consecrated Life recognized by the Church came together. By this, for several days, they gave ecclesial witnessing to reciprocity and fraternal acceptance in equality, in dignity and esteem of the charismatic specificities donated by the Holy Spirit. We learned to welcome, appreciate and share the various ecclesial profiles and the anthropological differences, thus making visible the commitment “to make the Church the home and school of communion” (NMI 43). We were men and women, young and old, priests and lay persons, heirs of great spiritualities and of sprouts of new experiences of the Spirit, all baptized by the one Spirit (1 Cor 12, 13).

In this joyful union of hearts, we revisited the power and the gift of the Spirit, who generated all of us and unites us in charity, in the Church and in front of the world. The grace of the special consecration (VC 31) is expressed by virginity or celibacy, in the generous and prophetic following of the chaste, poor and obedient Christ – the praying one and the missionary – in the fraternal lifestyle proper to each Institutes or as secular persons to be leaven within society. This awareness gives rise in us to wonder and gratitude for the choice God made, making us witnesses of hope and universal communion in Christ, as each part does its work (Eph 4, 16).

Thus we started an ecclesial journey which has offered us light, allowing us to move out of the shadow cone of marginalization in which we seemed to have been relegated.

First of all, we want to communicate the joy for this gathering which was rich in the variety of charisms and lifestyles, of cultures and traditions, of holiness and services. In the conviviality of the differences we gave praise to the Lord for our identity and diversity in the Church: it was an event marked by co-responsibility and also a manifestation of fraternal adhesion to the successor of Peter, in his ministry of unity and edification in charity. Through our gestures of fraternal communion we formed, as Pope Francis put it, that polyhedron “which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness” (EG 236).

Consecrated Life in CommunionLives consecrated in virginity are an image of the Church as Bride, and are rooted and fruitful in the local Churches. Lives spent in permanent contemplation, in hermetic solitude or in communities, all the time seeking the Countenance as the absolute good to be loved. Lives spent in the evangelical form of solidarity within the cities and in the outskirts, and given tirelessly in the various forms of service in fields of charity, culture and evangelization. Lives merged in history in the sign of secularity, companions for every man and woman treading our roads with the desire to imbue the world with the Gospel style of the Beatitudes.

Many shared with us their experiences of being close to others, of the mercy and the oil of tenderness which they poured upon the wounds. We admired those who live as ordinary heroes in silence, without any clamor and often risking their life. We rejoiced for the serene perseverance of the older consecrated men and women; and we cherish in our heart the joy and the ardent enthusiasm of the young consecrated persons. We have experienced all this with wonder and admiration, without, however, shutting our eyes to the limitations, the shadows, the apathies and the dreariness which sometimes, we consecrated, manifest; limitations which compel grace to silence, hinder any progress, hinder the Spirit’s novelty and creativity.

A Church going forth

Pope Francis often talks about the Church going forth, about peripheries to be discovered, about ‘alternate spaces’ where we, consecrated persons, need to be present to enhance our fecundity. He frequently urges us to experience a new exodus (ex-odos): from our own selves, from our little worlds, from our rigid schemes or theoretical illusions, in order to move toward the peripheries, to overcome the globalization of indifference: to become neighbors ready to help in a practical way those who are suffering and are being marginalized. We cannot be a Church which is self-absorbed and which keeps her distance and multiplies distinctions (cf EG 95); we are a people on a journey, adapting the synodal style: all together moving along the same road (syn-odos), sharing the same passion, in a trusting dialogue among us, consecrated in the various forms and lifestyles, and also with the other vocations in the Church. We are part of the caravan made up of men and women of good will: all those who seek justice and all those who do not lose heart in a an unjust and divided world.

We need to have a merciful gaze, full of tenderness and love, without imposing universal schemes; ours must be a love which donates itself (miseriae-cor-datum): this is the way we want to look on contemporary society, its challenges, wounds and tragedies. As Pope Francis says, we need to start processes, that is, adopt the method (meth-odos) of the open thought, to establish networks of collaboration, respect and joy for the existence of diversities ( cf. EG 223). This great World Meeting was a first courageous act, and we desire that, in time, it may become an inspiring model and method of style and unity, “an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion” (VC 42).

The three criteria presented as guidelines were: exodus-synod-method; these include the challenges along the way (odos), along our journey together with the little signs, which, nevertheless, constitute encouraging life experiences that need to be lived-out in synergy, in communion, in reciprocity, in a synodal way, in the sign of the Gospel, prophecy and hope.

In the form of the Gospel

We heard clearly the call for a courageous conversion: forma mentis, reformatio cordis, conformatio vitae, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We were invited to discover the “pure and never-ending source of spiritual life” (DV 21) in our daily prayer and reflection upon the Word (lectio divina). For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, (Heb 4, 12); it purifies us from ‘spiritual worldliness’ and any kind of hypocrisy. This obedient listening (the hypakoè of the Fathers) will regenerate us, like an imperishable and fruitful seed (cf 1Pt 1,23) to a new fidelity and will guide our collective discernment and options toward authentic pathways. The Word of the Scriptures, in fact, is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3, 16s).

The popular experience of the lectio divina – a great monastic spiritual resource, which has been taken up with new modalities, and which allows sharing in community and with the people – needs to be central in our formation courses and in our daily search for the Countenance of the Lord. Thus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in our silence, mediation, contemplation and sharing, the Word becomes a source of grace, a prayerful dialogue, a call to conversion, a prophetic proposal and a motivation for hope.

In a prophetic manner                                                   

Pope Francis affirmed: “The characteristic note of Consecrated Life in prophecy” (Apostolic Letter II, 2). He reaffirmed this during the conclusive meeting, inviting us to discover new prophetic pathways of closeness and hope. We are aware that this cannot be the fruit of a personal improvisation, but the fruit of the Word listened to with an obedient heart, and it is fulfilled in a true ecclesial communion (cf VC 84). This entails a passionate research which will qualify us for a “mysticism of the open eyes”, to offer a helping hand, to tread pathways of freedom, with the lightness of the disciples (cf Mt 10,9-10).

To be on guard (Ab 2,1; Is 21,11s), we need to leave aside our certainties, and learn to intuit with a heart in love and with an eye that sees clearly (Nm 24, 3) God’s plans as they unfold in novelty. We are not used to this; therefore we feel the urgency to learn this method, to wake ourselves and the world from distractions that blind, and to free ourselves from simply following a routine in a distracted manner. Above all, we need to “ask ourselves what are God and humanity asking for today” (Apostolic Letter, II, 5).

Through a collective effort of discernment, we will be able to create “‘alternate spaces’, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive” (Apostolic Letter II, 2). All our Forms of Life were invited to participate in history according to our proper vocation in the dimensions of contemplation, fraternity and a thorough human experience. To follow Christ in a prophetic way we need to live without privileges and bring light to our cities, to be like salt and give flavor to the masses, always inspired by the simplicity of Jesus’ life in the Nazareth home and his presence among the people of Palestine.

Joyful in hope

Today, hope is quite a scarce and fragile good, even among us. We need to revive the theological reason of our hope: let hope be part of us, of our communities and of our daily commitments. In this context we can speak about the urgency of an original conversion. Our hope comes from the Lord, not from numbers, initiatives, human glories or professional show-offs, all of which tend to suffocate the humble seed. The serious challenge does not lie in the weakening of our resources: it lies in our little faith in the power of the little seed which, when planted, bears lots of fruit (cf Mk 4, 31). Woe to us if the joy of the Gospel is absent from our homes; we will be really sad if, due to our sadness, we lose the boldness to carry out “courageous and sometimes heroic demands which faith makes of them” (VC 39). Our joy is not authentic if we escape to where the sun shines, thus succumbing to the “temptation of easy and unfit recruitments” (VC 64), lacking discernment and not going one step at a time. Even the dark night has its sun, as the Prophet advises: Moring is coming, but also the night (Is 21,12).

Perhaps in some places it is high time that we accept the fact that we are diminishing (cf Jn 3, 30); at the same time we need to rejoice because the Spirit is donating vocations elsewhere: on our part this entails the creativity and boldness to live our consecration in other cultural contexts and in new anthropological paradigms. During the Meeting the need to accompany the new generations toward the future was very evident; this means promoting enculturation of the charisms with a trustful discernment. We need to do this without any attitude of monopoly or mental and cultural rigidity; we need to trust in the autumn and spring rains (Hos 6, 3) by helping the new members to be original and genial protagonists of the new re-elaboration in the freedom of the Spirit, in fraternal communion and in the hope of the future Kingdom.

Many keynote speakers affirmed the need for the revision of the forms, structures, formation courses, style of government, our being part of the Church, even the local Church, in order to keep the flame going, and not adore the ashes.

We have all been “invited courageously to propose anew the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of the founders in response to the signs of the times emerging in today’s world” (VC 37). There was also a trustful invocation to the Spirit, creator of every novelty, so that, finally, in the daily praxis of mutue relationes, women are recognized as a richness and a resource for the Church; indeed, this is essential for the new synodal approach (VC 58; EG 103). Many asked that the dignity and peculiarity of consecrated women, in their rightful autonomy and co-responsibly in the Church, be respected in fact and in the decisions taken (EG 104). It is not acceptable anymore that the courageous official declarations of the Church are not adopted in the Church’s praxis.

In the closeness of mercy

We, who are loved by God and called to be his holy people (Rom 1, 7) have been given this time of mercy: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (EG 3). We went through the Holy Door with a humble and trustful heart, to ask for mercy and healing, putting away all fears, pessimisms, and all temptations of fatalism. “In order to be capable of mercy we must first of all dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God” and then “it will be possible to contemplate God’s mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus, 13).

Embraced by the merciful Father, we felt in communion with all of you, and we would like to invite you to be witnesses and prophets of mercy, with a patient heart full of love. We need to collaborate with each other to be reconciled with those with whom there have been rifts, eager to go beyond the polarization of our regions, harshness and anger (cf. Lk 15, 28s). We need to do this in the synodal way by looking for reconciliation, looking back on the causes of our rifts, and to entrust ourselves to our God who freely pardons (Is 55, 7). The grace of mercy leads us back into the Church, so that all together, we may edify ourselves in love and service and thus become leaven and prophets of the universal reconciliation in Christ.

We are convinced that me must live conversion as a heartfelt attitude, and this passes also through the “mysticism of approaching the others with the intention of seeking their welfare” (EG 272) and to promote resources still available to the soul (cf. Lk 7,47-49; 13,12s), while treading the pathway of the Beatitudes.

We felt that Paul’s exhortation was addressed to us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will… Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom 12, 2. 12).

Let us look at Mary of Nazareth, “the Virgin of listening and contemplation, the first disciple of her beloved Son” (Apostolic Letter, III, 5) who precedes us and intercedes on our behalf as the Mater misericordiae, while we bid you farewell with the words which the Apostle Peter addressed to the brothers spread throughout the world (1 Pt 5, 9):  Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Pt 5, 14).

The Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life welcomes this experience of new life which is born in the sign of communion. It invites all Consecrated Men and Women to continue their journey as God’s People, nurturing the wisdom of treading within the Church pathways of inter-action in the charismatic spirit and that of service. Keep vigil, pray steadfastly in faith, follow Christ, be bold to take evangelical decisions. Be fruitful in joy, strong in hope; be close to the others and tireless pilgrims on the trail of Beauty.

Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life

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