Vita Consacrata

A reflection on Vita Consacrata

prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap

  1. Introduction
  2. Situation of today in which we are called to live our religious life
  3. Origins of the consecrated life in the mystery of Christ and of the Trinity
  4. Language of the Body and the Vow of Chastity
  5. Renunciation of marriage for the kingdom of heaven and welcoming the will of God
  6. Consecrated Life: Icon of the Transfigured Christ
  7. Between Easter and Fulfilment
  8. In the Church and for the Church
  9. Consecrated Life as a Sign of the Communion in the Church
  10. Servitium Caritatis: manifestation of God’s love in the world

1. Introduction

In an act of love, Jesus took three of the disciples, Peter and James and John his brother with him to the top of Tabor. There in their presence he was transfigured. It was an act of love because the disciples still had before them the paradox of the mission of the one who they had left all to follow, a mission that was to end in total failure from a purely human point of view. It was a journey in which they would discover deeply who they were, men blind to the truth of their own selves, cowards and sinners; at the same, men hungering and hoping for truth and love. Faced with the cross they would run away and leave Jesus alone at his most vulnerable moment. The transfiguration was a defining moment in their relationship with Jesus, in that, faced with these events they would find themselves hiding in fear but not despairing, sustained in these moments by having looked on the face of Christ, transfigured, beautiful. Prompting Peter to cry out, “Lord, it is well that we are here.”

Brothers, let us go up the mountain and be apart from all that the every day brings to occupy and preoccupy us. Let us call on the grace of God to permit us in this stage of your formation to rest the gaze of the eyes of our heart upon the transfigured face of Christ so that we may go down again renewed in the foundation of our religious life.

What is foundational to the consecrated life is the concern of the post-synodal encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata. This document has a logic coming out of the Second Vatican Council. The document itself notes: “Whereas the Second Vatican Council emphasised the profound reality of ecclesial communion, in which all gifts converge for the building up of the Body of Christ and for the Church’s mission in the world, in recent years there has been felt the need to clarify the specific identity of the various states of life, their vocation and their particular mission in the Church.”[1] Here there is the question of the identity of both religious life and individual religious. This identity is lived out intimately in responsible communion with the wider church and society. What is the specific state of life, vocation and particular mission of the religious today? What are we called to contribute to the Church, and through the Church, to humanity and human history? This questioning and ensuring endeavour to identify what is specific to the consecrated life comes also out of a crisis that the consecrated life has undergone since the Council and in which we are still living. The crisis is an event of grace but also carries with it its own potential for peril. In the next conference we will look at this situation of today and attempt to draw out the prophetic response that the document offers.

Vita Consecrata completes the previous Synods (lay faithful and priests) dedicated to the treatment of the “distinctive features of the states of life willed by the Lord Jesus for his Church.”[2] This life we have been called to live and to which we have each given our personal ‘amen’ is not something optional to the Church or the world. It forms part of salvation history because it has been specifically willed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself for the Church.

The encyclical itself expresses this in succinct but charged words:

From the first centuries of the Church, men and women have felt called to imitate the Incarnation of the Word who took on the condition of a servant. They have sought to follow him by living in a particularly radical way, through monastic profession, the demands flowing from baptismal participation in the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection. In this way, by becoming bearers of the Cross, they have striven to become bearers of the Spirit, authentically spiritual men and women, capable of endowing history with hidden fruitfulness by unceasing praise and intercession, by spiritual counsels and works of charity.[3]

The importance of consecrated life is situated in the Incarnation of the Word. Christ himself consciously chose for the sake of the kingdom of God to live chaste, poor and in obedience to his Father. Consecrated men and women continue to make this historical way of life of Jesus Christ present in contemporary history. This makes sense only if this historical way of living of Christ two thousand years ago has an enduring relevance in every generation and thus making it a primordial (an original) experience of the human person. This becomes a question of anthropology. It is into this I want to delve in these conferences.

The introduction to the encyclical states the purpose of the document to be twofold. Firstly, to lead us to a deeper understanding of the gift of consecrated life in the aspects of consecration, communion, and mission. Secondly, to help religious to discover further encouragement to face in a spiritual and apostolic manner the new challenges of our time.[4] Within the body of the encyclical itself it is stated that the first and essential of the evangelical counsels is the sacred bond of chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.[5] Elsewhere it states that “the Church has always taught the pre-eminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom,[6] and rightly considers it the “door” of the whole consecrated life.[7]

In view of the contemporary challenge facing our society and hence, in our daily living of our religious life, in regard to the crisis in sexuality I would like to endeavour to open up the insights of this encyclical in view of especially the counsel and vow of celibacy. Our living of celibacy is being subjected by contemporary society to a climate, an attitude, and an interpretation of suspicion. Underlying this is a hermeneutics of suspicion. The writings of Pope John Paul II, and so this encyclical, rather portray a hermeneutics of trust, firstly in God as Creator, who has done all things well, and secondly and flowing from this, in the human person and his profound dignity and vocation.

2. Situation of today in which we are called to live our religious life

God breaks into history with the word: Rejoice! The angel Gabriel announces this good news to Mary. The history of Christianity begins. We are called to live each Sunday (Sunday being an extension of what is central to our year, Easter Sunday) with the Easter announcement ringing in our ears of the victory of Life over death. Joy, hope, trust and thanksgiving (Eucharist) are the attitudes and experiences permeating the christian life. Yet we live in a new century, in a new millennium that has as its inheritance a 20th century that entered into the tomb and remained looking among the dead for an answer, a meaning to life.

The precursor to the 20th century, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), like the antithesis of the precursor to Christ, cried out: God is dead! “The god of the cross is a curse on life.”[8] This god has “degenerated to the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes![9]

Having summoned the courage to declare that God is dead, Nietzsche is not full of optimism for his generation, as if having been unburdened and unshackled, they are now free to run wherever each one wants; each one free to create his own future and history. In The Gay Science (1886) he has his madman cry out:

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Wither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as though through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?[10]

Walter Kasper in The God of Jesus Christ sums up well the prophetic program that Nietzsche proclaimed for this century:

An aim? a new aim? – that is what humanity needs.” Nietzsche clothes his own answer to the question of aim in various metaphors. The most important of these is his talk of the Superman in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The figure of the Superman makes its appearance when the death of God has become a reality. “Dead are all gods: now we want the Superman to live.” But what is this Superman? For Nietzsche he is “the meaning of the earth” and the meaning of man. For “man is something that shall be overcome”; “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under”. Superman is the man who has overcome all the former alienations. He is therefore not an other-worldly man, but rather remains “faithful to the earth” and does not believe in other-worldly hopes. He also breaks in pieces the “tables of values”; he is not one of the “despisers of the body”; he rejects the old virtues and lives “beyond good and evil”. He is the man who is at one with himself, who has overcome all tension and division between being and meaning; he is the man who has himself become God and replaced the vanished and slain God. Only in order to become God could man kill God. “If there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god![11]

The fruits of such a secular religion which our previous century has lived out is found in the many unmarked tombs of the holocaust wrought by the Nazi regime, the greater slaughter under Stalin, and the genocide in Cambodia. The ongoing silent slaughter of the unborn portrays a century that is looking for meaning in the tomb, incapable of welcoming life, trusting in the future. Pope John Paul II diagnosed well this malaise in an address to the European bishops at an Assembly when commenting on Europe approaching zero population growth. He states that it is more than a case of modern man losing faith in God, rather, he has lost faith in his own self, in his own humanity. Losing sight of God man has lost sight of himself. (Nietzsche calls his own writings a “school of suspicion.”[12]) The vision of man beholding God and thus beholding his own dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God, is replaced by man beholding a caricature of himself, and wanting this to speak to him of the truth of his own life.

However, ours is a century that has a longing once again to hear the resounding voice of the bearer of good news: “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen.” Before entering into a further analysis of the situation we find ourselves in today let us first hold up before our eyes the source of the truth of the human person and our vocation. There are two key text from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) which could serve as the foundation to all that is to be said in these conferences:

22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.

As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.

The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:23): “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).(29) Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope.

All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit; Abba, Father!

24. God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who “from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.

For this reason, love for God and neighbour is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

It will be to these two texts that I will return to frequently in the course of these conferences together. They lay the basis for a Christian anthropology and from this, an anthropology of the consecrated life.

Let us first go back to the analysis of the situation in which we find ourselves called to live our consecration in chastity, poverty and obedience today. Our generation, whether consciously or not, has embraced a practical atheism. We have reduced our vision of reality, not by only a few degrees, but significantly. This reductionism, rationalism and relativism has its foundation in the philosophy, science and culture of previous centuries. We do not need to go into that for these conferences. I just mention this so that I don’t give the impression that somehow this suddenly descended upon us. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, I will give you Shepherds (Pastores Dabo Vobis) 1992, gives a succinct analysis of the situation that is helpful for our consideration of the consecrated life. While referring specifically to priestly formation I think it is easily applied to the consecrated life. It may be referring to the situation facing the young people, however we are catechised everyday by the same mediums, and unless we are ever vigilant they do have an effect. So let us look briefly at the insights of this Papal encyclical.

In articles 6 and 7 the Pope notes that today there is a deep and widespread search for God, seen in a thirst for the scriptures and the growth of sects.

However, rationalism and its reductionism is still strong. This is expressed in individualism, which renders the individual incapable of true human relationships. The consequence is an experience of loneliness. The compensation for authentic human relationships is sought in hedonism, flight from responsibility, and the seeking “to ‘consume’ the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and ‘paralysed’ as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.

Rationalism also expresses itself in practical and existential atheism.

“The individual, ‘all bound up in himself, this man who makes himself not only the centre of his every interest but dares to propose himself as the principle and reason of all reality’,” loses the sense of the existence of his soul. In his delusion of self-sufficiency there is no longer a need to fight against God; the individual feels he is simply able to do without him.

Direct consequences are seen in the breakup of family life and the distorting and obscuring of the true meaning of human sexuality. This has a very negative effect on the education of young people and on their openness to a vocation.

In article 8, under the sub-title of Young People: Vocation and Priestly Formation, Pope John Paul II observes that there are obstacles facing the young.

The all-determining ‘concern’ for having suppliants the primacy of being, and consequently personal and interpersonal values are interpreted and lived not according to the logic of giving and generosity but according to the logic of selfish possession and the exploitation of others.

This is particularly reflected in that outlook on human sexuality according to which sexuality’s dignity in service to communion and to the reciprocal donation between persons becomes degraded and thereby reduced to nothing more than a consumer good. In this case, many young people undergo an affective experience which, instead of contributing to a harmonious and joyful growth in personality which opens them outward in an act of self-giving, becomes a serious psychological and ethical process of turning toward self, a situation which cannot fail to have grave consequences on them in the future.

There is a distorted sense of freedom lying at the root of these tendencies. Freedom “is lived out as a blind acquiescence to instinctive forces and to an individual’s will to power.” The consequence is a theoretical and practical atheism.

In this context it is difficult not only to respond fully to a vocation to the priesthood but even to understand its very meaning as a special witness to the primacy of ‘being’ over ‘having’, and as a recognition that the significance of life consists in a free and responsible giving of oneself to others, a willingness to place oneself entirely at the service of the Gospel and the kingdom of God as a priest.

In article 9 he writes that there are positive situations and tendencies which nurture a vocation in the hearts of young people: openness to values, authenticity, service to the poor and the disadvantaged. These assist young men to perceive, desire and accept a vocation to stable and total service of others. Also, young people are becoming actively involved as leaders in ecclesial communities and in the new evangelisation.

An interpretation of the situation is required: a Gospel discernment; a discernment in light of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This lose of our central point of reference, so poignantly expressed before by the quote from Nietzsche, What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?… has already been expressed fully in chapter three of Genesis in the story the fall. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this with the terrible but true phrase: “Man tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command.”[13] Once trust has died in the heart of man suspicion arises. Man begins to live by a hermeneutics of suspicion. He accuses God for putting the woman with him; he accuses the woman for giving him the fruit to eat. All the actions of others and events are interpreted with suspicion. War has erupted in the heart of Adam and he rails against the world. He finds himself alone. He has lost the identity of who he is. He must cloth himself in defence because he has lost even the meaning of the body. He is divided from himself, spirit is at war with the flesh, and divided from the other. He has reduced his humanity.

Standing before the College of Cardinals, who had the responsibility of electing the next Pope to succeed Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the homily at the Mass to begin the Conclave of Election and outlined what he discerned to be the most pressing task ahead for the new Pope in his leadership of the Church. The following is an excerpt from the homily:

Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards “the maturity of Christ”, as the Italian text says, simplifying it slightly. More precisely, in accordance with the Greek text, we should speak of the “measure of the fullness of Christ” that we are called to attain if we are to be true adults in the faith. We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love. (Vatican Basilica Monday 18th April 2005)

While not quoting GS 22 directly, we find Cardinal Ratzinger using the hermeneutical key of that document to analyse and respond to the responsibility ahead of us today, to answer to the dictatorship of relativism with a true measure: the Son of God, the true man who can reveal man to himself.

But already into this situation God has placed the announcement of good news. The end of chapter three of Genesis contains the protoevangelium. Already placed in the heart of man is the expectation of another angel and another Eve. Already there is the longing and expectation to hear the words: Rejoice!

The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince us concerning sin so that we may “discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption.”[14] In these conferences I want to put before you the beauty of the consecrated life. To remind us to what we have been called. Yet to enter into this we must enter by the narrow door of conversion. To discover our sins is the door to experiencing the healing touch of Jesus Christ and through his grace living more intensely and fully our consecrated life.

3. Origins of the consecrated life in the mystery of Christ and of the Trinity

Having looked a little in the last conference at the situation in which we are called to live out our consecrated life, we can now apply the Gospel discernment offered in the Encyclical Vita Consecrata. The document invites us to gaze upon the face of Christ, radiant in the transfiguration. We are to gaze on beauty itself. Here is our vocation – to live “in the image of Christ.”

Immediately we are put into the context of our particular vocation in the consecrated life, fully oriented towards giving witness to Jesus Christ to our generation. Consecrated life certainly is for the benefit of each one who lives it since it is a particular gift of the Spirit and founded on baptismal consecration. However, more than this the profession of the evangelical counsels makes the consecrated life “a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the community of the brethren and for the world.” Further on the document will state: “The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life capable of amazing the world.” Again still further into the document it states that the consecrated person, day after day, becomes conformed to Christ, and so becomes a “prolongation in history of a special presence of the Risen Lord.”

In these statements we can begin to appreciate to what we are called to live and the meaning of the life we are called to live, a lifestyle that the world seeks to malign and caricature. Why? Because having taken the eyes of his heart off God, man has lost sight of his own humanity and lives a hermeneutics of suspicion. Our very lifestyle today is missionary. It announces a contradiction to present society. Our lifestyle of its very nature is eschatological, lived for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Lived for the fully human One, Jesus Christ risen. Man in society today is reduced to living only for the moment. It is important to pause here and delve into the anthropology of the consecrated life. To do this we need to look first at basic Christian anthropology. We can begin by looking again at what was referred to already in the last conference from Guadium et Spes 22:

22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.

The anthropology of the christian life

On the mountain it is the frail humanity of Jesus which is transfigured and radiates a new beauty never before beheld. In Jesus we behold the splendour of our human dignity, the beauty of our humanity, our full freedom, and what it is to live life fully and truthfully in humility, simplicity and joy.

There is a footnote in this quote of Guadium et Spes 22 that is well worth exploring. Well worth exploring because it places us in the profound logic of the Second Vatican Council. To appreciate the direction of the Church’s teaching on the consecrated life in this document we need to understand the anthropology of the Council.

The footnote gives a reference to Rom 5:15. This is part of a section of Paul’s letter where he is drawing out the comparison between Adam and Christ:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

The footnote then goes on to give reference to Tertullian, De carnis resurrectione, 6: “For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who was to be.” The anthropology expressed here can give an answer to contemporary man. It is an anthropology that forms a sure basis for our own self-understanding of our consecrated life.

The anthropology of the council is primarily not sociological, although the Pastoral Constitution does sociological analysis, it is not primarily psychological or philosophical, although it makes use of modern insights in these two fields. It is primarily biblical. Being biblical it is dialogical. It opens itself to the source of truth of revelation, where God enters into our history and speaks through the language of events.

Gaudium et Spes 22: the Word made flesh reveals the mystery of man. Gaudium et Spes (GS) adopts a phenomenological and dialogical approach in outlining the mystery of man and the answer to his deepest questions and longings. In this approach the last article of Chapter I is pivotal to the whole document.

The structure of GS 22 follows that of the three principle Christological mysteries, incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. In GS 22.1 the fundamental idea is presented. It is only in the revelation of Jesus Christ in the mystery of the incarnation that the mystery of man is fully revealed. The Council adopts an essentially biblical understanding of man. Reference is made to the type of Adam. The first Adam is the type of the new Adam who was to be fully revealed in the incarnation. The footnote associated with this reference is a succinct but theologically loaded sentence of Tertullian referring to the second Genesis account of the creation of man from the mud of the earth (Gn 2:7) where already Jesus Christ was in the thought of the Father as the model on which man is formed. Creation is radically united to salvation. Tertullian is following in the same tradition of Irenaeus in his anthropology.[15] It is in the lowliness of mud, from which man is formed, that God has chosen to manifest his sublime love. The anthropology of GS 22 is founded on the dignity of the body as the substratum of homos capax Dei.

In the evangelical counsels we profess chastity, poverty and obedience are lived out, fleshed out, embodied every day in the practicalities of life. To hold fast to their meaning for our life depends upon the grounding in a truthful anthropology. Let us briefly explore the anthropology of Irenaeus since it is founded in the truth of a biblical anthropology. The foundation of the theology of Irenaeus is his anthropology which at the same time is his Christology, because man is only understood in the light of the Word incarnate.

Gnostic Christians, such as Valentinus, attempted to incorporate the ‘new knowledge’ of Christianity into their already complex anthropology, though perhaps, pneumatology would be a more apt name. Their view of man was already distorted and lessened the dignity of man by being hostile towards the body, and exclusive in those who could hope for salvation, the return to their pre-existent divine state. Their answer to the human condition was to escape from it. Jesus Christ was reduced to a type of angel carrying the key of knowledge to the pneumatakoi. The kenosis of Christ was reduced to a myth and a nonsense. In response to this Irenaeus constructs his Christian anthropology.[16]

Irenaeus (ca. 140 – ca. 203) follows the Platonic idea of defining man as body, soul and spirit.[17] In opposition to the Gnostics, and in contrast to Origen, he does not understand man as essentially a soul. He grows up deeply immersed in the apostolic tradition, having listened as a boy to Polycarp handing on what he had personally received from the apostle John. The anthropology of Irenaeus is essentially biblical, understanding man as the totality of the concrete individual person, as was also a general characteristic of the anthropology of Asia Minor.[18]

Irenaeus[19], as for Justin before him, and in opposition to the Gnostics, and in contrast to Origen, understands the two accounts of creation in Genesis to refer to the one and same act of creation. There is not a community of pre-existing souls who after the second act of creation will be more (for men) or less (for the angels) handicapped by corporeality. In fact, Irenaeus establishes the profound dignity of man on the basis his corporeality. It is on the foundation of his body that man has a vocation of greater dignity to that of the angels.

This profound dignity of man is expressed in Gen. 2:7, where God takes the lowest of elements, the mud of the earth, and with his “own hands”, the Son and the Spirit, forms man and breathes his own life into him.[20] It is in this lowest element, mud, infused with the very life of God, that God has chosen to manifest his love. Man does not have to struggle or search to be free from his body to realise a solution to his human condition with its accompanying questions, because even from this lowly beginning he is homos capax Dei.

The extent of this capacity for God is found in Irenaeus’ exegesis of Gen. 1:26: Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves. However, the revelation of this image has been carried out through salvation history. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament have gradually prepared man to enter into this exalted communion with God, for which man has the capacity. It is only in the Word becoming flesh that this image of God is concretely manifested, so that man may pass per typica ad vera et per temporalia ad aeterna et per carnalia ad spiritualia et per terrena ad caelestia.[21] “For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field … His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ.”[22]

The full manifestation of Christ is in his resurrection as “firstborn from the dead.” In the resurrection, the whole Christ is glorified. In his resurrection Christ manifests that which was formed from mud in its most exalted state, his glorified life-giving body. For Irenaeus, man in the “image of God” is in fact in the image of the risen Christ.[23] It is by placing “man in the image of God” in the risen Christ that he is able to overcome the vexing problem of transcending the anthropomorphisms of the first chapters of Genesis and of transcending the seemingly ontological impossibility of corporeal man being made in the image of the incorporeal God. Irenaeus is able to achieve this without having to revert to disembodying man and reduce his reality to that of a soul. In fact, in positing that which is formed from the dust of the earth, the body, as the substratum of the sublime dignity of man, Irenaeus lays the foundation for a theology that radically unites creation and salvation in the glorified risen body of Christ.[24]

Homos capax Dei indicates a dynamic reality. Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei.[25] Man fully alive in the activity of beholding God is already an impulse formed in the flesh of the first Adam, in view of the manifestation of the second Adam in the bodily resurrection of Christ. The likeness to God is the risen Christ, in his glorified flesh, drawing earthly man beyond the limit imposed by sin towards this same glory of Christ “firstborn from the dead.” This is a day by day progress, through the gift of the Spirit, in dialogue with the soul, changing the quality of the body from living a life directed towards the flesh, as a fruit of sin, to a life directed towards Christ.[26] The very Christian life, under the influence of the Spirit sent by Christ at Pentecost, is itself to become a liturgy of praise.[27]

GS 22.2 uses the term “similitudo” of Christ, taken from Col. 1:15, to describe him as the perfect man who has the soteriological task of restoring the likeness of man disfigured by sin. Ratzinger notes that the use of “similitudo” here “is probably an echo of Irenaeus.”[28] The likeness is disfigured, not lost due to sin. This resonates with Irenaeus’ treatment of Gen 1: 26 where the manifestation of this image is carried out through salvation history and is revealed in the fullness of time with the advent of Christ, in his incarnation, cross and resurrection of Christ, as GS 22.2-4 outlines.

GS 22.2 also makes reference to Christ uniting himself to each man through his everyday human activity of thinking, choosing, working, and loving. He is completely involved in the daily activity of our life, with the exception of sin. Ladaria notes that here the Council moves from the ontological level to that of the existential and practical.[29] This also resonates with Irenaeus in that he was concerned with man in the totality of the concrete individual. His Adam was a concrete man, not remaining on the level of a type. It is to this understanding of man that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and perfect man revealing to us our full incomparable dignity.

GS 22.3 deals with the suffering, the cross, and the death of Christ. It is a soteriological experience that frees us from our slavery to sin, it is exemplary, we are called to follow in his footsteps, it is an act of self-donating love, and it gives new meaning to both life and death. This basic statement of Christian faith in the passion of Christ obviously finds an echo in the theology of Irenaeus: “The Lord redeemed us by his own blood, gave his soul for our soul, his flesh for our flesh.”[30] Also:

If he did not really suffer, we would owe him nothing… And when we come to suffer in reality he will seem to us a charlatan if he did not himself really suffer first and yet exhorted us, when we are struck, to turn the other cheek. And just as he would have deceived those to whom he appeared to be what he was not, so he would be deceiving us, encouraging us to endure what he did not endure. We would then be ‘above the Master’ (Matt 10:24), since we suffer and endure what the Master neither suffered nor endured. But, in fact, our Lord is the only Master, and in truth the good Son of God, and the suffering Word of God of the Father becomes the Son of Man.[31]

In GS 22.5 the Council posits the full reality of our incomparable dignity in the image of Christ risen. It is to this image that we are conformed, but this is not a static reality, there is the involvement of the dynamism of the Spirit. The Christian is a partner in the paschal mystery, configured to the death of Christ, and makes progress towards the resurrection. This resurrection has the body (formed from the lowliness of mud) as the substratum of our exalted dignity: “right up to the ‘redemption of the body’ (Rom 8:23).” This orientation of the Council clearly resonates with that of Irenaeus, who had posited man as in the “image of God” in the risen Christ. Here the lowliness of man’s origin, that of mud, is exalted to the sublimity of deification, in the glorified life-giving body of Christ risen. For Irenaeus this capax Dei is the impulse formed in the very flesh of concrete men that progressively draws them towards the full realisation of the likeness to God in Christ risen.

GS 22.5 affirms that this capax Dei is for all. The salvation in Christ is universal. Irenaeus had entered into combat with the Christian gnostics to defend this very truth against their positing of a selective and exclusive salvation.

GS 22.6 concludes Chapter I by summarising Christ as the answer to man’s deepest questions, “Christ has risen again, destroying death by his death, and has given life abundantly to us so that becoming sons in the Son, we may cry out in the spirit: Abba, Father!” The Christian life is itself to become a liturgy of praise, as the Church reminds us every year at Pentecost: “From whence also, with one accord in all languages, they uttered praise to God, the Spirit bringing different tribes to unity, and offering to the Father the first-fruits of all nations.”[32]

An anthropology of the consecrated life

The task of living the evangelic counsels, professed as chastity, poverty and obedience, is not to seek to disembody ourselves and live a spiritual life that is preoccupied to cut itself off from the world. This is always a practical heretical temptation in every generation. It is true that these vows of their nature involve a renunciation. However, more important than the renunciation involved, which is only, although essential in the consecrated life, a means towards something else, is the for. The for of the renunciation is the kingdom of heaven. We are called to live in an eschatological tension. Straining always to look on the transfigured face of Christ so that we may in our very bodies become living icons of Christ. As Vita Consecrata states:

The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life capable of amazing the world. (n. 20)

It is precisely this special grace of intimacy which, in the consecrated life, makes possible and even demands the total gift of self in the profession of the evangelical counsels. These counsels, more than a simple renunciation, are a specific acceptance of the mystery of Christ, lived within the Church.

It is the duty of the consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendour before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.

In the consecrated life, then, it is not only a matter of following Christ with one’s whole heart, of loving him ‘more than father or mother, more than son or daughter’ (cf. Mt 10:37) – for this is required of every disciple – but of living and expressing this by conforming one’s whole existence to Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which foreshadows the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time and in accordance with the different charisms.

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

Pope John Paul II permeates his writings with a theology of the body. It resonates with the biblical anthropology of the Council. It is in the light of this anthropology Vita Consecrata situates chastity, poverty and obedience for the sake of the kingdom of God. This can be the topic for the next conference, concentrating on the vow of chastity.

4. Language of the Body and the Vow of Chastity

To enter positively into the vow of chastity we need to have a profound understanding of what we are renouncing. Therefore, to begin to look at the vow of chastity we can start with an investigation of marriage. Marriage is the good that we renounce in favour of the kingdom of God. We need to flesh out what Pope John Paul II frequently refers to as the language of the body and the nuptial meaning of the body. It is through the language of the body and its nuptial significance that we renounce marriage in favour of incarnating in our own flesh the chastity, poverty and obedience of Jesus Christ. This brings us to the second quote from Guadium et Spes I referred to in a previous conference:

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (24)

This sincere gift of oneself has its foundation in the language of the body. Let us investigate this according to our biblical anthropology. I will use as the basis to this the teaching on the theology of the body that the Pope gave in his weekly general audiences between September 1979 and November 1984.

The Human Person And Sexuality As Revealed By Genesis 1‑2

“In the beginning….” (Gn 1:1).

The “beginning” for the Jews was a stressing of what was the perennial experience common to the experience of each person: original innocence and original sin being two dimensions. In this section I will concentrate exclusively upon what Genesis has to say of the experience of original innocence of the human person. I will also concentrate upon sexuality within this dimension.

Original innocence means the full flourishing of the human person. It is the human person living their life in the truth that God had originally designed, in love, for the human person.

The reality of each of us is that we struggle with the reality of original sin in our life. We have a natural inclination to choosing evil. We have to live also with the consequences this brings upon ourselves ‑ that particular form of suffering and disruption within ourself and with others that sin brings.

Original innocence is also a reality within us. It is residing in the depth of our true identity, waiting to be discovered, brought forth, and realised in our practical living. This is what Jesus Christ offers us through his saving death. He has conquered sin. Through baptism we are empowered by the Spirit who works continually within us to achieve the original plan of God in us and so restore us to our full dignity as human persons. In this is our true peace and happiness. This becomes our life‑long task of the struggle within ourself between the reality of original sin and original innocence. We can have confidence in the victory of original innocence through the victory of Jesus Christ, yet we will patiently have to await the fullness of this through experiencing our own resurrection into the fullness of the kingdom.

While acknowledging the reality of this struggle, let us look now specifically at the dignity of the human person and sexuality in reference to original innocence in the following.

Gn 1:27: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”.

The human person has the unique dignity and value of being created in the image of God. John Paul states this dignity as the following norm: “in its negative aspect, it states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such as a means to an end. In its positive form the personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love”, (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p.41).

This is the basis of the response of Jesus to what is the greatest commandment we need to follow: ‘This is the first: Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord you God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mt 12:29‑31). Jesus invites us to realising the original innocence deep in our identity by saying, ‘I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike’ (Mt 5:43‑45). We are called to image God, who is love, in his love for the human person.

Adam, created from the dust of the ground (Gn 2:7), is defined as a male (‘ish, Gn 2:23) only after the creation of woman in Gn 2:22. So in 2:18 ‑”Yahweh God said, ‘It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.'”‑ God is speaking of the solitude of the human person. This solitude has two meanings: a) one derived from the very nature of the human person; b) the other derived from the male ‑ female relationship.

a)Adam names the creatures of creation. In so doing he becomes conscious of his non‑identity with the rest of creation. This experience of other creatures begins in him a conscious search for his own identity. Unlike the rest of creation, he is capable of transcendence: self‑ consciousness and self‑determination. He has the experience of freedom and choice of actions in regard to his own life. He is capable of truly human activity. Adam is aware of his aloneness and uniqueness in relation to the rest of the world. Adam is not satisfied to remain solely alone within himself, like an island in the middle of an ocean. He also experiences a very basic movement beyond himself to communication with others: with God and with other human persons.

The person discovers others like unto himself or herself and also discovers within this a natural movement towards communication with other people. We naturally seek to enter into relationships with others. The person experiences a natural movement towards entering into community with other people and of entering into relationship with God. Basic to this natural movement towards others is the experience of the need of the person to give himself or herself to the other. This need has a deeper origin in the human person that the sexual instinct which naturally and strongly inclines the person to entering into relationship with persons of the opposite sex. The human person has an inborn need of betrothed love, a need of giving himself or herself to another. It is only in making a sincere gift of himself or herself to the other that the person will truly flourish. It is in forming this community based on love that the human person images God, who is a community of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

b) “Then, Yahweh God made the man fall into a deep sleep…” (Gn 2:21). Solitary Adam falls asleep and God, in a new act of creation, wakes up the male and female in the human person. Adam wakes up in his double unity of male and female. Out of Adam’s personal solitude he opens up to a helper fit for himself.

There is the experience of breaking beyond this solitude in the experience of duality: masculinity and femininity (the recognition of this occurring at a very early life stage).

Man and woman form a double solitude. Out of this double solitude springs two complementary dimensions of self‑consciousness and self‑determination, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body. Although corporeality (bodiliness) and sexuality are not completely identified, sexuality is more than a mere attribute of the person. The complementarity of human sexuality is not only genital. There is the complementary but differing experiences, depending on whether we are male or female, of sensation (what we experience and learn through the senses), of affections, and of emotions. Sexuality is a constituent part of the person whereby we name the other person as ‘he’ or ‘she’. Sexuality is a very strong and basic experience of value. The presence of the feminine, complementing the masculine, and vice versa, together they are an enrichment for the human person.

“This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gn 2:23).

The male’s response to the awareness of the female is an ‘original’ emotion: one of exulting joy, a prototype of the Song of Songs. This ‘beginning’ experience is one of value. The presence of the feminine element, complementing with the masculine element, together they are an enrichment for the human person in his or her whole history.

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). Flowing from the experience of ‘double solitude’ is the natural movement towards the ‘helper’, the ‘communion of persons’. They become one flesh is expressed and realised in the marriage act, submitting at the same time their whole humanity to the blessing of fertility, cf. Gn 1:28. Each time they unite in the marriage act they rediscover the mystery of creation, in which they recognise each other and call each other by name. The marriage act is an expression of the transcendence of the persons tied up with their original solitude: self‑ consciousness, self‑determination, choice, and an experience of the meaning of the body in the act of mutual self‑giving of their whole self to the other.

The act of sexual intercourse unites man and woman. Through this act the complementarity of male and female is revealed: the male is capable of personally entering into and giving himself to the woman, and only because the female is capable of personally receiving him, and so, through receiving him, gives herself to him. Sexual intercourse is therefore a unitive act. It is an act which is person‑uniting and life‑sharing, and so capable of expressing and increasing the love of the one for the other.

“Now, both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame before each other” (Gn 2:25).

This describes the mutual experience, in ‘original innocence’, of the others body: femininity and masculinity. It is the bodily perception of physical nakedness, moving through this, via the perception of the body, to a fullness of consciousness of the other person, an intimate communion of persons, husband and wife.

The person is attracted by the physical sexuality (two complementary dimensions of self‑consciousness and self‑determination, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body) of the other complementary person. Moving through and beyond this by means of sensuality and tenderness (tenderness being the ability to feel with and for the whole person) through a growing intimate communion of sight, touch, hearing, and dialogue, there is a joint discovery and valuing of the other person. Through the variety of modes of communication open to the human person there is a continual deepening of the relationship and an increasing discovery of the richness and value of the other person, for who they are in themselves, (in contrast to an attitude of use).

‘Original nakedness’ is a particular fullness of interpersonal communication. This brings us again to 1:27, where the dignity of the human person is that of being created in the image of God. “Male and female he created them”, no one male or female is the full imaging of God alone. The revelation of God here is that God is imaged not in the individual but in the community of persons; the most basic fullness of this community of persons being expressed in the fullness of communion of a man and woman.

With a vision imaging that of God, the person has a pure vision of the ‘original’ good of God’s creation of humanity as male and female. It is a gaze of penetrating intimacy. It is the recognition of reciprocal complementarity in being male or female so that in their communion of persons they become a gift for the other (nuptial meaning of the body). It is here that they arrive at the fullness of the natural movement of the person’s experience of ‘original solitude’ and ‘original unity’.

The experience of the natural movement towards self‑transcendence is expressed in one way in the profound need of the person to give himself or herself to another, plus the experience of sexuality, leads two complementary persons, in recognition of their reciprocal complementarity in being male or female, to express the full communion of their intimacy they have established through sensuality and tenderness, through sight, touch, hearing, and dialogue, in a full personal giving of each self to the other. By this giving they become a gift one for the other. This is the nuptial meaning of the body.

This fullness of giving of self is expressed and realised in the marriage act, expressed symbolically and (sacramentally) in the term “they become one flesh” (2:24). In this mutual surrender of oneself to the other in the marriage act there is at the same time a submitting of themselves to the possibility of the blessing of fertility. The giving of oneself to the other is a creative act of self‑transcendence and is expressed bodily in procreation.

The complementarity of the male and female is here once again expressed. The marriage act is life‑loving, procreative, and person creating. Human sexuality is “directed to the generation of a human being; and so, by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values” (Familiaris consortio, n.11). No one human person is the possessor of this awesome, God‑given power of creating another human life. It depends upon the complementarity of the male and female.


God is the Creator whose creation is a fundamental and original gift to the human person from the ‘beginning’. God’s giving is one of radical giving, a giving in love. Adam in his ‘original solitude’ did not live as a full recipient of this gift, nor image God in his fullness: God as a community of Persons. Only in the ‘original unity’ of male and female, in the communion of persons, and in the state of ‘original nakedness’ in which the human persons are fully conscious of the meaning of their body as an imaging of God in being a gift for each other, in the radical giving in love, does the human person realise the very essence of their being a person, and hence realise the meaning of their existence. In reciprocal communion, man and woman “become one flesh” by a total giving in love one to the other, to the extent of existing each for the other. The creativity of this gift is expressed bodily in procreation.

“In the beginning” man and woman in their original innocence’ can stand unashamedly naked before each other, in their masculinity and femininity, and in sharing in, and exulting in, the nuptial gift of their bodies, they experience ‘original happiness’.

The consecrated life is a renunciation of this value of marriage. However, it can never remain only on the level of renunciation. It is made above all for the kingdom of heaven. It is a renunciation made out of love. Let us look at this in the next conference.

5. Renunciation of marriage for the kingdom of heaven and welcoming the will of God

The consecrated life is a renunciation of marriage. However, it can never remain only on the level of renunciation. It is made above all for the kingdom of heaven. It is a renunciation made out of love.

Celibacy is for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. It has an eschatological orientation. It lifts the vision of humanity to look beyond the immediate to the eternal. In Mark’s gospel Jesus responds to the question of whether the dead rise by nuancing his answer with “when they rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mk 12:25). In this state the human person, male and female, experiences the joy of the fullness of personal donation and the fullness of intersubjective communion of persons. This is already written in our flesh and there is a particular sensitivity to this in the human spirit. The consecrated life serves to sensitise and draw this out for humanity, lest the beauty of the human person be lost sight of, and men and women are reduced to living for this world alone.[33]

This is a truth that is not easily accepted. It presented difficulties for the Jews of Jesus’ day and the disciples themselves found it hard to grasp. Celibacy was only for those who were physically defective or had been made so by men. Jesus’ teaching on the body is a new revelation. Those of the Qumran community who lived celibacy until death, did so from the attitude that the prescription of Dt 23:10-14 on ritual purity during a holy war applied to the situation in which they were living because this war lasts always “between the children of light and the children of darkness”. They lived celibacy so as to be always ready for the battle (cf. 1 QM 7, 5-7).[34]

Christ spoke specifically of continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. It is chosen in this present life, where the norm is that men and women marry, for a singular supernatural finality. Even if someone lives continently in a single life, true to the teaching of the Church on sexuality, if this continence is not chosen with this singular supernatural finality, it does not come within the scope of what Christ was revealing.[35] It is chosen and lived out as a renunciation with a determined spiritual effort for the kingdom.

Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an eschatological sign. It invites each generation of the Church and the world to lift up their heads from looking in the tomb of unredeemed man for the meaning of life. It puts before humanity, in a dim reflection surely, but even a tiny beam of light in the dark is enough to rouse hope and spur us on into the light. In the words of the Pope:

Such a human being, man and woman, indicates the eschatological virginity of the risen man. In him there will be revealed, I would say, the absolute and eternal nuptial meaning of the glorified body in union with God himself through the “face” to “face” vision of him, and glorified also through the union of a perfect intersubjectivity. This will unite all who participate in the other world, men and women, in the mystery of the communion of saints.[36]

The importance of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is present and active in the very moment of the beginning of the history of Christianity. It is present in the event of the annunciation. Two young people, in obedience to the goodness of the natural order created by God, especially in their own humanity, have the intention of marrying. This intention has already become communitarian in that a formal engagement has been announced. Into this situation breaks an event of God. To this young engaged virgin, the angel Gabriel announces the good news. In front of this plan of God, which is different to what Mary had planned or accepted as planned for her life, Mary welcomes with humility, simplicity and joy this plan of God. She renounces her own good plan, that of the normal way of marrying, sexual relation with her husband, and the welcoming of children as a fruit of this coming together. She welcomes the plan of God, the mystery of a maternity that is virginal.

It is the same but also different for St Joseph. It is from St Joseph, husband of Mary, that we can learn the spirituality of the consecrated life. The virginal mystery of Joseph corresponds to that of Mary. He has to renounce his own plan and accept the plan of God for his life. This was a drama, an existential crisis for Joseph that is portrayed succinctly in the Gospel of Matthew.

Early iconography has understood well this drama and crisis of renunciation and acceptance in Joseph. (There are many examples available on the internet, eg. In the portrayal of the nativity scene Joseph is often sitting off to one side. At the centre is the newborn baby Jesus, with Mary and the shepherds. Joseph is in deep thought, often with his chin resting on one hand, with the arm resting on his knee. He is in crisis. In front of him is an old bearded man dialoguing with him. This is Satan, disguised as a shepherd, tempting Joseph saying to him, “This is not your baby.” St Joseph teaches us that it is not enough to renounce one’s plan for God’s plan. It is not even enough, having renounced for the plan of God, to accept God’s plan, different to one’s own. This can be done without freedom, more from an attitude of slavish constriction. It is then lived as regret. No, the will of God is to be welcomed; welcomed with the freedom of a son of God. For the response to be fully human this plan must be welcomed. There is a eucharistic dimension written in the nature of man.

In welcoming this continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven Joseph and Mary, initially in a hidden way, in the holy family of Nazareth, experience the spiritual fruitfulness of celibacy. In the history of salvation this continence was the most perfect fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. The marriage of Joseph and Mary, lived out in continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, reveals the mystery of the communion of persons in marriage and the mystery of that singular continence for the sake of the kingdom.[37] Both marriage and consecrated celibacy are treasures of the Church. The text of chapter 5 of St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians on marriage lays a foundation for both a theology of marriage and of the consecrated life. Paul himself notes that he is speaking of Christ and his Church. “Christ, the Son of the Virgin, who was himself a virgin, that is, a “eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” in the most perfect meaning of the term.”[38]

When Christ begins to speak to the disciples about celibacy for the sake of the kingdom they find it difficult to understand as it was contrary to the Old Testament tradition they were living. The body was orientated towards a natural fruitfulness in marriage in the procreation of children. They came to gradually understand it from the personal example of Jesus himself. Christ himself had remained celibate for the sake of the kingdom. Gradually they would come to understand that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom has a spiritual and supernatural fruitfulness which comes from the Holy Spirit. This is the understanding Paul expresses in his writings.

This type of continence holds within itself the interior dynamism of the mystery of the redemption of the body:

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. (Luke 20: 34-36)

The living out of this evangelical counsel on celibacy possesses in itself a particular likeness to Jesus Christ. It is living out in the flesh a special participation in the mystery of the redemption of the body. In his letter to the Colossians Paul spoke from his own experience of using his own body for the building up of the community:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col 1:21-24)

In this attitude and spirit the consecrated person can become a “true gift to others” (GS 22). It is a type of self-sacrifice that orientates the consecrated person to the building up of the communion of persons. It is a type of self-sacrifice that in fact involves many successive self-sacrifices because of the anthropology of the human person consists of, at the same time, the heritage of sin and the heritage of redemption. He orientates himself, by this exercise of freedom in response to a particular charism and grace, towards the future anthropology of the resurrection. This orientation has consequences greater than his own particular personal choice. It has prophetic consequences that impact upon the community of persons, building up a civilization of love in response to the oppression of modern humanity by a culture of death.

In fact, marriage and continence complement each other. They encourage each other in the building up of the community of persons and a civilisation of love. Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is laid on the foundation of the nuptial meaning of the body. As we looked at in the previous conferences, the body has a nuptial meaning in its very nature. It only reaches its true fulfilment in the total gift of oneself. It is orientated towards the community of persons. It is orientated towards Jesus Christ bodily risen. Perfect conjugal love is founded on fidelity and donation to Jesus Christ, the perfect Spouse. The orientation of the consecrated person towards this special intimacy with the Spouse complements and encourages the spouses in their sacrament of marriage to keep Jesus Christ at the centre. The fruitfulness of marriage in the vocation to paternity and maternity keep before the consecrated person that his or her love must also be paternal or maternal in a spiritual sense. It must be open to the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. This is at the cost of losing one’s life for the “children”.

For this choice of the renunciation of the value of marriage and its fruitfulness in children to be fully human (made consciously and freely) the consecrated person needs to have a profound appreciation of the beauty of marriage. It also presupposes that the consecrated person has a deep appreciation of his or her own masculinity or femininity respectively. It is similar to the first question we ask the young couple before they exchange their marriage vows: Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself in marriage? This choice of celibacy for the kingdom “comes about on the basis of full consciousness of that nuptial meaning which masculinity and femininity contain in themselves. If this choice should come about by way of some artificial ‘prescinding’ from this real wealth of every human subject, it would not appropriately and adequately correspond to the content of Christ’s words in Matthew 19:11-12”.[39] “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it”; full understanding is necessary for a fully human response.

Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom serves to put before man the fullest anthropology: man risen from death and in love.

6. Consecrated Life: Icon of the Transfigured Christ

Hopefully having laid the foundation that underlies the document in first few conferences let us now enter more specifically into this encyclical on the consecrated life that can give us new courage in the day to day living out of this particular and indispensable vocation in the Church.

We need to concern ourselves with beauty. The consecrated life is not to be a ‘heavy’ experience. It is to be an experience of beauty. It is to gaze upon the most beautiful One. It is an invitation by God to gaze upon the transfigured face of Christ. Taking strength and courage from this experience we are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ.

For a panorama of the essential characteristics of this vocation “it is singularly helpful to fix our gaze on Christ’s radiant face in the mystery of the Transfiguration. A whole ancient spiritual tradition refers to this ‘icon’ when it links the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus ‘on the mountain.’ Even the ‘active’ dimensions of consecrated life can in a way be included here, for the Transfiguration is not only the revelation of Christ’s glory but also a preparation for facing Christ’s Cross. It involves both ‘going up the mountain’ and ‘coming down the mountain.’ The disciples who have enjoyed this intimacy with the Master, surrounded for a moment by the splendour of the Trinitarian life and of the communion of saints, and as it were caught up in the horizon of eternity, are immediately brought back to daily reality, where they see ‘Jesus only’, in the lowliness of his human nature, and are invited to return to the valley, to share with him the toil of God’s plan and to set off courageously on the way of the Cross.” (VC 14)

“The event of the transfiguration marks “a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus. It is a revelatory event which strengthens the faith in the disciples’ hearts, prepares them for the tragedy of the Cross and prefigures the glory of the Resurrection. This mystery is constantly relived by the Church, the people on its way to the eschatological encounter with its Lord. Like the three chosen disciples, the Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ in order to be confirmed in faith and to avoid being dismayed at his disfigured face on the Cross. In both cases, she is the Bride before her Spouse, sharing in his mystery and surrounded by his light.” (VC 15)

The consecrated life is to be permeated by the divine beauty. It is true that we are called to live poverty, but let us not mistake this for impoverishment, squalor of spirit and the absence of beauty. We are called to enter into the sublime beauty of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“A Patre ad Patrem”: God’s initiative (VC 17)

Contemplating the glory of the Lord Jesus in the icon of the Transfiguration reveals first of all the Father. The initiative of the call to consecrated life comes wholly from the Father (cf. Jn 15:16). The call is to a response of a complete self-offering, a genuine holocaust, as St Thomas has termed it.[40]

The Cross of San Damiano also presented the glory of the Lord Jesus to St Francis. The experience before this cross is like a transfiguration experience for Francis. It is a decisive moment in his personal conversion. Contemplating the glory of Jesus Christ in his passion, Francis desires for himself and his brothers that we consign and abandon our bodies to our Lord Jesus Christ, and out of love of him expose ourselves to our enemies, both visible and invisible, so that we may save our souls for the eternal life (Cf., Regola non bollata 1221, chapter 16:14). Francis lived a spirituality which some modern scholars have described as a spirituality of martyrdom. Admonition 5:1 reveals that Francis’ call to abandon our bodies does not come from any Manichaean or Albigensian[41] anthropology: “Consider, O man, in what sublime condition God has placed you; he has created and made you in the image of his beloved Son according to the body, and in his likeness according to the spirit.” (My translation from the Italian). Francis is situated in the anthropology of Irenaeus, Tertullian and the Second Vatican Council. His eyes are fixed on contemplating the beauty of God and within this the wonder and sublimity of his own call: to an image and likeness of Christ.

“Per Filium”: in the footsteps of the Son (VC 18)

The Son is the way which leads to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). The religious is called to a particular conformity to Jesus Christ in the evangelical counsels. The religious is called to share the experience of Jesus as the chaste, poor and obedient One. Here the encyclical quotes the profound simplicity of the rule of St Francis: “Living ‘in obedience, with nothing of one’s own and in chastity,’[42] consecrated persons profess that Jesus is the model in whom every virtue comes to perfection. His way of living in chastity, poverty and obedience, appears as the most radical way of living the Gospel on this earth, a way which may be called divine, for it was embraced by him, God and man, as the expression of his relationship as the Only-Begotten Son with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. This is why Christian tradition has always spoken of the objective superiority of the consecrated life.

For St Francis, obedience, poverty and chastity are the weapons given to us by the Lord Jesus himself so as to enter into eternal life. St Francis was fond of the image portrayed by the first letter of Peter of following in the footsteps of Christ, especially in his sufferings so as to be transformed into his glory in the eternal life. The way was through the body so as to arrive at the heart, from which all the evils arise that disfigure us. (Cf., Regola non bollata chapter 22: We need to have a hatred for our body with its vices and sins, because living according to the flesh, we want to cut ourselves away from the love of Jesus Christ and eternal life… all these bad things proceed from inside the heart of man, and it is these which contaminate man).

Chastity, poverty and obedience are the weapons we use to overcome these vices and sins.

“In Spiritu”: consecrated by the Holy Spirit (VC 19)

St Thomas interprets the cloud as the image of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity appeared in the Transfiguration: the Father in the voice; The Son in the man; the Spirit in the bright cloud.[43]

“It is the Spirit who awakens the desire to respond fully; it is he who guides the growth of this desire, helping it to mature into a positive response and sustaining it as it is faithfully translated into action; it is he who shapes and moulds the hearts of those who are called, configuring them to Christ, the chaste, poor and obedient One, and prompting them to make his mission their own.” The religious thus, day after day, becomes conformed to Christ, and so a “prolongation in history of a special presence of the Risen Lord.”

The “Fathers of the Church have called this spiritual path philokalia, or love of the divine beauty, which is a reflection of the divine goodness.”

This gives expression to the Bridal dimension of the Church. It humanises the religious in giving him a spirit of service to the needs of the Church and the world.

The evangelical counsels, gift of the Trinity (VC 20)

“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. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life capable of amazing the world.”

“I see the beauty of your grace, I contemplate its radiance, I reflect its light; I am caught up in its ineffable splendour; I am taken outside myself as I think of myself; I see how I was and what I have become. O wonder! I am vigilant, I am full of respect for myself, of reverence and of fear, as I would be were I before you; I do not know what to do, I am seized by fear, I do not know where to sit, where to go, where to put these members which are yours; in what deeds, in what works shall I use them, these amazing divine marvels!”[44]

Here the encyclical puts before us the power of the language of the body when it is lived out in conformity to its true and full dignity. Ours is a generation that has rejected the words and writings of the Church about God, Jesus Christ, heaven, hell, judgement and eternal life. Yet our generation is still spoken to by beauty. We have seen this in the response to the “something beautiful for God” that Mother Teresa portrayed in the language of a transfigured life. She spoke this in the language of mercy and service to the poor that came out of her living of the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience.

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

Reflection of Trinitarian life in the evangelical counsels (VC 21)

Through the evangelic counsels the consecrated person lives with particular intensity the Trinitarian and Christological dimension which marks the whole of the Christian life.

Chastity manifests a dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. I Cor 7:32-34). Christ lived his chastity in a way that revealed that his whole life was oriented towards a deep communion with his Father. Chastity lived out in fidelity and a constant renewal of this choice reflects the infinite love of the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity. The Incarnate Word bears witness to this love “even to the point of giving his life.” Likewise, the consecrated religious is called to live out in an intense way the nuptial meaning of the body. He renounces the good and normal orientation of his body towards union and communion with a wife and the procreation of children for a supernatural motivation. This evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.

Poverty “proclaims that God is man’s only real treasure.” When lived according to Christ “it becomes an expression of that total gift of self which the three Divine Persons make to one another. This gift overflows into creation and is fully revealed in the Incarnation of the Word and in his redemptive death.” Once again, the nuptial meaning of the body is also revealed in poverty. It too gives this eschatological witness, raising the eyes of contemporary society from “having” to the question of “being”.

Obedience “shows the liberating beauty of a dependence which is not servile but filial, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust, which is a reflection in history of the loving harmony between the three Divine Persons.”

Obedience for the sake of the kingdom gives an answer to the distorted sense of freedom that is another sickness in the heart of modern man that leaves him alienated, enslaved and alone. Obedience puts before him the truth of relationships, the most profound being that of the Father with his Son. As sons and daughters of God by virtue of our baptism we can live in a fully human way, no longer enslaved to blind instincts and lust for power because of our experience of inadequacy and of foolishly confusing this with the exercise of freedom.

Fraternal life witnesses to the Trinity. “It proclaims the Father, who desires to make all of humanity one family. It proclaims the Incarnate Son, who gathers the redeemed into unity, pointing the way by his example, his prayer, his words and above all his death, which is the source of reconciliation for a divided and scattered humanity. It proclaims the Holy Spirit as the principle of unity in the Church, wherein he ceaselessly raises up spiritual families and fraternal communities.”

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on Reconciliation and Penance uses the story of the Tower of Babel as a paradigm of modern society. The intention in building the tower is good; it expresses the desire to build a focus of communion and fraternity. The tragedy is that it is attempted without reference to God. The global communication of today is amazing, yet man has never been so alone. How many of our young people who “have” everything are suiciding themselves out of loneliness, lack of communion and fraternity, and yet they can have so many ‘friends’ in their ‘Facebook.’ Our generation has need of experts in humanity who can live out and witness to the beauty of fraternal life which is founded in the communitarian life of God.

These dimensions of the consecrated life – chastity, poverty, obedience and fraternal life – express the anthropology of Jesus that is given its fullest expression in the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus gives us a photograph of the new man. This re-generation to newness is beyond the capacity of the old man. It comes from the initiative of the Trinity. Touched by grace made flesh in Jesus Christ, who is full of mercy and grace, the evangelical counsels become the way to pass to a new creature: the one who can completely lose himself and pass fully to the other in a sincere gift of himself, even to the love of the enemy. He is the one who has already passed over to the other side, who has tasted how good and sweet is the Lord.

Consecrated like Christ for the Kingdom of God (VC 22)

“The consecrated life, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ‘constitutes a closer imitation and an abiding re-enactment in the Church’[45] of the way of life which Jesus, the supreme Consecrated One and missionary of the Father for the sake of his Kingdom, embraced and proposed to his disciples (cf. Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20; Lk 5:10-11; Jn 15:16).” “Accepting his consecration by the Father, the Son in turn consecrates himself to the Father for the sake of humanity (cf. Jn 17:19). His life of virginity, obedience and poverty expresses his complete filial acceptance of the Father’s plan (cf. Jn 10:30; 14:11). His perfect offering confers an aspect of consecration upon all of his earthly existence.”

The ascent of Mount Tabor and the experience of the transfiguration, the gazing on the unveiled face of Christ invites us to contemplate also – despite the human frailty involved, perhaps because of this there is a greater wonder to behold – the divine beauty permeating the consecrated life.

7. Between Easter and Fulfilment

From Tabor to Calvary (VC 23)

The transfiguration is a preparation for the no less glorious event of Calvary. “The eyes of the Apostles are therefore fixed upon Jesus who is thinking of the Cross (cf. Lk 9:43-45). There his virginal love for the Father and for all mankind will attain its highest expression. His poverty will reach complete self-emptying, his obedience the giving of his life.” The Cross puts before us the highest expression of a man making a sincere gift of himself, even for his enemies. This is truly a gift freely given without any second intention, given out of an impulse of pure love.

“The disciples are invited to contemplate Jesus raised up on the Cross…” where “he draws every man and woman to himself, giving to all the new life of the Resurrection. It is in the contemplation of the Crucified Christ that all vocations find their inspiration. From this contemplation, together with the primordial gift of the Spirit, all gifts, and in particular the gift of the consecrated life, take their origin.” The truth of this is seen clearly in the experience of St Francis before the Cross and before the leper, the experiences of which he brings together to introduce his Testament:

The Lord granted to me, Brother Francis, thus to begin to do penance, for whilst I was in sin, it seemed to me too bitter a thing to see lepers, but the Lord Himself led me amongst them, and I showed compassion to them. And when I left them what before seemed bitter was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and after I tarried yet a little and forsook the world. And the Lord gave me such faith in churches, that I would with simplicity thus adore and say: “We adore Thee most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here, and in all Thy churches throughout the world, and we bless Thee, because by Thy holy Cross Thou has redeemed the world.

Paschal dimension of the consecrated life (VC 24)

To stand at the foot of the Cross of Christ is to discover more immediately and profoundly the truth of God who is love. “It is precisely on the Cross that the One who in death appears to human eyes as disfigured and without beauty…. fully reveals the beauty and power of God’s love.” Sin disfigures our humanity; Christ entered into our sin, our disfigurement on the Cross, destroyed it there and rose victorious. In Christ risen from death we behold our humanity in its full beauty for which it was created: flesh with the capacity for God (Irenaeus).

Saint Augustine sings of this beauty saying:

Beautiful is God, the Word with God … He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents’ arms, beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings; beautiful in inviting to life, beautiful in not worrying about death, beautiful in giving up his life and beautiful in taking it up again; he is beautiful on the Cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendour of his beauty.”[46]

Witnesses to Christ in the world (VC 25)

“The Paschal Mystery is also the wellspring of the Church’s missionary nature, which is reflected in the whole of the Church’s life.” The sense of mission is at the very heart of every form of consecrated life.

“The first missionary duty of consecrated persons is to themselves, and they fulfil it by opening their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit of Christ. Their witness helps the whole Church to remember that the most important thing is to serve God freely …” By freely living out their consecration in joy they will become “true signs of Christ to the world.”

“The Church must always seek to make her presence visible in everyday life, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularised and yet sensitive to the language of signs.” In this context the wearing of a proper religious habit has sense. It is still beauty that speaks to the heart of contemporary men and women. Aspects of our religious life need to become visible, so as to reflect the beauty of the work of the Holy Spirit: in our liturgy; the very liturgical space (eg., the hall at St Fiacre’s with its big gold leaf icon spanning three walls has an immediate effect on people, children, adolescents and adults); ways in which we construct our buildings and chapels; if possible, working in at least pairs, to give witness to the fraternal dimension and the love of God and neighbour.

Eschatological dimension of the consecrated life (VC 26)

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:23).

The Second Vatican Council teaches that religious consecration better “foretells the resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly Kingdom.”[47] “It does this above all by means of the vow of virginity, which tradition has always understood as an anticipation of the world to come, already at work for the total transformation of man.” The one thing necessary is to seek God’s “Kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33), with unceasing prayer for the Lord’s coming.

Active expectation: commitment and watchfulness (VC 27)

“‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev 22:20). This expectation is anything but passive: although directed towards the future Kingdom, it expresses itself in work and mission, that the Kingdom may become present here and now through the spirit of the Beatitudes, a spirit capable of giving rise in human society to effective aspirations for justice, peace, solidarity and forgiveness.” There is a need to be vigilant. This vigilance is kept awake and attentive through prayer.

The witness of the consecrated life carries with it hope. “In the West, monasticism is the celebration of memory and expectation: memory of the wonders God has wrought and expectation of the final fulfilment of our hope.” This is the centrality of the Eucharistic dimension to our consecrated life. The Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life, and so the consecrated life.


“Monasticism and the contemplative life are a constant reminder that the primacy of God gives full meaning and joy to human lives, because men and women are made for God, and their hearts are restless until they rest in him.”[48] Irenaeus expressed this in terms of the ‘image and likeness’ written into the very nature of man, there is the gift of restlessness in his solitude drawing man away from himself towards the other; the image and likeness man is irresistibly drawn towards is that of Christ risen in the flesh and in the nuptial banquet of heaven.

The Virgin Mary, model of consecration and discipleship (VC 28)

Mary reminds consecrated persons of the primacy of God’s initiative and is the model of the acceptance of grace. When confronted by the difficulties we face today both from the broader perspective of the Church in the world, the crisis in consecrate life today, and in the more personal perspective of our own personal crises and ups and downs, Mary gives us great hope and courage. She did not do “great and wonderful” things. She was the one who was open enough in heart and spirit to discern the initiative of God before her, the presence of the working of the Spirit, and simply welcomed this with “Amen”. In this we witness the interplay of divine love and human responsibility.

8. In the Church and for the Church

“It is well that we are here”: life in the mystery of the Church (VC 29)

“The experience of Christ’s glory, though completely filling his mind and heart, does not set [Peter] apart but rather unites him more closely to the “we” of the Apostles.” When the bishops defined the essential aspects of the mystery of the Church at the Council, one of the essential characteristics was that of communion. We have a service and witness to this communion through the fraternal dimension of the consecrated life. We give practical witness to the truth that the Church is one. This also has an eschatological dimension, giving witness to the Trinitarian life, a communion of persons in love.

“This dimension of “we” invites us to consider the place which the consecrated life occupies in the mystery of the Church.” The Second Vatican Council recognised “that the profession of the evangelical counsels indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church.[49] This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential and characteristic elements, for it expresses her very nature. We give practical witness to the truth that the Church is holy.

This is clearly seen from the fact that the profession of the evangelical counsels is intimately connected with the mystery of Christ and has the duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value. Jesus himself, by calling some men and women to abandon everything in order to follow him, established this type of life which, under the guidance of the Spirit would gradually develop down the centuries into the various forms of the consecrated life.”

The fraternal life also gives witness to the missionary dimension of the Church. The mission is towards communion, giving an answer to the Tower of Babel by building a civilization of fraternal love. Fraternal life leads to mission and the goal of this missionary work is for communion.

New and special consecration (VC 30)

“In the Church’s tradition religious profession is considered to be a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism.” All the baptised are called to holiness, that is, the perfection of love, in expressions of chastity, obedience and detachment from material things in accord with their particular state of life. “But Baptism in itself does not include the call to celibacy or virginity, the renunciation of possessions or obedience to a superior, in the form proper to the evangelical counsels. The profession of the evangelical counsels thus presupposes a particular gift of God not given to everyone, as Jesus himself emphasised with respect to voluntary celibacy (cf. Mt 19:10-12). This call is accompanied, moreover, by a special gift of the Holy Spirit.

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

Relationships between the different states of Christian life (VC 31)

The Spirit has established the Church as an organic communion in the diversity of vocations, charisms and ministries. The lay faithful “have as their specific but not exclusive characteristic, activity in the world; the clergy, ministry; consecrated men and women, special conformity to Christ, chaste, poor and obedient.” For our life not to become eccentric we need to constantly keep a catholic vision of our life before us. The threat of retreating into individualism is always present and vigilance is necessary.

The special value of the consecrated life (VC32)

“As a way of showing forth the Church’s holiness, it is to be recognised that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ’s own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church’s purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, [50] will be achieved, and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt 22:30).”

“The Church has always taught the pre-eminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom,[51] and rightly considers it the “door” of the whole consecrated life.[52]

Bearing witness to the Gospel of the Beatitudes (VC 33)

“A particular duty of the consecrated life is to remind the baptised of the fundamental values of the Gospel, by bearing ‘splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the Beatitudes.’”[53]

The living image of the Church as Bride (VC 34)

This article presents Mary as the model of consecration and discipleship. “In the consecrated life, particular importance attaches to the spousal meaning, which recalls the Church’s duty to be completely and exclusively devoted to her Spouse, from whom we receive every good thing.”

In Mary, gathered in prayer with the apostles in the upper room awaiting Pentecost, the aspect of spousal receptivity is particularly clear; “it is under this aspect that the Church, through her perfect virginal life, brings divine life to fruition within herself.”

“The consecrated life has always been seen primarily in terms of Mary – Virgin and Bride. This virginal love is the source of a particular fruitfulness which fosters the birth and growth of divine life in people’s hearts.[54] Following in the footsteps of Mary, the New Eve, consecrated persons express their spiritual fruitfulness by becoming receptive to the Word, in order to contribute to the growth of a new humanity by their unconditional dedication and their living witness. Thus, the Church fully reveals her motherhood both in the communication of divine grace entrusted to Peter and in the responsible acceptance of God’s gift, exemplified in Mary.”

We need to regularly place ourselves where we can be receptive to the Word. It is this dialogue with the Word that draws us deeper into experiencing the Gospel counsels. The normal places of encounter with the Word, if we engage in full and active participation, are the Liturgy and private/communal prayer. In these places we dialogue with God through a pondering in our hearts in which the Holy Spirit is given time and space to enlighten us to the language of God speaking through the events of fraternal life and apostolic engagement.

“God’s people, for their part, find in the ordained ministry the means of salvation, and in the consecrated life the incentive to make a full and loving response through all the different forms of Christian service.” The witness that we give in the service to charity helps to build up the body of Christ, the Church.

A “transfigured” life: the call to holiness (VC 35)

“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with fear” (Mt 17:6). “Whenever human beings become aware of the glory of God, they also become aware of their own insignificance and experience a sense of fear. Such fear is salutary. It reminds man of God’s perfection, and at the same time urges him on with a pressing call to ‘holiness’”. Luke portrays this as a response to Peter meeting Jesus for the first time: And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5: 7-8). The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of our sin, but only so as to prepare us for the greater work, turning us towards the mercy of Christ, to gaze upon the crucified side of Christ.

“All the sons and daughters of the Church, called by God to ‘listen to’ Christ, necessarily feel a deep need for conversion and holiness.” The “vocation of consecrated persons to seek first the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord, so that God may be all in all. Called to contemplate and bear witness to the transfigured face of Christ, consecrated men and women are also called to a ‘transfigured’ existence.”

We see in the life of St Francis a descending, a kenosis, into his baptism so that he could emerge a new creature, a son of God. The way all the saints put before us is that of humility, a sincere knowledge of the truth of our life. When Francis would declare himself the greatest of sinners, it was not out of any false humility, it arouse from a sincere and deep knowledge of the capacity of his heart. This deep self-knowledge of his sins and more importantly the experience of the mercy of God led him to simplicity. He began to live without duplicity. The fruit of this was the joy. His very life became Eucharistic.

Faithfulness to the charism (VC 36)

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

“Fundamental to every charism is a threefold orientation.”

“First, charisms lead to the Father, in the filial desire to seek his will through a process of unceasing conversion, wherein obedience is the source of true freedom, chastity expresses the yearning of a heart unsatisfied by any finite love, and poverty nourishes that hunger and thirst for justice which God has promised to satisfy (cf. Mt 5:6).”

“Secondly, the charisms of the consecrated life also lead to the Son, fostering an intimate and joyful communion of life with him, in the school of his generous service of God and neighbour.”

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

“In fact it is this threefold relationship which emerges in every founding charism, though with specific nuances of the various patterns of living. This is so because in every charism there predominates ‘a profound desire to be conformed to Christ to give witness to some aspect of his mystery’.”

Creative fidelity (VC 37)

There is a “pressing need today for every Institute to return to the Rule, since the Rule and Constitutions provide a map for the whole journey of discipleship, in accordance with a specific charism confirmed by the Church.”

Prayer and asceticism: spiritual combat (VC 38)

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

We need to give an answer to the assessment of the situation of the young people of today in Pastores Dabo Vobis, where losing sense of the existence of his soul, the young person is deluded into self-sufficiency and no longer experiences a need to fight against God. It is a generation that suffers from boredom and an incessant need to be passively entertained and stimulated. Perhaps this is also a malady in our modern religious life. The only “recreation” of some is the television, computer or superficial (at the least) films.

“Rise, and have no fear”: a renewed trust (VC 40)

“Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear’” (Mt 17:7). Our lives are not always marked by the fervour which makes us exclaim: ‘It is well for us to be here’ (Mt 17:4). “But it is always a life ‘touched’ by the hand of Christ, a life where his voice is heard, a life sustained by his grace.”

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

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

Pope John Paul II from the beginning of his pontificate, cried out to the nations of the world, “Do not be afraid”. It was an invitation to gaze on the beauty of the risen Lord and approach life with trust and hope.

9. Consecrated Life as a Sign of the Communion in the Church


In the image of the Trinity (VC 41)

After the ascension Jesus, as a fruit of the gift of the Spirit, a fraternal community gathered in praise and in a concrete experience of communion (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). “The life of that community and, even more, the experience of complete sharing with Christ lived out by the Twelve, have always been the model to which the Church has looked whenever she has sought to return to her original fervour and to resume with fresh evangelical vigour her journey through history.”

“The Church is essentially a mystery of communion, “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”[55] The fraternal life seeks to reflect the depth and richness of this mystery, taking shape as a human community in which the Trinity dwells, in order to extend in history the gifts of communion proper to the three divine Persons.” “By constantly promoting fraternal love, also in the form of the common life, the consecrated life has shown that sharing in the Trinitarian communion can change human relationships and create a new type of solidarity. In this way it speaks to people both of the beauty of fraternal communion and of the ways which actually lead to it. Consecrated persons live ‘for’ God and ‘from’ God, and precisely for this reason they are able to bear witness to the reconciling power of grace, which overcomes the divisive tendencies present in the human heart and in society.”

The fraternity is the place of conversion. It is in fraternity that we “discover” our heart and see our sins: judgement, selfishness, impatience, contempt, and so forth. It confronts us with ourselves and draws us out of our individualism and into dialogue with the others. Ours is a society (at least in Australia) where there is a housing crisis because of the number of people living on their own. Today people are retreating into their selfishness and individualism so much that they choose now not only not to marry, but not to live together. The brief encounters with each other are the only ones they can endure, for a little while.

Often the deepest reason why communion in fraternity is either not established or ruptures cannot be explained away or addressed solely on the level of personality or cultural differences. That is a shallow and false anthropology. The reason is sin. I cannot pass to the other in dialogue, mercy and forgiveness. The answer is conversion: to welcome the cross of Jesus Christ.

Fraternal life in love (VC 42)

“The fraternal life, understood as a life shared in love, is an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion.” “Love led Christ to the gift of self, even to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross. So, too, among his disciples, there can be no true unity without that unconditional mutual love which demands a readiness to serve others generously, a willingness to welcome them as they are, without ‘judging’ them (cf. Mt 7:1-2), and an ability to forgive up to ‘seventy times seven’ (Mt 18:22).”

Here is the call to live the nuptial meaning of the body. To continually seek to fall in love with Jesus Christ, so that I may pass to the other in a communion of dialogue, respect and love.

Fraternal communion is a God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord (cf. Mt 18:20).[56] “This comes about through the mutual love of all the members of the community, a love nourished by the word and by the Eucharist, purified in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and sustained by prayer for unity, the special gift of the Spirit to those who obediently listen to the Gospel. It is the Spirit himself who leads the soul to the experience of communion with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Jn 1:3), a communion which is the source of fraternal life. It is the Spirit who guides communities of the consecrated life in carrying out their mission of service to the Church and to all humanity, in accordance with their original inspiration.”

The task of authority (VC 43)

“In an atmosphere strongly affected by individualism, it is not an easy thing to foster recognition and acceptance of the role which authority plays for the benefit of all.” The exercise of authority can indeed be a hidden gift that brings us out of ourselves and continually keeps us in dialogue with God through the events of daily life.

In the image of the apostolic community (VC 45)

“The whole Church greatly depends on the witness of communities filled ‘with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 13:52). She wishes to hold up before the world the example of communities in which solitude is overcome through concern for one another, in which communication inspires in everyone a sense of shared responsibility, and in which wounds are healed through forgiveness, and each person’s commitment to communion is strengthened.”

“If the Church is to reveal her true face to today’s world, she urgently needs such fraternal communities, which, by their very existence, contribute to the new evangelisation, inasmuch as they disclose in a concrete way the fruitfulness of the ‘new commandment’.”

Brothers, the challenge is to risk to make ourselves transparent, warts and all in our communal life. The poor one, the weak one, the sinner is more encouraged by the sight of the friars who can fight and argue and yet be reconciled and live in communion, than the image of the “perfect”. The more we work with the people the more they see who we really are. My experience is that they are not scandalised but encouraged to see the friars warts and all in community living.

“Sentire cum Ecclesia” (VC46)

In the light of the Second Vatican Council, “consecrated persons are asked to be true experts of communion and to practice the spirituality of communion.” “The life of communion in fact ‘becomes a sign for all the world and a compelling force that leads people to faith in Christ … In this way communion leads to mission, and itself becomes mission’; indeed, communion begets communion: in essence it is a communion that is missionary.[57]

“In founders and foundresses we see a constant and lively sense of the Church which they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life, and in their ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. Against this background of love towards Holy Church, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), we readily understand the devotion of Saint Francis of “Assisi for “the Lord Pope,[58] the daughterly outspokenness of Saint Catherine of Siena towards the one whom she called “sweet Christ on earth”, [59] the apostolic obedience and the sentire cum Ecclesia of Saint Ignatius of Loyola,[60] and the joyful profession of faith made by Saint Teresa of Avila: “I am a daughter of the Church”.[61] “These testimonies are representative of the full ecclesial communion which the Saints, founders and foundresses, have shared in diverse and often difficult times and circumstances. They are examples which consecrated persons need constantly to recall if they are to resist the particular strong centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today.”

Fraternity in the universal Church (VC 47)

The charisms, especially that of charity, serve to strengthen the apostolic zeal for the mission of the Church. The Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic life have a “particular bond of communion” “with the Successor of Peter in his ministry of unity and missionary universality.”

The consecrated life has the character of universality and communion. “Because of their supra-diocesan character, grounded in their special relation to the Petrine ministry, they are also at the service of cooperation between the particular Churches,[62] since they can effectively promote an “exchange of gifts” among them, and thus contribute to an inculturation of the Gospel which purifies, strengthens and enobles the treasures found in the cultures of all peoples.[63]

The consecrated life and the particular Church (VC 48)

The charisms of the consecrated life can greatly contribute to the building up of charity in the particular Churches.

Fruitful and ordered ecclesial communion (VC 49)

Consecrated persons are called to cooperate generously with the particular Churches, “working in full communion with the Bishop in the areas of evangelisation, catechesis and parish life.” There are charismatic and at the same time hierarchical structures which, working together and linked by ecclesial charity, build up the organic communion of the whole People of God.

Fraternity in a divided and unjust world (VC 51)

“The Church entrusts to communities of consecrated life the particular task of spreading the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries, by opening or continuing a dialogue in charity, especially where today’s world is torn apart by ethnic hatred or senseless violence.” In community life, “persons of different ages, languages and cultures meeting as brothers and sisters are signs that dialogue is always possible and that communion can bring differences into harmony.”

Communion among different Institutes (VC 52)

“Saint Bernard’s words about the various Religious Orders remain ever timely: ‘I admire them all. I belong to one of them by observance, but to all of them by charity. We all need one another: the spiritual good which I do not own and possess, I receive from others … In this exile, the Church is still on pilgrimage and is, in a certain sense, plural: she is a single plurality and a plural unity. All our diversities, which make manifest the richness of God’s gifts, will continue to exist in the one house of the Father, which has many rooms. Now there is a division of graces; then there will be distinctions of glory. Unity, both here and there, consists in one and the same charity.’”[64]


Difficulties and future prospects (VC 63)

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

“New situations of difficulty are therefore to be faced with the serenity of those who know that what is required of each individual is not success, but commitment to faithfulness….. Sad situations of crisis invite consecrated persons courageously to proclaim their faith in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, that they may become a visible sign of the passage from death to life.”

Fresh efforts in the promotion of vocations (VC 64)

“The invitation of Jesus, “Come and see” (Jn 1:39), is the golden rule of pastoral work for promoting vocations, even today. Following the example of founders and foundresses, this work aims at presenting the attraction of the person of the Lord Jesus and the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.”

In a constant search for faithfulness (VC 70)

“There is a youthfulness of spirit which lasts through time; it arises from the fact that at every stage of life a person seeks and finds a new task to fulfil, a particular way of being, of serving and of loving.”

“In the consecrated life the first years of full involvement in the apostolate are a critical stage, marked by the passage from a supervised life to a situation of full responsibility for one’s work. It is important that young consecrated persons be supported and accompanied by a brother or sister who helps them to live to the full the freshness of their love and enthusiasm for Christ.”

“The next stage can present the risk of routine, and the subsequent temptation to give in to disappointment because of meagre results. Middle-aged consecrated persons must therefore be helped, in the light of the Gospel and the charism of their Institute, to renew their original decision, and not confuse the completeness of their dedication with the degree of good results. This will enable them to give a fresh impulse and new motivations to their decision. This is the time to search for what is essential.”

“The stage of maturity, while it brings personal growth, can also bring the danger of a certain individualism, accompanied either by a fear of not being in line with the times, or by forms of inflexibility, self-centredness or diminished enthusiasm. At this point continuing formation is aimed at helping not only to bring back a higher level of spiritual and apostolic life, but also at discovering the special characteristics of this stage of life. For at this time, after refining certain features of the personality, the gift of self is made to God more genuinely and with greater generosity; it extends to others with greater serenity and wisdom, as well as with greater simplicity and richness of grace. This is the gift and experience of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood.”

“Advanced age poses new problems, which can be prepared for by a discerning programme of spiritual support. The gradual withdrawal from activity, sometimes caused by sickness or forced immobility, can be a very formative experience. Often a time of suffering, advanced age nonetheless offers to elderly consecrated persons the chance to be transformed by the Paschal experience, by being configured to the Crucified Christ who fulfils the Father’s will in all things and abandons himself into the Father’s hands, even to the surrendering of his spirit to him. This configuration represents a new way of living one’s consecration, which is not tied to effectiveness in carrying out administrative responsibilities or apostolic work.”

“When the moment finally comes for uniting oneself to the supreme hour of the Lord’s Passion, the consecrated person knows that the Father is now bringing to completion the mysterious process of formation which began many years before. Death will then be awaited and prepared for as the supreme act of love and self-offering.”

It should be added that, independently of the different stages of life, any period can present critical situations due to external factors — such as a change of place or assignment, difficulties in work or lack of success in the apostolate, misunderstandings and feelings of alienation — or resulting from more directly personal factors such as physical or mental illness, spiritual aridity, deaths, difficulties in interpersonal relations, strong temptations, crises of faith or identity, or feelings of uselessness. When fidelity becomes more difficult, the individual must be offered the support of greater trust and deeper love, at both the personal and community levels. At such times, the sensitive closeness of the Superior is most essential. Great comfort can also come from the valuable help of a brother or sister, whose concerned and caring presence can lead to a rediscovery of the meaning of the covenant which God originally established, and which he has no intention of breaking. The person undergoing such a trial will then accept purification and hardship as essential to the following of Christ Crucified. The trial itself will appear as a providential means of being formed by the Father’s hands, and as a struggle which is not only psychological, carried out by the “I” in relation to itself and its weaknesses, but also religious, touched each day by the presence of God and the power of the Cross!”

Dimensions of continuing formation (VC 71)

“If the subject of formation is the individual at every stage of life, the object of formation is the whole person, called to seek and love God “with all one’s heart, and with all one’s soul, and with all one’s might” (cf. Dt 6:5), and one’s neighbour as oneself (cf. Lev 19:18; Mt 22:37-39).”

10. Servitium Caritatis: manifestation of God’s love in the world

Consecrated for mission (VC 72)

“In the image of Jesus, the beloved Son “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (Jn 10:36), those whom God calls to follow him are also consecrated and sent into the world to imitate his example and to continue his mission. Fundamentally, this is true of every disciple.” A sense of mission is essential to every institute. More than in external works, the mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness. The primary task of consecrated persons is to allow themselves to be conformed to Christ.

Religious life has the specific feature of “fraternal life in community for the sake of the mission.”

The Church is of its very nature missionary. Missionary zeal is a litmus test we can use to judge the “healthiness” of our own living of the consecrated life and for the brothers together.


Loving with the heart of Christ (VC 75)

“In the washing of feet Jesus reveals the depth of God’s love for humanity: in Jesus, God places himself at the service of human being! At the same time, he reveals the meaning of the Christian life and, even more, of the consecrated life, which is a life of self-giving love, of practical and generous service.” There is no other way to becoming fully human, of fully realising oneself. It is possible because the Father through his Son has taken the initiative and washed away our sins. Tasting this mercy our hearts can begin to change and we can begin to take responsible action towards the other out of an impulse of love.

“In its commitment to following the Son of Man, who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28), the consecrated life, at least in the best periods of its long history, has been characterized by this “washing of feet”, that is, by service directed in particular to the poorest and neediest.” This was also a traditional characteristic of the Capuchin life. The friars would go where no one else would go.

“Peter, overcome by the light of the Transfiguration, exclaims: “Lord, it is well that we are here” (Mt 17:4), but he is invited to return to the byways of the world in order to continue serving the Kingdom of God:

Come down, Peter! You wanted to rest up on the mountain: come down. Preach the word of God, be insistent both when it is timely and when it is not; reprove, exhort, give encouragement using all your forbearance and ability to teach. Work, spend yourself, accept even sufferings and torments, in order that, through the brightness and beauty of good works, you may possess in charity what is symbolized in the Lord’s white garments”.[65] (St Augustine)

The fact that consecrated persons fix their gaze on the Lord’s countenance does not diminish their commitment on behalf of humanity; on the contrary, it strengthens this commitment, enabling it to have an impact on history, in order to free history from all that disfigures it.”

“The quest for divine beauty impels consecrated persons to care for the deformed image of God on the faces of their brothers and sisters, faces disfigured by hunger, faces disillusioned by political promises, faces humiliated by seeing their culture despised, faces frightened by constant and indiscriminate violence, the anguished faces of minors, the hurt and humiliated faces of women, the tired faces of migrants who are not given a warm welcome, the faces of the elderly who are without even the minimum conditions for a dignified life.”

“Today, among the possible works of charity, certainly the one which in a special way shows the world this love “to the end” is the fervent proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know him, to those who have forgotten him, and to the poor in a preferential way.” It is only the gospel that can bring the true healing for what disfigures the dignity of the human person, the slavery of sin. It can free both the oppressed and oppressor and create a civilization of love.


The prophetic character of the consecrated life (VC 84)

“The Patristic tradition has seen a model of monastic religious life in Elijah, courageous prophet and friend of God.[66] He lived in God’s presence and contemplated his passing by in silence; he interceded for the people and boldly announced God’s will; he defended God’s sovereignty and came to the defence of the poor against the powerful of the world (cf. 1 Kg 18-19).”

Significance for the contemporary world (VC 85)

“In our world, where it often seems that the signs of God’s presence have been lost from sight, a convincing prophetic witness on the part of consecrated persons is increasingly necessary. In the first place this should entail the affirmation of the primacy of God and of eternal life, as evidenced in the following and imitation of the chaste, poor and obedient Christ, who was completely consecrated to the glory of God and to the love of his brethren. The fraternal life is itself prophetic in a society which, sometimes without realizing it, has a profound yearning for a brotherhood which knows no borders. Consecrated persons are being asked to bear witness everywhere with the boldness of a prophet who is unafraid of risking even his life.”

“Prophecy derives a particularly persuasive power from consistency between proclamation and life. Consecrated persons will be faithful to their mission in the Church and the world, if they can renew themselves constantly in the light of the word of God.”

The major challenges facing the consecrated life (87)

“The prophetic task of the consecrated life is brought into play by three major challenges addressed to the Church herself: they are the same challenges as ever, posed in new ways, and perhaps more radically, by contemporary society, at least in some parts of the world. These challenges relate directly to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, impelling the Church, and consecrated persons in particular, to clarify and testify to the profound anthropological significance of the counsels. The decision to follow the counsels, far from involving an impoverishment of truly human values, leads instead to their transformation. The evangelical counsels should not be considered as a denial of the values inherent in sexuality, in the legitimate desire to possess material goods or to make decisions for oneself. Insofar as these inclinations are based on nature, they are good in themselves. Human beings, however, weakened as they are by original sin, run the risk of acting on them in a way which transgresses the moral norms. The profession of chastity, poverty and obedience is a warning not to underestimate the wound of original sin and, while affirming the value of created goods, it relativizes them by pointing to God as the absolute good. Thus, while those who follow the evangelical counsels seek holiness for themselves, they propose, so to speak, a spiritual “therapy” for humanity, because they reject the idolatry of anything created and in a certain way they make visible the living God. The consecrated life, especially in difficult times, is a blessing for human life and for the life of the Church.”

The challenge of consecrated chastity (VC 88)

“The first challenge is that of a hedonistic culture which separates sexuality from all objective moral norms, often treating it as a mere diversion and a consumer good and, with the complicity of the means of social communication, justifying a kind of idolatry of the sexual instinct. The consequences of this are before everyone’s eyes: transgressions of every kind, with resulting psychic and moral suffering on the part of individuals and families. The reply of the consecrated life is above all in the joyful living of perfect chastity, as a witness to the power of God’s love manifested in the weakness of the human condition. The consecrated person attests that what many have believed impossible becomes, with the Lord’s grace, possible and truly liberating. Yes, in Christ it is possible to love God with all one’s heart, putting him above every other love, and thus to love every creature with the freedom of God! This testimony is more necessary than ever today, precisely because it is so little understood by our world. It is offered to everyone — young people, engaged couples, husbands and wives and Christian families — in order to show that the power of God’s love can accomplish great things precisely within the context of human love. It is a witness which also meets a growing need for interior honesty in human relationships.

The consecrated life must present to today’s world examples of chastity lived by men and women who show balance, self-mastery, an enterprising spirit, and psychological and affective maturity. Thanks to this witness, human love is offered a stable point of reference: the pure love which consecrated persons draw from the contemplation of Trinitarian love, revealed to us in Christ. Precisely because they are immersed in this mystery, consecrated persons feel themselves capable of a radical and universal love, which gives them the strength for the self-mastery and discipline necessary in order not to fall under the domination of the senses and instincts. Consecrated chastity thus appears as a joyful and liberating experience. Enlightened by faith in the Risen Lord and by the prospect of the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), it offers a priceless incentive in the task of educating to that chastity which corresponds to other states of life as well.”

The challenge of poverty (VC 89)

“Another challenge today is that of a materialism which craves possessions, heedless of the needs and sufferings of the weakest, and lacking any concern for the balance of natural resources. The reply of the consecrated life is found in the profession of evangelical poverty, which can be lived in different ways and is often expressed in an active involvement in the promotion of solidarity and charity.”

Evangelical poverty at the service of the poor (VC 90)

“Even before being a service on behalf of the poor, evangelical poverty is a value in itself, since it recalls the first of the Beatitudes in the imitation of the poor Christ. Its primary meaning, in fact, is to attest that God is the true wealth of the human heart.” St Francis knows the dignity of poverty, calling it Lady holy poverty. It is the key to arriving to holy humility.

The challenge of freedom in obedience (VC 91)

“The third challenge comes from those notions of freedom which separate this fundamental human good from its essential relationship to the truth and to moral norms. In effect, the promotion of freedom is a genuine value, closely connected with respect for the human person. But who does not see the aberrant consequences of injustice and even violence, in the life of individuals and of peoples, to which the distorted use of freedom leads?

An effective response to this situation is the obedience which marks the consecrated life. In an especially vigorous way this obedience reproposes the obedience of Christ to the Father and, taking this mystery as its point of departure, testifies that there is no contradiction between obedience and freedom. Indeed, the Son’s attitude discloses the mystery of human freedom as the path of obedience to the Father’s will, and the mystery of obedience as the path to the gradual conquest of true freedom. It is precisely this mystery which consecrated persons wish to acknowledge by this particular vow. By obedience they intend to show their awareness of being children of the Father, as a result of which they wish to take the Father’s will as their daily bread (cf. Jn 4:34), as their rock, their joy, their shield and their fortress (cf. Ps 18:2). Thus they show that they are growing in the full truth about themselves, remaining in touch with the source of their existence and therefore offering this most consoling message: “The lovers of your law have great peace; they never stumble” (Ps 118:165).”

In the story of the prodigal son, the eldest son does not move from slavish obedience to filial obedience. He remains outside of the feast of life.

Carrying out together the Father’s will (VC 92)

“This testimony of consecration takes on special meaning in religious life because of the community dimension which marks it. The fraternal life is the privileged place in which to discern and accept God’s will, and to walk together with one mind and heart.”

  1. n. 4.
  2. n. 4.
  3. n. 6.
  4. Cf. n. 13.
  5. Cf. n. 14.
  6. Cf. Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session XXIV, Canon 10; Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Sacra Virginitas (25 March 1954): AAS 46 (1954), 176.
  7. Cf. Propositio 17.
  8. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, n.1052 (Kaufmann and Hollingdale, 543). Quoted by Walter Kasper in The God of Jesus Christ, 1983 SCM, p. 40.
  9. Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, n. 18 (Hollingdale, 128). Quoted by Walter Kasper The God of Jesus Christ, 1983, SCM, p. 40.
  10. n. 125 (Kaufmann, 181). Quoted by Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, p. 41.
  11. Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, pp. 41-2.
  12. Quoted by W. Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, p. 40.
  13. CCC, a. 397.
  14. John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, 31.2.; cf. CCC 1848.
  15. Cf. L. Ladaria, Antropologia Teologica, p. 152-3; also L. Ladaria in ‘Humanity in the Light of Christ in the Second Vatican Council,’ p. 390.
  16. Cf. A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. I, Atlanta: John Knox (Second edition) 1975, pp. 98-99.
  17. Cf. J. Quasten, Patrology, Maryland: Christian Classics 1990, Vol. I, pp. 308-310.
  18. Cf. P. Hamell, Handbook of Patrology, p. 52.
  19. The following treatment of Irenaeus mainly follows that of G. Pelland, Appunti di Patristica, pp.56-63.
  20. Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Adv. haer.) IV 20:1.
  21. Cf., M. Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, p.21; Cf. Adv. haer., IV 14:2-3: The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1 translates this as: “to things that are real, by means of those that are typical; and by things temporal, to eternal; and by the carnal to the spiritual; and by the earthly to the heavenly;” cf. also IV 9:3; 20:5,8.
  22. Adv. haer. IV 26:1
  23. Cf., Adv. haer. V 6:1 together with V 7:1
  24. Cf. L. Ladaria, Antropologia Teologica, p.156 where he talks generally about the Fathers but I believe it holds specifically for Irenaeus’ theology.
  25. Adv. haer. IV 20:7.
  26. Cf., Adv. haer. V 10-11; IV 38:3.
  27. Cf. Office of Readings for Pentecost: Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III 17:1-3.
  28. ‘Chapter I of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’ in H. Vorgrimler, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. V, p. 159.
  29. Cf. L. Ladaria in ‘Humanity in the Light of Christ in the Second Vatican Council,’ p. 391.
  30. Adv. Haer. V.1.1, quote taken from D. Minns, Irenaeus, London: Geoffrey Chapman 1994, p.91.
  31. Adv. Haer. III.18.6 taken from ibid.
  32. Cf. Office of Readings for Pentecost: Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III. 17.1; quote taken from The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1.
  33. Cf., Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, 1977, Daughters of St. Paul, p. 262.
  34. Cf., Ibid., p. 303.
  35. Cf., Ibid., p. 266.
  36. Ibid., p. 267.
  37. Cf., Ibid., p. 268.
  38. Ibid., p. 286.
  39. Ibid., p. 284.
  40. Cf. Summa Theologiae, II-II,q. 186, a. 1.
  41. The Albigensians were around at the time of St Francis. They held a dualistic anthropology. Redemption was understood as the soul’s liberation from the body, since matter was evil. The adherents were divided into the perfect, who did not marry and lived an extremely austere existence, and ordinary believers, who led ordinary lives until they came to the point of danger of death. The heresy was condemned at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 when Francis was 33 years of age.
  42. Saint Francis of Assisi, Regula Bullata, I,1.
  43. Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 45, a. 4, ad 2.
  44. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns, II, verses 19-27.
  45. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 44.
  46. Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 44, 3.
  47. Lumen Gentium, 42.
  48. Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, I, 1.
  49. Lumen Gentium, 44.
  50. Cf. Lumen Gentium, 5.
  51. Cf. Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session XXIV, Canon 10; Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Sacra Virginitas (25 March 1954): AAS 46 (1954), 176.
  52. Cf. Propositio 17.
  53. Lumen Gentium, 31.
  54. Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, Manuscrits autobiographiques B, 2 v: “To be your bride, O Jesus … to be, in union with you, a mother of souls”.
  55. Saint Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer, 23; cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 4.
  56. cf. Saint Basil, Short Rule, Question 225.
  57. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 31-32.
  58. Regula Bullata, I, 1.
  59. Letters 109, 171, 196.
  60. Cf. Rule 13 at the end of the Spiritual Exercises.
  61. Sayings, No. 217.
  62. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 16.
  63. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 13.
  64. Apology to William of Saint Thierry, IV, 8.
  65. Saint Augustine, Sermon 78, 6.
  66. Cf. Saint Athanasius, Life of Saint Anthony, 7.