Overview, presentation of the new Instruction of the Congregation for
Insititutes of Consecrated Life
The Instruction, "Starting
Afresh from Christ: a Renewed
Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium" was
presented to the Church by the Congregation for the Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on Friday, 14 June. It
is a follow up to the Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio ineunte".
Those in consecrated life are called to "put out into the
deep" to take up their ministry on the front
lines of evangelization and charity. In the Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Vita consecrata consecrated persons
were reminded of their mission to be "a living memorial of
Jesus' way of living and acting as the incarnate Word in relation
to the Father and in relation to his brethren" (Vita
consecrata, n. 22). The observance of the Great Jubilee of the Year
2000 involved them in an ecclesial experience of responsibility, hope,
conversion and renewal. In the follow up to the Jubilee, consecrated men
and women received the Holy Father's invitation to put the quest for
holiness at the centre of the pastoral life and programmes of the
From 25-28 September 2001, the Congregation for the Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life held its plenary
meeting on the theme, five years since the publication of Vita
consecrata, to make an appraisal of the impact of the
document on consecrated life and on the approaches to the work of
renewal. The plenary assembly helped to bring together the points that
are common to both the Apostolic Exhortation and the pastoral programme
of Novo Millennio ineunte.
Let us review the vital points of the new Instruction.
Introduction (nn. 1-4)
The Instruction first of all invites consecrated persons, with
the wealth of the charismatic and apostolic gifts that their presence in
the Church signals, to enter into the pastoral and spiritual revival
brought about by the Great Jubilee and launched by the Holy Father in Novo
The Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata shed fresh light on
the theology of the following of Christ, vowed consecration, fraternal
life in community, and mission, drawing on the Mystery of the Trinity
and on a renewed ecclesiology of communion. This Instruction intends
to encourage consecrated persons to be more faithful to their vocation
and to sustain their choices of evangelical witness.
In the document the basic core is clear, namely, the need for a
strong spiritual life in order to have a renewed quality of consecrated
life. Everything has been developed to foster this value. The
further questions and aspirations that consecrated persons raised in
different parts of the world have been identified and receive approaches
for possible replies.
In general, we can say that the Instruction is a
summary of the present situation of consecrated life and the process of
renewal that is taking place in communities, as they are guided by the
orientations of the recent Jubilee.
The exhortation is addressed to all the consecrated, men and
women, who live their gift of self according to a variety of
forms and life styles and in the variety of situations of age and health
that vary from institute to institute.
Consecrated Life: the Presence of the Charity of Christ in the Midst
The first part (nn. 5-10) is a hymn of praise to God for the
gifts of grace he has given and continues to give to his Church through
this special form of the following of Christ. The Church expresses great
gratitude for all the forms of consecrated life down the ages that have
been and continue to be the Gospel unfolded on the paths of history to
keep alive and reveal the extraordinary greatness of Christ's love. It
is undeniable that consecrated life has played a fundamental role in
serving the proclamation of the Gospel and in the growth of the People
The theme of holiness, which the Holy Father has launched, directly
involves consecrated life. Indeed, with its "special
consecration" not only does it share in the common vocation to
holiness of the whole People of God, but offers to the People of God a
prophetic witness based on the affirmation of the primacy of God and of
the future benefits that derive from following and imitating Christ,
chaste, poor and obedient.
Special admiration is created by the manifold missionary activity
carried out by consecrated persons. What deserves to be acknowledged is
their service, particularly the service of women religious, rendered
with generosity and with the particular richness of the feminine
genius. They are effectively present wherever there is a need
for education, cultural and spiritual formation, where new and old forms
of poverty continue to characterize human life. Evangelization is
offered with all the means that can bring it closer to people's
cultures, including the modern media. Nothing can hold back the
consecrated person, not even the challenges that at times demand "the
extreme proof of love in genuine faithfulness to the Kingdom"
Cloistered life is also considered. Its place is in the heart of
the Church. With their lives "hidden with Christ in God"
(Col 3,3), the nuns become "the soul and ferment of apostolic
activity leaving the active participation in it to those whose vocation
it is" (Verbi sponsa, n. 7).
The power of the Spirit continues to guide the dynamism of
consecrated life and, even in a time of crisis, we witness the creation
of new institutes while those with an ancient tradition courageously
Lastly, the document stresses that the image of the Virgin Mother of
the Lord continues to be the living model and pattern of the life of
consecrated persons and their way of serving humanity.
Courage to face trials and challenges
After praising the Lord and thanking him, part two (nn. 11-19) takes
a realistic look at the situation in which consecrated persons live and
work in our time and reflects on the great difficulties they must face.
The Instruction does not ignore the trials, challenges and
purification of consecrated life today. The complex management of
institutions demanded by social needs and by legislative regulations of
government, the temptation of "efficiency-ism" and
"activism" can tend to hide the evangelical originality and
the spiritual motivation of the life. The prevalent individualism of
contemporary society can seriously undermine communion in religious
houses. In addition, the congregations have to face the dwindling
numbers and ageing of the members in some countries. There is the need
to enhance how we understand the presence of consecrated life in the
Church since lay persons have taken up new posts of leadership, and in
some parts of the Church there has developed a lack of esteem for the
ecclesial meaning of men and women religious.
However, the power of the Spirit is at work in the time of
difficulties and trials and guides consecrated persons to new seasons of
evangelical life on the path of purification and renewal. The periods of
crisis are in fact "a providential sign which invites them to
recover their essential tasks of being leaven, ferment, sign and
prophecy" (n. 13).
These existential realities are challenges that deserve to be faced
with a new quality of consecrated life, to be acquired in a
formative process that involves the superiors, communities, and the
consecrated men and women.
In the first place, the Instruction takes up the
responsibilities of men and women religious superiors and offers them an
itinerary to arrive at the common guidelines that enhance community life
and call the superiors to make courageous decisions that will make the
members appreciate the role of governance.
Secondly, it indicates a serious and strong dedication to continuing
formation. There has been much talk about it, but it is the
time to put it into practice with systematic decisions. Each institute
of consecrated life is called to make shine in its members the splendour
of the face of the crucified and risen Christ. Consecrated men and
women, even in the human frailty of persons and structures, must
rediscover the joyful enthusiasm of the evangelical quality of their
mission that will enable them to attract new vocations and give new
vigour and clarity to the first formation.
This conviction prompted the decision to treat first ongoing
formation before recruitment for vocations and initial formation.
Indeed, for formation to be understood properly by the young
generations, the young are in need of the personal and community witness
borne by perpetually professed consecrated persons, supported by an
enlightened permanent formation.
Vocational discernment and initial formation should be handled with
serene discernment, free from the temptation of numbers or efficiency.
Vocation promoters and formation directors must be careful to verify, in
the light of faith and of possible counterindications, the authenticity
of the vocation and the purity of intention of those who desire to
follow the path of holiness in the consecrated life.
The formation courses that are offered to all consecrated men and
women must confront with courageous hope and healthy realism the
demanding challenges that derive from the predominant values of the
globalized culture of our time, along with cultural dialogue and
exchange, differences in age and the different types of planning that
are becoming a feature of institutes of consecrated life.
It will be possible to find solutions to the problems of
restructuring the works and communities that all too often make the
process of spiritual and apostolic renewal difficult, with the
creativity of the Spirit, the shrewdness of the superiors, fraternal
dialogue with the members of the institute, with institutes that have
similar works and with the pastors of the particular Churches.
Spiritual life in the first place
In part three, (nn. 20-32), the fullest section, the Instruction
gives concrete guidelines for an authentic ongoing formation to deal
with the trials and challenges just mentioned. The Instruction
invites to follow the royal road that the Holy Father indicated in Novo
Millennio ineunte, "starting afresh from contemplation
of the face of Christ" and from a "profound
spirituality of communion". The whole of part
three revolves around these two essentials.
First of all there is "starting afresh from Christ",
that is, ensuring that the life and work of consecrated persons and of
their institutes be centred on Christ and that everything starts from
him and leads to him. Putting Christ at the centre will guarantee to all
consecrated persons a renewed harmony in life and apostolate, and will
clearly show how it has its real place at the heart of the life and
holiness of the Church.
In docility to the Spirit and in the constant quest for the face of
Christ, consecrated life will also be a more ecclesial,
community-oriented, demanding and mature way of life, open to becoming a
pedagogy and pastoral programme of holiness. The
contemplation of the face of the Lord, the legacy of
the Great Jubilee (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte, n. 15) becomes,
especially for consecrated persons, a quest for the persons with which
Jesus chose to be identified: in the Church, in the community, in each
person, and particularly in little ones, in the poor, in those who
suffer and are in need, and in every event, happy or sad.
The Instruction reflects on "the privileged places in
which the face of Christ can be contemplated", "walking the
paths of a lived spirituality" (n. 23), where, in contact with the
sources of their own vocation, they renew the dedication of life in the
The Word of God, "the first source of all Christian
spirituality" (Vita consecrata, n. 94), is the
nourishment from which the daily life of prayer and apostolic activity
draws strength and inspiration. Prayer and contemplation are the place
where the Word of God is listened to and heard, where every vocation
constantly matures. Here the interior life becomes a relationship of
friendship with Jesus and is constantly enlightened by communion with
him and with the brethren. Community or personal praise of the Lord
echoes in the hearts and deepens the lives of consecrated men and women
so that the fertile seed of the Word of God may bear abundant
fruit of holiness, of fraternal communion and of service to the
evangelization of the world.
Starting afresh from Christ means looking at Jesus in the
Eucharist: accepting and cherishing Jesus in the heart, witnessing to
Jesus in life. Intimacy with Jesus, identification with him, and the
total conformity with him to which consecrated persons are called is
achieved starting with the Eucharistic sacrifice. Here one learns how to
love and forgive, here fraternal life shows its characteristic as fruit
and sign of the Father's love received in Christ and exchanged among the
brothers and sisters, here apostolic service learns the
indispensable condition for its effectiveness: "to give one's
life". "In fact, from the Eucharist comes the spirituality of
communion, so necessary to establish the dialogue of charity needed in
today's world" (n. 26).
Together with the Eucharist, consecrated life has another place for
contemplating the face of the Lord: the crucifix, "the face in
trials". In fact it is the book in which we learn what love is
and how God and our brothers and sisters should be loved. In this light
one recognizes that "sin is still radically present in the heart
and life of all" and that today there is a need to re-present
forcefully this mystery of reconciliation" (n. 27), that culminates
in the sacrament of Penance.
Contemplation of the suffering face of Christ leads the consecrated
person to discover it wherever he continues to be revealed: "the
new material, moral and spiritual poverties that contemporary society
produces" (n. 27). Consecrated persons walk this path to be
conformed to Christ. The history of consecrated life has expressed this
conformity with Christ in many ascetic forms which were and still are a
powerful help on the journey of holiness of all God's people.
When the Word of God, prayer and the Eucharist are the motor of
consecrated life, the spirituality they develop tends naturally to be a
spirituality of communion; and "the spirituality
of communion appears to reflect the spiritual climate of the Church at
the beginning of the third millennium" (n. 28). At this point a
very special pedagogical ministry unfolds for the consecrated life
which, with its range of charisms and institutions that work in synergy
with the Church and with society, and especially with its multi-cultural
and international communities, offers humanity precious experiences of
dialogue, collaboration and communion.
By emphasizing the importance of the spirituality of communion, the Instruction
asks consecrated persons to commit themselves to new and more courageous
relationships. Relations between institutes based on knowledge and
collaboration in the field of formation and pastoral services avoid
competition and open up greater space for intervention. Relations with
the ecclesial movements and associations, carried forward with the clear
definition of identities and roles, pave the way for a precious exchange
of spiritual experiences and apostolic enthusiasm. The participation of
lay people in the spirituality and charismatic ideals of institutes can
also lead to collaboration and the common operation of the works of
the Institute. The "affective and effective relationship with
pastors" creates a climate of confident obedience and promotes all
"initiatives which foster greater reciprocal knowledge and
esteem" (n. 32).
Witnesses to love
All the apostolic action of the consecrated life can be described as
"evangelization realized through love" and its
most effective means of communication is witness. Part four (nn. 33-46)
invites consecrated persons to follow this path of spirituality and
communion faithfully in the renewal of their life and works.
The starting point is the fact that "the life of communion is
the first announcement of consecrated life" (n. 33). Indeed,
"when one starts afresh from Christ the spirituality of communion
becomes a strong and solid spirituality of disciples and apostles of his
Kingdom" (n. 34). When one starts from contemplation of the face
of Christ, one can only see him in those with whom he has wished to
be identified. The mission of consecrated men and women, "in old
and new forms", is described as a "service to the dignity of
the person in a dehumanized society because the greatest and most
serious form of poverty of our time is the callous treading upon the
rights of the human person. With the dynamism of charity, of forgiveness
and of reconciliation, consecrated persons strive in justice to build a
world which offers new and better possibilities for the life and
development of the individual", ready "to pay the price of
persecution" (n. 35).
The field of work of consecrated persons is as vast as the whole
world, but in their dedication, they must learn to harmonize the
universal breadth of their vocation with being inserted into a specific
contest and particular Church. Here, with an authentic spirituality of
communion, they are called to be "an efficacious sign and
persuasive force which leads to belief in Christ" (n. 33). The
first apostolic work of every type of consecrated life, in fact,
continues to be the "epiphany of the love of God" (Vita
In this perspective, institutes are called to "reflect on their
own charisms and traditions in order to place them at the service of the
new frontiers of evangelization". "Today there is a greater
freedom in the exercise of the apostolates, a flourishing with greater
awareness, a solidarity expressed through knowing how to stand with the
people, assuming their problems, in order to respond to them, paying
close attention to the signs of the times and to their needs" (n.
The Instruction invites us to look with greater interest at
certain tasks, namely, that of announcing the Gospel, of
serving life and of spreading the truth. Today it is
in these that the greatest need is felt for a witness to the total love
of Christ, borne with a humble but strong radicalness and
accompanied by a fruitful creativity of charity.
Special attention is reserved in the Instruction for the need
for consecrated persons to be in the front line in the dialogue with
everyone, with the separated brethren, with the members of other
religions and with those who profess no religious creed. They are asked
to be ready to "enter into dialogue with others fully open to
receive, since from among the resources and limits of every culture
consecrated persons can gather the seeds of the Word in which they
encounter precious values for their life and mission ... (Jn 3,16)"
Paragraph n. 45, with precise emphases, invites consecrated persons
to be involved in the critical situations of the world at the
level of peoples and of individuals, e.g., ecological problems, problems
of war and peace. "Greed, the craving for pleasure, the idolatry of
power, the triple concupiscence which marks history and is also at the
root of present evils can only be overcome if the Gospel values of
poverty, chastity and service are rediscovered".
The Instruction invites consecrated men and women to raise their eyes
from their daily difficulties, troubles and problems, to rediscover the
courage to trust in God alone, and to abandon themselves to his love to
usher in a new millennium marked by hope in the power of the Spirit and
by the living presence of the charity of Christ among human beings.
The Instruction concludes with an invitation to look at the young
religious with hope and demanding love. The consecrated life truly needs
"courageous young people who, allowing themselves to be conformed
by the Father in the power of the Spirit to be persons conformed to
Christ, offer to all a joyful and transparent witness of their
"acceptance of the mystery of Christ" and of the
"spirituality of their own Institute" (n. 46).