Consecrated Life, A Sign of the Church's Vitality

Author: SYN


World Synod of Bishops

Final message of the 1994 World Synod of Bishops

I. Hymn of Gratitude and Joy

At the end of the synod we synodal fathers, together with participants representing the consecrated life, one with the successor of Peter, joyfully turn to God's people and all of good will in order to bear witness to the good news of the life consecrated by the profession of the evangelical counsels. We rejoice in the presence at the synod of representatives of consecrated life from other churches and Christian faith communities.

In a special way we turn to the over 1 million women and men who make up this grand family of consecrated persons and members of societies of apostolic life. For a month we have asked the Holy Spirit to give us light. We have prayed, reflected and dialogued about God's plan for the consecrated life and its role in the church and in the world today. We take to ourselves its joys and hopes, along with its concerns and needs, even while we search for ways we can be of help. We have offered some of these as proposals to the Holy Father.

Before all else, we are grateful to almighty God for the gift of consecrated life in the church. We are grateful to all who are part of consecrated life. We thank you for witnessing with your lives to the evangelical counsels. We send particularly heartfelt greetings to you who follow the Lord in the contemplative life, which we especially value. Our greetings also go to you who have shaped your following of the Lord in the various forms of active life.

We especially thank consecrated women. Their total giving of themselves to Christ, their life of adoration and of intercession for the world bear witness to the church's holiness. Their service to God's people and to society in various fields of evangelizing-pastoral activity, education, care of the sick, the poor and the abandoned-make visible the motherly face of the church. Consecrated women should participate more in the church's consultations and decision making as situations require. Their active participation in the synod has enriched our reflection on consecrated life and in particular on the dignity of consecrated women and their collaboration in the mission of the church.

We direct a word of special affection to older and infirm members of institutes of consecrated life. You have spent your energies generously for decades. Now that you experience the weight of age and suffering, you exercise from your very weakness an apostolate full of strength.

We thank those who work in the full force of their years. Many of you must cope with fewer means than before. May you not let yourselves be absorbed by work nor forget that human activity finds its source in prayer and intimate union with the Lord.

We direct another word of thanks to young people who have met Jesus Christ and in him have found sufficient courage, even in the midst of today's insecurities, to decide to follow the path of the evangelical counsels. We wish you zeal and perseverance also in moments of discouragement and doubt.

We particularly thank those brothers and sisters of the consecrated life who have remained faithful to their vocation during years of persecution for the faith, both yesterday and today. With grateful hearts, we remember the sisters and brothers who have spilled their blood for the kingdom of God.

II. Multiple Forms of Consecrated Life

During the synod we were able to consider the consecrated life as a very precious expression of the church's spiritual vitality, fashioned from a prodigious and attractive variety, generously fit for all kinds of good works, endowed with supernatural beauty, fully enriched by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With these gifts the church appears as a bride adorned for her husband and manifests in herself the multiform wisdom of God.

An important distinction appeared in the discussions: that between consecrated life as such, in its theological dimension, and the institutional forms it has assumed across the centuries. Consecrated life as such is permanent; it will always grace the church. Institutional forms can be transitory, without guarantees of lasting indefinitely.

For centuries and still today a multiplicity of orders, congregations, institutes and groups has existed, and there are always new forms of consecrated life, each with a different face. Many thousands of women and men have filled their ranks.

Each form of consecrated life has its proper style of life and specific apostolic commitments, from the desert to the city, from the cloistered retreat to contemplation on apostolic frontiers, from fleeing the world to embracing its cultures, from an attentive silence to creative social communication, from monastic stability to mobile mission.

Since the church is the sacrament of salvation, the various forms of consecrated life make visible in concrete ways the inexhaustible richness of this sacramentality, revealing to the faithful and to the world how close is Christ's heart to all human necessities. Each form of consecrated life is a visible sign showing people the mystery of salvation.

We learn to look at the various forms of consecrated life in order to perceive in each of them the church's sacramentality: Each one, in effect, expresses more clearly than the others a particular aspect of the love that saves.

III. Consecrated Life Is Indispensable to the Church

The church is a sign of hope and new communion with God in this world. Everyone baptized is called to follow Christ, risen from the dead, and to form, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the family of God's children which is the church. In this church which is communion, the gifts and charisms of the Spirit flourish for all.

Jesus called some to follow him more closely so that the church would be an eloquent sign of victorious grace. Those he calls desire to experience more deeply the Redeemer's mysteries and to make themselves ever more like the Master. Their constant conversion makes them a stimulus and a help to their brothers and sisters striving to follow Christ crucified.

Those who embrace the consecrated life endeavor to respond to a personal call from the eternal Father. They are attracted by Jesus and want to be bound to him more intimately through vows or other sacred bonds. By consecrated celibacy and virginity lived in the spirit of disinterested love, they reveal that Christ, who is loved above all else, is the eternal spouse of the church, the goal and meaning of all true affection and love. By freely chosen poverty, they not only witness to their love for the poor and disinherited, but also proclaim to all the absolute primacy of God, who is their only wealth. By obedience, they show that they are given to Jesus Christ, that their existence is wholly dedicated to building up the reign of God and that, through their service and love, they are dedicated to their brothers' and sisters' sharing in that freedom which the risen Lord has won.

With their very lives, consecrated persons testify, first for their fellow believers and then for the world, that a new order of grace has been instituted by the cross and resurrection of Christ. By their lives of total surrender to God and, through him, to others, they render more secure the confidence of future beatitude for the church. At the same time, for the world, enslaved by so many false promises, they are a sign of the reign of Christ, which is love and peace, pardon and joy. The path for living this joy in peace and in hope of the resurrection is the way of the cross.

One expression of the profound affection and universal love which consecrated persons should have for the church is the desire to be an authentic and practical realization of the <sentire cum ecclesia>, in close unity with the vicar of Christ and the successors of the apostolic college who, in unity with the pope, preside in charity over the many particular churches.

IV. Consecration and Mission

Jesus Christ is the first to be consecrated and sent. Every Christian is consecrated by God in baptism and confirmation and thus becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. With the profession of the evangelical counsels, this consecration from baptism and confirmation is strengthened in a particular manner. It leads to a more powerful participation in Christ's paschal mystery, in his passion, death and saving resurrection.

A consecrated person receives the grace of unifying mission and consecration. These are not two moments of one's life, side by side without relationship. They are joined in deep reciprocity. The consecrated person receives consecration for mission in the church according to the specific nature of each institute.

A living synthesis of consecration and mission is fed and protected by attentively listening to God's word and by an intense sacramental life. The God of compassion is encountered in the church through frequently receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. Unity culminates in the eucharist, but it is constantly strengthened in the worthy celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, in personal prayer, Marian devotion and the various forms of popular piety.

The witness of the consecrated life itself is the first and most important apostolate, engaging all consecrated sisters and brothers.

V. Charism and Belonging to a Particular Church

The charism to found an institute of consecrated life is a grace given by God to founders and foundresses for the sake of fostering holiness in the church and of responding, through their mission, to the challenges of the times. A particular way of following Christ with total generosity becomes visible in each institute. The diversity of charisms among consecrated persons and groups in the church is therefore a sign of God's infinite love and cause of joy for the church.

Each institute's renewal begins with God's grace and with a review of its life and works now in the light of its proper charism. The charism should not be a source of tension between the hierarchy and consecrated persons.

Among several difficulties to which we have given our fraternal attention is the need for communities of consecrated life and their members to integrate themselves into their particular churches.

The ecclesiology of Vatican II has emphasized the importance of particular churches, in which the universal church exists and becomes incarnate locally. All consecrated persons live in a particular church.

The synodal fathers have seen clearly that an effort must be made so that all the members of a particular church recognize and value what is signified by the presence among them of consecrated persons gathered around the bishop.

VI. The Prophetic Quality of Consecrated Persons

In contemporary culture, together with marvelous developments in science and technology as well as the more important victories that have been won regarding the rights and dignity of persons and their exercise of liberty, equality and rightful independence, deplorable excesses have also occurred which seem to reveal a painful regress to barbarism.

Those men and women who have decided to follow more closely the poor, chaste and obedient Christ make, with and in the church, a prophetic response to the rest of humanity, their brothers and sisters, as regards those excesses. They are witnesses to evangelical values unknown to or rejected by the world.

The prophetic response incarnate in your lives, dear sisters and brothers, makes your consecration a privileged means for inculturating the Gospel because it is not only a credible foundation for a message authenticated by life, but is also a demonstration of the Gospel's unsurpassed appeal and of its potential to assume a privileged and central place in all of human life.

Your example gives greater confidence to your contemporaries about the present relevance of the values proclaimed by Christ and made real in the daily life of consecrated persons.

The richness and diversity of cultures which you bring to consecrated life make you all the more able to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know Christ. The Gospel leads them, in turn, to discover the seeds of the word in their own cultures. Christian values, unknown or unincorporated in those cultures, will supply what is lacking to them, correcting and bringing to perfection ordinary ways of thinking and behaving which are not compatible with revealed faith. This will make dialogue and understanding of the Gospel message rich with language and symbols that are intelligible to contemporary men and women even while expressing the challenges presented by divine revelation to human reason as well as to human life, both individual and collective.

The living out of the evangelical counsels questions the crisis connected with the end of modern times, and it offers to today's people, suffering in their disillusionment, models fully capable of transforming their lives. This witness invites all to restore in their souls the image of God, obscured by sin.

During the synod deliberations there surfaced a concern about poverty. Often repeated was a strong evangelical desire for a preferential option for the poor.

Consecrated life itself is a fundamental and radical option for the poor Christ. Consecrated persons bind themselves lovingly in Christ to all those dispossessed and those who suffer. Poverty's prophecy is not exhausted in denouncing deprivation and injustice; consecrated poverty proclaims the inexhaustible wealth of Christ.

Detachment from wealth, power and family ties invites those in consecrated life, from the depth of their being, to give themselves to the mission which strengthens God's kingdom and extends its borders.

Those in consecrated life have no choice but to be missionary. It is an imperative, rooted in their configuration to Christ. Obedience to the Father leads consecrated men and women to unite themselves with Christ's own mission to save the world and to make themselves one with the church, giving a witness of love to all. Sometimes the charism of their institute will take those living the consecrated life beyond the borders of homeland and the confines of race; but no matter where their assignment, their very being will always move them to accompany the apostolic work of their brothers and sisters with prayer and sacrifice.

VII. An Appeal to Religious of Oriental Churches

To you, venerable and dear religious of the Oriental churches, we send our thanks. For us, you represent the continuity of religious life. Your monastic traditions have inestimable value for Christ's church. The common patrimony of religious life, preserved still in all the Eastern churches, is itself witness to a once-complete unity.

The desert fathers and the Eastern monks developed the monastic spirituality, which then spread to the West. It is nourished by <lectio divina>, liturgy and unceasing prayer; and it is lived in the charity of common life, in conversion of heart, flight from the world, silence, fasts and long vigils. Eremitical life still flourishes around monasteries. This spiritual treasury has forged the culture of nearby peoples and, at the same time, has been inspired by it.

To religious of Catholic Eastern churches we send our thanks for the history of your often heroic witness in the heart of the Catholic Church; we ask that you reinforce your monastic roots, drawing from the sources of the Gospel and sacred tradition. We hope that the Oriental Catholic churches take up again their monastic experience, welcoming and valuing those movements which, welling up from within, lead them toward monasticism.

Attentive to the needs of your people, you have shown, in many ways and to all those who have turned to you in moments of difficulty and conflict how you love the church. This service will continue, rooting itself more and more in the quest for the One who is necessary, who is monastic life's reason for being.

Solidify and intensify a sincere dialogue of personal acquaintance and exchange with the monks and nuns of the Orthodox churches, to whom you are so closely united in the same following of Christ.

VIII. Special Ardor in the New Evangelization

As the church approaches the threshold of the year 2000, she is called to a new evangelization. The women and men of our time, especially the younger generation, need to know Jesus Christ, who is the good news of salvation.

The bishops and those at the synod have clearly seen that consecrated persons are uniquely apt for playing a leading role in this providential task of the new evangelization.

The synod fervently desires that interest in both ecumenical and interreligious dialogue grow. We ask consecrated persons in their different countries to develop this interest.

By your way of life, you give witness to the closeness and goodness of God, to the truth of our hope in everlasting life, to the power and efficacy of that love which God places in your hearts in order to overcome the evil and suffering that afflict so many.

Without your contemplative spirit, your poverty and virginity, without the witness of your joyful and liberating obedience, without the radiance of your disinterested and efficacious love for the neediest, the church would lose a great part of her ability to evangelize and of her capacity to reveal the fruits of salvation, helping men and women receive in their hearts the God of this great hope.

IX. With Hope

Looking toward the third millennium, we turn with special affection to young people, hoping that they will be firmly united to Jesus Christ with conviction and enthusiasm, especially in consecrated life. May they be able to bring the treasure of the Gospel courageously to tomorrow's world. To you, dear young people, who love to dream, we propose our own hope as the best of your dreams.

The Holy Spirit never ceases to lead his church along new and old paths to inexhaustible holiness. Throughout the church's history, consecrated life has been a living presence of the Spirit's action, like a privileged space for absolute love of God and of neighbor, for witness to the divine plan to gather all of humanity into the civilization of love, the great family of the children of God.

In this International Year of the Family we place our hope in the Blessed Virgin Mary, first of the disciples and mother of all disciples, model of strength and perseverance in following Christ to the cross. The Virgin Mary is the prototype of consecrated life because she is the mother who welcomes, listens, beseeches and contemplates her Lord in heartfelt praise. We pray to her for all consecrated men and women so that she as our mother may protect, comfort and renew all the families of consecrated life in the church.