Consecrated Life Is Rooted In Baptism

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General audience given on 26 October 1994.

Several times in the preceding catecheses I have spoken of the "evangelical counsels," which in consecrated life are expressed as the "vows"—or at least commitments—of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They find their full meaning in the context of a life totally dedicated to God in communion with Christ.

The adverb "totally," used by St. Thomas Aquinas to indicate the essential value of religious life, is most expressive! "Religion is a virtue whereby a man offers something to the service and worship of God. Therefore, those are called religious by antonomasia, who consecrate themselves totally to the divine service, as offering a holocaust to God" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 186, a. 1). It is an idea drawn from the tradition of the Fathers, particularly from St. Jerome (cf. <Epist. 125, ad Rusticum>), and from St. Gregory the Great (cf. <Super Ezech.>, Hom. 20).

The Second Vatican Council, which quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, made his teaching its own and speaks of a complete, interior consecration to God" that, as a development of the baptismal consecration, takes place in the religious state through the bonds of the evangelical counsels (cf. <Lumen Gentium,> no. 44).

It should be noted that in this consecration human endeavor does not have priority. The initiative comes from Christ, who asks for a freely accepted covenant in following Him. It is He who, by taking possession of a human person, "consecrates" him.

Grace Is The Essential Element Of Gospel Law

According to the Old Testament God Himself consecrated persons or objects by imparting His holiness in some way to them. This should not be understood in the sense that God inwardly sanctified people, much less objects, but in the sense that He took possession of them and set them apart for His direct service.

The "sacred" objects were intended for the worship of the Lord, and thus could only be used in the temple and during worship, and not for what was <profane>. This <sacredness> was attributed to things that could not be touched by <profane> hands (for example, the Ark of the Covenant, the cups of the Temple in Jerusalem which were profaned—as we read in I Mac. 1:22—by Antiochus Epiphanes).

In turn, the people of Israel were "holy" as the "Lord's possession" (<segullah> the sovereign's personal treasury), and thus had a sacred character (cf. <Exodus> 19:5; <Deut>. 7:6; <Psalm> 134:4; etc.). To communicate with this "<segullah>," God chose "spokesmen," "men of God," "prophets," who were to speak in His name. He sanctified them (morally) through the relationship of trust and special friendship He reserved for them, so much so that some of these persons were called "God's friends" (cf. <Wisdom> 7:27; <Isaiah> 41:8; <James> 2:23).

There was no individual, means, or institution, however, that by its inner force could communicate God's holiness to men, however well-disposed. This would be the great newness of Christian Baptism, by which believers have their "hearts sprinkled clean" (<Heb>. 10:22), and are inwardly "washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I <Cor>. 6: 11).

The essential element of the Gospel law is grace, which is a power of life that justifies and saves, as St. Thomas explains (cf. <Summa Theologiae>, I-II, q. 106, a. 2), following St. Augustine (cf. <De Spiritu et Littera>, ch. 7). Christ already takes possession of the person from within through Baptism in which He begins His sanctifying action, "consecrating him" and instilling in him the need for a response that He Himself makes possible by His grace, to the extent of the subject's physical, psychological, spiritual, and moral capacity.

The sovereign power exercised by the grace of Christ in consecration does not at all diminish the freedom of the response to the call, nor the value and importance of human effort. This is made particularly clear in the call to practice the evangelical counsels. Christ's call is accompanied by a grace that elevates the human person and gives him abilities of a higher order to follow these counsels. This means that in consecrated life there is a development of the human personality itself, which is not frustrated but elevated and enhanced by the divine gift.

Connected But Distinct

The person who accepts the call and follows the evangelical counsels performs a basic act of love for God, as we read in the constitution' <Lumen Gentium> (no. 44) of the Second Vatican Council. The purpose of religious vows is to scale the heights of love: a complete love, dedicated to Christ under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and, through Christ, offered to the Father: hence the value of the oblation and consecration of religious profession, which in Eastern and Western Christian tradition is considered as a <baptismus flaminis>, inasmuch as "a person's heart is moved by the Holy Spirit to believe in and love God, and to repent of his sins" (<Summa Theologiae>, III, q. 66, a. 11).

I explained this idea of an almost new Baptism in the letter <Redemptionis Donum>: "Religious profession," I wrote, "is a new 'burial in the death of Christ': new, because it is made of love and vocation; new, by reason of unceasing 'conversion.' This 'burial in death' causes the person 'buried together with Christ' to '<walk like Christ in newness of life.>'

"In Christ Crucified is to be found the ultimate foundation both of baptismal consecration and of the profession of the evangelical counsels, which—in the words of the Second Vatican Council—'constitutes a special consecration.' It is at one and the same time both <death and liberation>. St. Paul writes: 'Consider yourselves dead to sin.' At the same time, he calls this death 'freedom from the slavery of sin.' Above all, though. religious consecration, through its sacramental foundation in holy Baptism, constitutes a new life 'for God in Jesus Christ'" (<Redemptionis Donum>, no. 7).

This life is all the more perfect and produces more abundant fruits of baptismal grace (cf. <Lumen Gentium>, no. 44), inasmuch as the intimate union with Christ received in Baptism develops into a more complete union. Indeed, the commandment to love God with all one's heart, which is enjoined on the baptized, is observed to the full by the love vowed to God through the evangelical counsels. It is a "special consecration" (<Perfectae Caritatis>, no. 5); a closer consecration to the divine service "by a new and special title" (<Lumen Gentium>, no. 44); a new consecration, which cannot be considered an implication or a logical consequence of Baptism.

Baptism does not necessarily imply an orientation toward celibacy and the renunciation of material possessions in the form of the evangelical counsels. Religious consecration, instead, means the call to a new life that implies the gift of an original charism not granted to everyone, as Jesus states when He speaks of voluntary celibacy (cf. <Matt. > 19:10-12). Hence, it is a sovereign act of God, who freely chooses, calls, opens a way that is certainly connected with the baptismal consecration, but is distinct from it.

In a similar way, it can be said that the profession of the evangelical counsels further develops the consecration received in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is a new gift of the Holy Spirit, conferred for the sake of an active Christian life in a closer bond of collaboration and service to the Church in order to produce, through the evangelical counsels, new fruits of holiness and apostleship in addition to the demands of the consecration received in Confirmation. The Sacrament of Confirmation—and the character of Christian soldiering and Christian apostleship that it entails—is also at the root of consecrated life.

Consecrated Life Has Value For The Church's Growth In Holiness

In this regard, it is correct to see effects of <Baptism> and <Confirmation> in the consecration implied by accepting the evangelical counsels and to situate religious life, which by its nature is charismatic, in the sacramental economy. Along these lines, we can note that, for religious priests, the Sacrament of <Orders> also bears fruit in the practice of the evangelical counsels, requiring a closer attachment to the Lord. The vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience aim at the concrete realization of this attachment.

The connection between the evangelical counsels and the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders helps to show the essential value that consecrated life represents for the growth of the Church's holiness. And for this reason, I wish to close by inviting you to pray—to pray a great deal —that the Lord will increasingly bestow the gift of consecrated life on the Church that He Himself willed and established as "holy."

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 November 1994

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