Reflection on the Consecrated Life
Maria Rosangela Sala
Superior General of the Sisters of the Immaculate
Manifesting the multiform wisdom of God
Forty years ago, the Second Vatican Council invited Religious Institutes, via the Document Perfectae Caritatis, to renew themselves in order to reincarnate a more spiritual consecrated life in the contemporary cultural context, closely linked to the Gospel and their charism, keeping pace with the Church and at the service of the world.
Faithful to the directives of the Church, the consecrated life has complied with John Paul II's desire to involve all the faithful fully in Eucharistic reflection and is grateful to the Church, which points to the privileged way of the Eucharist, the heart of both her ecclesial life and consecrated life.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent image of the total gift of their lives made by consecrated persons. It is a proclamation of that gift of self which was to reveal in the Eucharist the fullness of its radical meaning as a gift that goes to the extreme, a gift that knows no bounds of space or time.
In the Eucharistic celebration, the gift a Religious makes of his or her entire life is integrated into Christ's response to the Father's will.
The person called to choose Christ sees in the incorporation into Jesus, brought about through Baptism and more fully expressed in religious consecration, the unique meaning of his or her life. This commitment is at the very heart of the growth process of the consecrated person and finds in the Eucharistic Sacrifice sublime fulfilment: "He who eats me will live because of me" (Jn 6:57).
The purpose of the total conversion of one's entire life has this as its end: "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). A special transformation of the consecrated person takes place to the extent that one makes room for Christ, who is present and wants to dwell in his disciples: "Abide in me, and I in you" (Jn 15:4).
In the Eucharist, Christ receives and lives within every consecrated person; hence, all consecrated persons are aware that they are receiving Christ, alive and true, who dies and is raised every day for their sake.
The need of this bread for the journey of consecrated persons is proportionate to the measure of their serious dedication to daily tasks and to the generosity that allows them to empty themselves of their own desires and take on those Christ proposes.
Spiritual strength in the Eucharist
Furthermore, frequent Communion and Eucharistic adoration enable consecrated persons to discern God's will for them and accept it responsibly.
Christ's will, mediated by Scripture, and the face of Christ contemplated in the Blessed Sacrament, are expressed in life through the Eucharist, which provides consecrated men and women with the spiritual strength they need and enables them to draw grace from its very source.
Thus, for consecrated persons, a life of grace is brought about which makes them "partakers in the divine nature" (II Pt 1:4); by practising the virtues of faith, hope and charity, they become the sacrament, sign and instrument of the mission Christ has entrusted to his Church: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21).
On the altar of the world consecrated men and women take upon themselves the commitment to transform their life so that, in a certain way, it will become an entirely Eucharistic life.
"Indeed... the mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness. This is the challenge, this is the primary task of the consecrated life! The more consecrated persons allow themselves to be conformed to Christ, the more Christ is made present and active in the world for the salvation of all" (Vita Consecrata, n. 72).
The account of the washing of the feet shows Christ in the act of serving. The power of this account is the witness. Jesus is the teacher who accomplishes things, who does what he says.
"Even today, those who follow Christ on the path of the evangelical counsels intend to go where Christ went and to do what he did" (ibid., n. 75), without being afraid of the "hour", since, "although [he was] deeply troubled, Jesus does not flee before his 'hour"' (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 4).
"On the night when he was betrayed" (I Cor 11:23): few words, indeed, in order to indicate the humanly inexplicable context of the gift.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, a gift of Christ's love and obedience to the very end of his life.
"The sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 12). Consecrated persons who have made the "sequela Christi" their life's meaning are also closely bound to the Cross.
In fact, there is no consecrated life without the Cross; and it is absurd for people to wear a cross around their necks or pinned to their habits unless they effectively, unreservedly and generously build up the Body of Christ in accordance with God's plan and after the example of Jesus, who did not refuse his hour: the hour of the Cross and of his glorification.
The sacrificial value of the Eucharist, "in which the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 12), is present in every community that offers it, and in Eucharistic communion, "the yearning for fraternal unity deeply rooted in the human heart" is fulfilled (ibid., n. 24).
Participation in the Eucharistic banquet raises the fraternal communion of the consecrated person above any communion lived on a merely convivial level. "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:16-17).
The creative power of unity that flows from the Eucharist creates community, while it consolidates and increases the love of those who have consecrated their lives to God and find themselves in a real family, gathered in the name of the Lord.
Gifts of God for others
Fraternal communion "is a God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord.... This comes about through the mutual love of all the members of the community, a love nourished by the Word and by the Eucharist" (Vita Consecrata, n. 42).
"By its very nature the Eucharist is at the centre of the consecrated life, both for individuals and for communities" (ibid., n. 95), making possible those fraternal relations by which Religious carry one another's burdens with mutual esteem (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, n. 15).
The grace and strength provided by the Eucharistic sacrifice work, on the one hand, within the individual, nourishing his or her personal holiness; on the other hand, they place the person in a specific community, nourished by Christ's Body.
Thus, Jesus nourishes the holiness of individuals and groups with his divine holiness. Because of the particular choice made by consecrated persons, this is vital to fraternal life.
In fact, fraternal life is not sustained by human bonds but responds to a call in which it is Christ who offers himself as the one meaning of life. This is what makes the fraternal life of consecrated persons different from many other forms of community experience and, at the same time, guarantees it.
In fraternal life not only do Religious experience being a gift to God, but they also experience being a gift to God for others, which attests to the truth of the gift of self (cf. ibid., n. 6).
Every Institute witnesses in its own particular way to the Gospel message and the Eucharistic reality upon which it lives. This specific aspect of witness, called "charism", is fostered by fraternal life, penetrates it and is a source of boundless energy for apostolic work.
The living source of the Spirit
By service and dynamic unity to their community, Religious sacrifice themselves, inwardly cultivating the paschal meaning of their gift of self and witnessing to the eschatological aspect of their consecration. The Eucharist then becomes "the daily viaticum and source of the spiritual life for the individual and for the Institute" (Vita Consecrata, n. 95).
This living source of the Spirit which nourishes consecrated life guarantees the ability to see and welcome the Lord.
Simeon and Anna at the Presentation can be considered figures symbolic of long and serious fidelity to serving God, whose sincerity enables them to recognize a child as the Lord and to welcome him as such.
Active expectation and the encounter with Jesus fill the life of these two venerable believers, who can be viewed as the ultimate image of the consecrated person in his or her final encounter with the Lord. At that moment, the bread of the journey, the Eucharist, will cease to be such and will become full and eternal communion. The final Amen will conclude our life so that, like that of Mary, it may become completely a "Magnificat" (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 58).
The Church, ever attentive to the signs of the times, continues to propose anew the centrality of Christ and of his Paschal Mystery as the principal means of responding to today's needs.
Consecrated life also feels called to do this, thus enabling the Church not merely to be "equipped for every good work and to be prepared for the work of the ministry unto the building-up of the Body of Christ, but also to appear adorned with the manifold gifts of her children, like a bride adorned for her husband, and to manifest in herself the multiform wisdom of God" (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 1).
Weekly Edition in English
9 February 2005, page 6
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