CMIS – WORLD CONFERENCE OF SECULAR INSTITUTES
CONGRESS AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ASSISI – 23-28 July 2012
(Domus Pacis – Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi – Italy)
LISTENING TO GOD “IN THE FURROWS OF HISTORY”:
SECULARITY SPEAKS TO CONSECRATION
- Message from Holy Father Benedict XVI. (Transmitted by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone)
- Message from the Prefect. (Cardinal João Brazde Aviz)
- Introduction to the Congress. (Ewa Kusz - President of the CMIS)
- The consacration of Jesus. (Paolo Gamberini, SJ)
- Reflection on the Constant Tension of beign Christian. (Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkowitz)
- How to be at the Service of the Church like Laypersons and as Laypersons?. (Pierre Langeron)
- A New Model of Holiness as Fidelity to God in the World. (Msgr. Gerald Cyprien Lacroix)
- New Languages and a New Language for the Church. (Dr. Ivan Netto)
- How the Vocation Changes when the World and we change. (Piera Grignolo)
- Summing up the Congress. (Giorgio Mario Mazzola)
- Statistics on Secular Institutes
SECREARIAT OF STATE
Vatican City, 18 July 2012
+Tarcisio Card. Bertone
Secretary of State
Dear Miss President,
I am pleased to send the members of secular institutes this message from the Holy Father on the occasion of the Congress taking place in Assisi and organized by the World Conference of Secular Institutes to discuss the theme Listening to God ‘in the furrows of history’: secularity speaks to consecration.
This theme of capital importance places the stress on your identity as consecrated persons, who in the world live the interior liberty and fullness of love stemming from the evangelical counsels and are men and women capable of a profound gaze and sterling witness within history. The times we are living pose profound questions to life and to the faith, but at the same time render manifest the mystery of God’s spousehood. In fact, the Word who became flesh celebrates the marriage of God with humankind of all times. The mystery hidden for centuries in the mind of the Creator of the universe (cf. Eph 3:9), and which became manifest with the Incarnation, is projected towards future fulfillment, but is already present in the here and now of today as a redemptive and unifying force.
Animated by the Holy Spirit you are able to grasp the discrete and at times hidden signs of God’s presence within journeying humankind. Only by virtue of grace, which is a gift of the Spirit, are you able to see the way along the often rugged and twisted pathways of human events to the fullness of overabundant life; a dynamism, which, above and beyond appearances, represents the true sense of history according to the plan of God. Your vocation is to be in the world, taking upon yourselves all burdens and yearnings with a human gaze that always coincides with the divine gaze, and is grounded in the awareness that God writes the history of salvation in the unfolding of events that take place in our history.
In this sense your identity also projects an important facet of your mission in the Church, and that is to help the Church realize its being in the world in the light of the words of Vatican Council II: “Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served” (Gaudium et Spes, 3). The theology of history is an important and essential aspect of the New Evangelization because the people of our time need to rediscover an overall look at the world and at time, a truly free, peaceful look (cf. Benedict XVI, Homily at the Holy Mass for the New Evangelization, 16 October 2011).The Council likewise reminds us how the relationship between the Church and the world is to be lived under the hallmark of reciprocity, whereby it is not just the Church giving to the world, contributing to render the family of humankind and its history more human, but also the way to give to the Church, thereby enabling it to better understand itself and live its mission all the better. (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 40-45).
The work you are about to embark upon will hence concentrate on the specificity of secular consecration in the search for how secularity speaks to consecration, for just how the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one –become constantly ‘visible’ in the midst of the world (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n°1) in and through your daily life. His Holiness wishes to bring to your attention three ambits upon which to focus.
Firstly, the total donation of your life as the response to a personal and vital encounter with the love of God. You have discovered God is everything for you; you have decided to give everything to God and do so in a special way: remaining laypersons among laypersons, priests among priests. This calls for special watchfulness so your life styles may ever reveal the richness, beauty and radicality of the evangelical counsels.
Secondly, the spiritual life; an ever-present and absolutely necessary point, a sure reference for nourishing that desire to forge unity in Christ that is the underlying tension in the life of each and every Christian, and all the more so in the life of those who respond to a call for the total giving of self. The measure of the depths of your spiritual life is not the extent of your many activities, which nonetheless call for resolute commitment, but rather the ability to seek God in the heart of each event and to bring all things back to Christ. It is the “recapitulating” all things in Christ of which the Apostle Paul speaks (cf. Eph 1:10). Only in Christ, the Lord of history, do history and all histories take on sense and unity.
Therefore, in prayer and listening to the Word of God is this yearning to be nourished. In the celebration of the Eucharist you find the root for becoming the bread of Love broken for all. Deeply set in contemplation and in the gaze of faith enlightened by grace are to be the roots for the commitment to share with each man and women the profound questions abiding in one and all so hope and trust may be constructed.
Thirdly, formation, which disregards no one, no matter what their age may be, because it is a matter of living one’s life in fullness, educating self to that wisdom which is ever aware of human creaturehood and the greatness of the Creator. Look for contents and modes of formation that may make you laypersons and priests able to let yourselves be questioned by the complexity of the world in which we are now living, to remain open to the entreaties issuing forth from the relationship you live with the brothers and sisters you meet along the pathways of life, and to engage in a discernment of history in the light of the Word of Life. Together with the seekers of truth be prepared and willing to construct itineraries of common good neither prefabricated solutions nor fear of the questions that remain questions, but ever ready to put your life on the line with the conviction that if the kernel of grain falls upon the round and dies, it bears abundant fruit (cf. Jn 12:24). Be creative, because the Spirit brings forth new things; nourish gazes embracing the future and roots firmly planted in Christ the Lord, so you may voice to our time as well the experience of love that lies at the very foundations of the life of each person. With charity embrace the wounds of the world and the Church. Above all, live a life which is joyful and full, receptive and forgiving because it is founded upon Jesus Christ, the definitive Word of God’s Love for man.
In sending you these thoughts the Holy Father assures you that your Congress and Assembly will be remembered in his prayers in a special way, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in the world lived perfect consecration to God in Christ, and he wholeheartedly bestows his Apostolic Blessing upon you and all the participants.
In adding my personal expression of best wishes for your work, allow me to take advantage of this occasion to extend my most sincere regards.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in Italian.
CMIS – WORLD CONFERENCE OF SECULAR INSTITUTES
CONGRESS AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ASSISI – 23-28 July 2012
(Domus Pacis – Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi – Italy)
LISTENING TO GOD “IN THE FURROWS OF HISTORY”:
SECULARITY SPEAKS TO CONSECRATION
SECULAR INSTITUTES AND ECCLESIAL COMMUNION
Joao Braz Cardinal DE AVIZ
Prefect of the CIVCSVA
Dearest consecrated laywomen, consecrated laymen and priests of secular institutes,
I am pleased to be here with you at the outset of these days abounding with expectations, days when you will first be involved in the Congress, a time and place for listening, discussing and digesting food for thought, and then your Assembly. This year the Assembly is particularly important because you will be approving the new Statutes. My hope in this regard is that the effort to delve deeply with your mind’s eye into the norms that regulate your journey in common in order to delineate its forms may help you live communion in full, not so all differences may be eliminated, but to journey together, each at his or her own pace, within the same furrow: the furrow of consecrated secularity. This is indeed a far from smooth pathway, but only at this price will the fruits of good able to see the light of day.
My presence here is an expression of that communion binding the World Conference of Secular Institutes to the Hoy Father through the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life. This is the Sentire cum Ecclesia to which the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata dedicated N° 46, whose opening words read as follows: “A great task also belongs to the consecrated life in the light of the teaching about the Church as communion, so strongly proposed by the Second Vatican Council. Consecrated persons are asked to be true experts of communion and to practice the spirituality of communion as "witnesses and architects of the plan for unity which is the crowning point of human history in God's design”. The sense of ecclesial communion, developing into a spirituality of communion, promotes a way of thinking, speaking and acting which enables the Church to grow in depth and extension. 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".
Bear with me if I quote the words of Benedict XVI addressed to Ms Ewa Kusz, president of the Executive Council, sent through the good offices of the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Cardinale Bertone and read a few moments ago:
“The work you are about to embark upon will hence concentrate on the specificity of secular consecration in the search for how secularity speaks to consecration, for just how the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one –become constantly ‘visible’ in the midst of the world (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n°1) in and through your daily life. His Holiness wishes to bring to your attention three ambits upon which to focus.
Firstly, the total donation of your life as the response to a personal and vital encounter with the love of God. You have discovered God is everything for you; you have decided to give everything to God and do so in a special way: remaining laypersons among laypersons, priests among priests. This calls for special watchfulness so your life styles may ever reveal the richness, beauty and radicality of the evangelical counsels.
Secondly, the spiritual life; an ever-present and absolutely necessary point, a sure reference for nourishing that desire to forge unity in Christ that is the underlying tension in the life of each and every Christian, and all the more so in the life of those who respond to a call for the total giving of self. The measure of the depths of your spiritual life is not the extent of your many activities, which nonetheless call for resolute commitment, but rather the ability to seek God in the heart of each event and to bring all things back to Christ. It is the “recapitulating” all things in Christ of which the Apostle Paul speaks (cf. Eph 1:10). Only in Christ, the Lord of history, do history and all histories take on sense and unity.
Therefore, in prayer and listening to the Word of God is this yearning to be nourished. In the celebration of the Eucharist you find the root for becoming the bread of Love broken for all. Deeply set in contemplation and in the gaze of faith enlightened by grace are to be the roots for the commitment to share with each man and women the profound questions abiding in one and all so hope and trust may be constructed.
Thirdly, formation, which disregards no one, no matter what their age may be, because it is a matter of living one’s life in fullness, educating self to that wisdom which is ever aware of human creaturehood and the greatness of the Creator. Look for contents and modes of formation that may make you laypersons and priests able to let yourselves be questioned by the complexity of the world in which we are now living, to remain open to the entreaties issuing forth from the relationship you live with the brothers and sisters you meet along the pathways of life, and to engage in a discernment of history in the light of the Word of Life. Together with the seekers of truth be prepared and willing to construct itineraries of common good neither prefabricated solutions nor fear of the questions that remain questions, but ever ready to put your life on the line with the conviction that if the kernel of grain falls upon the round and dies, it bears abundant fruit (cf. Jn 12:24). Be creative, because the Spirit brings forth new things; nourish gazes embracing the future and roots firmly planted in Christ the Lord, so you may voice to our time as well the experience of love that lies at the very foundations of the life of each person. With charity embrace the wounds of the world and the Church. Above all, live a life which is joyful and full, receptive and forgiving because it is founded upon Jesus Christ, the definitive Word of God’s Love for man.”
I would like to dwell with you today precisely on ecclesial communion. I do this not in order to lessen the importance of the specific theme of your Congress, upon which you will be able to reflect and meditate during these days, but almost as a context, as an horizon of sense and meaning for your discussions and reflections.
Your vocation only has meaning if you begin from its being rooted in the Church, because your mission is the mission of the Church. In the priestly prayer we read in the Gospel according to John the intensity of the relationship between the Father and the Son is one and the same with the force of the mission of love. It is by bringing about this communion of love that the Church becomes a sign and an instrument able to create communion with God and among men (cf Lumen Gentium 1).
It is in such terms that Paul VI exhorted you: “Do not be taken off guard. Keep your hearts well clear of the temptation – so seductive these days – to think you can have true communion with Christ and yet be out of tune, out of accord, with the ecclesial community governed by lawful pastors. It would be a snare and a delusion. What can an individual do, or a group, with the best of intentions and the highest of ideals, outside this communion? Christ requires it of us as a condition of communion with Him, just as He requires our love of each other as proof of our love of Him.” (Paul VI, ‘Once more’; address to the Heads of Secular Institutes delivered on 20 September 1972)
And all the more so did the heart of Benedict XVI cry out when he said to you: “The Church also needs you to give completeness to her mission. Be seeds of holiness scattered by the handful in the furrows of history” (Benedict XVI to the participants in the international symposium, 3 February 2007). There is no communion that does not open constantly to the mission, nor is there mission that does not spring forth from communion. These two aspects touch the living and throbbing heart of the entire Church, enabling it to undertake a new reading of reality, a search for meaning and perhaps even solutions that seek to be a response, albeit a partial one, but flowing forth from an ever more authentically evangelical heart.
A further consideration driving me to focus on this theme is as follows: one of the first concerns brought to my attention as Prefect in encounters with secular institutes has been this: “In the Church we are little known or ill known”.
The profound bond between knowledge and communion strikes me as fundamental in a dual sense. Only through knowledge, which means listening, attention and harmony of hearts can there be communion, which in its turn generates authentic knowledge precisely because it goes to the roots of what is essential and fosters encounter.
This is why I will dwell on a few considerations linked to ecclesial communion, leaving aside for the time being the issue of communion within each institute (a topic that would deserve discussion on its own). I do so on the basis of the document sent by the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes to Episcopal Conferences after the Plenary Meeting held in March 1983.
When retracing the origins of this vocation I was able to note how immediately coming together in the new form legally recognized with the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater were realities vastly different from one another, especially because of differences in their respective apostolic aims. The meetings organized by what would later become the World Conference of Secular Institutes were what provided for and permitted mutual knowledge, which, as I read in the aforementioned document, “led the Institutes to accept diversity (so-called pluralism), while feeling the need to clarify the boundaries of this same diversity” , (Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Secular Institutes: their identity and their mission, 3-6 May 1983, n. 4).
This strikes me as a fundamental point. I also believe this work of mutual acceptance is still underway, and never to be lost sight of is the importance of keeping ever alive the positive tension to continue exploring this pathway. It is also important to keep forging ahead in the comprehension of what the aforementioned document refers to as “the boundaries of this same diversity”. Boundaries, or confines as well, with roots in both the essence of the Spirit, who never ceases to shower new gifts upon the earth, and the moment now being lived by the Church. Looking ahead as well to the Year of the Faith convened by Benedict XVI on the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II, this is a moment in the life of the Church when the people of God, consecrated persons, priests, pastoral experts, canonists and everyone at large are called to collaborate so that constructed together may be new pathways of evangelization and companionship for the men and women of our time.
You well understand that such discernment means you must have a fundamental attitude: that of not claiming to know the true (and hence unique) identity of a secular institute. What is actually needed is an essential openness that enables you to discover how others, in their own spirituality and with their own mission and way of life, decline the synthesis between consecration and secularity; and how in the various social, cultural and ecclesial ambits it may be possible, albeit in different ways, to manifest the originality and uniqueness of their vocation.
Only though this dynamic process of listening and being receptive, which calls for sapiential discernment, will you discover yourselves to be all the richer. And this because you will thereby be able to experience the greatness of God, who, in order to manifest His great love for the world, does not let Himself be circumscribed within the littleness of our human itineraries or endeavors, but knows how and when to give rise to responses that may well strike us as bizarre, but most certainly have something to say and give to the life of each person. Therefore, beginning from what you share in common you will be able to engage in open discussion not only about diversities, but likewise about the ever new challenges the world poses in particular to you, called as you are to spend your life in the ‘frontier of the world’. In the face of new questions and issues you are urged and prompted to seek new itineraries that project the timeliness of your mission, ever ready to revisit them in open discussion when times and places so demand.
Coming to mind is one of the questions asked of me during my encounter with the Polish Conference of Secular Institutes in November 2011. I was asked to share my thoughts about the need for a member of a secular institute to remain discreet or reserved about his/her vocation. What I said in response was less of an answer and more of an invitation to individual institutes to undertake some serious thinking and discussion among their own members about the reasons for this discretion or reserve, and ask themselves: “Why was this felt to be necessary? What does it mean to the Church and the world?” There may well be different answers to these questions for each institute, each country and each period in history, but in order to verify the timeliness and efficacy of an instrument it is always necessary to begin from the foundation, from the value intended to be realized and expressed.
I do believe this may be a possible method or way to activate that knowledge that can lead to communion, and which issues forth from communion.
Therefore, listen to one another without any preset positions or ideas both within institutes and in fora of discussion in order to reach a goal, which, as you know so very well, is but one stage in the journey of the Spirit!
Realize that you are not alone in this work: the Church is accompanying you through the words of the Pontiffs and the service of the Congregation I represent.
At this point I would like to bring to your attention yet another aspect, and that is communion with the local Church. Here as well I will cite the words spoken by Blessed John Paul II at the end of the aforementioned Plenary: “If there will be a development and strengthening of secular institutes, the local Churches will benefit from that as well”.
Following this is a dual invitation addressed to secular institutes and pastors. While respecting their characteristics, secular institutes must understand and take upon themselves the pastoral urgencies of the local Churches and urge their members to live with attentive participation the hopes and the hardships, the plans and the concerns, the spiritual riches and the limits: in brief, communion with their concrete local Church.
Moreover, pastors are to be solicitous in acknowledging and seeking their contribution according to the nature proper to them. In particular, incumbent upon pastors is yet another responsibility: that of offering secular institutes all the spiritual richness they need. They want to be part of the world and ennoble temporal realities by ordering and uplifting them so everything may tend to Christ as head (cf, Eph 1:10). Therefore, to be given to these institutes is all the wealth of Catholic doctrine regarding creation, the incarnation and redemption so they may assume God’s wise and mysterious designs for man, history and the world as their own.
The following question is compulsory today: where do we stand along this journey?
Quite naturally I am addressing you here today, urging you to think about and discuss the journey you have traveled so far. But it is also a question posed to the pastors of the Church, who are summoned “to foster among the faithful neither approximate nor complaisant understanding, but an exact and respectful comprehension of the qualifying features . . .of this difficult yet beautiful vocation (words addressed by Blessed John Paul II to the Plenary).
Let us never forget something: the communion of which we speak is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and this gift creates unity in the love for and mutual acceptance of diversities. Prior to concrete expressions in terms of communication and structures, it “calls for a spirituality of communion, without which”, Blessed John Paul II clearly reiterated, “we must have no illusions. Unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth”. (Novo millennio ineunte, n. 43).
Each one of you feels challenged as person, as institute and as Conference to identify ways and means whereby the ideal of a full ecclesial communion projected in so many of the Church’s documents may become real communion in history.
The priority here as well is a fundamental attitude: never succumb to the temptation to abandon the task at hand. It may happen at times that your efforts fail to bear fruit and the journey is at a standstill; in such cases as well do not give up the goal! Do not stop in the face of failures, but from them draw new force and strength to activate creativity; know how to move from resentment to availability, from suspicion to openness. Bring the wounds of ecclesial communion into your prayers; read your responsibilities with truthfulness; leave nothing untried, and in discernment resume the toilsome journey towards communion.
In March of this year we had an encounter at the Congregation with the Executive Council of CMIS, and the council members raised a few topics we could tackle together: mutual knowledge, criteria for the discernment of the identity of secular institutes, the role of the CMIS.
We as dicasterium very willingly accepted the proposal and indicated a way it could be implemented: that this Assembly identify the first topic upon which to begin joint reflection, and above all determine the ways whereby all the institutes could take part in this effort. An example of ecclesial communion we are in the process of constructing!
In closing I would like to extend another invitation to you: be promoters of communion with the other expressions of consecrated life and other ecclesial realities that share with you some aspects of your identity or mission. I have in mind the other forms of consecrated life with which you have in common consecration for the profession of the evangelical counsels in the canonical sense. I am also thinking about those associations and movements with which you share an evangelical presence in the world, while ever conserving a profoundly different mission and style of life. This may strike you as a somewhat audacious proposal, but it is suggested by your selfsame vocation, which leads you to experience the richness of diversity within your respective institutes and makes your living ‘a laboratory of dialogue’.
Be willing to learn about and know these realities, and above all let yourselves be known by them. You have nothing to defend yourselves against; you have but to show the beauty of your vocation, which, together with those of so many other brothers and sisters, is an expression of the richness and constant workings of the Trinitarian Love; that surprising and creative Love so far beyond anything we may imagine, and which makes the Church a magnificent garden where the multitude of flowers and plants enables each person to savor the variety of scents and colors, and therein experience the depth and the joyfulness of full and good life.
NB.: I wish to thank Ms Daniela Leggio, a staff member of the CICSVA, for her research work on documents regarding secular institutes.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in Italian.
“You come from different countries, and the cultural, political and even religious situations in which you live, work and grow old are different. In all these situations may you be seekers of the Truth, of the human revelation of God in life. We know it is a long journey, distressing at the present time, but its outcome is certain. Proclaim the beauty of God and of his creation. Following Christ’s example, be obedient to love, be men and women of gentleness and mercy, capable of taking to the highways of the world, doing only good. May yours be a life that is focused on the Beatitudes, that contradicts human logic to express unconditional trust in God, who wants human beings to be happy. The Church also needs you to give completeness to her mission. Be seeds of holiness scattered by the handful in the furrows of history. Rooted in the freely given and effective action with which the Lord’s Spirit guides human events, may you bear fruits of genuine faith, tracing with your life and your witness trajectories of hope, tracing them with the actions suggested by ‘creativity in charity’ (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo millenio ineunte, no 50)” .
I have quoted these words of Benedict XVI dating back to 2007 because they have been a source of inspiration for the theme of the Congress now beginning; here it is: Listening to God in the furrows of history: secularity speaks to consecration.
My introduction to the Congress and its theme will be divided in two parts. Firstly, I am going to present the statistics regarding secular institutes, and perhaps remind some people about them. For this purpose I will take advantage of a study prepared by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life published in “Sequela Christi” in 2011. During the second part I will strive to usher you into the Congress theme mentioned above.
2. Introduction into the Congress theme
It is most opportune to consider the ecclesial context in which the IX International Congress of Secular Institutes is taking place, as well as the General Assembly following it. Taking place in the near future, and exactly from 7 to 28 October this year, will be the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith. Beginning during this Synod, on 11 October, will be the Year of Faith announced by Benedict XVI for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The theme of our Congress is in the mainstream of these events that highlight the primacy of the faith in the life of each Christian, that primacy lived and put into practice where Christians live and work. This summons us to dwell upon the issue relative to the state of our faith, on how in today’s world we can be witnesses of the Gospel and listen with an attentive, concerned and even fascinated ear to everything God says to us through this world of ours today. It is Assisi itself that also invites us to such reflection in an atmosphere of concern for the faith and openness to the world created and redeemed by Love. Assisi, the place where St. Francis was born and awaits resurrection – never ceases to bring the fresh breeze of the Gospel into the Church and into society.
The primacy of faith
We have to ask ourselves this question: why are we in the world? Why is this aspect of our life an essential element of our vocation? We ask such questions not because by being on earth we have no other outcome, but because the world and the fact of being in it constitute a value and a task for us. In the Motu Proprio Porta fidei (6) Benedict XVI indicated this task among others pertaining to Christians: “by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us”. It can therefore be concluded that there is no other reason for being in the world, in the midst of the world, except for ceaselessly and ever more completely engaging in “an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world” (ibid)
This leads to new questions for our reflection: in the context of the primacy of faith, how must our consecration in the world’s midst actually be?
We state it must be according to the model of Christ, who was sent by the Father so the world would be saved (cf. Jn 3:17). The subject of the consecration of Jesus in the world and for the world will be dealt with in the first presentation by, Prof. Paolo Gamberini SJ., an Italian theologian.
Let us now make an effort to reflect on the concrete mode of being in the world, and our reflection effort is triggered by yet another question:
The Christian world or the Christian in the world?
The distinction between the conception of the Church that strives to construct a Christian world and that of the Church which concentrates on there being authentic and holy Christians in this world is neither a play on words nor a theoretical exercise. The response to the question regarding which of these two conceptions we accept as ours and to which we feel committed completely changes the Church’s mode of existence in today’s world and has important consequences for our vocation as consecrated laypersons.
For more than ten centuries an effort was made to construct a Christian world in Europe. This process was launched by the Edict of Milan, which recognized Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. This tendency uniting religion with power and hence creating a sort of alliance between throne and altar then seemed self evident: insofar as salvation is the supreme good, everything possible had to be done to make it accessible to one and all. A certain fruit of this way of thinking was the principle that reigned for centuries in numerous European countries – cuius regio eius religio. Existing outside the Church was tantamount to existing outside the local community; there were places and periods where and when secular power safeguarded the principles preached by the Church and kept a careful eye on respect for them by subjects. In other words, practiced in an unchallenged manner was something comparable to what happens nowadays in numerous Islamic countries.
The holy desire for universal salvation hand in hand with a less holy desire or even a postulate that ecclesial principles are to be safeguarded by national legislation means the desire to construct a Christian world remains ever present and is not specific to a single culture, a single continent, of a specific group within the Church. Many are the times it also filters into our own wishes, because in its selfsame substance it seems right and just insofar as closely linked to the desire for salvation, and hence is a supreme good for others, for society, for the nation, etc. At times, however, the objective seems to get mixed up with the method. Not only do we want to save everyone in a forceful manner, but we also do that in only one way, that being what we consider to be the best way. The desires of a concrete person lose their importance – we know better than someone else what he needs – because he is lost and does not know what is good for him. It’s not only necessary to tell him this, but also organize his life in his earthly homeland in such a manner that he will have no chance to go astray. Not infrequently do we adopt the attitude of a parent with a small child, or the guardian of a disabled person, forgetting that standing before us is an adult well aware of who he is; a person who has his own times and process of maturation, which at times is far different from our own. In His patient love God bides His time; what about us? What we try to demand also within the community of the Church is at times a set of religious practices, rigid formation, etc. in our institutes. This may also be a list of forms of conduct, moral and social principles “that are the only just ones” binding on everyone, independently of whether or not people say they are believers, and which we try to impose (verbally or otherwise) at work and in our surroundings.
In this conception of the world thus intuited and put into practice, the loser is the individual person, who loses his liberty and his personal relationship with God. Belonging to a Christian group and even to a secular institute, the observation of rules, and the recitation of numerous prayers don’t make a person a Christian; all they make him is a member of a social group with principles, norms, practices and specific structures.
What makes us Christians or makes us become Christians is a real bond with Christ, a bond embraced and deepened anew each day. It is a bond that constructs the Christian identity, and which in its turn gives rise to concrete Christian attitudes that have a common denominator: obedience to the commandment of charity. Therefore, the objective is not to do everything possible so the law of the land in all its expressions may be “Christian”, that it may assist me and others to observe Christian values. No, what counts is that we believers, and all the more so we members of secular institutes, are Christians. A Christian is a person who observes the principle issuing forth from the Gospel, lives them in the community and bears witness to them in society because these principles constitute a value for him and he wishes to imitate Christ, to be entirely close to Him. Certainly, a Christian does wish to draw all others to imitate Christ, but he does so just as Jesus did: “If you wish, come see. . .”
It is quite significant that when Benedict XVI spoke to former students of his on 28 August 2011 and addressed the topic of new evangelisation, he judged it necessary to give clear witness of his faith, a radiating beam of faith. And in order to give witness of faith the first step is not the word, the announcement, but listening to and understanding the situation of man in today’s world, his language and his quest, his hunger for God and the way this hunger is rendered manifest. And there is no listening without paying attention to each person and to the world, without entering into this world, much like the Incarnation, to share with other-than-self everything which is human except for sin, to share his concerns and his hopes. And this creates a form of tension. Prof. Hanna Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz will speak to us about the vocation of the Christian in the world, about this constant tension implicit in the fact of being a Christian.
If this is not a Christian world, how are we to respond to the calls for new evangelisation? How are we to bring the Gospel to the world, which is the place for the realization of our vocation?
Man – the road of the Church
I think the simplest answer is the one given to us by Blessed John Paul II in his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis: man is the road of the Church. Take the case of the parable of the prodigal son: the elder son who never leaves his father’s side is not able to rejoice over the return of his younger brother, while the latter takes his leave to seek his own way in life and then needs time to come to his wits (cf Lk 15 : 11-32). Each one of them needs different attention on the part of the Father, a different approach, a different kind of concern, a different form of accompaniment. In a Christian world fashioned as illustrated above, the younger brother would not have found a place for himself, even if he had gathered his wits about him and had paid a bitter price for his departure. I have the impression he would remain stigmatised for ever for having departed and gone astray. Our vocation quite rightly leads us in the direction of persons like him, who remain outside the structures of the Church: our vocation points out places of encounter to us “in the courtyards of the Gentiles”. Benedict XVI reminds us of this quite often and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, encourages and promotes this approach.
At times it seems to us that the hierarchical dimension of the Church, focusing attention on expansive and very dynamic ecclesial movements or new communities, either forgets secular institutes or tends to underestimate them. It would seem this is another way to evangelise or embark upon the roads of this world to announce Christ, a “fashionable” way because it seems to attract what astounds and be appreciated as a success in terms of being a beacon of light. We must rejoice over the fact that the good God brings to life in history different charisms whose aim is the renewal of the Church. It is our duty to remain faithful to our vocation immersed in the mystery of the Incarnation. Bear with me if I indulge in a personal digression. In February of this year I attended an international conference on the theme Towards healing and renewal and dedicated to the issue of sexual abuse in the Church. An intense moment during that conference was a penitential celebration for the sins of abuse committed against the direct victims, and it began with contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation. In the darkness of the church of St. Ignatius in Rome, and with beautiful background music, we saw a series of slides: the beauty of the world and creation, followed by pictures of destruction: warfare, ruins, pain and suffering. A look at the world full of tension, a gaze/invitation to enter into the outlook of the Most Holy Trinity, which culminated end with the sending forth of Jesus into the world so deeply loved by God. We can say this is the wellspring that defines our mode of life when we say with Isaiah: “Here I am, send me forth”; send me to this or that place quite simply in order to be a Christian there, to be a man, a woman who imitates Christ.
This is our journey: to embrace the world not as a danger to be surmounted, but as a place of Christian witness in order to ask ourselves what does the world’s laicity say to our consecration. The welcoming and embracing of the world understood in a positive sense as place of witness is the outcome of our accepting the evangelical truth that the Kingdom of God is not of this world, and that we are still in the process of journeying towards the place where we will see God face to face. The Kingdom and the kingship of God have nothing to do with a utopia to be brought about on this earth. This eschatological perspective enables us to see that the times we are living do not constitute a specific danger for Christianity, a danger for the Church, but are for the Church a challenge, an opportunity, a test of our faith and fidelity to our Master and Lord.
Therefore, if these our times are a challenge, an opportunity, it becomes well worth the effort to listen to what the world is telling us: the challenges it presents to us and what it teaches us. In their presentations the representatives of secular institutes will endeavour to consider four subjects that struck us as important. Here they are: the new model of holiness, presented by Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Primate of Canada; what does it mean to be a layperson in the Church, . . . . . . .from France ; new models of communication, Ivan Neto from India ; and how the vocation changes when the world changes, Paola Grignolo from Italy.
By way of conclusion
Someone once said “prophecy is not the abandonment of reality in order to go towards a mystical and sacred heaven, towards a mythical future that replicates the illusions of an ideology. According to the teaching of the biblical prophets, prophecy is fidelity to history when at the same time our feet walk along earthly pathways, even if these feet get dirty because of the dust. Prophecy means remaining offspring of the age, society and culture in which we are immersed in order to become parents of a new generation not enchanted by the present – not because of maladjustment or revolution, but because of its ability to recreate this moment. The Incarnation constituting the heart of Christianity is the cross imbedded in the soil of history in order to close the breach between transcendence and immanence, between time and eternity, between space and infinitude, and thereby resume the encounter between man and God” (pg. 112).
I therefore hope each one of us may become a prophet, a child of our own age, becoming a parent of a new generation.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in Polish.
THE CONSECRATION OF JESUS
The word “sacred” comes from the Latin “sacer”, whose root appears related to the Akkadian saqàru ("bar, forbid"). The constellation of meanings in Greek rotates around the terms of äγιoς (greatness, transcendence and apartness of the divine) and, ìερóς (men or objects marked in a privileged way by divine influence). Their Indo-European root sac, sak, sag means attach, adhere to, bind. Emerging is the sense of a reality bound, linked to the divinity. Etymology suggests that the word can contribute to the definition of a place, an object, a role or office (priest), or a ritualised act (sacrifice, consecration) which are ‘sacred’ insofar as they bespeak inclusion/union and exclusion/separation at one and the same time. Therefore, whatever is sacred, or sacredness as a quality, unites and separates.
Appearing in the word “consecration” is the stem ‘sacer’, ‘sacred’. In fact, consecration means to render sacred, to unite a given profane reality to the sphere of what is “sacred”. This sense also appears in another word equally linked to the sphere of sacredness, and that word is ‘sacrifice’: sacrum facere, render or make sacred a given reality through its elimination or annihilation so communion with the divinity and the sphere of sacredness may become possible. The words sacred, consacrate, sacrifice, sacerdos (priest) and sacellum (small shrine or enclosed space) all express the same dynamics. In consecration, a non-sacred reality we call ‘profane’ (what stands before the fanum, the temple) is connected more or less intimately with the sphere of the divinity, with its mystery.
Sacredness is an essential structure of religiosity insofar as the human experience of God is necessarily mediated, necessarily compelled to pass through something which is not God, and ‘something’ therefore becomes the evoker of the divine, becomes ‘sacred’, different, separated from profane use and an object of respect, veneration and trepidation. In order to enter into contact with the divine, man sets aside acts, persons, spaces and times from life as such – from the profane world – and bestows symbolic import upon them, looking upon them as the privileged place of the encounter with the divine. Thus formed is the ambit of the sacred we find in all religions. Man considers “sacred” the place, the time, and the person where his experience of the divine takes place. Due to this symbolic mediation, the reality chosen to mediate the divine is assimilated to it and becomes the object of reverence and veneration (as opposed to what is considered profane).
Sacredness has to do especially with religion, preferring the meaning given by Lattanzio (cf Divina Institutiones, IV, 28). Religion speaks to us of a close bond (relegare in Italian) between man and God. In setting the grammar of religare (bind man to God and the members of a community of faith), sacredness orders and sets the reasons for separating and taking away. “Separate and ‘tollere’ (take away): whoever does not share the dimension of sacredness serving as a benchmark for a community remains separate from that community. Rules and forms of conduct falling under the headings of “purity” and “impurity” express the grammar of sacredness.
In the spheres of the philosophy of religions, the science of religions, biblical sciences and systematic theology, the word “sacred” indicates everything venerated by man as beyond his reach and experienced as the power upon which all men are dependent. Religious experiences of sacredness can assume all kinds of forms and expressions, but are mainly summarized in two opposite forms: sacredness perceived in a shocking and unforeseeable manner [tremendum) as expressed in the biblical narrations of theophanies, where sudden fears and blinding illuminations reveal the numinous trait of the divine present especially in the experience of death; or else experienced in an alluring and engrossing manner (fascinans), such as in a gentle breeze or the experience of love .
The dual nature of this experience of sacredness is also to be found in biblical revelation. On one hand, the holiness of God, with His attributes of transcendence, ineffability and being beyond man’s reach creates a situation whereby man is moved with fear and trepidation towards God insofar as He is far removed and distant from men. On the other hand, this selfsame holiness is communicated to what or who is not divine – to the prophet, to the consecrated person, to man in general – with compassion and mercy, granting him forgiveness for his faults. Persons touched in this manner feel lovingly attracted to God. We encounter this dual experience in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, even though we must note that Jesus’ experience of sacredness constitutes a decisive surmounting of its latent ambiguity. This newness was not always recognized and assumed in a consequential manner in New Testament texts, and even less so has it become normal praxis in the Church.
In the New Testament, in fact, we once again discover the two fundamental features of the revelation of God in the Old Testament: on one hand the God of the incomprehensible and terrible will, who dominates in an inaccessible light (Heb 10:31; lPt 5:6; 1Tm 6:16) and is punitive and vindictive, the supreme defender and avenger; while, on the other hand, we see the God-Abbà, the giver of life, forgiveness and love, who no longer loves those good and punishes those evil, but loves all, because all men are equally His creatures (Mk 5:45): an image of God that scandalized the religious world at the time of Jesus.
Jesus’ singular experience of God is to be seen at the apex of both the Old and the New Testament. In Him, ‘the sacred’ is redefined and liberated from its ambiguity: the fundamental realities of the Jewish religion, and of any other religion, such as sacrifice and the understanding of what is sacred, are interrupted and relived by Jesus on the basis of His consecration. I would therefore like to travel anew this Christological itinerary: the baptism, the pre-Paschal ministry, and the passion-death.
1. The Baptism
The Gospels narrate this event in the life of Jesus in the form of a Christian midrash, a literary genre that gives us an interpretation of the identity of Jesus. The purpose of such a midrash is to counter the embarrassment of the early Christians, who saw Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as an act of subordination to John and affirmation that Jesus too had been in need of forgiveness and conversion.
We could ask ourselves why Jesus decided to have Himself baptized by John. First of all, it is reasonable to argue that Jesus had been moved by the Baptist’s announcement and by the invitation to repentance and conversion for the forgiveness of sins. At this point we have to see if the baptism of Jesus, insofar as baptism of repentance, implies that Jesus had reasons for being repentant. Were this to be the case, it would mean Jesus had been aware of His own sin.
This act on the part of Jesus reveals the way God chooses to be in the midst of men: His being-with. Jesus does not just bend down over sinners: He is with them. Precisely because He is without sin His solidarity with sinful humanity is complete . Jesus, precisely because “He is with” sinners, lives their sin from within, without committing it. Jesus can take the sin upon Himself because He is without sin. This means that the solidarity of Jesus with the sinner is such as to identify Him as sinner (cf 2Cor 5:21). Paradigmatic is the baptism of Jesus because it helps us understand what are the constituent elements of His consecration.
The aim of “consecration” is to unite a given profane reality to the sphere of what is “sacred”, this being a dynamics of both exclusion/separation and inclusion/union. The phenomenological assessment of the baptism of Jesus already enables us to see that absent is the moment of exclusion/separation. Jesus identifies Himself with sinners: total solidarity with that profane, that desecrating reality which is the world of sin and impurity. Jesus is “with sinners” in a non religious way. His is not a refusal of the world of sinners, but rather a profound becoming neighbour and supportive.
The opening of heaven during the baptism (cf Matthew and Luke) and the descent of the Spirit indicate the movement of identification that the sphere of sacredness placed upon Jesus, who in His turn is identified with sinners. “Now when all the people had been baptised and Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you’.” (Lk 3:21-22). Revealed for us by the evangelist in this baptismal theophany is how the profound core of Jesus’ religious experience is not really a decision or a command, but the distinct feeling of originating from a preceding love received.
2. The pre-Paschal Consecration
For a certain period of time Jesus not only baptised, but also preached the message proclaimed by John, including the social message. At a certain point, however, something happened that compelled and motivated Jesus to leave John. Jesus stopped baptizing and proclaiming the day of judgment close at hand. What ever made Him change His position to the degree of having to speak in terms of a radical conversion on the part of Jesus? In fact, at a certain point the Gospels narrate that Jesus had His own message and defined Himself in contrast with John.
Something happened, whereby Jesus, at a certain point in time, stopped baptising, fasting and performing ritual prayer. These new attitudes manifested by Jesus of Nazareth were immediately evident in the eyes of the people of Galilee, (cf Mt 9:14-15; 11:18-19; Lk 11:1). In a change from an ascetical life style centred on announcing the immanent wrath of God, Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God has already come to be. The Gospel text illustrating this radical change is Lk 11:20 (Mt 12: 28): “But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you”.
Jesus was well aware that wherever the Spirit was at work, there did the Kingdom of God erupt upon the scene. The apocryphal Gospel according to Thomas asserts this in very clear terms: “Jesus said: he who is close to me is close to fire, and he who is far from me is far from the Kingdom” (VgTom 82).
It is at the beginning of His ministry that Jesus becomes aware of His consecration. “People often forget that the expression ‘Jesus Christ’ in which Christians have embodied their faith from the very origins, means ‘Jesus, the consecrated one’. Thus did He define Himself in the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4: 16ff), citing an excerpt from the prophet Isaiah (Is 61: 1-2): ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me and sent me to bring the good news to the poor’.”
The experience of the Spirit at work within Him brought about such a radical change in the life of Jesus, and these workings propelled Him all the way to the dregs of society. The sick, sinners and persons possessed by the Evil One are those to whom the Kingdom is announced. Jesus learns this from His experience and His ministry. Jesus awaits the coming of the Kingdom of God, and no longer the coming of a messianic baptiser. If the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan constitutes the turning point from His private life to His public life, the ministry of healing and exorcism constitute the radical turning point in His public life.
The question John poses to Jesus clearly illustrates the difference between the way the Baptist awaited the eschatological Kingdom and the experience of Jesus. What Jesus does and says, unfortunately, do not completely comply with the Baptist’s outlook: he was waiting for the messianic baptiser, and now has someone who is friendly with tax collectors and sinners. Why keep on baptising people for the forgiveness of their sins so they can thereby be spared imminent divine wrath when the sick and sinners are touched directly by the mercy of God without the coming of the wrath of God? Attention is no longer brought to bear on the repentant man, but on the love of God, who is merciful and heals His creatures.
The advent of the Kingdom is linked not only to the thaumaturgic works, miracles and words of Jesus: at the very centre is His person. Whoever encountered this Jesus found himself face to face with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “For the people of His days the encounter with Jesus was an invitation to the personal encounter with the living God, because that man was the Son of God in person. The human encounter with Jesus is the sacrament of the encounter with God” . In this sense the experience of Jesus is the supreme accomplishment, and hence the wellspring and norm of any encounter with God. In the deeds and words of Jesus of Nazareth we are so close to the Kingdom of God that in the encounter with Him we live the experience of God Himself. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9).
Jesus is understood completely and entirely on the basis of the love of God, and on the basis of this love does He exist in Himself. The closer God the Father draws to Jesus, all the more does the selfsame beinghood of Jesus empty itself to make room for the βασίλεία. The words of the evangelist John (1:18), “ό ών είς τόν κόλπον τοū πατρός" indicate movement underway(είς τόν κόλπον): it is a matter of a remaining ever dynamic in the breast of the Father. His being man consisted in the liberty of not wanting anything for Himself. “Jesus is a unified man, completely journeying in one direction alone. He has only one interest, not many. He has only one word to say, not many […]. Jesus is a unified person ever turned to the centre, and of that centre He speaks, not of anything else”. The beinghood of this man was rather the event of a forgetfulness of self that transcends any attention upon self.
In the radicality of His ‘pro-existence’ Jesus reveals the modality of His consecration. He is the anointed of God, the faithful witness, because He renders visible the ineffable and invisible God. “Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But there is another witness who can speak on my behalf” (Jn 5:31). “It is true that I am testifying on my own behalf, but my testimony is still valid, because I know where I came from and where I am going” (Jn 8:14). The difference between the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus of Nazareth consists in the fact that the latter is the “faithful witness” (Rev 1:5), the revealer of God: “the turning of Jesus to the world is not only the consequence of His turning towards God, but His continuation, His visible transparency”.
Being such does not betray the revealing structure of biblical revelation. Jesus does not replace God; He does not take a place alongside God and does not set Himself in the place of God, usurping His dignity. Jesus reveals the origin of the Love of the Father, and precisely in this “He is” Son. Jesus does not bear witness to Himself, other than letting God the Father love because of Him and through Him. “If [Jesus] welcomed tax collectors and sinners it is because in that way He wanted to reveal who God is (Lk 15): not just an act of salvation for sinners, but, even before and more profound than that, an act of revelation”. When Jesus says “I am” He wishes nothing more than to render manifest He who sent Him: the Father. “Therefore, when Jesus says έγω είμι, He reveals first of all not Himself, but the Father (cf Jn 8,24ff)” 8. What is said about the saying and the doing of Jesus – “I do nothing of myself; I say nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me and as the Father does, so do I speak and act” – applies even more so for the beinghood of Jesus; “I am”, insofar as related to the Father (πρòς τòν θεόν).
3. Consecration as openness to other-than-self
The characteristic feature and minimum historical basis of the authentic tradition about pre-Paschal Jesus bear witness that Jesus harboured a preferential love for all those on the outskirts of society during His time: the sick and the possessed, tax collectors and prostitutes, the little ones and the poor. Moreover, Jesus was open to others also in terms of culture and religion; He was open to pagans. In some encounters (cf Mk 5:1-20; Mk 7:24-30; Lk 17: 11-19) Jesus crossed His own confessional and missionary (non-Jewish) boundaries and let Himself be guided in the comprehension of the Kingdom of God by someone outside the chosen people. “In these excerpts Jesus reveals Himself as someone able to cross boundaries and build bridges”.
In this regard it is interesting to note the role of the Samaritans in the unveiling of the identity of Jesus and what is true faith.
The openness of Jesus to others is all the more evident in the case of those who were God’s enemies: sinners. Jesus emptied Himself to such a total degree towards them that He defined Himself in relationship to sinners: “The friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 11:19). By offering forgiveness without making a prior act of repentance necessary, Jesus contravened the moral requisites imposed by the Law. Jesus’ act of sharing a meal with sinners symbolizes the priority of the mercy of God (indicative) over the judgment and wrath of God (imperative).
Jesus offered tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners participation in the Kingdom of God while they were still sinners (cf Rm 5:8). In this sharing of the ‘table’ Jesus goes far beyond mere kindness towards those outside any relationship. Jesus lives His consecration by becoming one and the same with the destiny of those who are “others” and “other-from God”. By becoming a sinner with sinners and a tax collector with tax collectors, Jesus removes the sinner and the tax collector from what constitutes the essence of sin, and that is non-relatedness, the infernal isolation in which man finds himself. Jesus took upon Himself all those who lived in Hades and in death. “He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us” (Mt 8:17).
This identification of Jesus with other-than-self was then expressed in the New Testament with the expressions: “peri emon” and “peri pollon”. “Paul calls this change “reconciliation” [katallage]. The Greek word includes the adjective allos (other); reconciliation therefore means a ‘becoming-other’”. God reconciles men, establishes communion with man: becoming other
4. The handing over of Jesus in His passion and death
The entire existence of Jesus was a letting Himself be determined entirely by the love of God the Father: it is He, Abbà, who, as He would have it, determines the life and the death of Jesus. Jesus knows He is constituted by the Kingdom-to come; in other words, He is well aware that His life and death have their definitive sense in eschatological hope. “I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God” (Mk 14:25); “From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). “His resolute trust includes the readiness to accept this death from the hands of God”. Jesus was “the faithful witness” because He entrusted Himself in a total and radical manner to God the Father (cf Lk 23:46). “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was” (Jn 13:1).
In the New Testament we find a verb that links the Gospels in unison with the early interpretation of the death of Jesus according to the apostle Paul. This verb makes it possible to attain a more intimate comprehension of the secret of Jesus’ consecration. The verb in question is “hand over” (παραδιδóναι). In Mt 26:46-47, this verb (tradere in Latin) has the meaning of betrayal. Jesus is handed over to Jude; Jude hands Him over to the high priests (Mk 14:10) and to the scribes; who then hand Him over to Pilate (Mt 27:1). Pilate hands Jesus over to the soldiers, who then crucified Him (handed Him over to the cross). The evangelists, however, underscore how Jesus is not passive in this succession of hands: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28). Mark, Luke and John underline the free and conscious donation of self on the part of Jesus : “I lay down my life […]. I lay it down of my own free will, as it is in my power to lay it down” (Jn 10: 17-18). In Galatians 1:4 and 2:20, and in the deutero-Pauline texts (e.g. Eph 5:2.25, Tt 2:14 and 1Tm 2:6), Jesus is the subject who gives everything He has received from God the Father (Mt 11:27). “He gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30).
The Spirit received at baptism in the Jordan is now given up at the baptism of Golgotha. Immersed in the deep waters of death, Jesus emerges from them, and “no sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you” (Mk 1: 10-11). At that point the Spirit issuing forth from the death of Jesus is poured out on each person, “[…] Their sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Even on my slaves, men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Ac 2:17-18). Giving Himself “for us” reveals the purpose of His consecration. At the beginning of his Gospel John says: “God loved the world so much that he gave (έδωκεν) his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved” (Jn 3: 16-17). “With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give” (Rm 8:31-32).
5. Consecration as sacrifice of Jesus
The word ‘consecration’ means "to render sacred", to unite a given profane reality to the sphere of what is sacred. As we saw earlier, this sense also appears in the word ‘sacrifice’: sacrum facere, make sacred a given reality through its elimination or annihilation in order to render communion possible with the divinity and the sphere of sacredness. The words consecrate, sacrifice, and sacerdotal (priesthood) evoke one another in this dynamic process.
This terminology of consecration enables Jesus to thematise His donation, especially through the Canticle of the Servant of Yahweh and the Passover meal.13 In particular, Is 53 played a concrete role in the comprehension Jesus projected of His whole life, especially as of the moment when He felt the possibility of a violent death to be imminent. In offering His life for many, Jesus fulfils the being-for, the pro-existence of the Servant. Here we find two fundamental soteriological categories we will dwell upon in the third point: expiation and substitution, on the basis of which the consecration of Jesus reveals its definitive dimension of being-for14. In the sign of the bread and the wine Jesus interpreted His own death. In these symbols Jesus expresses His “Here I am”: this is my body, this am I-for-you.
This terminology of consecration and substitute expiation is well expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews (5:7-9; 9:11-14]15. Contrary to the rite of expiation, the person making the offering identifies himself with the animal to be sacrificed in order to attain communion with the Holy One, in the consecration of Jesus it is God who identifies Himself with Jesus of Nazareth (You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you), and the latter with sinners, handing Himself over to them.
Revealed in such a total upheaval of the dynamic movement as ordinarily understood is the newness of Jesus’ consecration. It is no longer understood in a “expiation rite” rationale where the sinner has to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, or in a “scapegoat” rationale, where the innocent party is the victim of sinners. Just as in the transcending of the expiation rite it is God and not the sinner who identifies Himself with the sacrificial victim, in the transcending of the “scapegoat” process it is not the sinner who discharges his sin on the innocent party – passive and forced by the sinner’s violence – but the innocent party who ‘hands himself over’ in an active and free manner.
The consecration of Jesus embodies a sort of revolutionary potential because it expresses a solidarity lived unto the extreme consequences insofar as it is not just mere participation in the sufferings of others, but rather the taking upon self of the destiny, history and beinghood of others. But this solidarity is lived in the forgetting of self into the hands of God the Father. Without this handing over of self into the hands of God the Father it would not have been possible for Jesus to stand outside the diabolic circle of the religious violence which imposed sacrifices on men so they could attain the Sacred. Jesus takes upon Himself what is theirs (sin/death) in order to give them what is His (forgiveness/life. “[Jesus] offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14). Jesus is consecrated because it is He who gives the Spirit. The Spirit He received when baptised in the Jordan is now handed over at the baptism on Golgotha. At that point the Spirit issuing forth from the death of Jesus is poured out on each person for the forgiveness of sins (cf Jn 20:22).
The consecration of Jesus urges us to redefine our concept of sacredness, rendering by now superfluous and even contradictory any request for sacrifices driven by feelings of guilt in order to restore communion with the Holy One. “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). At this point the relationship, the bond with the sacred is no longer established through the negation of life, through a sacrificial rite, but in recognition of the gift and its superabundance. The Lord does not wait for men to offer Him something; He Himself became gift for us. It is no longer men who must offer to God, but it is God who offered Himself to men, and God offers Himself by giving His own ability to love.
Let us conclude with the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola taken from n° 234 of the Contemplation To Attain Love: “I ponder with much feeling how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He has; and then the same Lord desires to give me Himself as much as He can, according to His Divine design. And with this to reflect, within myself, considering with much reason and justice what I ought on my part to offer and give to His Divine Majesty, namely all things I possess and myself with them, saying as one who makes an offering with much feeling: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will -- all that I have and possess. Thou gavest it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it! All is Thine, dispose of it according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and grace, for that is enough for me.”
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in italian.
IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT OF THE WORLD. REFLECTION ON THE CONSTANT TENSION OF BEING CHRISTIAN
1. Two worlds: a reflection journey with Hildegard von Bingen
Where Christ is, tension issues forth. It may vibrate in total silence, but also erupt in mortal struggle, because Christ brought not peace, but the sword. On one hand He is irrevocably the Lord of all, of all human beings, of all the angels: “Through him all things came to be” (Jn 1:3). Everything, therefore, bears His imprint and is permeated by Him unto the innermost depths. On the other hand, however, this ‘everything’ can also shut Him out, and, terribly enough, do so precisely by virtue of that force He Himself has placed in creation: independence, active autonomy, liberty. This force of being self that is already at work in the beinghood created by Him, and which becomes visible in “being the image and likeness (of God), can incomprehensibly turn against Him. “Ever in our mouth do we have the taste of the apple of paradise” , said Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the taste of rebellion, self-destruction. This outstanding Benedictine will be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church this coming September, and she took a very deep look into the “two worlds” between whch we fluctuate.
In fact, there are two types of worlds: the one created by the Logos and is His ‘property’ (Jn 1:3), and the one which separates itself from its being loved and wants to belong to itself (even though this is not possibile). And this is where unfolding is the drama of Jesus, the dramatic history of the Son of man, who perishes because His ‘property’ withdraws into itself.
We use the resounding words of Hildegard to indicate the point God neither could set nor wished to set in creation: the point where creatures spontaneously recognize their own origin. Residing and ever residing herein is the possibity of the original wound. If God had excluded this free affection He would have had before Himself not human beings (and angels), but products, imitations, beings bereft of free will. But who wants to be loved by robots? Precisely because God was not a slave driver He did not create slaves. At least one consideration can guide us into the depths of this complex problem: the truly loftier love, His love, yearns for liberty, for letting others be themselves – and here lies its vulnerability. This is a limit not of omnipotence, but rather the limit of the love constructed from within. “With the power of Your force You magnify beyond belief and crush no one”. Here we have the exposed flank of both God and each human being: the possibility to inflict a wound on the original love, to resist being loved, to deny mutual love. Instead of saying you and I, the human being (together with the dark angel) says I, and I alone. Within us there is a tiny voice saying: “Why should I worry about anything other than myself? […] What life would this be if I were to want to respond to all the voices of joy and sadness? All I know is my existence”. This is precisely what happened to Lucifer and the creatures like him, “who wanted to be something by themselves. In fact, when they saw their own grandiose glory and beauty in its blinding splendor, they forgot their creator”. This is replicated in such a terribile way in man, “who, in all self-conceit, establishes the law all on his own as if he were his own God […]; and then with querulous animosity tramples that love within himself” .
Disentangled from religious language and contemplated in daily life, striking in this brief citation is the forgetfulness of one’s origins and withdrawl into self (curvatio animi, as Augustine the sinner called it). Precisely the forces given to us, that is to say vitality and autonomy, induce us to separate ourselves from He who gave them to us. “When they awoke in their own light they forgot me”. Becoming inebriated with one’s own light is ordinarily expressed in a rather trite and abstract way as ‘taking one’s distance from God’. Concretely speaking, projected in this expression is the undeniable truth that we are not of ourselves and that each effort to be of ourselves hastens towards a mortal conclusion in the long run.
“Thus is all human nature twisted and convulsed”. Impossible to uproot is the suspision, which, according to many people, Nietzsche grasped with greater insight in his spiteful reflections: wherever God is, I cannot be there myself. And this refusal of God for the benefit of one’s own force is the dark feature of the last century. “How the soul commits suicide if it no longer strives to hold on tight to God”.
In creation, therefore, there is an exposed flank. It must remain unprotected because God does not want it to be shielded and safe; otherwise, strangely enough, this would be to the detriment of His creature. In the case of man himself, if God were to impose His will upon him in order ‘to assist him”, he should mount resistence to any such act.
Necessary, therefore, is a long and strenuous battle to attain the truth about ourselves. Where is the true source of force? Where does a person cut himself off from any force, which would be tantamount to castration? Just as castrated are the societies to which the heavens above have been closed. “How much did the creature desire the creator’s kiss. . .“ – and yet refused it. Let us also consider this mysterium iniquitatis with the help of philosophical anthropology.
2. The world of self-love and violence
Common to all anthropological research is the fact that agressivity is a fundamental impulse. This means that just like all impulses it is necessary in order to preserve life: it is self-power, vital force, absolutely reasonable self-assertion. Also evident, however, is a dark side: imposition of self at the expense of others. Aggresivity of this ilk is inherent in everything that lives: whether it’s a plant invading other species in order to have enough sunlight, or an animal killing other weaker anumals even of the same species, or a human being who from childhood learns how to be self-assertive at the expense of others. This is a law of everything that exists: crush others, nourish oneself on others, make others subserviant in order to grow, and even in order to eliminate them.
Religions have know this for far longer than depth psychology: the thirst to live and fear, guilt and existence are inscrutably interwoven deep within us. Augustine, the great thinker of early Christianity, called this indistinct ensemble “original sin”: an interpretation of existence with a simple glance. Arthur Schopenhauer spoke in terms of a “grave fault of the human race stemming from its selfsame existence” , which is likewise found in Christianity, Brahmanism and Buddhism. In the meantime the concept of original sin is contested far and wide. “And yet without the most incomprehensible of all mysteries, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves”, wrote Pascal. Life shows no mercy to life, lives off the death of others. Each person is born into this instinctive fabric of life, but is it possible to dominate this aggressivity given to us by nature? How can it be transformed constructively into vital force?
In order to have a clearer view of the force of the violence of which the “world” lives it is necessary to deepen the mystery of life in which violence is implicit.
3. The dual aspect of life
Life has a dual character which is both disconcerting and interminabile : on one hand it is “given” before thought of, and is not chosen (not even within the limits imposed); on the other hand, it is given to itself and can be lived autonomously. Therefore, life as gift and life as possession. Evidently residing herein is a decisive root of aggressivity: defend life against others as property, expand it, impose it if necessary, even with damage caused to others; aggressivity as defence driven by the unconscious fear of not reaping enough from life.
3.1 Life as original gift
Life sees itself from “the outside” as it takes place and happens in persons and things, and is able to be grasped only in “something lived”. And yet exposing itself to reflection in this manner is an underlying life: doing or enduring issue forth from a “withinness" that no one has before his eyes in a conscious manner, but in which each person never ceases to move. This means we “see” our life not as a living and radical base of existence; but that life unfolds and takes place in an original and pre-reflective way all “by itself”. This base or foundation conceals an inscrutable “night”; we are nocturnals for ourselves; just like the eye that sees everything, but not itself.
Life is not “made” and in no way whatsoever can it be “made” – not even empirically – but only maintained and transmitted. Also when parents – to use that horrendous expression – “make” a child, the process of generation and conception goes far beyond a biological datum. Parents as well must learn how to know the child (in an incomplete manner) in the vitality proper to him; this child is not their targeted “product”. Moreover, used in the processes of fertilization in vitro and cloning are preexistent living materials. The chain of life passes through generations and does not begin anew each time from zero. Life is original gift, in itself not understood, incomprenhensible and unattainable even before any acceptance of it.
Life, therefore, does not merely exist. It comes without being called, coming forth from fullness. Life itself is fullness; it is the attaining of already fulfillled self. Life is born of the original fact of being given to ourselves. And it is not given out with parsimony and in a scanty way; in real terms, it never ceases to come to be as a creatio continua, whose abundance we can also expect in the future.
The “nocturnal” core is the character of life; it is quite simply given: it leaps forth from the origin, life from the original life. It is elusive and incomprehensible, just as we are incomprehensible to ourselves. Our origin is immemorial; we are unable to remember it.
3.2 Life as autonomy
On the other hand, however, even though given to us, life is undeniably autonomous: it is given to itself as growth (nature means that which is born). By itself it is active in the world and autonomously obtains therefrom the ‘materials’ needed to exist. Already in the act of breathing we constantly partecipate in what surrounds us, the the same applies to eating and drinking. From no matter where life issues forth (and we still do not have an answer to the question about the donor) it is a matter of a gift of being self; in other words: the gift of a force proper transferred to each individual. From its boundless and unfathomable beginning, life truly belongs to itself. This becomes clear with the following image: when one candle lights another one, the second flame burns on its own, even though it owes its existence to the first candle. Proper to the greatness of the gift of life is the fact that it freely offers its collaboration. Being self is gift and not Promethean theft. Therefore, being given and giving self are not mutually exclusive: autonomy itself is given. Life acts autonomously in the world and perceives itself, also in its liberty. Thus does the living nucleus turn into “Ego”, the point of reference of the world, things and others in the “care” of self. This is not a form of detachment; in all fact, this movement configures what is alive.
3.3 Life as possession: the ‘ontic’ fault of the world
Precisely because of its invisibility the gift of life may also be demanded or claimed in an egoistic, ungrateful and distracted manner. Herein do we have obscure possibilities in nuce: arrogantly taking without asking (taken from the poor man is the only lamb he has); giving in a selfish manner (do ut des: I give so you may give); dealings that presuppose a secret excessive advantage over others; hoarding the gift of life for self without transmitting it through generation. The self-affirmation of life, this thankless and unscrupulous force of gravity, can be reffered to as living on’e life as possession in an aggressive and miserly manner. As a possession to be increased ceaselessly and to be defended as property. Since existence in its foreseeable finiteness “does not suffice” unto itself, it needs possession as an apparent bulwark in order not to lose or “ruin” (a verb abounding with sense and meaning) life, in order that inevitable does not become the ultimate loss, death. Does not insecure life force us to have this outlook? Force us to disregard and even “exclude” others?
Open aggressivity, therefore, driven by a secret fear: supplies will not suffice, life may not be lived to the hilt; others may have more than me, deprive me of something or even take something away from me.... Linked to this is yet another thought, and this is how individual fault is often due to a profound disturbance. Implicit in existence almost naturally or even inevitably is a disturbance, an inner malaise in the sense of a “greed” ever ready to act in life, and also necessary. And this brings us to pre-fault aggressivity, to pre-moral “ontic” fault. Many are the religions which speak of this in myths and images concerning all of existence. One of these myths is the tragic one of Edipus, whose “innocent fault” is perpetrated in the murder of his father and incest with his mother. This is the experience of the world also in the sense of the Gospel according to John: we are all “in the world”, inevitably inserted in the egocentric mode of life proper to us.
A famous document of the pre-Socratics, the frammento 110 of Anaximander (5 cen. B.C.), tackled the subject of the fault of things as well: “Things are punished and mutually pay the penalty for their injustice (adikias) according to the disposition (taxin) of time”. This rather strange enunciation leads to the interpretation of aggressivity as an ontoligical fault due to existence itself. The birth and assuming form of all things occupies space, chases away other things, draws nourishment from other things, and perhaps exterminates them in order to be able to exist in its turn. According to Anaximander, however, “the disposition of time” cancels aggressive removal insofar as time forces everything to pass on, disappear and fall into oblivion. What is farthest removed from the modern conscience of innocence is this strange being embroiled in the “fault” of plants or animals. “Everything that lives in the womb of nature is born at the expense of other-than-self, and one day will have to give up its place to an other-than-self. Nature generates and destroys, and doesn’t care what it generates, what it destroys, it suffices for life to continue […]”. Thus does life rage against life, does life precipitate towards its own death and that of others. Whatever lives so avidly can but reap horror. When contemplating creation Thomas of Aquinas speaks of discordia naturalis, a natural struggle, in which it is not just a matter of conquering vital spaces, but directly destroying other-than-self, devouring and being devoured, a nature “with red teeth and claws” (Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)). There are no exceptions to the law of making others suffer, of taking vital force from others without asking. Towards the end of his life Reinhold Schneider (1903-1958), an important Catholic German author, contemplated the “techniques” used by inspects to slowly devour their hosts from within as larvae, and this made him once again become the non believer he had been as a young man.
This helps explain the close objective connection between fault and religions, which in their manifold and diverse modes and forms practice the rite of collective liberation from fault. Therefore, religions are not that easy to erase by merely criticising them, as if sufficient would be their illuministic annhilation in order to make guilt, their pendant, disappear altogether. Since “ontic” guilt is not an invention of decadent morality, but rather a state (pre-conscious), if ‘guilt’ is superficially extinguished, it “moves on as if by twists and turns”: fault changes its own phenomenal forms and disguises itself in a monstrous manner. In Kafka’s novel The Trial, the man being prosecuted, Josef K., will never learn the reason for being charged with a crime, but the cause is clear: he is quite simply guilty. This “ontic” fault has been lost in very much of enlightened conscience, but has not disappeard from the world’s disorder.
Becoming clearer in this context is the strange expression of original sin, which initially seems to be a feature of Christianity in the interpretaiton of Genesis. Upon closer analysis, however, we see that the decline of existence (not only human existence) is expressed at more or less symbolic levels in all kinds of different cultures and religions. The analysis of this decline, however, reveals the objective similarity among such various positions. “Original sin” is understood in Biblical tradition at the human-preinvidual level and defines a capacity of guilt implicit in the natural and aggressive capacity to assert self over others. It becomes manifest and works above all in the space of interprersonal relations insofar as the true site of error. Naïve explanations of a guilt “inherited” at the biological, genetic or psychological level are off the mark altogether; what we are talking about is a danger for human relations. In its simplest sense, being mutually at fault means placing one’s Ego against other-than-self. This, however, is precisely what happens at the preconscious-natural level: in the protest of I against you, in the instrumentalization of other-than-self for personal aims, in not admitting and rejecting other-than-self from one’s own domain. We want the you to become Id, a counterpart bereft of will.
Each one of us is born into this interweaving between pushing other-than-self down towards lower levels and self-assertion, participates therein – also in self-defense – and is constituently embroiled in it as “heritage”. More than a few religions and cultures with an hierarchically structured anthropology envisage the deterioration of others, do not consider certain classes of the population to be human beings in the true sense of the term: the pariah, the untouchables in the Hindu caste system, costitute a sort of grouping of “inferior human beings”. In addition, the totalitarianisms of the XX century instrumentalized persons or groups of persons according to detailed plans: “They promised to construct for us, and now they are constructing by using us” (Vasyl’ Stus)
The original fault, insofar as a disposition of each human exisence, is the fault of self-assertion against the selfsame origin of existence, against God, or our “brother”, but, to be exact, against both. In fact, both are subjugated to personal will, and if possibile in a useful form. In the true sense of the word, therefore, “original sin” means separation in order to be able to assert self and be self instead of being with others. This is the “world” opposing itself to the coming of Jesus.
4. Solution of the power of the “world”
Preparing ways to resolve aggressivity or at least protect against it is the task of religions. The term “holy” refers to healing or setting aright something destroyed or destructive: religious thought goes far beyond the mere thirst to live and opens the horizon to a charitable vision, a reassuring vision: existing is also and above all a gift. No one is self-generated: an origin grants existence to all creatures. No one is the “aim” of another person, and this is already asserted by the Enlightment. Granting birth to others, granting life to others becomes a criterion for a culture: for example, does it accept a child as a “pure gift”? This presupposes not accepting one’s own existence in an obvious, miserly or malcontent manner, but always living it and confirming it with gratitude. At the deepest levels, however, this also assumes that life must be liberated from the fear of its own force and its own limits. It must not defend what has been given to it with unfathomable overabundance, its own life, as if this could be the object of theft.
Does such a life issuing forth from fullness and without aggressivity, fear and avidity fall within the realm of what is thinkable? Various religious approaches range from the flight of the Buddhist life to domination over the world as we see in the Bible: life flows “gratuitously”. Discovering the character of this gratis means replacing a life seen as possession (aggressive defense) with a life as gift (divine).
4.1 “Fleeing” from the world by detachment of self: Buddhism
Ancient India with its various Hindu traditions knows no other solution for the ceaselessly rotating wheel of life than rebirth, which always restarts the burdensome cycle from the beginning. Rebirth, however, also means thirst for life and a new death in a never ending series, and is therefore not a solution.
Imbedded in this vision were such threatening elements that Gautama Buddha (5th cen. B.C.) asked for the wheel to stop in non-being, and for life to be dispersed in nothingness, in Nirvana. Certainly, thus cancelled is everything that means “I”: the thirst (to live) dies with the thirsty person. Suffering is cancelled insofar as the person who suffers disappears. In Buddha, therefore, India processed the response of the way of interior death prior to any happiness or disillusionment in order to take the sting out of the misfortune of birth. Dying before death was Buddha’s solution. His ascetism uses a losing of self as an ultimate leap, as a “taking flight from the burning house”, while he who jumps out and escapes disappears definitvely.
In original Buddhism, therefore, there is a liberation from rebirth, which was looked upon as misfortune in an “attachment” ever replete with fear and greed. The way towards healing from assertion of self is eightfold: the more a human being is able to reduce his yearning for food, drink, sex and power, all the more swiftly will he “uproot” himself. Nonetheless, this ascetical concentration on self is only possible for males, since in females this “attachment” to life is literally incarnated insofar as they are the origin of ever new lives. The ascetic, on the other hand, is able to leap into nothingness, to remove himself from rebirth and from existential fear. But this is only possible by completely withdrawing selfhood. Life being lived at present serves as a springboard towards happiness, towards no longer being, which is no longer something to be hoped for as happiness. Schopenhauer concretely compares “the person awaiting death for certain explanations to a scholar pursuing an important discovery, but at the moment when he thinks he can see the solution, the lights are turned off”.
According to Buddhism, therefore, aggressivity is to be “eluded”, sapped at the very base. This is of no little importance, but is there another solution that actually quenches the thirst tself?
4.2 The antithesis to the violence of the world: the Sermon on the Mount
Embodied in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are the constituent elements of a new anthropology in which, contrary to the above, the water of life flows in overabundance.
Born in the image of children of one and the same father who are loved in the same way is the concept of a new humanity going against the grain of the natural-instinctive self assertion of both we as group and the egoism of an individual. The essential requisite of the Sermon on the Mount is nothing less than to live this “absolute perfection of the heavenly Father”. The crucial newness lies in the fact that the appeal to the forum internum, to the decision made in all conscience by an individual and not justifiable outside that sphere, led to an individual ethics. The basis of ethics is always the Torah under the form of an “ethics of do not” (“do no harm); in the antithesis of the Sermon in the Mount this ethics is radicalized into an ethics of doing, which summons each individual to an optimum virtutis: to give the utmost for other-than-self.
Part of this is not only the forbidding of violence, but also kowledge of the roots of violence: in one’s soul, or, to use the Hebrew expression, “in the heart”. Stemming forth from here are the perceptive antitheses that condemn not only the murder committed, but begin from its internal preparation, apparently harmless, for having but thought of committing such an act: “Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court” (Mt 5: 22). What appears exaggerated, that being to have adultery begin by nothing more than “looking at a woman lustfully” (Mt 5: 28), comes across as entirely plausible in the light of psychology and unconscious “formatting”. The extraordinary request to forego revenge and even turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39) loses its apparent “less than virile” nature when considered is the uncontrollable dynamics of retaliation. It is true that this foregoing of violence is requested only of the person in question, the victim of violence, so he may take a step backwards: not envisaged is any reaction with respect to other victims or the unawareness of possibile preventive measures. Avoided at the same time is the hasty passing of judgment, which actually refers to a judgment of other-than-self referred to oneself: seven times seventy times is a person to be forgiven in order to prevent the pomposity of self-esteem in one’s “heart”.
Input from the Old Testament is developed in full in the Gospel; certainly in theory, but ordinarily not in practice: our enemy is also included in the commandment of love. The concept of battle or struggle exists only with respect to sin, with respect to personal and structural inquity. It is true that violence is part of this aeon, but in this reveals its corrupt character. The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, is constructed without violence, its prophets chosen, and in the final analysis the Son as well abandons Himelf to this violence without mounting resistence. There are legitimate means of defense, especially as regards an immanent need for protection, but the use of violence in order to have the upper hand either religiously or in any other way is reprehensible (Rm 12:17ff; 1Pt 2:19ff).
4.2 “Marvelous exchange”(admirabile commercium): Liberation from aggressive fear
A “unique characteristic” of Christianity is the way it transcends the world. Let’s begin from the beginning of fault as described in Gn 3: fault is the divinely great possibility wasted by man to be the image of God, to draw without limts his own countenance from a divine principle. Genesis 3 rejects He who gives life: it narrates malignities because it suspects He is the one depriving us of true life. In a nutshell Augustine says: fault is “love of self that expanded unto debasing God” .
Beginning here is the incarnation of Jesus: “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10: 44), as well as “the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many” (Mk 14:24). Life and blood are poured into the nothingness opened so wide by ontic conduct, by the erroneous personal behavior of man. Jesus the victim plunges into this abyss of man, who dragged creation along with him, and throws Himself into this nothingness in order to support it from below. Kenosis is the mystery of the voluntary “emptying of self” by God, as we read in the hymn in the letter to the Philippians. “Born in Him at a depth untainable by any psychology and metaphysics was the will to ‘empty Himself’ […] Thus did He descend. Not only on earth, but also to a depth we are not able to measure: a depth and a terrible emptiness we can only immagine if we really understand from within what sin is. It is the emptying of self of He who, sacrificing Himself, expiates, redeems and begins anew”.
Part of this in a most terrible way was the non acceptance of the life of Jesus by many of His contemporaries. The aim or purpose of His sacifice was an admirabile commercium: “The Lord pays for His servants”. This means God foregoes His own divinity in order to open the original relationship anew: being-with instead of being-I, living existence as gift and not as possession.
According to the viewpoint of the world at fault, the cross is:
- - relinquishing “lethal” selfhood in life: In fact, however, it is really fearless forgetfulness of self: life in pro-existence, healing of the rupture of the destructive and malignant relations of individuals, the new comunicative exchange of gifts = gift and mutual restitution of life in the “joyful exchange” of thankfulness to God between husband and wife, among brothers and among all creatures: living life as relatedness, from the “pure gift” of the divine origin and of other-than-self.
It is naturally necessary to note how terribile it was for the Son to give up His sonship, as Balthasar says with such impassioned words: “And so I decided to give myself, to abandon myselt. To whom? It doesn’t matter. To sin, to the world, to everyone, to the devil, to the church, to the kingdm of heaven, to the Father. . . .to be the sacrificed one by antonomasia. The body upon which the vultures gatherd. The one devoured, eaten, drunk, buried, poured out. The ball to play with. The one exploited. The one squeezed unto the dregs, trampeled upon ceaselessly, run down and crushed, reduced to little more than air itself, swept along by the ocean’s waves. The one prostate […] God Himself was exhausted in me”. Peccatum factum pro nobis is this unimaginable drama according to the words of Paul (2 Cor 5:21); laconic, terrifying and consoling at the same time.
Here is what is consoling: “Love drives away all fear. Not even remaining are the ashes of my fault due to that bolt of love that devours everything”. In such an experience distraught guilt becomes happy; it has found He who sets it free. “Wave after wave, tides of water and blood burst forth from you interminably, forever, […] they pour out on the deserts of guilt, enriching beyond measure, surpassing any capacity to receive them, far exceeding in abundance any desire”.
4.4 Life in abundance: in the world, not of the world
The “savor of grace” means the pure gift of the (new) life in abundance without any obligation to give it back. “I came so they may have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10). To the mere rationale of exchange the thought of the “pure gift” adds the idea of the new and constituent element of the Christian transformation of the world. This ushers in a new image of God: from “life in abundance” we recognize the imperfection of the world, and culture in general, which is essentially based on exchange, but not on unconditional giving. The gift must become “supererogatory”, pouring out beyond what we desire and expect, or what is our portion; according to the paradigm of Jesus it is the superfluous, pure “benevolence”, joy in giving. “If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. If a man would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Mt 5:40). This new way of being good can be “transposed” into the social world in order to verify and once again reprocess the justice of exchange. As an essential correction of the expression do ut des, we would then have “give, because it has been given to you” In this fashion, giving back turns into an attitude of free and altruistic gift. The clearest example of this is love, which cannot be bought with justice, exists only at the level of what is not due to either party, and is freely granted. The overabundance issues forth from the freedom to grant as a gift of self: “[…] who believes in me, from his breast shall flow fountains of living water" (Jn 7:38).
4.5 Transcending the fear of death in the world
Let’s consider one final consequence: the transcending of the world must also transcend or overcome death and fears relative to the transcience of the flesh. Contrary to the echo chamber of ancient philosophy, Christianity alone succeeded in formulating expressions in which the flesh becomes a pivot: for example, caro cardo or carne carnem liberans: “He frees the flesh through the flesh”.
According to Christianity God became incarnate not merely as the force of Id, as magical power, as mythical dynamism, but with a human face. And taking place in this flesh was something unherd of, the fulfilment of what had been given as certain, that is to say his resurrection from the dead. Job (13:25) had already thrust his heart over the wall of the fear of death: “Let him kill me if he will”. In this transcending of the fear of death resides the liberation of life.
The inevitabile end of man becomes fulfillment in Christian terms. In effect, fulfillment means the abolition of death as a consequence of the aggressive upheaval of everything. Creation is liberated in a permanent manner: “Creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us,from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God” (Rm 8:20ff). Doxa, the glory of man, will become visibile for the first time in the image and likeness of the Creator with neither sin nor death.
This great eschatology encompasses everything, liberates everything, and the letters of the apostoles have no more appropriate term for it than doxa, glory. The Book of Revelation reveals this concept in the image of the splendid and perfect city. Both quite moving and a cause for reflection is the fact that the end of all hope is announced in varying images of pure beauty – beauty is the end of the ways of the Lord. And yet beauty is naught but a reflection of what is truly grand: the overcoming of death. Herein lies the utmost concretion of hope: “In the God who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist”, it is possibile “to have faith against all hope” (Rm 4: 13ff).
5. In the world, not of the world
Due to their greatness, great religious truths require an overwhelming passage through fears and expressions of resistence. Then arriving will be consolation, and only he who has suffered will know what he knows.
The Christian conception of the world may speak if it knows what it is talking about: about totally frightened man in need of redemption and redeemed. Christianity can humbly sustain its difference compared with other religions if it sees this difference in an edifying manner and not a presumptuous one. It has the advantage of affirming life, both life at present and in the future, and does not look on extinction as a purpose of life (this would aesthetically darken this life as well). Its substance is a face, a person: the countenance of the Son, His plunging into human suffering and the pophesised transformation of everything into shining happiness. Nihil humani alienum, nothing of what is human is extraneous to Him.
Therefore, with persons of different religions there can thus be shared attention for creation, for care of the body and for the battle against all kinds of aggressive fears. It is also possible to remain in silence together and perceive the peace issuing forth from our innermost dpths, a general purification of the senses from over excitment – and yet for Christians these are only steps on a ladder, which leads not merely to a divine nature, a divine self, a divine all-in-one, or into nothingness, but to the face of the living God, which at the same time is a charming human face! We can neither determine a priori nor exclude how close the steps of the ladder of other spiritual positions approach the mystery of Christ. But does breathing already men to adore? Is the admirable elimination of pain attained by yogi truly the joy of an encounter? Is being Buddha really the same as the fullness of life projected in the Sermon on the Mount?
Human beings are consoled in the Sermon on the Mount, not nullified. Instead of definitive annihilation the Sacred Scripture promises elevation. God is not He who annihilates and thereby strips us, but He who completes identity. The “flesh in all cultures sympolizes transcience and decomposition, but in Christianity it is transformed into a ‘body bereft of pains’”. The resurrection of Jesus, in which His transfigured body conserves all the wounds of torture and execution, bears witness to the conservation and transfiguration of everything on earth that is broken, wounded and neglected. This doctrine teaches not fear, but is actually the fundamental overcoming of all defense: “Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the one who made the promise if faithful” (Heb 10:23).
Let’s therefore ask ourselves this question: is a life of fullness with neither fear nor greed thinkable? There is a way towards a power that replaces our obsession for ourselves with the life of God: Gratis e con amore is the name of the new melody of existence; no longer devour and be devoured. Already in the water of baptism our fearful isolation is flooded over, immerged in the original life that flows. God is relatedness, the ardent donation of Self. He responds to the thirst to live in a spontaneous and superior way with an open hand (also, as we know, with a open heart). Certainly, He does not liberate us immediately from fear; we have to try over and over and over again before letting ourselves be melt by Him. “I am frugal, my God, but You, You have the right to waste me” (Rilke). Faith eliminates our natural clutching to ourselves, and grants life to each person in overabundance. Oh joyful exchange: “You received without charge, give without charge” (Mt 10:8).
6. The threefold counsel of the Gospel in the experience of Hildegard von Bingen
Whoever receives the new life bereft of fear may abandon a threefold avidity, a threefold battle against the “world”: the battle for wealth, sex (as simple satisfaction of an impulse) and power.
The Gospel consels the transformation of aggressivity into strength:
- Through poverty; for greater interior lightness, knowing we always receive in overabundance;
- Through chastity: chaste comes from conscius = conscious; and hence chastity means knowing who we love out of love for that person alone;
- Through obedience: succeed in hearing the voice of authority; this is the voice that “makes me grow” (augere), instead of being a slave to my whims.
Is this really in excessive contrast with our nature? Let’s trust the experience of Hildegard von Bingen, who, as a Benedicine, followed this threefold counsel: “If the human being thusly follows what is just, he abandons himself, draws from the source and drinks. He is fortified by this, just like the veins of a drinker filled up with wine. He will never be immoderate like a wine drunkard who loses control and doesn’t know what he is doing. In this way do the just love God, in whom there is no distaste, but only lasting happiness”.
This is the commitment: abandon self, but do so happily. There is a face, a name, the only one really, who has this wine to offer us: Christus medicus. In fact, life itself is envisaged for joy and health, not for unhappiness. “Thus has love completed its work, gradually, but in a clear and resolute way so remaining would not be a single weakness, but abounding would be all abundance” “If with triumphal submission someone subjects himself to God and surpasses Satan, he will rise and delight in the beatitude of divine protection. And if, in ardour for the Holy Spirit, he uplifts his heart and turns his gaze to God, then appearing in shinning clarity will be the blessed spirits, and they will offer his heart to God”.
Under this protection man will arise, live anew and stride forth with resolve. The will of God transforms into movement. “In Him I find the richness of the forces of God, and hence I rise from force to force”. This is experience dating farthest back in time: this service fortifies and does not subdue. Whoever is touched by God is free and not a slave. “How beautiful are your eyes when they proclaim divine things”. It is a return home, not only towards Him, but towards self, and at the same time liberation from the world. “If man opens his heart to God and makes it radiant, it will rivive everything that is arid. Wheat and wine grow thanks to this mysterious force”. Likewise the grain and the wine of his heart. And this is not theoretical knowledge or dream-like mysticism, but rather everyday life and can be verified in daily life. Something surprising happens: something, or rather someone else had occupied the center of both thoughtful attention and action, and the burdened soul shakes off its weight. . .it is greater than before. “Oh, ardent spirit, praise to you! […] With you does the heart of men burn. And the breast embraces all the forces of the soul. Springing forth herefrom is will, and given to the soul is its goodly savour”. The assurance with which Hildegard describes the attraction exercised by God bears the imprint of the truth: this gives force to another part and it is possible to abandon oneself to this, albeit bleeding from every wound, but blessed. “Born of the heart is healing when glimpsed is the dawn of a new beginning. Indescribable is what new desire of God is beginning, and what fervor for His work, our world”. “And thus does man, the abode of his miracles, recognize Him with the eye of faith and embrace Him with the kiss of knowledge”. Yes, man instinctively tends to kiss and embrace: he receives kisses and hugs constantly and joyfully passes them on.
This means being in the world, but not of the world.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in German.
HOW TO BE AT THE SEVICE OF THE CHURCH
LIKE LAYPERSONS AND AS LAYPERSONS?
Your Eminence, Monsignor, dear Ewa, dear friends,
On the occasion of Pentecost the French Catholic newspaper La Croix published a dossier on the theme: “Those laypersons who make the Church work”. Under the title on the front page there was a huge photograph of an elderly lady who, for 25 years as the article specified, was placing a beautiful bouquet of flowers in front of the main altar in an otherwise empty church. . . .the shock of snapshots! May this already be the answer to the question asked of us this afternoon. Is this the service the Church expects of laypersons?
Let’s take this all the way to sheer absurdity: is it possible to imagine the Church without laypersons? A few years ago I was visiting the Uffizi Museum in Florence and my attention was drawn to a small medieval painting entitled something like this: the ideal city. The painting showed a beautiful village with its houses and its church set in a bucolic countryside; men and women busily at work doing the ordinary things of the earthly city: ploughmen in the fields, craftsmen in their shops, women in the kitchen. The painting as a whole projected serenity and harmony in a sort of pale golden light. Really a beautiful painting; a fully Christian city, almost as an example of fulfilment. There’s just one detail, however: there were nothing but monks and nuns. . .what a strange image of a Church, with no laypersons and no posterity! Now, a Church without laypersons would be like a school without pupils, or a hospital without patients.
Let’s close this parenthesis on the symbolic illusion of a medieval painter and return to an evident fact: there are laypersons in the Church. Since it is a matter of seeing how laypersons can serve the Church as laypersons, let’s begin by taking a look at this assembly of ours. It is made up almost exclusively of laypersons. In fact, the members of secular institutes are laypersons and remain laypersons. I willingly recall the excellent formula used by our friend Msgr. Dorronsoro: “fully laypersons and fully consecrated persons”. We are not half laypersons and half consecrated men and women. This is the great “revolution” of Provida Mater, as Fr. Beyer was wont to say. In fact, up until that time a layperson who chose the consecrated life left the condition of belonging to the laity and became a religious. It wasn’t possible to be a layperson and a consecrated person, it was one or the other. Ever since 1947 it has become possible in our institutes to be laypersons and consecrated persons, to commit oneself in the consecrated life without leaving the lay condition. Paul VI referred to the “blending of two realities which is the very shape and fashion of your lives” . 100% laypersons and 100% consecrated persons; behold the wonder of our vocation, and so much for mathematics! Being a layperson is not just a way of living, as if a religious exercised a secular profession and lived in the ordinary conditions of everyone else. Paul VI explained it in these terms: “The condition in which you live, your life-description in human society becomes your theological self and your way of bringing salvation into the realm of reality for all the world to see” . We are fully laypersons and fully consecrated. It is not certain, however, that in the Church, in our parishes, and perhaps in our selfsame institutes this ontological truth is always well understood and even well lived by some members.
Moreover, the aggregation of two states of life is not something new in the Church. For a long time it has been obvious to everyone that a priest assuming a commitment in the consecrated life remains a priest in full, also when being a member in full of the Franciscans, the Jesuits or the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. By way of example I could cite the priests here in the assembly with us, and who are full members of clerical secular institutes: they are priests in full and consecrated in full: their consecration takes nothing at all away from their clerical state.
After this brief overview of some facts regarding our vocation we may now delve into the meat of the matter: “How to be at the service of the Church like laypersons and as laypersons?”. This is a very vast topic, and I am not a theologian, an historian or a sociologist, but only a jurist, a professor of public law at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, and very active at my university, as well as in parishes, in my diocese and in the social and educational works of the Church. I also lived as a great grace the 9 years spent as a member of the Bureau of the National Conference of Secular Institutes of France, a forum of fraternal communion and constructive discussion, as well as the propelling force behind many activities at the service of our Institutes.
Our theme is much like a very high mountain: it can be photographed from different angles without every capturing the whole picture. Our previous congresses extensively developed certain aspects such as presence in the world and secularity. In addition, I am taking into due consideration other presentations on the general theme of the Congress: “Listening to God in the furrows of history: secularity speaks to consecration”. In the time allotted to me, and in order not to overtax your patience on this very warm summer afternoon, I’d just like to take a detailed look at some points together with you, points which nowadays seem deserving of special attention and greater clarity. I will group them together along two simple axes: first laypersons and the Church, and then laypersons and the mission of the Church, referring above all to the teachings of Vatican Council II, whose 50th anniversary we joyfully celebrate .
I. Laypersons and the Church
I will concentrate this first point of my presentation on the Church and the place of laypersons in the Church. As I said, I am not a theologian, hence will not venture into theoretical analyses that would take me far beyond my fields of competence, and will limit myself to a few essential texts of Vatican Council II.
In order to understand how the laity are called to serve the Church we must first ask ourselves a basic question: how do we serve the Church, from the inside or the outside? Or, in even clearer terms, what is our exact place as laypersons in relationship to the Church? Are we only the external users of the spiritual and material services offered to us by the Church? Or are we protagonists in the Church, giving it a specific contribution?
In order to respond to this question in the best way possible, I would propose that we pursue our reflections in four stages.
What does it mean for a layperson to serve the Church like a layperson?
In order to understand the question properly, we logically have to begin by asking ourselves what the word service mean. What does its etymology teach us?
The word service in French, service in English, servizio in Italian or servicio in Spanish comes from the Latin word “servus”, which means slave. The passive sense is very clear: to serve means to obey. The German equivalent is also close, but with a different etymology: Dienst and bedienen. This original sense is still used today in everyday language: often willingly used are expressions such as service personnel, service entrance, quality of service in a restaurant, or else “military” service (Wehrpflicht in German, with the addition of the moral dimension of duty to be performed). From this first perspective the layperson at the service of the Church comes across above all as he or she who obeys the authority of the Church.
Let’s continue with this analysis of the word “service”. Like many other words and terms, the word servus assumed new meanings at the time of the Eastern Roman Empire, which officially became Christian with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380. Just as imperium became ministerium (wherefrom the qualifier of the ministers of the Church), servitium became a function, a responsibility at the service of others. Nowadays, for example, we speak unambiguously about public service, meaning by that schooling, health care, transport, etc. Public service therefore means service for the public, even if, unfortunately, it’s not always true in practice. From this viewpoint the layperson at the service of the Church assumes an active function for the benefit of the other members of the community of believers.
The word “service” therefore has two meanings, which have to be both known and distinguished. Let’s take the example of a school: the pupils and their parents are ordinarily the consumers of the education provided and the services offered. In certain countries and cultures, however, parents and local authorities, and even pupils at times, are also active stakeholders directly involved in pedagogical, cultural and even economic choices. It is less a matter of sharing authority, and more one of taking part in the exercise of authority by offering a specific contribution.
Laypersons and the structure of the Church
We now embark upon the second stage of our reflection effort, and beginning from the two senses of the word “service” ask ourselves what is the Church that laypersons are called to serve as laypersons.
In the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium the Church is presented first of all as a mystery, which diverse images can help to illustrate: building, temple, sheepfold, family, cultivated field of God, etc. The Church is also presented as the people of God, the masses of persons who believe in Christ (christifideles) and have been baptized. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a spiritual community of faith, hope and charity.
But it is also a visible assembly, a society structured according to a hierarchical principle : “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body […] so all who belong to the People of God […] may attain to salvation […]”
What we have here is the most well known and visible aspect of the Church-institution: the distinction between clerics and laypersons. We all know that the clergy as such has a three level structure: first comes the college of bishops with the pope at its head; then come priests who are the bishops’ co-workers in the exercise of their office; and lastly the deacons. All the other members of the Church are laypersons. You can be a cleric or a layperson: sive clericos, sive laicos, according to the traditional formula. A layperson is therefore a person who is not a cleric. This negative definition of a layperson justifies a certain clerical vision of the Church that marked centuries of our history: the Church, first and foremost the clerics. Everyday language has also conserved many traces of this: in French, for example, people often and willingly speak about “gens d’Église”, people of the Church, or “biens d’Église”, goods of the Church. And in some Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist the prayer of the faithful refers to the Church and her pastors, and then to the faithful, almost as if the faithful were not the Church as well.
This institutional approach has created a strange vision of the Church, the image of a rather original construction. First of all, a well structured pyramid with the three levels we just considered. Below the pyramid and distinct from it we have the faceless mass of the faithful. Lastly, and off to one side in a rather complex situation, we have all the male and female religious; whence that location of the laity in the Church, which a pope had clearly summarized: “No one must ignore the fact that the Church is an unequal society, in which God has destined some as rulers and others as servants. The latter are the laity and the former are the clerics” Voiced by Gregory XVI halfway through the 19th century, these words express for laypersons the first meaning we have given to the word “service”: to serve means to obey.
Following this rationale, the service of laypersons is reduced to being at the service of the institution Church: what not a few sociologists have called clericalism. Ever since the western middle ages the popes themselves have claimed the authority of the clergy over laypersons and civil society at large. The best illustration of this is offered by the “theory of the two swords”, inspired in part by St. Bernard. “In this Church and in its power there are two swords (i.e. two powers), one spiritual and one temporal. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church. In truth, one must be drawn for the Church, and the other by the Church. The second by the clergy, the first by the hands of kings or knights, but according to the command and condescension of the clergy”. Primordial here is the notion of obedience; the activity of the laity may be exercised only within the ambit and under the authority of the clergy.
That medieval approach has been qualified in political philosophy as “political Augustinianism”, in obvious reference to St. Augustine, or more simply as “sacerdotalism”. It has had a profound impact on the history and culture of the west, perhaps lasting to our present day and age. Here are a few examples:
- In the Middle Ages: the popes put kings and emperors on their respective thrones, and dethroned them as well: the history of Germany or Sicily, for example, was deeply marked by this;
- The errors listed by Blessed Pious IX in his famous Syllabus in 1864 included this one: any separation between Church and State was condemned insofar as the Church would lose its power and influence over the State (n°55);
- For a long time the Quebecois society lived in close dependence upon the clergy, and this even in strictly personal and family matters. Nowadays that long period is at times criticized as “the time of great darkness”;
- Post World War II Italy had two major political parties, the Christian Democracy and the Communist Party, and some bishops did not hesitate to enlighten their faithful when election campaigns were underway, insistently reminding them that they were living in a democracy and were Christians. . .;
- Lastly, let us remember that catechesis remained a monopoly of priests and religious for a long time because laypersons, albeit well formed, were not considered reliable.
We could also add the fact that the importance of the Church continues to wane today in certain countries of ancient Christianity, and a return of clericalism is becoming evident. For some young priests, for example, this represents a comprehensible response to the need to bolster a threatened identity. For others it fans hopes for a return to the pyramid of authority where the faithful would once again become the faithful executors of orders.
Lastly, we can note how that clerical vision of the Church was applied in a diverse manner where Christianity only took root later on in time. Western missionaries often brought it with them out of conviction or need. Conversely, at times laypersons were especially the ones who bore the flame of the Church, for example in Korea or in Japan.
In any case, one of the first tasks incumbent upon laypersons remains that of becoming engaged in the various activities of their respective parishes, dioceses and movements. But is this service the only one for a layperson? The most important one?
Laypersons and the Church according to Vatican II
At the beginning we recalled the two meanings of the word ‘service’ and just saw a reductive illustration of that. Let us now consider the true ecclesiology presented to us in clear terms by the Council. In fact, naturally recalled in Lumen Gentium is the principle of the hierarchical constitution of the Church, but this is clarified and interpreted as a communion of services between the clergy and the laity. On one hand, “the holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren” . On the other hand, the laity are at the service of the entire Church: “Indeed, the pastors should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them, leaving them freedom and scope for acting […]” . The pyramid quite naturally exists, but forms part of a circle of mutual relations and services.
Blessed John Paul II clearly developed this image of Church–communion in his Exhortation on the Laity: “Ecclesial communion is more precisely likened to an ‘organic’ communion, analogous to that of a living and functioning body. In fact, at one and the same time it is characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states of life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body”
Referring to us, to secular institutes in particular, Paul VI also said: “To get a true picture of Secular Institutes you have to see them in the perspective which the Council contemplates the Church – a living reality both visible and spiritual […] made up of many members and various organs, yet all are intimately united and inter-communicating, all share the same faith, the same life, the same mission, the same responsibilities of the Church itself. But each has a distinct gift, a particular charism of the life-giving Spirit […]”.
To this communion of vocations and services, Lumen Gentium adds the equality of all Christ’s faithful: “There is, therefore, one chosen People of God […]. There is a common dignity of members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons, a common vocation to perfection. […] There remains a true equality between all […]”
Communion of services, equality of all the faithful, and then there is the mission of the Church. The Council Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity reads as follows: “In the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God”. Hence, just like the clergy, the laity are fully at the service of the Church’s mission in the world, each one according to his state. We will return to this in the second part of my presentation.
Allow me one final comment on the relationship between the diverse members of the Church. It must be recognized that the renewed ecclesiology of Vatican II at times generated extremes in exactly the opposite direction vis-à-vis previous extremes. Minimizing the Church’s hierarchical structure, or forgetting it altogether, some laypersons somehow laicised the Church at large, and went so far, as in Austria, to assert “Wir sind die Kirche”; translation: we the laity are the Church. This is an equally erroneous claim: there is no Church without the clergy! With considerable subtlety and skillfulness, Benedict XVI responded as follows during his latest journey in Germany: “Wir alle sind di Kirche”; translation: all of us are the Church, laypersons and clergy! Evident at times at a more modest level is the same sort of driftage at the parish level. I know some cases in Francis where the parish priest decides nothing at all without the agreement of the laity: the entire community exercises pastoral and material responsibility. It must be admitted that the grave shortage of vocations to the priesthood at times encourages alternative solutions. On some continents there are also huge parishes or dioceses with very few priests: in such cases it is understandable that laypersons, and also members of secular institutes, shoulder pastoral responsibilities. Should such practices become a cause for concern? In sociology they have what is called the law of common sense, the law of the scales: excessive movement in one direction generates an equally excessive movement in the other direction. With the passing of time the scales reach close to perfect balance. Perhaps this inverse movement is necessary in order to avoid going too far backwards.
The tria munera
In order to clearly understand the position and service of the laity in the Church we have to consider an essential aspect called the tria munera by specialists. With baptism, in fact, laypersons partake of the triple office of Christ and the Church: the priestly office, the prophetic office and the kingly office. How so? Vatican II and John Paul II’s Exhortation on the Laity make this clear:
- The priestly office: “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshiping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God”. Three are the important components to be kept in mind: the central position of the Eucharist, the spiritual dimension of ordinary life at large, and lastly the consecratio mundi, the consecration of the world; this key concept sheds light on our whole life and our mission as laypersons in the Church; unfortunately it is not that well known and often not understood.
When addressing members of secular institutes, Paul VI said about us: “A vast field of work opens before you. Here your twofold purpose is to be achieved, your own sanctification, and ‘consecration of the world’. This fascinating commitment calls for perceptiveness and tact. The world which is your field of work is a world of human beings: restless, real, dazzling. It has its virtues and its passions, its opportunities for good, its gravitation to evil […]”
- The prophetic office: laypersons exercise this office first and foremost with their life witness, “so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily family and social life”. They also exercise this office with the word, in their respective families, at work, and in their various social and pastoral endeavors; in this manner laypersons can actively participate in the activities of catechesis, provided they have received suitable formation. Lastly, they may also assume tasks of spiritual accompaniment insofar as this office is not reserved exclusively to priests: just think about all the female religious who have responsibilities in their respective Congregations, as well as laypersons such as Chiara Lubich in Italy, foundress of the Focolari, Marthe Robin in France, foundress of the Foyers de Charité, and Jean Vanier in Canada, founder of the Arche.
- The kingly office: it pertains to the laity to contribute to the coming into being of the Kingdom of God in the world: “Moreover, by uniting their forces, let the laity so remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that these may be conformed to the norms of justice, favouring rather than hindering the practice of virtue. In this way the field of the world is better prepared for the seed of the divine word and the doors of the Church are opened more widely through which the message of peace may enter the world”.
By way of conclusion to our considerations on this first point about the laity and the Church it is advisable to recall that being a layperson is not just a sociological condition or a mere de facto state in the Church. In Christifideles laici Blessed John Paul II develops a magnificent theology of the laity. Referring to the Gospel parable of the workers in the vineyard, he begins by highlighting that the lay state is not a state by defect (a layperson is someone who does not belong to the clergy), but a positive state in which each person receives a personal call from the Master of the vineyard: “All are called to work in the vineyard”. Yes, there is a lay vocation, just as there is a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. God entrusts this vocation to all laypersons: naturally enough, it is necessary to know it, hear it and then respond. We must ask ourselves, also in our respective institutes, if we are really aware of this vocation. Might it be possible to suggest that after the year of the priesthood celebrated in 2009/2010, the universal Church also proclaim a year of the laity? What do you think about that idea? Perhaps this could be a project for our institutes to support. . .
II. Laypersons and the mission of the Church
After having examined the position and status of laypersons in the Church, during this second part of our joint reflection effort we can pose questions about the role of laypersons in the mission of the Church. What is the specificity of their participation? The object? Just how far does their responsibility go?
Once again, please bear with my lack of theological competence. Therefore, to express in very simple terms the mission of Christ and the Church in its universal and cosmic greatness, I will limit myself to citing St. Paul: The Father “let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he had so kindly made in Christ from the beginning to act upon when the times had run their course to the end: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” . This is the great mystery of our Christian faith: the work of redemption and salvation.
The mission of the Church
The Council renders the mission of the Church at large very explicit: “The work of Christ’s redemption concerns essentially the salvation of men; it takes in also, however, the renewal of the whole temporal order. The mission of the Church, consequently, is not only to bring men the message and grace of Christ, but also to permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal.” Therefore, the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message of Christ and His grace to men, but also to animate the temporal order and bring it to perfection with the evangelical spirit. This is an essential text for us. It is at the very heart of the Decree of the Apostolate of Laity (n°5), and well deserves to be commented upon in detail.
Let us therefore begin by identifying its structure:
- First of all, a scope: the work of the redemption of Christ; set forth here is the theological and even eschatological dimension of the mission of Christ and the Church; not a particular scope or aim, but a general, global and essential one.
- And then two complementary ways to achieve this aim: the salvation of men on one hand, and the renewal of the temporal order on the other hand; we’ll return to this point at a later stage.
- Lastly, two sets of active agents: the text in question enables us to distinguish the responsibility of the clergy and the laity respectively: it pertains primarily to the clergy to bring the message of Christ and His grace to men through preaching and the sacraments; it pertains primarily to the laity to animate the temporal order and bring it to perfection with the evangelical spirit.
This text also enables us to delve into the service which the laity can take upon themselves in the Church. I’d like to consider three elements useful for our reflection effort.
1/ The common mission of the Church at large: one alone is the mission, but it has two distinct objectives. The fields and the means are different, but one alone is the aim. In this regard the decree on the Apostolate of the Laity is quite precise: “These orders are distinct; they are nevertheless so closely linked that God’s plan is, in Christ, to take the whole world up again and make of it a new creation, in an initial way here on earth, in full realization at the end of time.”
This seems clear. In time and space, however, the mission of the Church has not always been perceived in this way. For example, over the last few centuries the Catholic Church has met up with considerable hostility: persecutions in Japan, Vietnam or in China; the French Revolution; Kulturkampf in Germany; the war of the Cristeros in Mexico; anti-clericalism in Italy, and the war in Spain. Quite often the Church withdrew into the confines of its spiritual mission: the liturgy, the sacraments, prayer and devotions, pilgrimages, personal, family and sexual morality. A great Jesuit, Michel de Certeau, went so far as to refer to a “Church outside the world”. . .but this proved less true in mission countries.
That restrictive approach of Christian life still exists. Today, for example on various continents we find many deeply believing and regularly practicing populations, but who at times reduce the Christian faith to this all too exclusively spiritual and sacramental dimension. Our Holy Father Benedict XVI referred to this situation last March when speaking to journalists on the airplane taking him to Mexico. With that great courage of faith so characteristic of him, he ventured to qualify it as schizophrenic: “In Latin America, and also elsewhere, among many Catholics a certain schizophrenia exists between individual and public morals: personally, in the private sphere, they are Catholics and believers but in public life they follow other trends that do not correspond with the great values of the Gospel which are necessary for the foundation of a just society. It is therefore necessary to teach people to overcome this schizophrenia, teaching not only individual morality but also public morality. We try to do this with the Church’s Social Teaching ”.
Bear with me if I cite a more personal example. A member of my Institute is Filipino and works for a large corporation in Marseilles, France. That company underwent an audit by the national tax authorities and was fined a considerable amount of money for fiscal irregularities. The tax inspector made it very clear that in exchange for a sum of money to be discussed, agreed upon and given to him in a very discrete fashion he could cancel the fine altogether. He insisted on this at length, got upset and said: “We have to reach an agreement on this before 5:00 PM because I have to go to church for the Way of the Cross and Mass”. . .!
In order to help specify the mission of the Church, and hence that of the laity, the Council evoked the themes of St. Augustine and clearly indicated “how the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate one another” ; “One of the greatest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives. […] Let there, then, be no such pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on one hand and religious life on the other. The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbour, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation” This text then encourages Christians to forge a vital synthesis between the two realms, spiritual and temporal.
The Church and its mission can only be understood in the perspective of the Incarnation.
2/ The salvation of men: between the lines of the apparent triteness of this well known expression there is a grand truth that the Council brought out into the light of day. In fact, up until that time it had been customary in the Church to speak more about souls than persons. Have you noted that slight difference in the words? In the past people usually said it was necessary to save souls, to lead souls to God, etc. Beginning with Vatican II the Church speaks about all about men, persons. In fact, Christian anthropology as a whole is at the centre of attention in this issue of vocabulary. The Church resolutely recalls that man, “though made of body and soul, is a unity” . Blessed John Paul II was most likely the person who expressed this mystery the best, using the force and customary powerfulness of his words. In one key paragraph of his very first encyclical letter, Redemptor hominis, he clearly asserted: “the real man, the concrete man, the historical man, man in his fullness, the whole man, man in his full magnitude, man in all his truth, in his human reality, this man is the way of the Church” .
In order to gauge the full extent of this statement I’d like to share with you two rather extreme yet very revealing examples.
When reading a Catholic magazine a few years ago I discovered the activity of a missionary congregation in Calcutta at the end of the 19th century. Its main mission was to baptize children who died on the streets of that city. The regular reports sent to the General House always mentioned the number of children who had been sent to Paradise. The souls had been saved. But I ask myself if it wasn’t first necessary to attend to the bodies of those children and feed them. One century later Blessed Mother Teresa did not strive to baptize all the dying persons she took in; she attended to their needs at Kalighat.
Here is a second extreme example. I have been active in the field of university chaplainry for more than 25 years, and not long ago a very devout student explained what he thought about young HIV victims: “They have sinned; let them confess their sins, and so be it if they die. Their soul will be saved”. These are terrible words issuing forth from the mouth of a person locked into his convictions, and they cut to the quick like the blade of a sharp knife.
Therefore, it is precisely “every man and the whole of man”, to reiterate the famous words of Paul VI , whom the Church must consider and is the object of both its mission and its charitable apostolate.
3/ Perfect the temporal order with the evangelical spirit: the text we are commenting on indicates three ambits for the mission of the Church:
- Spread the grace of Christ: mainly through the sacraments; this participation in Christ’s priestly office naturally pertains to the clergy;
- Bring the message of Christ to men: this participation in Christ’s prophetic office is shared among clergy and laity;
- Renew the temporal order at large, penetrate the temporal order and bring it to perfection with the spirit of the Gospel: this participation in Christ’s kingly office pertains almost exclusively to the laity. This final point will add richness to our reflection and deserves to be developed.
The Council explains: “Laymen ought to take upon themselves as their distinctive task this renewal of the temporal order. […] All that goes to make up the temporal order: personal and family values, culture, economic interests, the trades and professions, institutions of the political community, international relations, and so on, as well as their gradual development, are not merely helps to man’s ultimate end; they possess a value of their own, placed in them by God […].”
For God, for the Church and for each one of us, therefore, the world has a value of its own. Are we really aware of this? The world has all too often been looked upon in a negative way in the Church as the kingdom of the Evil One and sin: “If the world hates you”, said Jesus, “remember that it hated me before you. You are not of the world, this is why the world hates you […] because the prince of this world has already been condemned.” Without forgetting these other words of St. John for us: “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved”
Already in its introduction Gaudium et Spes invites us to harbour a grandiose and magnificent vision of the world that reconciles these two aspects: “The world which the Council has in mind is the whole human family seen in the context of everything which envelops it. […] the world which has been freed from the slavery of sin by Christ, who was crucified and rose again in order to break the stranglehold of the evil one, so that it might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and brought to its fulfilment.”
This perspective depicted by the Council clarifies in a very profound way the specific responsibility of the laity in the Church: “By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. […] There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit of the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. […] It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer”.
The social doctrine of the Church
How can we “transfigure the world according to the Gospel”, as we read in the beautiful expression of Blessed John Paul II? While the Magisterium speaks initially about family life and the sphere of our private life as individuals, it also stresses our life in its collective and social sense, in the broad sense of the term. And here is where we have to recall the role and importance of the social doctrine of the Church. In fact, for more than a century the Church, mother and educator, Mater et Magistra in the words of Blessed John XXIII, has been lighting our gaze and orienting our deeds as laypersons in the world. From the very outset that teaching was marked by the Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII in 1891, and developed both considerably and substantially after that. Today it embraces practically all the aspects of social life: work, peace and the development of human rights, intemperate practices in world trade and global finance, the protection of the environment, etc. Its most recent expression can be found in the great encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate.
It is not a question here of exploring this immense treasure together with you. Nonetheless, in order to further enrich our reflection on the mission of the laity in the Church I will just cite the nutshell definition of this teaching at large: “The Church’s social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action”.
Let’s take a look at each of these three elements one by one:
- The Church proposes principles for reflection: Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church offer us sure and fundamental principles, such as the dignity of the human person, the demands of justice, truth and charity, the search for the common good, etc. We find these principles set forth in landmark documents such as Pacem in terris, Populorum progressio, Laborem exercens, Evangelium vitae, etc.
- Applied to concrete situations, these principles make it possible to deduce some criteria of judgment. For example, during the obscure days of 1937, Pious XI analysed the foundations of communism and nationalism (Divini redemptoris and Mit brennender Sorge). In the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet block, Blessed John Paul II offered his analysis of the new world situation (Centesimus annus, 1991). In 2009 Benedict XVII gave us a courageous and lucid analysis of the excesses of world capitalism, liberal individualism and their consequences (Caritas in veritate).
- Lastly, the Magisterium gives guidelines for action. In concrete situations the Church authorities may call on Christians to act together in a certain sense. For example, consider the extraordinary resistance of the Church in Poland under the guidance of Cardinal Wyszynski during the times of communism. Consider the fight in Spain and elsewhere against laws in favour of abortion and same-sex matrimonies. And just think about the battles against corruption, forms of injustice and drug consumption in many countries around the world.
The social teaching of the Church sheds light on and orients the mission of the laity in the world, but does not determine it. In fact, there is no such thing as a Christian political regime, a Christian economy, a Christian pedagogy or a Christian medicine. But there is a Christian way be active in politics, engage in economic affairs, be a teacher or practice medicine. Have you noted the three verbs used in this definition? ‘Propose’, ‘provide’, ‘give’. They are not imperatives. On the contrary, they open the way to the diversity of possible responses, to the pluralism that has not always been well accepted in the practice of Christians. Nonetheless!
For example, a century and a half ago in a very monarchical France, Catholics were forbidden from supporting a Republic inherited by the Revolution; in Italy at the same time Catholics were not allowed to support the monarchy that had just annexed Rome. Then again, in Europe during World War II there were bishops and Catholics in both camps. Looking at things today, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the United States is perhaps the only one to have taken a stand against nuclear weapons.
This pluralism of possible choices highlights the personal responsibility of each layperson in the world, an ambit in which the Council recognizes the rightful autonomy of temporal realities: “The demand for autonomy is perfectly in order: it is at once the claim of modern man and the desire of the Creator”. Liberty and responsibility of laypersons. Paul VI reminded the members of Secular Institutes: “The primary attitude to be lived is one of respect for the world’s rightful autonomy, its values, its laws.” Nonetheless, this autonomy does not stand for independence: created things depend on God, and people cannot dispose of them as they so wish while leaving the Creator entirely out of the picture. Nor can they embark upon a journey contrary to the demands and requirements of their faith.
Therefore, how can laypersons make their choices and decide on what to do in the world? The Council answers this question in the following way: “It is their task to cultivate a properly informed conscience and to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city. For guidance and spiritual strength let them turn to the clergy; but let them realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have a ready answer to every problem (even every grave problem) that arises; this is not the role of the clergy; it is rather up to the laymen to shoulder their responsibilities under the guidance of Christian wisdom and with eager attention to the teaching authority of the Church.”
In order to exercise their mission in the Church in the best possible way laypersons therefore have two instruments, two compasses:
- One objective instrument to provide them with intellectual enlightenment: the social doctrine of the Church; Blessed John Paul II even made it one of the three pillars of a serious formation of the laity, together with doctrinal formation and spiritual formation;
- One subjective instrument to provide them with spiritual enlightenment: their conscience. This is an essential requirement for the mission of the laity in the Church, because it is not necessary to be believers in order to apply this social doctrine. Drawing inspiration from Blessed John Henry Newman, thus does Gaudium et spes describe a person’s conscience: “His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” In order to obey his conscience, a layperson must also learn how to discern the voice of God in his interior silence. He cannot take on his mission in the Church without developing his own interiority in the secrecy of prayer; he cannot serve God in the world if, in faith, he does not first listen to the voice of God in the intimacy of prayer. In fact, laypersons – always if they are believers – are first of all instruments and co-workers of the Holy Spirit, the one and only true master and agent of the mission.
This time has now come to bring this lengthy presentation of mine to a close.
First of all I’d like to underscore a semantic shift I introduced with utmost discretion. In fact, I began from the proposed theme: “the service of the Church like laypersons and as laypersons”; but then the theme progressively turned into “the mission of the laity in the Church”; the mission abounds with much richer significance than service, and “of the Church” became “in the Church” in a more explicit manner. This is already one way to answer the question posed.
On the other hand, and in order to underscore how urgent it is for laypersons to be engaged in the mission of the Church at large, I’d like to share a personal memory with you. Around twenty years ago I worked for a semester at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Posted on the doors of all the churches during Lent was a beautiful phrase in capital letters: “Gott hat keine Hände, nur deine”, (God has no other hands than yours!”). What an invitation!
In his own way St. Ignatius of Loyola called on us to “pray God as if everything depended on Him, and act as if everything depended on us”. And Blessed John Paul II said to laypersons: “A new state of affairs today in both the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle”.
Let us, the members of Secular Institutes gathered here together, see to it that reverberating within us are those expressions of Paul VI we know so well, and which perfectly summarize our ideal:
- “spiritual mountaineers”
- “you are in the world and not of the world, but for the world”
- “an advance guard of the Church in the world”
- “the experimental laboratory in which the Church tests the concrete ways of her relations with the world” .
Since we are here in Assisi, so fraternally close to St. Francis, let us listen to one of his prayers in the light of what we just said:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Thank you for your kind and courteous attention.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in French.
A NEW MODEL OF HOLINESS AS FIDELITY TO GOD IN THE WORLD
Most Rev. Gérald Cyprien Lacroix
Archbishop of Quebec
Primate of Canada
A very beautiful song composed by the great Quebecoise poet Félix Leclerc includes the following words: “Beautiful is life, great is death, abounding is life in there”. Regarding the theme I have been asked to address today at this Congress of the World Conference of Secular Institutes, I will take the liberty of paraphrasing our illustrious songwriter with my own words: “Holy is life, holy is death, abounding is God in there”! In effect, since God is holy, thrice holy, does not the work of His hands bear the selfsame imprint of its Creator?
We have been reflecting since yesterday on this challenge we are asked to tackle, the challenge of listening to God on the pathways of history where we are called to live our Christian vocation most intensely. We are making an effort to define new models of holiness in the world while remaining ever faithful to God.
At the very outset, and in one word, I will give you the code for interpreting what I will be saying about holiness, its essence and its most beautiful manifestation: Jesus Christ! He is the new model of holiness. It is He who incarnates fidelity to God in the world. We will never find anything new outside of Him, because He is the Alpha and the Omega. “Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever” (Heb 13: 8).
The holy work of God the Creator
I would like to draw your attention to the word ‘holy’, which has been echoing in our Church for centuries each time we celebrate the Eucharist. The SANCTUS is the paramount hymn of adoration of our liturgy ; it is the canticle of heavenly ceremony. The first part of this hymn comes from the prophet Isaiah, who heard the Seraphims exclaim three times: “And they cried out one to another in this way : ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth. His glory fills the whole world” (Is 6 : 3). The second part comes from the acclamation of the crowd waving palm branches as Jesus made His way into Jerusalem on the eve of His death: “The crowds who went in front of him and those who followed were shouting : ‘Hosanna to the Son of David ! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord ! Hosanna in the highest heavens’”(Mt 21 : 9).
You have certainly noted that the reference to the holiness of God in the first part is not whispered, as might well be opportune in the majestic surroundings of a heavenly court. It is cried out at the top of the angels’ lungs just like a clap of thunder reaching all the way to the ends of the universe and to the innermost recesses of the heart. This holiness is contagious and imperious. It first of all made the prophet Isaiah become aware of his nature as a sinner: “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is 6 : 5). But immediately after this avowal on his part, a formidable process of conversion took place within him. When the voice of the thrice holy God made itself heard in order to invite him, despite everything, to serve him in expediting a most demanding prophetic mission, he took up the challenge and responded: “Here I am, send me” (Is 6 : 8). How, like this Isaiah, are we challenged and called in our Christian life, and as members of a secular institute, by the holiness of God? What bond may be established between the holiness of God and our mission to live a holy life in the world, no matter when and where that may be ?
God’s call to life
During our life each one of us is invited to respond to a great number of appeals, invitations and calls, beginning with the most fundamental one of all, the Creator’s summons to enter into the world of the living: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Jn 1 : 26-27). As of the very moment of our conception and our birth we are called by God to become part of the noble cohort of these beings who for millions of years have been populating the earth, and conferring upon it its most prestigious character, humanity.
Entry into a world created by God so man may fulfil his destiny therein bears the indelible mark of God: “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Jn 1: 31). Insofar as members of a secular institute our heart is set on recognizing the holiness of this world created by God and becoming models so His design for humanity may be fulfilled. Memories of what more appropriate model could we evoke today in this pleasant town of Assisi than that of the most renowned of its children, one of the most likeable figures in Christian hagiography, he whom we fraternally call Francis, this young man seduced by Jesus Christ and His Gospel? We will return to him later in this presentation. In Francis we have a man who with such astounding sensitivity perceived the sacredness of nature created by God, and chanted it with poetic verse bearing witness to his deep faith: “Praised be to you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun. . .”, following this with all the elements of creation. Is it not in this manner that we should recognize the beauty with which the Creator adorned His work which He made holy, everything both visible and invisible, and hence enrich our life with the joy of taking part in this so we may sing out with the psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork!” (Ps 19 : 2)? Francis’ influence has remained intact from century to century, and has crossed continents as well as oceans. He has also loaned his name to generations upon generations of Christians, including my predecessor, Blessed François de Laval, the first bishop of Quebec.
Far from me the idea of suggesting the image of an idyllic, failure free and faultless earth, a sort of earthly paradise such as the one described by certain XVI century authors, who, often by sheer chance, had ventured into the New World.
We are far from conjuring up images of the world created by God as a paradise, even a lost one, and the human beings living in it as angels, who unfortunately strike us at times as somewhat fallen. The recent history of humanity has so painfully highlighted particularly violent traits in the behaviour of some of our contemporaries. Conflicts continue to cause devastation in many places around the world. Dumbfounded and powerless are we as we watch the swift degradation of our planet contaminated by greenhouse gasses and many other pollutants. Press releases and news programmes never cease to bring us images of the massacre of other human beings and natural catastrophes that with a single wave or violent earthquakes reap the lives of thousands of persons, whose only fault was being there at that precise moment in time. Is this that earth which the Creator in his infinite holiness bequeathed to human beings so they could multiply there and conquer it? For various reasons I say it is our duty to surmount the difficulties imposed upon us by life and to see the beautiful work of God everywhere. And here is the main reason.
The masterpiece of creation: the Word of God given to the world
God perfected the work of His creation by giving the world the holiest of His treasures, His selfsame Son: “And the Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1: 14). From the very beginning of His public life when He was baptized in the Jordan, Jesus of Nazareth sees Himself designated by the Father as “ ... the beloved Son; my favour rests on you” (Mk 1 : 11). "Once again in the Gospel narration, but this time at the Transfiguration of Jesus, the voice of God was to enjoin the disciples to chose Him as their model : This is my Son, the Chosen one. Listen to him » (Lk 9 : 36). Thereby established is the supremacy of Christ and confirmed is the role He is going to play in the salvation of humanity at large and in the fulfilment of the plan of sanctification of all the persons who would follow in His footsteps for time to come.
Jesus Christ, the perfect model of holiness for all times
What more appropriate model could we evoke to make sure we live according to the plan God has traced for humanity and transform the world with Him than to focus our gaze in Jesus Himself! Jesus Christ has well marked the way so we in our turn may be salt of the earth and light of the world and may become new models of holiness in the today of this our world.
The Lord Jesus resolutely loves the earth and all its inhabitants and recognizes its sacredness. Many of the parables He uses to announce His message refer to a nature He finds beautiful, which He abides at daytime and often at night. For example, He refers to the fig tree, the lilies of the field, the wheat harvested also on the Sabbath, birds, the water of lakes and rivers, the soil, the wind and the skies, the wine at the wedding of Cana and the bread at the Last Supper. All these elements of nature bear witness to direct familiarity with the environment in which He lives.
But His great concern comes across with respect to His people, the women, the small children and the men of his time, towards whom He manifests profound interest, touching affection, sincere effusions of sympathy and compassion. He notes how evil and illness ravage both bodies and spirits, and He reaches out to bring relief to His people and heal them. Far from shying away from the socio-political or religious issues of His time, He proposes responses bearing witness to His unconditional attachment to the Love of His Father, which proves to be the foundation of His every deed and decision, His entire Life. This holiness will make such an impression on His contemporaries that it will enflame the heart of numerous disciples. As Christ taught them, they will spread out across the known world and their work will have effects all the way down to us: “Jesus said these words to his disciples : ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’” (Mt 28 : 19-20)
The evangelical message which inspires the life of Christians comes in a direct line from the person of Christ “ ... the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14 : 6). Christian existence embodies a sense that guides us in our life journey as a whole, in our human relations, in our professional and social activities. We therefore strive to imitate the most fundamental values which Christ Himself judged to be in keeping with His Father’s will: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15: 10). In effect, such are the values that fanned the admiration of the persons who had the privilege to know Him or encounter Him, and also marked those who embraced His teaching. Let us take a closer look at a few of these constituent values certified by Jesus. Let us take the time to note how they are capable of triggering commitment on the part of Christians, especially members of secular institutes such as ourselves, in our journey towards holiness at the heart of the world.
Recognition of the dignity of the human person is one of the most fundamental values treasured by Jesus Christ in His life and His teaching. Numerous Gospel accounts narrate the Lord breaking some of the social taboos of His time. He dared to show compassion towards persons considered negligible entities in society, for example, children or certain categories of ill persons, such as lepers, who were the objects of outcasting and scorn. He showed deep compassion towards the sick persons who flocked to Him by the thousands to be healed from afflictions often considered shameful. One of the most daring and innovative attitudes for a man of His time is His position with respect to women, whether they were prostitutes, widows, foreigners or quite simple very dear friends. These are but a few of the values cherished by Jesus and which, by emulation, can well give rise to new models of holiness perfectly compatible with the plans of God in our world. How can we do this?
Baptised in Jesus Christ, we live of His life and radiate the warmth of our faith
We are called in our turn to become witnesses of God’s holiness in this believing community which is the Church of Jesus Christ and in this world, which is to be guided and sanctified by the Church in keeping with her mission. The foundational moment of our vocation is baptism, which creates us anew and confers upon us our distinguished identity as children of God for a new and eternal life. When we chose to heighten our baptismal life by joining a secular institute it was in order to better respond, day after day, to the call of Christ to become saints: “Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says : Be holy, for I am holy” (1P 1 : 15-16). Here is the challenge we must take on and win, or the beautiful mission we are to carry out: live a holy life in this our world ever searching for sense and thirsting for truth, a world which seems so sullen towards any reference to sacredness, especially to religion, and live such a life without succumbing to the osmosis effect that would risk dragging us along and discouraging us, but remaining ever centred on Christ.
You see, neither Jesus Christ nor the Scriptures provide us with a facile and immediate response to the major problems of our times. Our faith does not dispense magical remedies able to resolve the major existential questions regarding the origin of the world and life, or what should be understood by the quality of life or the dignity of death. Our faith is constantly faced with ethical problems stemming from bio-medical and technological research, as well as from the socio-political and economic changes that reshape the world at a dizzying speed. Our faith does not sweep away our fears in the face of the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, or in the face of the uncertainty induced by an erratic development of science and technology.
We are living in the heart of a world in the throes of complete turmoil. We are able to recognize the positive achievements of science and technology, and the progress of medicine, all of which highlight the human skills received from our Creator. Nonetheless, by virtue of our baptism and our condition as disciples of Christ we are called to bring a critical eye to gaze upon the choices of society that contribute nothing at all to the advancement of humanity because they fail to respect the dignity of the person.
In a secularised and sullen world
A quick overview of the major trends and inclinations of our western societies projects an image that often clashes with our understanding of the most fundamental benchmarks of our Christian code of conduct: hedonism, individualism, profiteering, injustice, indifference, and even contempt for sacredness and religion, revealing forms of conduct contrary to the ideal proposed by the Gospel.
At present we see a distressing lack of religious culture also among persons of a generation where the faith was taught in more systematic terms, but where, for a number of reasons, these men and women have not had the personal encounter with Christ. This is the terrain where we are called to be “a lamp which shines in the sight of men” (Mt 5: 16).
The comments addressed by Blessed John Paul II to the participants at the World Conference of Secular Institutes in 1980 remain equally germane for us here in Assisi today, 24 July 2012. On that occasion the Holy Father cited the words of his predecessor, Paul VI, to the directors general of secular institutes (25 August 1976): “If they remain faithful to their special vocation, Secular Institutes will become the Church’s experimental laboratory for the acid test of its adaptations in dealing with the world. That is why they must listen to the appeal of Evanelii Nuntuandi as addressed to them, to them above all : ‘Their primary and immediate task is not to establish and develop the ecclesial community – that is the specific role of the pastors – but to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelising activity is the vast and complicated world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media’ (EN n°70). " Behold the fertile field already laid out for embarking upon new evangelisation! Let’s take a quick look at how our search for models of holiness will be able to bear fruit in this new landscape where we are the workers sent to the Lord’s vineyard.
Let us once again lend a ready ear to what Blessed John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988, N° 3) regarding the attitude we should have towards the world in which we live: “It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and hopes, its defeats and triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural affairs pose problems and grave difficulties in light of the description provided by the Council in the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes. This then, is the vineyard; this is the field in which the faithful are called to fulfil their mission. Jesus wants them, as he wants all his disciples, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”
Is it therefore so difficult to respond to the invitation of Christ, our way and our model, who beckons us to follow Him “... so that where I am you may also be” (Jn 13 : 3)? We thereby reach the very core of the dilemma lying in wait for us as disciples eager to fulfil our ideal of holiness while remaining faithful to God’s plan for the world. How are we to act in conformity with our convictions in this world where we live? Are we to look down upon it, withdraw from it, ignore it and live in an airtight chamber, or rather love it and believe the Spirit abides in it and sanctifies it? What I propose is a positive vision of our belonging to the world. God created it for us. “God is our Father insofar as being our creator. Since He created us, we belong to Him. Being as such comes from Him, it is good and participation in God” (Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus de Nazareth, 2007, pg 161). We are now called to participate with Him in His re-creation with the force of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus!
The Lord’s voice is transmitted to us through the events of the Church and humanity, as we are reminded by the Fathers of Vatican II: “The people of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord who fills the whole world. Moved by that faith it tries to discern in the events, the needs, and the longings which it shares with other men of our time, what may be genuine signs of the presence or purpose of God. For faith throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal which God has set for man, thus guiding the mind towards solutions that are fully human”.(Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n° 11).
The creation narrations remind us how God looked with admiration on all that He had made and found it ‘good’. We must be able to do the same. Nonetheless, the Lord was also able to see the suffering and the evil that had made their way into the world due to sin. This often upsetting and threatening world in which we live compels us to rely on the light of the Spirit of God and the teachings of His Church’s Magisterium. It is our duty to remain vigilant and work within the means at our disposal to change certain issues within our remit, and to hope against all hope in joyfulness and human solidarity. These are the pathways that baptised persons, and especially the men and women who are members of secular institutes, can explore in order to sketch models of holiness in their respective commitments. Certainly, it’s not a minor task, but what an interesting challenge!
A world awaiting love, faith and hope
How can we define a model of holiness in a world that makes pleasure the principle and the aim of life, and seeks utmost satisfaction at minimum effort? You will have recognized these words as the definition of hedonism and individualism, two closely related currents of thought and behaviour characteristic of society today. It is true that this inclination towards ‘easy street’ and withdrawal into self are to be seen in the behavior of social groups and individuals ever more avid to reap ever greater benefits to the detriment of what should be the corresponding responsibilities. It is likewise true, however, that extraordinary are the forces of generosity and sharing at work in the world. Just think about the battles against poverty and illiteracy, the emergency assistance provided to the victims of warfare and other catastrophes by doctors without borders and big hearted volunteers, the thousands of men and women, who, in the name of their Christian faith, militate in favour of respect for life and the coming to be of justice and peace. When dwelling upon these myriad manifestations of gratuitousness, generosity and altruism, I cannot help but admire the implementation of what we could call the ‘Charter of Christian Holiness’, the magisterial discourse of the Beatitudes “... Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right : they shall be satisfied. . .Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5: 6-9) This is the world into which we are called to bring the Good News of a new evangelisation.
Called to bear witness to the love of God through new evangelisation
Even though the expression “new evangelisation” has become well know and suitably assimilated by now, it remains an expression that only recently appeared in ecclesial and pastoral reflection, and hence its meaning is not always clear and well established. Blessed John Paul II was the first to use this expression and he made it a keystone of his Magisterium: “ Today we must courageously face a situation which is becoming increasingly diversified and demanding in the context of globalisation and of the consequent new and uncertain mingling of peoples and cultures. Over the years I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelisation. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Co 9: 16)(Novo Millenio Ineunte, No40).
Our pontiff Benedict XVI now continues this orientation pursued by his predecessor as testified by the creation of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation on 12 October 1210, and the holding of the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome from 7 to 12 October 2012 on the theme “The New Evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian Faith”. Moreover, the Holy Father makes his intentions very clear regarding this Council when he says: "Making my own the concerns of my venerable Predecessors, I consider it opportune to offer appropriate responses so that the entire Church, allowing herself to be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, may present herself to the contemporary world with a missionary impulse in order to promote the new evangelisation" (Motu Proprio « Ubicumque et Semper», 21 September 2010).
The Church and the world need new evangelisation, not a new Gospel! It is therefore a matter of announcing the Good News in a renewed manner, making sure we concentrate on the heart of the faith, which can revive our life, touch and attract the hearts of believers and non believers. As members of different secular institutes and hence called to be active in this vast edification effort, it is important for us to remember the optimal conditions for doing the work awaiting us, and that is the profound and personal experience of Christ’s love and His salvation: “Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him at the risk of courageously asking themselves this question : If I do not have the drive to announce him, have I truly met him ?” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, No40).
Insofar as true believers, believers, and with the assistance of the Spirit of God, we are called to holiness and summoned lo bear witness all life long to the beauty of the evangelical values. These values must transpire in everything we are and do. An evangeliser bears witness to the personal and community experience of the Love of God, the wonders of God in his life and not what he learned about God. “What God wants is for you to be holy” writes the apostle Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Th 4: 3).
Some beautiful witnesses of the presence of God at work
We admire outstanding witnesses whose life and works have touched and transformed humanity: laypersons such as Jean Vanier, Madeleine Delbrêl, and Chiara Lubich, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and so many others we could evoke. Here we have true models whose work and influence bear witness to the power of the Spirit in our times. These are the examples of behavior and conduct that should inspire us in our journey of life and in our pursuit of holiness. Paul VI was quite eloquent in saying that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no 41).
Just like all of you, I personally know persons who express this same thirst for perfection and imitation of Christ in their life, and act as beacons in the foggy universe of the life of some of their contemporaries. I am a member of the Pontifical Institute Pious X founded in 1939 by Father Henri Roy, who was wont to say: “The only failure of a life is not becoming a saint”. People close to him used to say he was “obsessed with holiness” (Revue Je Crois, 1985). I agree that this expression may come across as pejorative, but I can assure you it’s not like that all. Like Friar Francis and all the saints who have dotted the life of the Church and marked their respective epoch, Father Roy was a true witness of the Love of God and His tender care in the world. He was an ardent craftsman of the charity of Christ towards all persons, especially the poor, youth and the neediest among them. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, men and women such as these are “God’s madmen”: “You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced” (Jr 20: 7).
An inspiring model for our times
At certain moments in history destiny seems to hesitate between shock and misfortune as if awaited was the arrival of someone, but no one comes. Towards the end of the XII century, here in this town of Assisi, a young man almost succeeded in making the ideal triumph. His life unfolded in two stages as if it had to illustrate what there is in life that is sad and joyful, small and big, worldly and spiritual, leisurely and sublime, and this in an existential clash whose parameters are summarized by St. Paul in his own way, a life where “what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants” (Ga 5: 16).
I cite the example of St. Francis not only because his holiness has been officially recognized by the Church, but above all because I see in his life journey a model able to inspire our quests for a holy and fulfilling life. Francis was born at a time when all the excesses of life were par for the course. Pagan antiquity had yet to be forgotten and its dissolute mores had not been obliterated by the Christian message. Just like elsewhere in Europe, the country was torn asunder by local feuds and struggles for power. The gap between the rich and the poor created scandalous forms of inequality that led to ignorance, illness and famine. The Church herself wavered on her foundations; she had gone astray from fidelity to her Master and her mission had become distorted to say the least. On day Francis was to hear the voice of Christ saying to him: “Francis, go repair my Church, which is in ruins”.
Francis grew up in an upper middle class family and during his youthful years literally stuffed himself with all the pleasures and all the thoughtlessness afforded to him by wealth, repute and an easy going personality, which easily made him admired and liked by all. This first stage of his life was to come to an end during an unusual spiritual experience that began in the small church of San Damiano. Like Blaise Pascal, who, in 1654, was to live a similar experience he then referred to as “the night of fire”, Francis immediately and so painfully became aware of his condition as a sinner. The image he had of himself became unbearable in comparison with what he perceived to be the person of Christ. Gripped by remorse, but above all burning with an unconditional love for He whom he would thereafter call Love, he undertook to become another Christ. In his turn he was to experience what had been lived by St. Paul long before him: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Ga 2: 19-20).
By that time Francis was a new man. He was familiar with the society and world in which he lived. In simple and easily understandable terms he preached conversion, renewal and the return to a faith based not on the knowledge of dogmas, compliance with precepts and the mechanical reciting of prayers, but on a true and personal communion with Christ. There was nothing moralizing, dogmatic or authoritarian about his preaching. It sufficed for him to live like Jesus in joyfulness, sharing, compassion and holy poverty for his witness to become his most eloquent words. This man who had not studied theology, but burned to share the joy stemming from the folly of his love for God, set off and spread the Good News with words that rang true and touched hearts. Through a life of obedience and poverty elevated to the level of virtue, as long as that life was identified with that of Christ, Francis became the artisan of a new evangelisation in his world. His influence was to change the course of the history of the Church and the world at large. His message is a pressing appeal to the men and women of all times to convert, an invitation to resolutely turn anew towards Christ our perfect model so He may inspire His attitudes within us in our daily life.
In our turn take on the challenge and serve as models in prayer and embracing the Word of God
Dear brothers and sisters of secular institutes so hard at work in the very heart of the world through your profession and your commitment within the Church, as well as in the diverse areas of human and pastoral life, we all sincerely believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our pursuit of a fulfilling life, or what we refer to as our aspiration to holiness. And we rely on His salutary and heartening workings so He may faultlessly be our guide for holiness, just as the prophet Ezekiel tells us: “I shall put my Spirit in you and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances” (Ezk 36 : 26-27). Deeply rooted in this world where we strive to discover its beauties and expressions of greatness, we know it is holy because it comes from God and is abided by Him. We know the Creator’s most sublime gift to humanity is His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him and in Him we recognize the Way and the Truth. We are assured of being able to count on the force of His Spirit so that with all peace of mind and in a positive way we may tackle the obstacles that arise along our life journey. “Try, then, to imitate God as children of his that he loves, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ep 5: 1).
This is not a simple challenge to tackle. It proved difficult for Jesus to sidestep the traps laid for Him, overcome betrayal by His friends, and surmount the incomprehension of His message and the sufferings of His passion. But He won the day over adversity by means of prayer. At all times, day and night, and especially when the weight of His mission became so heavy to bear, He turned to His Father and prayed. Prayer was at the heart of the life of Jesus. Prayer was constant dialogue with He who had sent Him. Prayer was consolation for Him during the night of doubt, nourishment for Him in the desert and comfort in times of trial. Prayer was His outlet during moments of intense joy and deep emotions, the wellspring from which He drank in order to perform miracles and heal both souls and bodies. Jesus was prayer, accomplishing His Father’s will in all things, making us His children: “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’” (Ga 4 : 4-6).
When the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray (cf Lk 11 : 20), He taught them to say “Our Father” with words that sprang forth from His heart, the prayer He Himself addressed to God and to which He associated all the members of His family. Dear friends, here is the instrument by which we can become models of holiness. Prayer is the cry and the breath of the Spirit in us, the Spirit who propels us towards our brothers and sisters wherever they may be. Another essential element in the conquest of holiness has to do with the place occupied by the Word of God in our daily life. The prophets counted on two resources in order to live their mission: prayer and the Word of God. It cannot be otherwise for us. Receiving, meditating upon and living the Word of God becomes a sure way to make us holy, a sure way so our life may be adjusted to the plan of God and bear abundant fruits. Because the Word is Someone; He is the Word made flesh.
In the Lord’s vineyard, here and now
We work so bursting forth everywhere may be the beauty that bears witness to the goodness, grandeur, genius and Love of the Creator. There wherever we are: in our schools, families, small towns and cities where we attend to the growth of happy youth and citizens engaged in noble and sustainable causes; in the factories and laboratories where we strive to improve our fellow citizens’ living conditions; in the hospitals, clinics and residences for the elderly where we alleviate the pain of illness and the sufferings of abandonment and solitude; in the associations where we create conditions favourable for peace, justice and happiness; in our Christian communities where we strive to tell over and over again the message of love and reconciliation inspired by our love for Christ bordering on folly. This is the soil in which we day by day sow the seeds of holiness, new models of which emerge and will continue to emerge. We do so with our eyes and hearts set on Christ, of Whom we are the active witnesses in everything we do.
I cite with pleasure the words of Cardinal Etchegaray to the priests of his diocese of Marseille when celebrating Holy Thursday in 1978. These words quite pointedly embody this our concern to become models of holiness in our times: “If you slow down, believers stop ; if you weaken, they stagger ; if you sit down, they lie down ; if you doubt, they become discouraged ; if you criticise, they destroy ; if you go before them, they are going to surpass you ; if you give them your hand, they will give you even their skin ; if you pray, they will then be saints” (Words attributed to Michel Menu in a talk to French Scouts).
But the truly last word belongs to Jesus as an urgent appeal, a captivating challenge, an invitation to partake joyfully and courageously in His mission: “When he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest”(Mt 9 : 36-38). All we have to do is respond like Isaiah did: “Here I am, send me” (Is 6: 8).
Following Jesus in all and for all
Together with Jesus we are going to stride along the pathways of history : the ones full of curves and furrowed with ruts, the ones seeming to lead to impasses, the ones seeming to be less obstructed and less threatening; the ones opening wide on to promising horizons. We are going to the encounter with our brothers and sisters in humanity who are travelling these pathways and wherever they may be. We will hold out a helping hand to them; we will offer them drink and food for their body and their spirit. We will share with them clothing, our goods, our talents, our time. We will console the afflicted and dry their tears; we will visit prisoners and say words to them that will warm their heart. We will put our shoulder to the wheel so all our efforts may contribute to the edification of peace and reconciliation. We will denounce expressions of injustice and inequality, and will take the side of the poor and the disinherited. We will work for the coming to be of a better, more beautiful, more prosperous, and more equitable world, and make it clear that this is the world as God our Father so willed. Everywhere along these pathways we will announce that God is Love, that He is Just and Good, that each person is unique, counts for Him and is loved by Him. We will strive to convince one and all that despite appearances and what they may think, all they have to do is let themselves be loved, because He awaits only to love, to be loved and to enter into an eternal Alliance.
Following Jesus who has walked our pathways, and sowing the seeds of a human life both happy and loving, but even more so a life which will blossom in the house of our Father, we commend ourselves to the Holy Spirit so He may guide us, strengthen us in our efforts and accompany us. Then, as we have been promised, we will hear these words spoken: “Come, you whom the Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to see me […] I tell you solemnly, insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25 : 34-40). That is the moment when we will realize we will have travelled the pathways of holiness in a loving journey of fidelity to God in the world where He created us.
With audacity, courage and joyfulness let us continue the mission entrusted to us. The Lord is calling us to it; let us not dally, He is always with us.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in French.
NEW LANGUAGES AND NEW LANGUAGE FOR THE CHURCH
Dr. Ivan Netto M.D.
What is new media?
It is a generic term for the many different forms of electronic communication that are made possible through the use of computer technology. The term is in relation to "old" media forms such as print newspapers and magazines that are static representations of text and graphics.
New media includes: Web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, online communities, web advertising, DVD and CD-ROM media, virtual reality environments, internet telephony (integration of digital data with the telephone), podcasts, RSS feeds, social networks, text messaging, blogs, virtual worlds, mobile computing etc
The Catholic Church once a leader in communications, according to some, now lags behind the rest of the world in new media participation. They argue that the utilization of new media by the Catholic Church would seriously benefit its catechetical, evangelical, and other communications efforts by providing easy-access, cost-effective, community-building resources to the church members at home or abroad as well as to the rest of the world.
What does new- media help you to do?
It CONNECT people with information and services. For example: AIDS patients can connect with their families, friends, other AIDS patients and care providers.
It helps people COLLABORATE with other people. For example: It helps organization working for AIDS to work together for AIDS patients.
It helps one to CREATE new content, services, communities, and channels of communication that help to deliver information and services.
For example: AIDS organizations can make their own websites and blogs
What are the reactions to new media?
The Holy Father Pope Benedict VI emphasized that new media should not be greeted with facile enthusiasm or skepticism. He said however that the Church should learn to use new media effectively.
Like any language, the Pope said, the new media bring its own distinctive ways of conveying thoughts and organizing ideas. All languages shape the way thoughts are expressed and the social media bring to the front capacities that are more intuitive and emotional than analytical, tending towards a different logical organization of our ideas and our relationship with reality.
This new language has drawbacks, the Pope added—particularly for those who use the social media without understanding how it operates.
The risks involved are many such as the loss of inner depth, superficiality in relationships, the flight into emotionalism, the prevalence of the most convincing opinion over the desire for truth.
The Pope recommends that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to help people in positions of responsibility in the Church to understand, interpret and speak the 'new language' of the mass media in their pastoral functions.
What is the Catholic Church’s teaching on new media?
There have been many Church teaching on evangelization, media, and new media. There is the hope of an update on the Church’s teaching in the near future.
The first teaching on the subject was Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the Apostolate of the Laity in 1965 followed ten years later by Evangelii Nuntiandi both promulgated by Pope Paul VI. These two documents serve as a basis for understanding the Church’s view of evangelization, especially as it pertains to the laity. Then followed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, “The Rapid Development” in 2005 and Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter “Caritas in Veritate” in 2009. These two documents help in understanding the Church’s teaching on communications and media. Finally, a recent document, “New Technologies, New Relationships,” promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI on new media and their effects on human relationships.
In Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Council encourages laypeople to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church. This emphasizes that all Christians, are entrusted with the mission to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world. They should do so by personal witness and the proclamation of the gospel in their daily life to the laity who live near them. The documents highlights that evangelization is a rich and personal process and the duty of every Christian. The Council makes it clear that evangelization should not only be the work of individuals but also of communities. All should witnesses and proclaim of the gospel.
Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, teaches that evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church and her deepest identity. The Church exists in order to evangelize. The Pope emphasizes that what is important is to evangelize man's culture and cultures not in a purely decorative way but in depth and right to their very roots. The Pope clarifies two points. First, evangelization must create change at the root of a culture where the values are present. Second the Pope maintains that the person-to-person form of encounter is very important and is in imitation of to Jesus Christ’s own encounters with individuals in the gospels like the Samaritan woman.
In “The Rapid Development”, John Paul II teaches that in communications media, the Church has precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good. The Church sees media as tools which must be used to fulfill its multifaceted, God-given mission in the world. The Pope adds that everything must be done for this mission to be completed. He points out how media can render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective. The Pope remarks that the modern technologies increase to a remarkable extent the speed, quantity and accessibility of communication. He pointed to some flaws in communications media that they above all do not favor that delicate exchange which takes place between mind and mind, between heart and heart, which should characterize any communication at the service of solidarity and love.
Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate maintains that communications media and technology in general, express the inner tension that impels humanity gradually to overcome material limitations and that they reflect a transcendent desire. Technology is a response to God’s command to till and to keep the land that he has entrusted to humanity.(Gen 2:15) The Church views technology itself as not inherently good or evil, but the expression of a God-given human quality which can be used for the good of humanity.
Pope Benedict XVI in “New Technologies, New Relationships” offers some guidance to those using new media, emphasizing several ways new media affects human relationships. He begins by saying that the speed with which new media technologies develop and become popular should not surprise us, as new media respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other. He celebrates the idea that new media not only allows people to connect with one another but that these connections facilitate forms of co-operation between people from different geographical and cultural contexts that enable them to deepen their common humanity.
Pope Benedict XVI launched the new Vatican website on 29th June 2011 through an iPad tablet device in these words “Dear Friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.” This added many thousands subscribing to the Vatican’s English-language Twitter account.
Areas of concern
Pope Benedict VI then addresses the subject the digital divide. This term expresses the idea that new media are readily available to and express the values of the upper- and middle-classes while remaining unavailable to and not representative of the poor. The Pope supports the endeavor to ensure that the benefits new media offer are put at the service of all human individuals and communities especially those most disadvantaged and vulnerable. He cautions that it would be a tragedy if the continuous development of new media should contribute only to increasing the gap separating the poor from the new networks that are developing at the service of human socialization and information. So while the Church supports the bringing together of peoples via new media, it calls for a movement to represent the poor and marginalized through these new media
Pope Benedict VI also cautioned that relationships should not simply be the focus of new media efforts but the quality of the content remains equally importance. He encouraged everyone involved with new media to promote a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship within it respecting the dignity of the human person. Dialogue should be made in a genuine search for truth. Though new media, users may easily fall prey to believing that they are consumers in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty is more important than beauty and subjective experience displaces truth. New media should not deter people from relationships with families, neighbors, and community members off-line. He warned that if the desire for virtual connectedness becomes excessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development. The Church supports moderation in all areas of new media interaction. The Pope also stressed the role of young people in the Church’s relationship with new media and evangelization that is perhaps more important than ever before.
What other Christian sources are using new media?
Insights into the benefits of new media have been reported by secular marketing, Protestant, and Catholic sources. Many organizations in the Church have been using new media technologies in a big way with varying degrees of success.
What about Secular institutes and new media?
Secular institutes have also been using new media in a big way. Since members of secular institutes live alone or with their families it is possible for them to get connected to others by email, skype etc. CMIS (International Conference of Secular Institutes) has a website which connects with various secular institute conferences and secular institutes. Other continental and national conferences of secular institutes are also available on the web. Vocation awareness and formation material is also available on the web.
What have modern research workers to say about new media?
Researches James Katz and Ronald Rice have done extensive research on the social consequences of internet use. In “Project Syntopia,” they report a summary of their research. In general internet online activity reflects people’s offline activity. No evidence supports the “social paradox” that heavy Internet usage increases social isolation rather Katz and Rice conclude that Internet use is associated with “increased community and political involvement, and significant and increased online and offline social interactions” . Their findings have been confirmed by numerous other studies.
Erik Qualman evidence of the year 2009 suggests that social media not only enjoy more new adopters than any previous medium in history but that their popularity will only increase over time. Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users and television 13 years, social media site Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine month according to him. He states that if Facebook was a country it would be the world’s fourth largest. The popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, where users create and edit each article, contains over 13 million articles, 78 percent of which are in a language other than English.
From a marketing perspective, consumers are free to expose themselves to however much advertising they choose. They can choose which television show to watch, which commercials to skip through and can navigate through a web site using software that keeps stand-alone or “pop-up” advertisements from their view. Consumers are tired of being marketed to. This creates a challenging situation for marketers who want to reach today’s consumers. Only 14 percent trust advertisements but 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations according to Qualman. Consumers do not trust marketers to tell them what is best. They want authentic interaction with people like them. The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer found that the most trusted voice on the Internet according to consumers was the voice of “a person like me”.
Youth and the internet
Internet plays an important role in the lives of the youth. It has been found that 87% (21 million youth) of the American youth of today go online. Text messaging, instant messaging, chat rooms, and personal web sites increase the speed of multiple and simultaneous interaction which present with many challenges.
Influences in the Social Domain
Communicating through the Internet helps one to expand ones social circle. No longer does the social circle have to be limited to geographic locations as there is a “virtual” rather then “physical” presence. Young people geographically remote, disabled, or housebound due to illness may find online chat an important form of communication.
However, this may lead to social isolation according to some and the impact on family relations is a concern. New situations such as cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment conversations, cyber pornography, hacking or “flaming,” a public personal attack, where people demonstrate verbal aggression are now being created. Other dangers include the open display of group norm violations such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Influences in the Emotional Domain
The Internet is increasingly being accessed as a key resource for issues relating to anything from abuse to self-help allowing the youth to express themselves. Many youth access healthy resources like suicide hotlines, support groups, information on medical conditions, and contact with appropriate organizations. This interaction helps to give them a support system outside of their immediate environment to assist in dealing with emotional issues.
The disadvantages are that many resources regarding the emotional domain can be harmful. There are hemlock (suicide) societies on-line. There is information on how to build bombs, self-mutilate, be sexually active, participate in drug use, and many other illegal and illicit activities.
Cyber-Safety is an important issue for the youth of today. It is important for parents and children to be aware of cyber-safety to avoid victimization, including sexual solicitations and harassment. Teachers can integrate instructions to address plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of unethical communication methods.
Cyber-Lessons and cyber-helpers are important for the youth of today. Lessons such as critiquing an instant/text message or an email to understand the message/messenger, discussing “netiquette,” reviewing appropriate use of cyberspace are important today.
Cyber-communication has changed many aspects of the lives of youth—private, social, cultural, economic, and intellectual. However, with proper instruction, guidance, and supervision, there is the potential for the impact of positive, personal growth.
Theology over technology?
Pope Benedict XVI addressing the members of the International Theological Commission, December 2010 has said that whoever loves God is impelled to become, in a certain sense, a theologian. Our every activity should be intimately related to our relationship with God. He also said that theology is not theology unless it is integrated into the life and reflection of the Church through time and space.
Jesus said “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity." (Mt. 7:22-3)
No matter how much we speak about how new media can help in the mission of the Church, it will mean nothing if we do not embrace a prayerful, theological foundation for media work. It is a matter of theology over technology!
How should the Church develop a theological foundation?
The Holy Father considers as our teachers the Fathers and theologians of the whole Christian tradition. We have to begin by reflecting on the evangelizing as done in the Church from the prophets to Christ and the saints. We need also to reflect on the following fathers, doctors and new media personalities of the Church.
They are :Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint Francis de Sales – Bishop & Doctor of the Church, 1567-1622, Blessed Giacomo (James) Alberione – Founder of the Pauline Family, 1884-1971, Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen – Bishop & Award-winning Media Personality, 1895-1979 and Saint Daniel Comboni, whose words about missionary work echo into this new media age
Where do we go from here?
New media has created a new environment for human thinking, learning and communication. Many see this as more than just a media revolution but rather a “language” revolution. New media technologies have fundamentally changed the way human beings think and express themselves. I have tried to present a framework and language in which the emerging new media technologies can be considered, evaluated, and if appropriate, be encouraged and used in the Church. I have collected the material for my presentation from the Church documents and the thesis of Ms. Santana Angela. The Church has “New languages” and must consider which “new language” is good for the Church.
1. Santana Angela M: New Media, New Evangelization: The Unique Benefits of New Media and Why the Catholic Church Should Engage Them. St. Mary's University San Antonio, Texas
2. Encyclical Letter Caritas In Veritate. Of The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI To The Bishops Priests And Deacons Men And Women Religious The Lay Faithful And All People Of Good Will On Integral Human Development.
3. Decree On The Apostolate Of The Laity. Apostolicam Actuositatem. Solemnly Promulgated By His Holiness, Pope Paul VI. On November 18, 1965.
4. Apostolic Letter The Rapid Development Of The Holy Father John Paul II. To Those Responsible For Communications.
5. Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI for the 43rd World Communications Day. "New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting A Culture Of Respect, Dialogue And Friendship." [Sunday, 24 May 2009 ]
6. James Katz and Ronald Rice. Project Syntopia: Social consequences of Internet Use.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in english.
HOW THE VOCATION CHANGES WHEN THE WORLD AND WE CHANGE
Quite suggestive and abounding with considerations is the theme I have been asked to address. I think the word “change” is at the basis of what is said about the socio-cultural reality in which we live and our concrete situation as persons, but I don’t think is has to do with our secular VOCATION:
what changes is the way to live and render timely the charism, but unchanging is the substance, that is to say a life given to God for our fellowmen in the temporal reality, in the world.
It is not a matter of changing mentality, but rather acquiring “a mentality of change, a traveller’s mentality” (E. Leed - La mente del viaggiatore, Botogna 92), the ability to mature a nomad way of thinking, which seems right and just during this our time of mobility and change, where both those who travel and those who stay put nonetheless live as “homo migrans”. It is a matter of rethinking a new educative form dictated by the surmounting of modern subjectivism – the ‘I’ at the centre of everything – in order to open ourselves to the countenance of other-than-self: this is change: openness to a planetary, convivial and intercultural humanism.
This is the newness of the III millennium: rediscover the reality of relatedness. We westerners belong to a philosophical and pedagogical tradition deeply rooted in the principle of “know thyself” underlying the conviction that other-than-self is equal to self, unless he is “barbaric, infidel, and in any case inferior”. But what happens when this other-than-self is different and I realize I can no longer consider him a barbarian or a pagan?
In his book “May The Faces Return”, the Italian philosopher Itato Mancini writes: “[…] the term encompassing everything in the III millennium will have to become other-than-self and his face, our ‘neighbour’ in biblical terms, and spreading around him will be a culture of peace”.
It is a matter of discovering anew the sense of receptiveness and solidarity, of educating ourselves to that reciprocity that makes us progressively able to listen, engage in dialogue, remain silent and savour the solitude abided by the presence of other-than-self.
Substantial indeed is this change requested of all, but in particular I would say of we laypersons called by vocation to share the daily life of the people living in our cities and our territories. Yes, nowadays there is the territory of isolation, which is so cold, desolate and bereft of both memory and memories, but which through our presence is transformed into territory that is lived, identified, and replete with future and prophecy. This is the territory of the man and the woman, of meaningful relations; the territory where the ‘I’ identifies itself with ‘us’, where the land abided becomes affective and relational space, where together we construct the sense of life, and where each person may find both bread and peace.
It is in this perspective that we learn how TO SHARE. Sharing renders manifest the selfsame measure of relatedness: there can be no meaningful relationship without sharing.
Sharing touches the deepest aspects of a person’s life: he who shares partakes of the life of others and makes others partake of his life in a relationship of parity, where each partaker shares with his relationship peer his own energies, skills, limits, weaknesses, joys and pains.
It is not an “I give, you take” relationship, but rather a saying to one another: “come into my life, into my reality as person”, and for this reason accept to change in concrete terms and in daily life. It is a striving together with others to construct something to share, something giving sense to my life and that of others, and which brings about improvements for persons through a change of structures in order to make them more human, more readily at the service of the individual
It is not necessary to think in terms of doing major things, but rather being attentive to the real needs of the persons who travel a stretch of history with us.
I’d say that the new factor in life today consists in having to live a different and new presence in our life surroundings, our objective being “to live the evangelical style so that with life we may speak God to our contemporaries”.
This calls for ongoing attention to the socio-cultural changes in which we are immersed, to the changes taking place within us so that in newness of life we may live our lay VOCATION that becomes concrete in the awareness of being ENCOUNTER with other-than-self and the relatedness at the very basis of our presence.
We are not asked just to DO and to ORGANIZE, but above all TO BE faithful in change with the new modes and ways of presence.
It is true that each one of us changes: coming to mind are the enthusiasm and the initial motivations with which we launched ourselves into embracing God’s design for us: to be salt, leaven and light in daily life was for each of us a profound desire that enabled us to surmount any difficulties.
The gradual passing of years made us experience the fatigue of not being acknowledged for our apparently anonymous presence, for the oft misunderstood solitude, for lacking closeness in times of illness, for the precarious nature of an unassisted old age, etc.
With utmost interest and astonishment I read an article by the theologian Lilia Sebastiani published in “Credere Oggi” and entitled “For a spirituality of consumption and satisfaction”. I have never heard anyone refer to a ‘spirituality of consumption’, but only consumerism, and quite logically in a negative sense. In that article the author writes: “ …Nowadays is it possible to consider the flight of the ‘beautiful soul’ away from civilization implicated with the money factor as a spiritual choice? Even admitting that this soul (singular) may find happiness and fulfilment in the form of extra-economic life it chooses for itself, we have to ask ourselves this question: isn’t an extra-economic life also an extra-social life in a certain sense? Can there be an authentically spiritual choice without solidarity?
Perhaps today the beautiful soul is above all the one that accepts coming to terms with the things of this world: that accepts “’getting its hands dirty’, as people usually said up until some time ago, but with a meaning between the lines we don’t consider appropriate, also because it embodies an implicitly negative judgment (world = dirty).
The choice is not one of getting hands or heart dirty, but purifying the world unto the point of making it capable of ‘transparency’, making the design of God legible in it.
It is therefore necessary to become reconciled with possessions, with things, not in order to forget ourselves in them, nor in order to become identified with the world, but in order to render the logic of the Redemption ever more recognizable and active in all the ambits of earthly life”.
I think this is a very meaningful interpretation for us as members of secular institutes, a proposal of reflection and new openness, which we cannot do without if we really want to look for a creative yet ever faithful way to be present in history, placing the PERSON at the centre and not things, using things without becoming dependent on them or being consumed by them.
This is an avenue of research.
HOW TO LIVE THE VOCATION TODAY – IN THE EDUCATIVE PERSPECTIVE
Remaining is a state of ongoing conversion: a new mentality. Never say. . .by now, what the heck. . .but live with antennas ever raised to grasp new modalities of presence suited to our age and our condition:
1) Think in terms of a poor and humble Church, which places its trust in the force of the Gospel: “The Church herself is naught but the world converted” ( Moioli 1990). We are Church, we are always world.
- No to flight from the world,
- No to the conquest of the world,
- Yes to the conversion of the world beginning from ourselves: live credible witness: do our style of life and our humanity generate a demand for sense in those we encounter?
- With the poverty of means: use the world’s means to the degree they are useful, but abandon them when or if they were to raise doubts about the sincerity of witness ( Dianich).
2) Gain “wisdom”,
- Abide our sensitivity and evangelise “the spiritual senses so they may be receptive to the vivifying Grace of the Spirit”,
- Our senses enable us to communicate with the outside world in both directions: embrace the gift of GOD and give it back to Him,
- Cultivate the relationship with the Only One necessary:
° the contemplative and in-communion dimension with Jesus Christ as the foundation of being in the world without losing the “savour”;
° as the foundation for accepting “the risk of sharing” (Moioli 91). Abiding our humanity and remaining in intimate contact with the humanity of Christ transform us within, render us wise and hence prudent women and men capable of “an effective living of the faith and love” (GS n°42) issuing forth from of our having embraced the Gospel..
Each one of us will make our own the words Jesus said to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20) “Go and find my brothers”, live in their midst and with your witness announce the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
Note from the CMIS: the original text is in italian.
SUMMING UP THE CONGRESS
Giorgio Mario Mazzola
Let us end our Congress by looking at some of the interesting ideas that have come up and seeking to find some indications about how to go forward.
Let's begin with Assisi and St Francis.
I remember that, at a CMIS meeting, the then Secretary of the Congregations Mons. Gardin, was seeking to understand the profound vocation of Secular Institutes. In doing this, he used the following analogy: "St Francis deliberately chose, when creating an order of friars, for them to be Minor, that is, small". They were small, but essential to revamping a Church suffering from a serious rupture. They were key to returning a single mission to the Church, namely being witness to the love of God.
Centuries have passed, but the situation appears the same. The Church is going through a sort of break up. I'm not simply referring to what one reads in the dailies, which might indicate that things are part of a more far-reaching unease, a situation the Pope has spoken about on more than one occasion. I mean, the Church needs to rid herself of numerous overarching structures that create an unnecessary - potentially harmful - burden and return to active and thus authentic human engagement with the Gospel, believing only in this. If one really thinks about it and one looks around, then clearly an enormous renewal effort is required. And secular institutes must play their part in such renewal. Small, but necessary.
What is this part that it would be wrong to abandon? We need to think carefully about this. It is not sufficient to say our presence here shows we are faithful to what is required of us.
Being faithful, we must remember, means being faithful to consecration and secularity, to complete consecration and complete secularity.
Let's start with what the Pope said. Once again the very meaningful and exacting teachings of the Church have taught us much.
Once again, it was the Vatican Council that refocused on the understanding that the relationship between the Church and the world must be one of reciprocity. As such, it is not only the Church who gives to the world, making humanity and history more humane, but also the world that must give to the Church, so that she can understand herself more deeply and live her mission better.
(see Gaudium et Spes, 40-45).
I reread those parts of Gaudium et Spes quoted in the Pope's letter and it made me feel that the letter was even more telling for us. In any case, in this exchange between the Church and the world, we have to be, so to speak, on both sides or part of both flows. The reciprocity spoken about is something we must feel in our lives. Yet, it is important that we understand our role clearly. We are not messengers that take a message from one side to the other. We must live this reciprocity in flesh and blood in the world we live in. Since we genuinely live in the world, our lives are continually crossed by that flow.
The Pope asked the following of us.
We must be able to engage with the complexity of the world today, remain open to the suggestions from interacting with those brothers we meet along our path, and engage in the discernment of history in the light of the Word of life. We must be willing to build, along with all those who seek the truth, paths to common good, without resorting to pre-packaged solutions and without fear of the questions that remain questions.
Before attempting to tease out some instructions from these words, I'd like to recall that the teachings of the Church about secular institutes, especially those from Popes, provide real value and meaning. It is almost like the Church is repeatedly and clearly saying "Look, this vocation is important!" It is important! But, we don't seem to truly believe this. We don't have enough trust to deliver - I am deliberately using a key word from P. Gamberini's speech - the entire meaning of our life in shared existence. We seek shortcuts to make it important in another way.
The Pope said: "without fear of the questions that remain questions". One has to be brave to say this! Wouldn't it be wonderful if our Institutes could say to young people that we are not here to provide - potentially pre-packaged - answers, but to accept questions. We need critical questions because we must constantly undertake to gather questions, especially those coming from the world of non-believers.
The gospel is meant to be understood by all well-meaning men. If this doesn't happen, then we have to question the methods we use to present it. At times, we should be able to enter into the hearts of non-believers - an act that wouldn't be too hard if we have the courage to listen to the non-believer in each of us - to see how ridiculous and, at times inane, we are with our false liturgies, our moralistic declarations, our cosmetic initiatives, let alone when we go against the Gospel. The Pope asked us to embrace the wounds of the world and the Church with charity because... they are our wounds.
Secular Institutes should see the task of listening to the non-believer world as something close to them. Yet, to really listen to that world, it is necessary to be truly within it.
P. Gamberini showed us that in Jesus, what is pure and saintly met sin, impurity and death and it was only through this that life could flow. Our salvation began precisely when the sacred met the profane. We need to consider this point. As I said immediately after that speech, I don't want to add anything else, but we must think about it.
When we say that our poverty, chastity and obedience must be lived in response to the needs of secularity, we mean that it must meet God's will. In addition, the criterion according to which these virtues must be lived and measured is the following: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jhn 10,10)
We spoke about language. The new forms of media are fast showing that ecclesial language is in danger of sounding empty, if that language is no longer infused with life (in evangelical terms, we could say blood, that is, a full life). Jesus spoke with authority because he was the Word incarnate. The Word and Life combined in him. It was interesting to hear what Prof. Gerl Falkowitz had to say about the prayer initiative for atheists. She explained that when we added our words to the Gospel, the non-believers were less interested. However, when the Gospel was read directly, atheists felt questioned. There is a certain type of language - and a certain way of thinking about the Church - that is enwrapping itself, that is no longer able to leave a mark and that is not able to convey life, because it is removed from life.
In Ivan Netto's presentation, I was struck by a statement that came out of some research into young people: "They are not willing to listen to messages from above, but they are willing to listen to someone like me". Jesus met people where they were. He became like them. It was said here that Madeleine Delbrel did not feel she had done great things, except love the people she lived with.
Piera Grignolo told us that it cannot be taken for granted to reach out to the other. It is necessary to learn. The other is becoming increasingly "other". Not standing in front of him, but next to him. This is no small challenge. In the conversation following his speech, P. Gamberini told us that the first form of exorcism is listening, giving space to the other so that he can speak about his experience.
Indeed, "space" is a word we need to become passionate about. In meeting the other, we need to learn to create space, rather than fill space, which is what we normally do. We must be aware that, in the Christian mystery, in such meetings, since someone has to pay and to die - someone must, precisely, give up space - that someone is us.
The Church must learn not to say the maximum possible, but the minimum necessary because it is clear that "the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor 4,7). We must cease acting as if we are the masters of the Spirit. Instead, we must be aware that God writes his story of salvation on the weave of events that make up our history (to borrow from the Pope's word). It is his story of salvation, not ours. The world does not need those who wheel and deal with the Spirit (the Prefect told us that we are in danger of dying under the weight of our works), who use faith as a pre-packaged answer book. We need seekers of the truth, to borrow from the Pope once more:
The measure of the depth of our spiritual life is not the number of activities (...) but rather the capacity to seek God in the heart of every happening. (...) It is only through grace, a gift of the Spirit, that you can make out in the often winding paths of human events the orientation towards fullness of excessive life.
The Church must also learn to be a useless servant - these are not rash words, they are Jesus' words. We love the Church, so we want her to be beautiful and faithful to the Gospel.
Prof. Gerl Falkowitz's speech reminded us that, in case we had forgotten, it is necessary to think about faith. Indeed, in our circles, constant and current reflection on this is lacking, opening up the danger that all is left merely to emotion. Let's see if at the Assembly in the coming days, we will be able to indicate a path. The professor really helped us to understand the need for an in-depth anthropological examination that places the Christian mystery at the very heart of the fundamental question for life. "How will I use this life? Should I keep it for myself? How can I escape the fear of losing it?" These are questions that...place us precisely next to the other. As I was saying, after her speech, we need to openly ask the following question: What is the Christian's task in the world? If we put life at the centre, then we can conclude that we are not in the world to do our own things - things we assume to be Christian - but to truly accept this tension that is part of the life of every man and woman and then to try, in themselves, to be testimonies of the meaning we have contemplated. The world needs people who face up to these questions directly and who are able to really come to terms with the answers.
The only failing in a life is not to become holy. This was the really significant and powerful message from Mons. Gérald Lacroix, recalling the call to holiness. This is precisely why we joined a secular institute. Yet, this is not a gift for us, it is for everyone and the call to holiness needs to become concrete. We must help employees, teachers, mothers, fathers, smiths, mayors, sick people... and artists and sportsmen answer this question: "How can I become holy as an employee, teacher, mother...?" It is necessary to draft what could be termed a "new model for holiness" because a Christian understands that he does not become holy by distancing himself from the impure and the profane, but by being present - and holy - in that condition. Jesus gave us life when he came into contact with impurity and illness.
The entire Church needs to support this journey to holiness, because our way to "make the Church work" is precisely this. Pierre Langeron reminded us, very precisely, how tiring it is to re-appropriate the role of the laity in the Church. However, this journey must not involve "making claims" about the role of the laity, almost as if asking for concessions or mandates. The time for that needs to finish because, in the Church, it is necessary to simply realise that God's people is made up of lay people and that ministries, the word, the sacraments, discernment and constant prayer serve these people and are absolutely necessary. As such, I would not back a "year of laity" for the Church, because it would seem to reduce the laity to a category when, in truth, the laity is fundamentally God's people. If the Church did not focus on this, then what would it focus on? It is, of course, possible, but with the dangers of betraying the bible that today, as always, are right before us.
The Cardinal-Prefect reminded us of the enormous value of communion and the need to breathe with the entire Church. We must not look at ourselves, he repeated. We must not reduce our gaze to the self, but open ourselves up to communion. It was striking when he said that much of the infidelity in consecrated life comes from a lack of communion, a lack of openness. In the light of this, I'd like to make an appeal. We have enjoyed some lovely days of communion here in Assisi, let's ensure that this doesn't become an isolated incident. Let's try to live the journey of the World Conference together as well as any other occasion shared together. Let's not be closed and in danger of infidelity.
This requires special vigilance because our lifestyles manifest the richness, beauty and radicalness of the evangelical counsels. Once again, it is the Pope's words that return us to the need for transparency and, as was said at the beginning, and faithfulness to complete consecration and complete secularity. Even one degree less would not be enough. If it were a degree less, we would be losing our time. The world needs the dedication of our entire life.
Let's end our Congress on this note. We have received some valuable indications for the work to be done at the Assembly that will start soon. But, above all, these indications can help us to live and, as such, show us that extraordinary gift that is the life we have received.
STATISTICS OF SECULAR INSTITUTES
- 214 reconigzed
- 200 dependents of the CIVCSVA
- 4 dependents of the Congregation for Eastern Churches
|Pontifical law||Diocesan law||Total number||Number of members|
|Men lay||2||6||8||569 (1,76 %)|
|Priestly||8||2||10||3987 (12,32 %)|
|With branches||2||6||8||1216 (3,76 %)|
|Total||73||137||210||32352 (100 %)|
KIND OF MEMBERS
|Final incorporation||In training||Final incorporation||In training||Final incorporation||In training|
|25682||1713 (6,67 %)||642||134 (20,87 %)||3538||643 (18,17 %)||32352|
NUMBER OF MEMBERS FOR INSTITUTE
|Number of members||Numbers of institutes|
|11 a 20||16|
|21 a 50||52|
|51 a 100||51|
|101 a 200||50|
|201 a 500||21|
|501 a 1000||6|
|1001 a 2000||4|