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Consecrated life is rooted in Baptism

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 26 October 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Several times in the preceding catecheses I have spoken of the "evangelical counsels," which in consecrated life are expressed as the vows--or at least commitments--of chastity, poverty and obedience. They find their full meaning in the context of a life totally dedicated to God in communion with Christ. The adverb "totally," used by St. Thomas Aquinas to indicate the essential value of religious life, is most expressive. "Religion is a virtue whereby a man offers something to the service and worship of God. Therefore, those are called religious by antonomasia, who consecrate themselves totally to the divine service, as offering a holocaust to God" [1] . It is an idea drawn from the tradition of the Fathers, especially from St. Jerome [2] , and from St. Gregory the Great [3] . The Second Vatican Council, which quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, made his teaching its own and speaks of a complete, interior "consecration to God." As a development of the baptismal consecration, it takes place in the religious state through the bonds of the evangelical counsels (cf. LG 44).

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

According to the Old Testament, God himself consecrated persons or objects by imparting his holiness in some way to them. This should not be understood in the sense that God inwardly sanctified people, much less objects, but in the sense that he took possession of them and set them apart for his direct service. The sacred objects were intended for the worship of the Lord, and thus could only be used in the temple and during worship, and not for what was profane. This sacredness was attributed to things that could not be touched by profane hands (for example, the Ark of the Covenant, the cups of the temple in Jerusalem which Antiochus Epiphanes profaned, as we read in 1 Mc 1:22). In turn, the people of Israel were "holy" as the "Lord's possession" (segullah=the sovereign's personal treasury), and thus had a sacred character (cf. Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6; Ps 135:4; etc.). To communicate with this segullah, God chose "spokesmen," "men of God," "prophets," who were to speak in his name. He sanctified them (morally) through the relationship of trust and special friendship he reserved for them, so much so that some of these persons were called "God's friends" (cf. Wis 7:27; Is 41:8; Jas 2:23).

However, there was no individual, means or institution that by its inner force could communicate God's holiness to men, however well-disposed. This would be the great newness of Christian Baptism, by which believers have their "hearts sprinkled clean" (Heb 10:22), and are inwardly "washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).

3. The essential element of the Gospel law is grace, which is a power of life that justifies and saves, as St. Thomas explains [4] , following St. Augustine [5] . Christ already takes possession of the person from within through Baptism, in which he begins his sanctifying action. He consecrates him and instills in him the need for a response that Christ himself makes possible by his grace, to the extent of the subject's physical, psychological, spiritual and moral capacity. The sovereign power exercised by the grace of Christ in consecration does not at all diminish the freedom of the response to the call, nor the value and importance of human effort. This is made especially clear in the call to practice the evangelical counsels. Christ's call is accompanied by a grace that elevates the human person and gives him abilities of a higher order to follow these counsels. This means that in consecrated life there is a development of the human personality itself, which is not frustrated but elevated and enhanced by the divine gift.

4. The person who accepts the call and follows the evangelical counsels performs a basic act of love for God, as we read in the Constitution Lumen Gentium (cf. n. 44) of the Second Vatican Council. The purpose of religious vows is to scale the heights of love, a complete love, dedicated to Christ under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and, through Christ, offered to the Father. Hence there is the value of the obligation and consecration of religious profession which in the Eastern and Western Christian tradition is considered as a baptismus flaminis (baptism of the Spirit), inasmuch as "a person's heart is moved by the Holy Spirit to believe in and love God, and to repent of his sins" [6] .

I explained this idea of an almost new Baptism in the Letter Redemptionis Donum. "Religious profession is a new 'burial in the death of Christ': new, because it is made of love and vocation; new, by reason of unceasing 'conversion.' This 'burial in death' causes the person 'buried together with Christ' to 'walk like Christ in newness of life.' In Christ crucified is to be found the ultimate foundation both of baptismal consecration and of the profession of the evangelical counsels, which--in the words of the Second Vatican Council--'constitutes a special consecration.' It is at one and the same time both death and liberation. St. Paul writes: 'Consider yourselves dead to sin.' At the same time he calls this death 'freedom from the slavery of sin.' Above all, though, religious consecration, through its sacramental foundation in holy Baptism, constitutes a new life 'for God in Jesus Christ'" (RD 7).

5. This life is all the more perfect and produces more abundant fruits of baptismal grace (cf. LG 44), inasmuch as the intimate union with Christ received in Baptism develops into a more complete union. Indeed, the commandment to love God with all one's heart, which is enjoined on the baptized, is observed to the full by the love vowed to God through the evangelical counsels. It is a "special consecration" (PC 5); a closer consecration to the divine service "by a new and special title" (LG 44); a new consecration, which cannot be considered an implication or logical consequence of Baptism. Baptism does not necessarily imply an orientation toward celibacy and the renunciation of material possessions in the form of the evangelical counsels. Religious consecration, instead, means the call to a new life that implies the gift of an original charism not granted to everyone, as Jesus stated when he spoke of voluntary celibacy (cf. Mt 19:10-12). Hence, it is a sovereign act of God, who freely chooses, calls and opens a way that is certainly connected with the baptismal consecration, but is distinct from it.

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

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

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

[1]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 186, a. 1
[2]   cf. Epist. 125, Ad Rusticum
[3]   cf. Super Ezech., Hom. 20
[4]   cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 106, a. 2
[5]   cf. De Spiritu et Littera, ch. 7
[6]   Summa Theol., III, q. 66, a. 11

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience.

En particulier, j’adresse un salut cordial aux prêtres, religieux, religieuses et laïcs vietnamiens venus à Rome pour une semaine de réflexion théologique et pastorale. Chers amis, alors que l’Eglise au Viet-nam se prépare à célébrer le bicentenaire des apparitions de Notre-Dame de La-Vang, je vous invite à approfondir toujours votre foi, en union avec les catholiques de votre patrie, afin de préparer un avenir encore meilleur pour les futures générations de Vietnamiens. Que Notre-Dame de La-Vang vous vienne en aide et qu’elle précède dans le pèlerinage de la foi tout le peuple catholique vietnamien, consacré en 1960, à son Cœur Immaculé!

Anh chi em thân męn, tôi vân câu nguyęn cho Giào Hôi và cho giang son Vięt Nam thân yęu.

À toutes les personnes présentes, j’accorde de grand cœur la Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai presenti di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrimage groups from England, Greenland, Canada and the United States. My special greeting goes to the pilgrims from Hagley Catholic School in Stourbridge, England. I also welcome the Golden Jubilee pilgrimage from the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Ai gruppi di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt den Teilnehmern der Diözesanwallfahrt des Bistums Fulda unter Leitung meines lieben Mitbruders im Bischofsamt Johannes Dyba. Mit der Pilgerfahrt vom Grab des hl. Bonifatius zu den Apostelgräbern verdeutlicht Ihr Eure enge Verbundenheit mit dem Nachfolger Petri.

Ferner grübe ich die Pilger aus allen anderen deutschsprachigen Ländern, besonders die Gruppe der Aussiedler aus Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo con gran afecto a todos los peregrinos presentes de lengua española. De forma especial a los Jefes y Alumnos de la Escuela Superior de la Gendarmería Argentina, que visitan el Vaticano por primera vez. También a los fieles de las Parroquias de San Juan Evangelista y de San Miguel, de Madrid. A todos os deseo que vuestra visita a Roma sea un momento de gracia.

A las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, a minha saudação venturosa e amiga a todos vós - especialmente ao grupo bastante numeroso de brasileiros aqui presentes, dos quais me apraz mencionar os membros do Coral da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. “Totus Tuus!”: me quisestes recordar em vosso canto. Agradeço-vos e, de bom grado neste final do Mês do Rosário, vos encorajo na consagração à Virgem Maria para um feliz êxito na vossa configuração a Cristo. A todos abençoo!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski! Pragnę pozdrowić w szczególności: z Wieliczki - pielgrzymów od Matki Bożej Łaskawej, od ojców reformatów; z Mszany Dolnej - Chór Męski z parafii św. Michała Archanioła; z Klikuszowej; z Gdanska - parafię Matki Bożej Nieustającej Opieki i św. Józefa; z Wrocławia - parafię św. Augustyna; z Lublina - głuchoniemych z parafii św. Jozafata; z Kielc - wojskowych oraz ich rodziny; z Mosiny k. Poznania - dzieci i wychowawców Szkoły Katolickiej; z Sępólna Krajeńskiego - pracowników i słuchaczy Radia Maryja.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Il mio pensiero va ora a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare al Gruppo dell’Unione Cristiana Imprenditori e Dirigenti di Vercelli, accompagnati dal loro Arcivescovo; agli Agenti del Corpo di Polizia penitenziaria di Secondigliano-Napoli ed agli Ufficiali, Sottufficiali e Avieri della Scuola Addestramento Reclute Vigilanza Aeronautica Militare di Viterbo.

Accolgo poi con affetto i numerosi pellegrini della benemerita Associazione “Cinquanta e Più - Fenacom”, che celebra quest’anno il 20° di fondazione. Vi esorto, carissimi, a mettere a frutto il prezioso patrimonio di valori, di esperienze e di fede vissuta di cui siete portatori. Auspico che l’anno dedicato alla famiglia contribuisca a porre in piena luce l’importanza della vostra presenza all’interno dell’istituto familiare: siete voi, infatti, i testimoni di quella “memoria” che può aiutare le nuove generazioni a costruire un futuro più autenticamente umano, perché genuinamente cristiano. Su tutti voi, sulle vostre famiglie e sulle numerose attività dell’Associazione invoco la benedizione di Dio.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed alle coppie di sposi novelli.

Carissimi, seguendo l’invito di Cristo, vi esorto a rispondere con gioia alla sua chiamata. La vita quando è offerta al Signore secondo la specifica vocazione di ciascuno, diviene feconda di doni dello Spirito, pronta al servizio di Dio e generosa nella comunione fraterna.

Vi accompagni il costante aiuto divino: accompagni voi giovani, nel vostro quotidiano apostolato; voi, ammalati, nella diuturna offerta della vostra sofferenza e voi, sposi novelli, nell’impegnativo cammino familiare.

A tutti la mia benedizione!

Ancora una volta è giunta dall’Algeria una notizia ben triste: la uccisione di due religiose di nazionalità spagnola. Si tratta di Suor Ester Paniagua e di Suor Maria Caridad Alvarez, delle Suore Agostiniane Missionarie, due anime generose che per lunghi anni si sono dedicate al servizio del prossimo. Purtroppo, dopo una ventennale opera di solidarietà verso gli infermi e i più deboli, sono state vittime innocenti delle profonde tensioni che caratterizzano proprio quel mondo islamico in cui esse hanno saputo vivere, portando avanti generosamente e fedelmente la loro azione umanitaria.

Di fronte a questa nuova tragedia, desidero esprimere profondo apprezzamento per il lavoro svolto dai Vescovi, sacerdoti, religiosi e religiose che, pur coscienti dei rischi che l’attuale situazione comporta, hanno deciso di rimanere in Algeria per continuare a dare la loro testimonianza di fede e di amore. Di questo concreto e coraggioso comportamento la Chiesa intera fa grande tesoro. Ancora una volta: “Sanguis martyrum, semen christianorum”.

La sofferenza causata da questo triste evento diventa ancora più acuta al pensare che tale atto efferato pretende, in modo assurdo, di ispirarsi anche a principi religiosi. Non ci si può considerare fedeli a Dio grande e misericordioso, e nel nome stesso di Dio, osare uccidere il fratello.

Nel seguire con speciale attenzione la delicata e complessa situazione in cui si trova l’Algeria, sento il dovere di ricordare a tutti gli uomini di buona volontà che si potrà giungere ad una autentica soluzione soltanto allontanandosi dall’abisso della violenza per seguire, invece, la via del dialogo, delle scelte sagge, coerenti e coraggiose, della sincera ricerca del bene comune.

Mentre la nostra preghiera si eleva a Dio per invocare la pace eterna per Suor Ester a Suor Maria Caridad, mi unisco spiritualmente al dolore delle loro famiglie e della loro Congregazione, sulle quali impartisco, propiziatrice di consolazione, speranza e forza, una speciale benedizione apostolica.

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