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Jesus' will is the origin of consecrated life

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 12 October 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. What counts the most in the old and new forms of "consecrated life" is that one perceives in them a basic conformity with the will of Christ, who instituted the evangelical counsels. In this sense, he is the founder of religious life and of every similar state of consecration. As the Second Vatican Council said, the evangelical counsels are "based upon the words and examples of the Lord" (LG 43).

Some have doubted this basis by considering the consecrated life as a purely human institution that arose from the initiative of Christians who wanted to live the Gospel ideal more deeply. Now, it is true that Jesus did not directly found any of the religious communities that gradually grew up in the Church, nor did he determine the particular forms of consecrated life. However, what he wanted and established is the state of consecrated life in its overall value and essential elements. There is no historical evidence that can explain this state as a later human initiative. Nor can one readily conceive that consecrated life--which has played so large a role in the growth of the Church's holiness and mission--did not stem from the founding will of Christ. If we carefully explore the Gospel testimonies, we will discover that this will can be seen very clearly.

2. The Gospel shows that from the beginning of his public life Jesus called men to follow him. This call was not necessarily expressed in words. It could result merely from the attraction Jesus' personality held for those he met, as in the case of the first two disciples according to the account of John's Gospel. Formerly disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and his companion (who seems to have been the evangelist himself) were fascinated and almost carried away by the one presented to them as "the Lamb of God." They immediately began to follow Jesus, even before he had said a word to them. When Jesus asked: "What are you looking for?" they answered with another question: "Teacher, where do you stay?" Then they received the invitation that would change their lives: "Come and see" (cf. Jn 1:38-39).

In general, however, the most characteristic expression of the call are the words: "Follow me" (Mt 8:22; 9:9; 19:21; Mk 2:14; 10:21; Lk 9:59; 18:22; Jn 1:43; 21:19). It shows Jesus' initiative. Before that time, those who wanted to embrace a master's teaching chose the person whose pupils they wished to become. However, with the words "Follow me," Jesus showed that he is the one who chooses the companions and disciples he wishes to have. In fact, he said to the apostles: "It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you" (Jn 15:16).

In Jesus' initiative a sovereign will appears, but also intense love. The account of the call addressed to the rich young man reveals this love. There we read that, when the rich young man stated that he had observed the commandments of the law since his childhood, Jesus "looked at him with love" (Mk 10:21). This penetrating, loving gaze accompanied the invitation: "Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me" (Mk 10:21). Jesus' divine and human love, so burning as to be recalled by a witness to the scene, is repeated in every call to total self-giving in the consecrated life. As I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptionis Donum: "This love reflects the eternal love of the Father, who 'so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life' (Jn 3:16)" (n. 3).

3. The Gospel also attests that the call to follow Jesus makes many broad demands. The account of the invitation to the rich young man stresses the renunciation of material possessions; in other cases the renunciation of one's family is more expressly emphasized (cf. for example, Lk 9:59-60). In general, following Jesus means renouncing everything in order to be united with him and to accompany him on the paths of his mission. That is the renunciation to which the apostles agreed, when Peter declared: "Here we have put everything aside to follow you" (Mt 19:27). Precisely in his response to Peter, Jesus indicated the renunciation of human possessions as the basic component in following him (cf. Mt 19:29). The Old Testament shows that God asked his people to follow him by observing the commandments, but without ever making such radical demands. Jesus revealed his divine sovereignty, on the other hand, by requiring absolute devotion to himself, to the point of total detachment from earthly possessions and affections.

4. It should be noted, however, that although he made new demands in the call to follow him, Jesus offers them for the free choice of those he calls. They are not precepts, but invitations or "counsels." The love with which Jesus addressed the call did not take away the rich young man's power to decide freely, as shown by his refusal to follow Jesus because he preferred his possessions. The evangelist Mark notes that the young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions" (Mk 10:22). Jesus did not condemn him for this. But he remarked in turn, and not without some sadness, that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven and that only God can bring about certain detachments, a certain interior freedom that makes it possible to answer the call (cf. Mk 10:23-27).

5. On the other hand, Jesus promised that the renunciations required by the call to follow him will receive their recompense, "treasure in heaven," that is, an abundance of spiritual goods. He even promised eternal life in the world to come and a hundredfold in this present age (cf. Mt 19:29). This hundredfold refers to a higher quality of life, a superior happiness.

Experience teaches that consecrated life, according to Jesus' plan, is a deeply happy life. This happiness is measured according to fidelity to Jesus' plan. This is true even though, as the reference to persecution recorded by Mark in the same episode (10:30) suggests, the "hundredfold" does not spare one from sharing in Christ's cross.

6. Jesus also called women to follow him. A gospel witness says that a group of women accompanied Jesus, and there were many of them (cf. Lk 8:1-3; Mt 27:55; Mk 15:40-41). This was a great novelty with respect to Jewish custom. Only Jesus' innovative will, which included the advancement and, in a certain way, the liberation of women, can explain this fact. No account of the call of any woman has come down to us in the Gospel. However, the presence of many women with the Twelve around Jesus presupposes a call on his part, a choice whether silent or expressed.

Jesus showed that the state of consecrated life which consists in following him is not necessarily connected with the goal of priestly ministry, and that this state includes both women and men, each in his or her own area and with the role determined by the divine call. In the group of women following Jesus we can see a sign and even the initial nucleus of the enormous number of women who would be dedicated to religious life or other forms of consecrated life over the Church's centuries down to our day. This applies to "consecrated" women, but also to many other sisters of ours. In new ways they follow the authentic example of Jesus' collaborators, for example as lay "volunteers" in many apostolic tasks and in many offices and ministries of the Church.

7. We conclude this catechesis by recognizing that, in calling men and women to abandon everything in order to follow him, Jesus inaugurated a state of life which would gradually develop in the Church in the various forms of consecrated life expressed in religious life, or also--for those chosen by God--in the priesthood. From gospel times to our own day, Christ's founding will has continued to be at work, the will expressed in that very beautiful and holy invitation addressed to so many souls: "Follow me!"

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

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Nach diesen kurzen Überlegungen zur Grundlegung der Berufung zum Ordensleben in Willen Christi selbst erneuere ich meinen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an Euch alle. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie all jenen, die uns in diesem Augenblick über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Serdecznie pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski. Chciałbym szczególnie pozdrowić abpa Mariana Przykuckiego, metropolitę szczecińsko-kamieńskiego, oraz jego delegację rodzin z archidiecezji, również bpa Pawła Sochę z Gorzowa. Z archidiecezji krakowskiej pozdrawiam dekanat skawiński i parafię św. Mikołaja z Chrzanowa; z Katowic - duszpasterstwa franciszkańskie z Panewnik i Ligoty; z archidiecezji czestochowskiej - duszpasterstwo ojców kapucynów i parafię z Radomska; z Lublina - parafię św. Stanisława Biskupa i Męczennika oraz parafię z Chełma; z Tulc - parafię Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny i dekanat malczycki (archidiecezja poznańska). Pozdrawiam pielgrzymkę rodzin wojskowych z Pomorskiego Okręgu Wojskowego, przybyłą z okazji 75-lecia jego powstania, oraz naszych rodaków z Zaolzia.

Tematem dzisiejszej katechezy jest powołanie zakonne. Jest to temat bardzo aktualny, ponieważ równocześnie odbywa się Synod Biskupów poświęcony tej tematyce: powołanie zakonne, powołanie do konsekracji, poświęcenie całego życia Chrystusowi, powołanie do życia we wspólnotach zakonnych męskich i żeńskich. Jest to wielkie, wspaniałe doświadczenie, które w tej chwili przeżywamy w Rzymie dzięki Synodowi.

Módlmy się równocześnie za rodziny i za zgromadzenia zakonne. Rodzina, która opiera się na najpierwotniejszym Bożym sakramencie i zakon, który jest duchową rodziną tych wszystkich, którzy usłyszeli słowo Chrystusa, ażeby pójść za Nim, wszystko inne zostawiając - i majątek, i rodziny - i oddając się w duchu posłuszeństwa całkowicie na służbę Chrystusa.

Rodzina to jest także powołanie. Małżonkowie są także powołani. I trzeba, żeby w duchu powołania spełniali to, do czego Bóg ich wezwał, żeby życie ich było również postępowaniem za Chrystusem, ponieważ powołanie chrześcijańskie jest powołaniem wszystkich ochrzczonych.

Z całego serca życzę rodzinom polskim, zwłaszcza tym, które tutaj są obecne, ażeby powołanie do życia rodzinnego zostało w nich odnowione i pogłębione przez Rok Rodziny, a równocześnie życzę Polsce także powołań zakonnych męskich i żeńskich, bo są one wszędzie ogromnie potrzebne.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les personnes de langue française présentes ce matin, en particulier les fidèles et les religieux basiliens venus du Liban et de Syrie, sous la conduite de Monseigneur Georges Kwaïter, Archevêque melkite de Saïda.

A tous, je souhaite un heureux séjour à Rome et j’accompagne ce souhait de ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the new students of the Pontifical Scots College in Rome. As you begin your studies for the priesthood, may you respond ever more fully to Christ’s call to serve his people with humility and self-sacrificing love. I also greet the Board of Directors of the International Association of Lions Clubs. By promoting solidarity with the needy in local communities throughout the world your Association helps to build a world of peace and justice in accordance with God’s plan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Indonesia and Tanzania, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Savior.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, benvenuti. Questo mese di ottobre è un mese della Madonna. Affidandoci all’intercessione di Maria Madre di Dio, chiediamo una grazia per lo sviluppo della cultura giapponese. Vi benedico e auguro ogni bene. Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española. En primer lugar, al numeroso grupo que participa en el Tercer Congreso de la Unión Iberoamericana de Padres de Familia; al grupo de peregrinos de Puerto Rico, así como a los peregrinos mexicanos de Monterrey. Saludo igualmente a los diversos grupos de América Latina y de España. Con el grato recuerdo de la Jornada Mundial de la Familia, invoco sobre todos vosotros la constante protección de la Sagrada Familia de Nazaret y os invito a promover en vuestro propio ambiente los valores perennes de la institución familiar. Con gran afecto os imparto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Grato pela vossa presença, queridos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, invoco de Jesus Cristo aquele Seu olhar amoroso e criador de horizontes eternos sobre a vida e a família de cada um de vós, com uma saudação especial ao grupo de brasileiros vindos de Belo Horizonte, Blumenau, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo. A todos abençoo em nome do Senhor.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Il mio cordiale benvenuto va ora a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana.

Rivolgo un pensiero speciale al gruppo di fedeli della Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore in Barletta, venuti a Roma in occasione del IV centenario dell’istituzione della loro Parrocchia, ed auguro loro che l’apostolo Giacomo, testimone della “trasfigurazione” di Gesù e del Getsemani, li aiuti ad essere generosi annunciatori del Vangelo.

Saluto i pellegrini della parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta in Portomaggiore (Ferrara), che ricordano i mille anni di vita cristiana nella loro terra, ed i Soci del “Serra Internazionale - Club di Bari”, ai quali esprimo il mio apprezzamento per il costante impegno in favore delle vocazioni sacerdotali.

Accolgo, inoltre, con gioia i fedeli della Basilica Concattedrale dei santi Maurizio e Compagni Martiri e di altre Parrocchie di Imperia, che, accompagnati dai loro Pastori e dal Sindaco, visitano le tombe degli apostoli Pietro e Paolo insieme con quella del loro concittadino e patrono, san Leonardo da Porto Maurizio.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Con particolare affetto saluto poi i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli.

Nel corso dei lavori del Sinodo dei Vescovi sulla vita consacrata e la sua missione nella Chiesa e nel mondo, echeggia costante l’invito di Gesù: “Vieni e seguimi”, invito rivolto ad ogni battezzato e fondamento di tutte le vocazioni.

Accogliete questo appello voi, carissimi giovani, e offrite la vostra vita a Cristo; voi, cari ammalati, chiamati a seguire Gesù specialmente nel mistero della sua passione; ed anche voi, cari sposi novelli. Il vostro impegno di fedeltà, di reciproca dedizione, di accoglienza della vita vi renda testimoni e collaboratori dell’amore di Cristo.

A tutti imparto la mia benedizione.

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