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11 The paschal character of this call makes itself known from various points of view, in connection with each individual counsel.
It is indeed according to the measure of the economy of the Redemption that one must also judge and practice that chastity which each of you has promised by vow, together with poverty and obedience. There is contained in this the response to Christ's words, which are at the same time an invitation: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (Mt 19,12) Prior to this Christ had emphasized: "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given." (Mt 19,11) These last words clearly show that this invitation is a counsel. To this also the Apostle Paul devoted a special reflection in the first letter to the Corinthians. (Cf. 1Co 7,28-40) This counsel is addressed in a particular way to the love of the human heart. It places greater emphasis on the spousal character of this love, while poverty and still more obedience seem to emphasize primarily the aspect of redemptive love contained in religious consecration. As you know, it is a question here of chastity in the sense «of making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," a question, that is, of virginity or celibacy as an expression of spousal love for the Redeemer Himself. In this sense the Apostle teaches that they "do well" who choose matrimony but they "do better who choose virginity." (Cf. 1Co 7,38) "The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord," (1Co 7,32) and "the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit." (1Co 7,34) There is contained neither in the words of Christ nor in those of Paul any lack of esteem for matrimony. The evangelical counsel of chastity is only an indication of that particular possibility which for the human heart. whether of a man or of a woman, constitutes the spousal love of Christ Himself, of Jesus the "Lord." "To make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" is not in fact merely a free renunciation of marriage and family life, but a charismatic choice of Christ as one's exclusive Spouse. This choice not only specifically enables one to be «anxious about the affairs of the Lord" but--when it is made "for the kingdom of heaven"--it brings this eschatological kingdom of God close to the life of all people in the conditions of temporality, and makes it in a certain way present in the midst of the world.
In this way, consecrated persons accomplish the interior purpose of the entire economy of the Redemption. For this purpose expresses itself in bringing near the kingdom of God in its definitive, eschatological dimension. Through the vow of chastity, consecrated persons share in the economy of the Redemption through the free renunciation of the temporal joys of married and family life; on the other hand, precisely by their «having made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," they bring into the midst of this passing world the announcement of the future resurrection (Cf. Lc 20,34-36 Mt 22,30 Mc 12,25) and of eternal life: life in union with God Himself through the beatific vision and the love which contains in itself and completely pervades all the other loves of the human heart.
12 How very expressive in the matter of poverty are the words of the second letter to the Corinthians which constitute a concise synthesis of all that we hear on this theme in the Gospel! "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich." (2Co 8,9) According to these words poverty actually enters into the interior structure of the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. Without poverty it is not possible to understand the mystery of the gift of divinity to man, a gift which is accomplished precisely in Jesus Christ. For this reason also it is found at the very center of the Gospel, at the beginning of the message of the eight beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." (Mt 5,3) Evangelical poverty reveals to the eyes of the human soul the perspective of the whole mystery, "hidden for ages in God." (Ep 3,9) Only those who are "poor" in this way are also interiorly capable of understanding the poverty of the one who is infinitely rich. The poverty of Christ conceals in itself this infinite richness of God; it is indeed an infallible expression of it. A richness, in fact, such as the Divinity itself could not have been adequately expressed in any created good. It can be expressed only in poverty. Therefore it can be properly understood only by the poor, the poor in spirit. Christ, the God-man, is the first of these: He who «though he was rich became poor" is not only the teacher but also the spokesman and guarantor of that salvific poverty which corresponds to the infinite richness of God and to the inexhaustible power of His grace.
And thus it is also true as the Apostle writes--that "by his poverty we have become rich." It is the teacher and spokesman of poverty who makes us rich. For this very reason He says to the young man of the synoptic Gospels: "Sell what you possess and give...and you will have treasure in heaven." (Mt 19,21; cf. Mc 10,21; Lc 18,22) In these words there is a call to enrich others through one's own poverty, but in the depths of this call there is hidden the testimony of the infinite richness of God which, transferred to the human soul in the mystery of grace, creates in man himself, precisely through poverty, a source for enriching others not comparable with any other resource of material goods, a source for bestowing gifts on others in the manner of God Himself. This giving is accomplished in the context of the mystery of Christ, who "has made us rich by his poverty." We see how this process of enrichment unfolds in the pages of the Gospel, finding its culmination in the paschal event: Christ, the poorest in His death on the cross, is also the One who enriches us infinitely with the fullness of new life, through the resurrection.
Dear brothers and sisters, poor in spirit through your evangelical profession, receive into the whole of your life this salvific profile of the poverty of Christ. Day by day seek its ever greater development! Seek above all "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" and the other things "shall be yours as well." (Mt 6,33) May there be accomplished in you and through you the evangelical blessedness reserved for the poor, (Lc 6,20) the poor in spirit! (Mt 5,3)
13 Christ, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Ph 2,6-8) Here, in these words of the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, we touch the very essence of the Redemption. In this reality is inscribed in a primary and constitutive way the obedience of Jesus Christ. Other words of the Apostle, taken this time from the letter to the Romans, confirm this: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." (Rm 5,19) The evangelical counsel of obedience is the call which derives from this obedience of Christ "unto death." Those who accept this call, expressed by the words "Follow me," decide as the Council says--to follow Christ «who, by an obedience which carried Him even to death on the cross, redeemed humanity and made it holy." (73) By living out the evangelical counsel of obedience, they reach the deep essence of the entire economy of the Redemption. By fulfilling this counsel they desire to gain a special sharing in the obedience of that "one alone" by whose obedience all "will be made righteous."
It can therefore be said that those who decide to live according to the counsel of obedience are placed in a unique way between the mystery of sin (74) and the mystery of justification and salvific grace. They are in this "place" with all the sinful background of their own human nature, with all the inheritance "of the pride of life," with all the selfish tendencies to dominate rather than to serve, and precisely by means of the vow of obedience they decide to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, who "redeemed humanity and made it holy by his obedience." In the counsel of obedience they desire to find their own role in the Redemption of Christ and their own way of sanctification.
This is the way which Christ marked out in the Gospel, speaking many times of fulfilling the will of God, of ceaselessly searching for it. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." (Jn 4,34) "Because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." (Jn 5,30) "He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." (Jn 8,29) "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." (Jn 6,38) This constant fulfilling of the will of the Father also reminds us of that messianic confession of the psalmist in the Old Testament: "Behold, I come; in the written scroll it is prescribed for me. To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart." (Ps 40,8-9 (39) ; cf. He 10,7) This obedience of the Son--full of joy--reaches its zenith in the face of the passion and cross: "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done." (Lc 22,42; cf. Mc 14,36; Mt 26,42) From the prayer in Gethsemane onwards, Christ's readiness to do the will of the Father is filled to the very brim of suffering, becoming that obedience "unto death, even death on a cross" spoken of by St. Paul.
Through the vow of obedience consecrated persons decide to imitate with humility the obedience of the Redeemer in a special way. For although submission to the will of God and obedience to His law are for every state a condition of Christian life, nevertheless, in the "religious state," in the "state of perfection," the vow of obedience establishes in the heart of each of you, dear brothers and sisters, the duty of a particular reference to Christ "obedient unto death." And since this obedience of Christ constitutes the essential nucleus of the work of the Redemption, as is seen from the words of the Apostle quoted above, therefore, also in the fulfilling of the evangelical counsel of obedience we must discern a particular moment in that "economy of the Redemption" which pervades your whole vocation in the Church.
From this derives that "total availability to the Holy Spirit" who is at work above all in the Church, as my Predecessor Paul VI puts it in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica testificatio, (81) and who is likewise manifested in the constitutions of your institutes. From this derives that religious submission which in a spirit of faith consecrated persons show to their legitimate superiors, who hold the place of God. (82) In the letter to the Hebrews we find on this theme a very significant indication: "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account." And the author of the letter adds: "Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you." (He 13,17) On the other hand, superiors will bear in mind that they must exercise in a spirit of service the power conferred on them through the ministry of the Church, and they will show willingness to listen to their brothers or sisters in order to discern more clearly what the Lord asks of each one. At the same time they retain the authority proper to them to decide and order what they consider appropriate.
Hand in hand with submission-obedience thus conceived goes the attitude of service which animates your whole life after the example of the Son of Man, who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mc 10,45) And His Mother, at the decisive moment of the Annunciation-Incarnation, entering from the very beginning into the whole salvific economy of the Redemption, said: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lc 1,38) Remember also, dear brothers and sisters, that the obedience to which you committed yourselves by consecrating yourselves without reserve to God through the profession of the evangelical counsels is a particular expression of interior freedom, just as the definitive expression of Christ's freedom was His obedience "unto death": "I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (Jn 10,17-18)
73. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree PC 14.
74. "Mysterium iniquitatis"; cf. 2Th 2,7.
81. Cf. Evangelica testificatio, no. 6: AAS 63 (1971), p. 500.
82. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree PC 14.
14 In the Jubilee Year of the Redemption the entire Church wishes to renew her love for Christ, the Redeemer of man and of the world, her Lord and also her divine Spouse. And so in this Holy Year the Church looks with special attention to you, dear brothers and sisters, who, as consecrated persons, occupy a special place both in the universal community of the People of God and in every local community. While the Church wishes also your love for Christ to be renewed through the grace of the extraordinary Jubilee, at the same time she is fully aware that this love constitutes a special possession of the whole People of God. The Church is aware that in the love that Christ receives from consecrated persons, the love of the entire Body is directed in a special and exceptional way towards the Spouse, who at the same time is the Head of this Body. The Church expresses to you, dear brothers and sisters, her gratitude for your consecration and for your profession of the evangelical counsels, which are a special witness of love. She also expresses anew her great confidence in you who have chosen a state of life that is a special gift of God to the Church. She counts upon your complete and generous collaboration in order that, as faithful stewards of this precious gift, you may "think with the Church" and always act in union with her, in conformity with the teachings and directives of the Magisterium of Peter and of the pastors in communion with him, fostering, at the personal and community level, a renewed ecclesial awareness. And at the same time the Church prays for you, that your witness of love may never fail, (Cf. Lc 22,32) and she also asks you to accept in this spirit the present message of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption.
Precisely in this way the Apostle Paul prayed in his letter to the Philippians, "that your love may abound more and more... with all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness...." (Ph 1,9-11) Through the work of Christ's Redemption "God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Rm 5,5) I constantly ask the Holy Spirit to grant to each one of you, according to your own gift, (Cf. 1Co 7,7) to bear special witness to this love. May "the law of the Spirit that gives life in Christ Jesus..." be victorious within you, in a way worthy of your vocation, that law that has "set us free from the law of death." (Rm 8,2) Live then this new life in the measure of your consecration and also in the measure of the different gifts of God which correspond to the vocation of your individual religious families. The profession of the evangelical counsels shows each of you how with the help of the Spirit you can put to death (Cf. Rm 8,13) everything that is contrary to life and serves sin and death; everything that is opposed to true love of God and others. The world needs the authentic "contradiction" provided by religious consecration, as an unceasing stimulus of salvific renewal.
«Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rm 12,2) After the special period of experimentation and renewal provided for by the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae , your institutes have recently received or are preparing to receive the Church's approval of your renewed constitutions. May this gift of the Church encourage you to know them, to love them and, above all, to live them in generosity and fidelity, remembering that obedience is an unambiguous manifestation of love.
It is precisely this witness of love that the world today and all humanity need. They need this witness to the Redemption as this is imprinted upon the profession of the evangelical counsels. These counsels, each in its own way and all of them together in their intimate connection, "bear witness" to the Redemption which, by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection, leads the world and humanity in the Holy Spirit towards that definitive fulfillment which man and--through man--the whole of creation find in God, and only in God. Your witness is therefore of inestimable value. You must constantly strive to make it fully transparent and fully fruitful in the world. A further aid to this will be the faithful observance of the Church's norms regarding also the outward manifestation of your consecration and of your commitment to poverty. (94)
94. Cf. CIC 669.
15 From this witness of spousal love for Christ, through which the entire salvific truth of the Gospel becomes particularly visible, there also comes, dear brothers and sisters, as something proper to your vocation, a sharing in the Church's apostolate, in her universal mission which is accomplished contemporaneously in every nation in many different ways and through many different charisms. Your specific mission is in harmony with the mission of the Apostles, whom the Lord sent "to the whole world" to "teach all nations," (Cf. Mt 28,19) and it is also linked to the mission of the hierarchical order. In the apostolate which consecrated persons exercise, their spousal love for Christ becomes, in an organic way as it were, love for the Church as the Body of Christ, for the Church as the People of God, for the Church which is at one and the same time Spouse and Mother.
It is difficult to describe, or even to list, the many different ways in which consecrated persons fulfill their love for the Church through the apostolate. This apostolate is always born from that particular gift of your founders, which, received from God and approved by the Church, has become a charism for the whole community. That gift corresponds to the different needs of the Church and the world at particular moments of history, and in its turn it is extended and strengthened in the life of the religious communities as one of the enduring elements of the Church's life and apostolate. In each of these elements, in each field--both of contemplation, so fruitful for the apostolate, and of direct apostolic action--the Church's constant blessing accompanies you, as does at the same time her pastoral and maternal solicitude, with regard to the spiritual identity of your life and the correctness of your activity in the midst of the great universal community of the vocations and charisms of the whole People of God. Through each of the institutes separately and through their organic integration in the whole of the Church's mission, special emphasis is given to that economy of the Redemption, the profound sign of which each one of you, dear brothers and sisters, bears within himself or herself through the consecration and profession of the evangelical counsels.
And thus, even though the many different apostolic works that you perform are extremely important, nevertheless the truly fundamental work of the apostolate remains always what (and at the same time who) you are in the Church. Of each one of you can be repeated, with special appropriateness, these words of St. Paul: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col 3,3) And at the same time this "being hidden with Christ in God" makes it possible to apply to you the words of the Master Himself: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Mt 5,16) For the sake of this light with which you must "shine before men," of great importance among you is the witness of mutual love, linked to the fraternal spirit of each community, for the Lord has said: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13,35) The fundamentally community nature of your religious life, nourished by the teaching of the Gospel, by the sacred liturgy and above all by the Eucharist, is a special way of accomplishing this interpersonal and social dimension: by caring for one another, by bearing one another's burdens, you show by your unity that Christ is living in your midst. (99) Important for your apostolate in the Church is every kind of sensitivity to the needs and sufferings of the individual, which are seen so clearly and so movingly in today's world. For the Apostle Paul teaches: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ," (Ga 6) and he adds that "love is the fulfilling of the law." (Rm 13,10) Your mission must be seen! Deep, very deep must be the bond which links it to the Church! (102) Through everything that you do, and especially through everything that you are, may the truth be proclaimed and reconfirmed that "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her": (Ep 5,25) the truth that is at the basis of the whole economy of the Redemption. From Christ, the Redeemer of the world, may the inexhaustible source of your love for the Church pour forth!
99. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree PC 15.
102. The Code of Canon Law explicitly mentions this with regard to apostolic activity: cf. CIC 675, par. 3.
16 This exhortation which I address to you on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Jubilee Year of the Redemption is meant to be an expression of that love which the Church has for men and women religious. You, dear brothers and sisters, are truly a special treasure of the Church. And this treasure becomes more understandable through meditation on the reality of the Redemption, for which the present Holy Year offers a continuous opportunity and a welcome encouragement. Recognize, therefore, in this light, your identity and your dignity. May the Holy Spirit--through Christ's cross and resurrection--"having the eyes of your hearts enlightened," enable you "to know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." (Ep 1,18) These "eyes enlightening the heart" the Church unceasingly asks for each one of you who have already taken the road of the profession of the evangelical counsels. The Church, together with you, asks for the same «enlightened eyes" for many Christians, especially for young men and women, that they may discover this way and not be afraid to enter upon it, that--even in the midst of the adverse circumstances of life today--they may hear Christ's "Follow me. (Lc 5,27) You too must strive for this through your prayer and also through the witness of that love whereby «God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (1Jn 4,12) May this witness become present everywhere and universally clear. May the people of our times, in their spiritual weariness, find in it both support and hope. Therefore, serve your brethren with the joy that wells up from a heart in which Christ has His dwelling. "And may the world of our time...be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected and discouraged...but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ." (107) The Church, in her love for you, does not cease "kneeling before the Father," (Cf. Ep 3,14) that He may effect in you "... the strengthening of the inner nature, (Cf. Ep 3,16) and as in you, so also in many others of your baptized brothers and sisters, especially young people, so that they may find the same way to holiness which in the course of history so many generations have traveled together with Christ, the Redeemer of the world and Spouse of souls, often leaving behind them the bright radiance of God's light against the dark and gray background of human existence.
To all of you who travel this road in the present phase of the history of the Church and the world there is addressed this fervent hope of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, that "you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ep 3,17-19)
107. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation EN 80: AAS 68 (1976), p. 75.
17 On the feast of the Annunciation in this Holy Year of the Redemption, I place the present exhortation in the heart of the immaculate Virgin. Among all persons consecrated unreservedly to God, she is the first. She- the Virgin of Nazareth--is also the one most fully consecrated to God, consecrated in the most perfect way. Her spousal love reached its height in the divine Motherhood through the power of the Holy Spirit. She, who as Mother carries Christ in her arms, at the same time fulfills in the most perfect way His call: "Follow me. And she follows Him-- she, the Mother--as her Teacher of chastity, poverty and obedience.
How poor she was on Bethlehem night and how poor on Calvary! How obedient she was at the moment of the Annunciation, and then--at the foot of the cross--obedient even to the point of assenting to the death of her Son, who became obedient "unto death"! How dedicated she was in all her earthly life to the cause of the kingdom of heaven through most chaste love.
If the entire Church finds in Mary her first model, all the more reason do you find her so--you as consecrated individuals and communities within the Church! On the day that calls to mind the inauguration of the Jubilee of the Redemption, which took place last year, I address myself to you with this present message, to invite you to renew your religious consecration according to the model of the consecration of the very Mother of God.
Beloved brothers and sisters! "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1Co 1,9) Persevering in fidelity to Him who is faithful, strive to find a very special support in Mary! For she was called by God to the most perfect communion with His Son. May she, the faithful Virgin, also be the Mother of your evangelical way: may she help you to experience and to show to the world how inftnitely faithful is God Himself!
With these hopes I bless you with all my heart.
From the Vatican, on March 25, in the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, 1984, the sixth of my Pontificate.
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