CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE
FRATERNAL LIFE IN COMMUNITY
"Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor"
"Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor"
1. The love of Christ has gathered a great number of disciples to become one, so that, like him and thanks to him, in the Spirit, they might, throughout the centuries, be able to respond to the love of the Father, loving him "with all their hearts, with all their soul, with all their might" (cf. Deut. 6:5) and loving their neighbours "as themselves" (cf. Mt. 22:39).
Among these disciples, those gathered together in religious communities, women and men "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9), have been and still are a particularly eloquent expression of this sublime and boundless love.
Born not "of the will of the flesh", nor from personal attraction, nor from human motives, but "from God" (Jn. 1:13), from a divine vocation and a divine attraction, religious communities are a living sign of the primacy of the love of God who works wonders, and of the love for God and for one's brothers and sisters as manifested and practised by Jesus Christ.
In view of the relevance of religious communities for the life and holiness of the Church, it is important to examine the lived experience of today's religious communities, whether monastic and contemplative or dedicated to apostolic activity, each according to its own specific character. All that is said here about religious communities applies also to communities in societies of apostolic life, bearing in mind their specific character and proper legislation.
a) The subject of this document is considered in light of this fact: the character which "fraternal life in common" manifests in numerous countries reveals many transformations of what was lived in the past. These transformations, as well as the hopes and disappointments which have accompanied them, and continue to do so, require reflection in light of the Second Vatican Council. The transformations have led to positive results, but also to results which are questionable. They have put into a clearer light not a few Gospel values, thus giving new vitality to religious community, but they have also given rise to questions by obscuring some elements characteristic of this same fraternal life lived in community. In some places, it seems that religious community has lost its relevance in the eyes of women and men religious and is, perhaps, no longer an ideal to be pursued.
With the serenity and urgency characteristic of those who seek the Lord, many communities have sought to evaluate this transformation, so that they might better fulfil their proper vocation in the midst of the People of God.
b) There are many factors which have determined the changes of which we are witnesses:
- "Constant return to the sources of the whole of the Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes".(1) This deeper and fuller encounter with the Gospel and with the first breakthrough of the foundational charism, has been a vigorous impulse towards acquiring the true spirit which animates fraternity, and towards the structures and usages which must express it adequately. Where the encounter with these sources and with the originating inspiration has been partial or weak, fraternal life has run risks and suffered a certain loss of tone.
- But this process has occurred within the context of other more general developments which are, as it were, its existential framework, and religious life cannot exempt itself from their repercussions.(2)
Religious life is a vital part of the Church and lives in the world. The values and counter-values which ferment within an epoch or a cultural setting, and the social structures which manifest them, impinge on everyone, including the Church and its religious communities. Religious communities either constitute an evangelical leaven within society, announce the Good News in the midst of the world, the here and now proclamation of the heavenly Jerusalem, or else they succumb by decline quickly or slowly, simply because they have conformed to the world. For this reason, a reflection and new proposals on "fraternal life in common" must take this existential framework into account.
-- Developments within the Church have also marked religious communities deeply. The Second Vatican Council, as an event of grace and the greatest expression of the Church's pastoral guidance in this century, has had a decisive influence on religious life; not only by virtue of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis, which is dedicated to it, but also by virtue of the Council's ecclesiology, and each of its documents.
For all these reasons, this document, before addressing its topic directly, begins with an overview of the changes encountered in the settings which have more immediately affected the quality of fraternal life and its ways of being lived in the various religious communities.
2. The Second Vatican Council contributed greatly to a re-evaluation of "fraternal life in common" and to a renewed vision of religious community.
More than any other factor, it is the development of ecclesiology which has affected the evolution of our understanding of religious community. Vatican II affirmed that religious life belongs "undeniably" (inconcusse) to the life and holiness of the Church and placed religious life at the very heart of the Church's mystery of communion and holiness.(3)
Religious community thus participates in the renewed and deepened vision of the Church. From this, several consequences follow:
a) From Church-Mystery to the mystery dimension of religious community
Religious community is not simply a collection of Christians in search of personal perfection. Much more deeply, it is a participation in and qualified witness of the Church-Mystery, since it is a living expression and privileged fulfilment of its own particular "communion", of the great Trinitarian "koinonia", in which the Father has willed that men and women have part in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
b) From Church-Communion to the communional-fraternal dimension of religious community
Religious community, in its structure, motivations, distinguishing values, makes publicly visible and continually perceptible the gift of fraternity given by Christ to the whole Church. For this very reason, it has as its commitment and mission, which cannot be renounced, both to be and to be seen to be a living organism of intense fraternal communion, a sign and stimulus for all the baptised.(4)
c) From Church animated by charisms to the charismatic dimension of religious community
Religious community is a living organism of fraternal communion, called to live as animated by the foundational charism. It is part of the organic communion of the whole Church, which is continuously enriched by the Spirit with a variety of ministries and charisms.
Those who enter into such communities must have the particular grace of a vocation. In practice, the members of a religious community are seen to be bound by a common calling from God in continuity with the foundational charism, by a characteristically common ecclesial consecration, and by a common response in sharing that "experience of the Spirit" lived and handed on by the founder and in his or her mission within the Church.(5)
The Church also wishes to receive with gratitude "the more simple and widely diffused" charisms(6) which God distributes among her members for the good of the entire Body. Religious community exists for the Church, to signify her and enrich her,(7) to render her better able to carry out her mission.
d) From Church as Sacrament of unity to the apostolic dimension of religious community
The purpose of apostolate is to bring humanity back to union with God and to unity among itself, through divine charity. Fraternal life in common, as an expression of the union effected by God's love, in addition to being an essential witness for evangelization, has great significance for apostolic activity and for its ultimate purpose. It is from this that the fraternal communion of religious community derives its vigour as sign and instrument. In fact, fraternal communion is at both the beginning and the end of apostolate.
The Magisterium, since the time of the Council, has deepened and enriched the renewed vision of religious community with fresh insights.(8)
3. The Code of Canon Law (1983) specifies and defines the Council's determinations concerning community life.
When it speaks of "common life", it is necessary to distinguish clearly two aspects.
While the 1917 Code(9) could have given the impression of concentrating on exterior elements and uniformity of life-style, Vatican II(10) and the new Code(11) insist explicitly on the spiritual dimension and on the bond of fraternity which must unite all members in charity. The new Code has synthesised these two elements in speaking of "living a fraternal life in common".(12)
Thus, in community life, two elements of union and of unity among the members can be distinguished:
- one, the more spiritual: "fraternity" or "fraternal communion", which arises from hearts animated by charity. It underlines "communion of life" and interpersonal relationships;(13)
- the other, more visible: "life in common" or "community life", which consists of "living in one's own lawfully constituted religious house" and in "leading a common life" through fidelity to the same norms, taking part in common acts, and collaboration in common services.(14)
All of this is lived "in their own special manner"(15) in the various communities, according to the charism and proper law of the institute.(16) From this arises the importance of proper law which must apply to community life the patrimony of every institute and the means for doing this.(17)
It is clear that "fraternal life" will not automatically be achieved by observance of the norms which regulate common life; but it is evident that common life is designed to favour fraternal life greatly.
Development within society
4. Society is in constant evolution and men and women religious, who are not of the world, but who nevertheless live in the world, are subject to its influence.
Here we will mention only some aspects which have had a direct impact on religious life in general and on religious community in particular.
a) Movements for political and social emancipation in the Third World and a stepped up process of industrialisation have led to the rise of major social changes, with particular emphasis on the "development of peoples" and, in recent decades, on situations of poverty and misery. Local Churches have reacted actively in the face of these developments.
Above all in Latin America, through the general assemblies of the Latin American episcopate at Medellin, Puebla, and Santo Domingo, the "evangelical and preferential option for the poor"(18) has been strongly emphasised, and has led to a new emphasis on social commitment.
Religious communities have been profoundly affected by this; many were led to rethink their presence in society, in view of more direct service to the poor, sometimes even through insertion among the poor.
The overwhelming increase of suffering on the outskirts of large cities and the impoverishment of rural areas have hastened the "repositioning" of a considerable number of religious communities towards these poorer areas.
Everywhere, there is the challenge of inculturation. Cultures, traditions, and the mentality of a particular country all have an impact on the way fraternal life is lived in religious communities.
Moreover, movements of large-scale migration in recent years have raised the problem of the co-existence of different cultures, and the problem of racist reactions. All of these issues also have repercussions on pluri-cultural and multi-racial religious communities, which are becoming increasingly common.
b) Demands for personal freedom and human rights have been at the root of a broad process of democratisation, which has favoured economic development and the growth of civil society.
In the immediate wake of the Council, this process, especially in the west, quickened and was marked by moments of calling meetings about everything and rejection of authority.
The Church and religious life were not immune from such questioning of authority, with significant repercussions for community life as well.
A one-sided and exasperated stress on freedom contributed to the spread of a culture of individualism throughout the west, thus weakening the ideal of life in common and commitment to community projects.
We also observe other reactions which were equally one-sided, such as flight into safely authoritarian projects, based on blind faith in a reassuring leader.
c) The advancement of women, which according to Pope John XXIII is one of the signs of our times, has also had many repercussions on life in Christian communities in various countries.(19) Even if in some areas the influence of extremist currents of feminism is deeply affecting religious life, almost everywhere women's religious communities are positively seeking forms of common life judged more suitable for a renewed awareness of the identity, dignity and role of women in society, Church and religious life.
d) The communications explosion, which began in the 1960's, has considerably, and at times dramatically, influenced the general level of information, the sense of social and apostolic responsibility, apostolic mobility and the quality of internal relationships, not to mention the specific life-style and recollected atmosphere which ought to characterise a religious community.
e) Consumerism and hedonism, together with a weakening of the vision of faith characteristic of secularism, in many regions have not left religious communities unaffected. These factors have severely tested the ability of some religious communities to "resist evil" but they have also given rise to new styles of personal and community life which are a clear evangelical testimony for our world.
All of this has been a challenge, a call to live the evangelical counsels with more vigour, and this has helped support the witness of the wider Christian community.
Changes in religious life
5. In recent years, there have been changes which have profoundly affected religious communities.
a) A new profile in religious communities. In many countries, increased state programmes in areas in which religious have traditionally been active -- such as social service, education, and health -- together with the decrease in vocations, have resulted in a diminished presence of religious in works which used to be typically those of apostolic institutes.
Thus, there is a shrinking of large religious communities at the service of visible works which characterised various institutes for many years.
This is accompanied, in some regions, by a preference for smaller communities composed of religious who are active in works not belonging to the institute, even though they are often in line with the charism of that institute. This has a significant impact on the style of their common life and requires a change in traditional rhythms.
Sometimes the sincere desire to serve the Church and attachment to the institute's works, combined with urgent requests from the particular Church, can easily bring religious to take on too much work, thus leaving less time for common life.
b) The increase in the number of requests for assistance in responding to more urgent needs (those of the poor, drug addicts, refugees, the marginalized, the handicapped, the sick of every kind) has given rise in religious life to responses of admirable and admired dedication.
This, however, has also made evident the need for changes in the traditional profile of religious communities, which are deemed, by some, to be inadequate for coping with the new situations.
c) The way of understanding and living one's own work in a secularised context, especially when it is understood as the mere exercise of a given profession or occupation rather than as the undertaking of a mission of evangelization, has at times obscured the reality of consecration and the spiritual dimension of religious life, to the point that fraternal life in common has become for some an obstacle to the apostolate, or a merely functional instrument.
d) A new concept of the human person emerged in the immediate wake of the Council, emphasising the value of the individual person and of personal initiatives. This was followed immediately by a sharpened sense of community, understood as fraternal life built more on the quality of interpersonal relationships than on the formal aspects of regular observance.
Here or there, these accents were radicalised (giving rise to the opposing tendencies of individualism and communitarianism), sometimes without coming to a satisfactory balance.
e) New governing structures emerged from revised constitutions, requiring far greater participation on the part of men and women religious. This has led to a different way of approaching problems, through community dialogue, co-responsibility and subsidiarity. All members became involved in the problems of the community. This greatly affected interpersonal relationships and, in turn, affected the way authority is perceived. In not a few cases, authority then encountered practical difficulties in finding its true place within the new context.
The combination of changes and tendencies mentioned has affected the character of religious communities in a profound way but also in ways that must be differentiated.
The differentiations, sometimes rather notable, depend, as can be easily understood, on the diversity of cultures and continents, on whether the communities are of men or of women, on the kind of religious life and the kind of institute, on the different activities and the degree of commitment to re-read and reclaim the charism of the founder, on the different ways of standing before society and the Church, on different ways of receiving the values proposed by the Council, on different traditions and ways of common life, and on various ways of exercising authority and promoting the renewal of permanent formation. These problematic settings are only partially common to all; rather they tend to differ from community to community.
Objectives of the document
6. In light of these new situations, the purpose of this document is, above all, to support the efforts made by many communities of religious, both men and women, to improve the quality of their fraternal life. This will be done by offering some criteria of discernment, in view of authentic evangelical renewal.
This document also intends to offer reasons for reflection to those who have distanced themselves from the community ideal, so that they may give serious consideration again to the need for fraternal life in common for those consecrated to the Lord in a religious institute or incorporated in a society of apostolic life.
7. For this purpose, the document is structured as follows:
a) Religious community as gift: before being a human project, fraternal life in common is part of God's plan and he wishes to share his life of communion.
b) Religious community as place where we become brothers and sisters: the most suitable channels for building Christian fraternity by the religious community.
c) Religious community as place and subject of mission: specific choices which a religious community is called to carry out in various situations, and criteria for discernment.
To enter into the mystery of communion and of fraternity, and before undertaking the difficult discernment necessary for renewing the evangelical radiance of our communities, we must humbly invoke the Holy Spirit, that he may accomplish what he alone can do: "I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. You shall be my people and I will be your God" (Ez. 36:26-28).
THE GIFT OF COMMUNION AND THE GIFT OF COMMUNITY
8. Before being a human construction, religious community is a gift of the Spirit. It is the love of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, from which religious community takes its origin and is built as a true family gathered together in the Lord's name.(20)
It is therefore impossible to understand religious community unless we start from its being a gift from on high, from its being a mystery, from its being rooted in the very heart of the blessed and sanctifying Trinity, who wills it as part of the mystery of the Church, for the life of the world.
The Church as communion
9. In creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God created them for communion. God the Creator, who revealed himself as Love, as Trinity, as communion, called them to enter into intimate relationship with himself and into interpersonal communion, in the universal fraternity of all men and women.(21)
This is our highest vocation: to enter into communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.
God's plan was compromised through sin, which sundered every kind of relationship: between the human race and God, between man and woman, among brothers and sisters, between peoples, between humanity and the rest of creation.
In his great love, the Father sent his Son, the new Adam, to reconstitute all creation and bring it to full unity. When he came among us, he established the beginning of the new People of God, calling to himself apostles and disciples, men and women -- a living parable of the human family gathered together in unity. He announced to them universal fraternity in the Father, who made us his intimates, his children, and brothers and sisters among ourselves. In this way he taught equality in fraternity and reconciliation in forgiveness. He overturned the relationships of power and domination, himself giving the example of how to serve and choose the last place. During the Last Supper, he entrusted to them the new commandment of mutual love: "a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn. 13:34; cf. 15:12); he instituted the Eucharist, which, making us share in the one bread and one cup, nourishes mutual love. Then he turned to the Father asking, as a synthesis of his desires, for the unity of all, modelled on the Trinitarian unity: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us" (cf. Jn. 17:21).
Entrusting himself then to the Father's will, he achieved in the paschal mystery that unity which he had taught his disciples to live and which he had asked of the Father. By his death on the cross, he destroyed the barrier that separated peoples, reconciling us all in unity (cf. Eph. 2:14-16). By this, he taught us that communion and unity are the fruit of sharing in the mystery of His death.
The coming of the Holy Spirit, first gift to believers, brought about the unity willed by Christ. Poured out on the disciples gathered in the Upper Room with Mary, the Spirit gave visibility to the Church, which, from the very first moment, is characterised as fraternity and communion in the unity of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32).
This communion is the bond of charity which joins among themselves all the members of the same Body of Christ, and the Body with its Head. The same life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit(22) builds in Christ organic cohesion: he unifies the Church in communion and ministry, co-ordinates and directs it with various hierarchic and charismatic gifts which complement each other, and makes the Church beautiful by his fruits.(23)
In her pilgrimage through this world, the Church, one and holy, has constantly been characterised by a tension, often painful, towards effective unity. Along her path through history, she has become increasingly conscious of being the People and family of God, the Body of Christ, Temple of the Spirit, Sacrament of the intimate union of the human race, communion, icon of the Trinity. The Second Vatican Council has brought out, perhaps as never before, this mysterious and "communional" dimension of the Church.
Religious community as expression of ecclesial communion
10. From the very beginning, consecrated life has cultivated this intimate nature of Christianity. In fact, the religious community has felt itself to be in continuity with the group of those who followed Jesus. He had called them personally, one by one, to live in communion with himself and with the other disciples, to share his life and his destiny (cf. Mk. 3:13-15), and in this way to be a sign of the life and communion begun by him. The first monastic communities looked to the community of the disciples who followed Christ and to the community of Jerusalem as their ideal of life. Like the nascent Church, having one heart and one soul, so the monks, gathering themselves under a spiritual guide, the abbot, set out to live the radical communion of material and spiritual goods and the unity established by Christ. This unity finds its archetype and its unifying dynamism in the life of unity of the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity.
In subsequent centuries, many forms of community have arisen under the charismatic action of the Spirit. He who searches the depths of the human heart reaches out to it and satisfies its needs. He raises up men and women who, enlightened by the light of the Gospel and sensitive to the signs of the times, give life to new religious families -- and hence to new ways of living out the one single communion in a diversity of ministries and communities.(24)
It is impossible to speak of religious community univocally. The history of consecrated life witnesses to a variety of ways of living out the one communion according to the nature of the various institutes. Thus, today we can admire the "wondrous variety" of religious families which enrich the Church and equip her for every good work(25) and, deriving from this, the variety of forms of religious communities.
Nevertheless, in the various forms it takes, fraternal life in common has always appeared as a radical expression of the common fraternal spirit which unites all Christians. Religious community is a visible manifestation of the communion which is the foundation of the Church and, at the same time, a prophecy of that unity towards which she tends as her final goal. As "experts in communion, religious are, therefore, called to be an ecclesial community in the Church and in the world, witnesses and architects of the plan for unity which is the crowning point of human history in God's design. Above all, by profession of the evangelical counsels, which frees one from what might be an obstacle to the fervour of charity, religious are communally a prophetic sign of intimate union with God, who is loved above all things. Furthermore, through the daily experience of communion of life, prayer and apostolate -- the essential and distinctive elements of their form of consecrated life -- they are a sign of fraternal fellowship. In fact, in a world frequently very deeply divided and before their brethren in the faith, they give witness to the possibility of a community of goods, of fraternal love, of a programme of life and activity which is theirs because they have accepted the call to follow more closely and more freely Christ the Lord who was sent by the Father so that, firstborn among many brothers and sisters, he might establish a new fraternal fellowship in the gift of his Spirit".(26)
This will be all the more visible to the extent that they not only think with and within the Church, but also feel themselves to be Church, identifying themselves with her in full communion with her doctrine, her life, her pastors, her faithful, her mission in the world.(27)
Particularly significant is the witness offered by contemplative men and women. For them, fraternal life has broader and deeper dimensions which derive from the fundamental demand of this special vocation, the search for God alone in silence and prayer.
Their constant attention to God makes their attention to other members of the community more delicate and respectful, and contemplation becomes a force liberating them from every form of selfishness.
Fraternal life in common, in a monastery, is called to be a living sign of the mystery of the Church: the greater the mystery of grace, so much the richer is the fruit of salvation.
In this way, the Spirit of the Lord, who gathered together the first believers, and who continually calls the Church into one single family, calls together and nourishes religious families which, by means of their communities spread throughout the world, have the mission of being clearly readable signs of that intimate communion which animates and constitutes the Church, and of being a support for the fulfilment of God's plan.
RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY AS PLACE FOR BECOMING BROTHERS AND SISTERS
11. From the gift of communion arises the duty to build fraternity, in other words, to become brothers and sisters in a given community where all are called to live together. From accepting with wonder and gratitude the reality of divine communion shared with mere creatures, there also arises conviction of the need to make it always more visible by building communities "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52).
In our days, and for our days, it is necessary to take up again this "divine-human" work of building up the community of brothers and sisters, keeping in mind the specific circumstances of present times in which theological, canonical, social and structural developments have profoundly affected the profile and life of religious community.
Starting from a number of specific situations, the present document wishes to offer indications for strengthening commitment to a continued evangelical renewal of communities.
Spirituality and common prayer
l2. In its primary mystical component, every authentic Christian community is seen in "itself a theological reality, an object of contemplation".(28) It follows that a religious community is, above all else, a mystery which must be contemplated and welcomed with a heart full of gratitude in the clear context of faith.
Whenever we lose sight of this mystical and theologal dimension which binds religious community to the mystery of divine communion, present and communicated to the community, we inevitably come to forget the profound reasons for "making community", for patiently building fraternal life. This life can sometimes seem beyond human strength and a useless waste of energy, especially to those intensely committed to action and conditioned by an activist and individualistic culture.
The same Christ who called them, daily calls together his brothers and sisters to speak with them and to unite them to himself and to each other in the Eucharist, to assimilate them increasingly into His living and visible Body, in whom the Spirit lives, on journey towards the Father.
Prayer in common, which has always been considered the foundation of all community life, starts from contemplation of God's great and sublime mystery, from wonder for his presence, which is at work in the most significant moments of the life of our religious families as well as in the humble and ordinary realities of our communities.
13. As a response to the admonition of the Lord, "watch at all times, and pray" (cf. Lk. 21:36), a religious community needs to be watchful and take the time necessary for attending to the quality of its life. Sometimes men and women religious "don't have time" and their day runs the risk of being too busy and anxious, and the religious can end up being tired and exhausted. In fact, religious community is regulated by a rhythmic horarium to give determined times to prayer, and especially so that one can learn to give time to God (vacare Deo).
Prayer needs to be seen also as time for being with the Lord so that He might act in us and, notwithstanding distractions and weariness, might enter our lives, console them and guide them. So that, in the end, our entire existence can belong to him.
14. One of the most valuable achievements of recent decades, recognised and blessed by all, has been the rediscovery of liturgical prayer by religious families.
Communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least of some part of it, has revitalised prayer in many communities, which have been brought into more lively contact with the word of God and the prayer of the Church.(29)
Thus, all must remain strongly convinced that community is built up starting from the liturgy, especially from celebration of the Eucharist(30) and the other sacraments. Among these other sacraments, renewed attention should be given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which the Lord restores union with Himself and with one's brothers and sisters.
As happened in the first community in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:42), the word, the Eucharist, common prayer, dedication and fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, put one in touch with God's great works; in this context, these works become resplendent and generate praise, thanksgiving, joy, union of hearts, comfort in the shared difficulties of daily life together, and mutual encouragement in faith.
Unfortunately, the decrease in the number of priests may, here or there, make it impossible to participate daily in the Mass. In these circumstances, we must be concerned to deepen our appreciation of the great gift of the Eucharist and place at the very heart of our lives the Sacred Mystery of the Body and Blood of our Lord, alive and present in the Community to sustain and inspire it in its journey to the Father. From this derives the necessity that every religious house have its own oratory as the centre of the community,(31) where members can nourish their own Eucharistic spirituality by prayer and adoration.
It is around the Eucharist, celebrated or adored, "source and summit" of all activity of the Church, that the communion of souls is built up, which is the starting point of all growth in fraternity. "From this all education for community spirit must begin".(32)
15. Communal prayer reaches its full effectiveness when it is intimately linked to personal prayer. Common prayer and personal prayer are closely related and are complementary to each other. Everywhere, but especially so in some regions and cultures, greater emphasis must be placed on the inner aspect, on the filial relationship to the Father, on the intimate and spousal relationship with Christ, on the personal deepening of what is celebrated and lived in community prayer, on the interior and exterior silence that leaves space for the Word and the Spirit to regenerate the more hidden depths. The consecrated person who lives in community nourishes his or her consecration both through constant personal dialogue with God and through community praise and intercession.
16. In recent years, community prayer has been enriched by various forms of expression and sharing.
For many communities, the sharing of Lectio divina and reflection on the word of God, as well as the sharing of personal faith experiences and apostolic concerns have been particularly fruitful. Differences of age, formation and character make it advisable to be prudent in requiring this of an entire community. It is well to recall that the right moment cannot be rushed.
Where it is practised with spontaneity and by common agreement, such sharing nourishes faith and hope as well as mutual respect and trust; it facilitates reconciliation and nourishes fraternal solidarity in prayer.
17. The Lord's injunction to "always pray and not lose heart" (Lk. 18:1; cf. 1 Thes. 5:17) is equally valid for personal prayer and for communal prayer. A religious community lives constantly in the sight of its Lord and ought to be continuously aware of his presence. Nevertheless, prayer in common has its own rhythms whose frequency (daily, weekly, monthly or yearly) is set forth in the proper law of each institute.
Prayer in common which requires fidelity to an horarium also and above all requires perseverance: "that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope..., that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:4-6).
Faithfulness and perseverance will also help overcome, creatively and wisely, certain difficulties which mark some communities, such as diversity of commitments and consequent differences in schedules, overwork which absorbs one, and various kinds of fatigue.
18. Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, animated by a love for her which leads us to imitate her, has the effect that her exemplary and maternal presence becomes a great support in daily fidelity to prayer (cf. Acts 1:14), becoming a bond of communion for the religious community.(33)
The Mother of the Lord will help configure religious communities to the model of "her" family, the Family of Nazareth, a place which religious communities ought often to visit spiritually, because there the Gospel of communion and fraternity was lived in a wonderful way.
19. Common prayer also sustains and nourishes apostolic impulse. On the one hand, prayer is a mysterious transforming power which embraces all realities to redeem and order the world. On the other, it finds its stimulus in the apostolic ministry, in its daily joys and difficulties. These then become an occasion for seeking and discovering the presence and action of the Lord.
20. Religious communities which are most apostolically and evangelically alive -- whether contemplative or active -- are the ones which have a rich experience of prayer. At a time such as ours, when we note a certain reawakening of the search for the transcendent, religious communities can become privileged places where the various paths which lead to God can be experienced.
"As a family united in the Lord's name, [a religious community] is of its nature the place where the experience of God should be able in a special way to come to fullness and be communicated to others",(34) above all to one's own brothers and sisters within the community.
Men and women consecrated to God will fail to meet this historic challenge if they do not respond to the "search for God" in our contemporaries, who, will then perhaps turn to other erroneous paths in an effort to satisfy their thirst for the Absolute.
Personal freedom and the building of fraternity
21. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). In the entire dynamic of community life, Christ, in his paschal mystery, remains the model of how to construct unity. Indeed, he is the source, the model and the measure of the command of mutual love: we must love one another as he loved us. And he loved us to the point of giving up his life for us. Our life is a sharing in the charity of Christ, in his love for the Father and for his brothers and sisters, a love forgetful of self.
All of this, however, is not in the nature of the "old man", who wants communion and unity but does not want or intend to pay the price in terms of personal commitment and dedication. The path that leads from the "old man", who tends to close in on himself, to the "new man" who gives himself to others is a long and difficult one. The holy founders realistically emphasised the difficulties and dangers of this passage, conscious as they were that community cannot be improvised. It is not a spontaneous thing nor is it achieved in a short time.
In order to live as brothers and sisters, a true journey of interior liberation is necessary. Israel, liberated from Egypt, became the People of God after walking for a long time through the desert under the guidance of Moses. In much the same way, a community inserted within the Church as People of God must be built by persons whom Christ has liberated and made capable of loving as he did, by the gift of his liberating love and the heartfelt acceptance of those he gives us as guides.
The love of Christ poured out in our hearts urges us to love our brothers and sisters even to the point of taking on their weaknesses, their problems and their difficulties. In a word: even to the point of giving our very selves.
22. Christ gives a person two basic certainties: the certainty of being infinitely loved and the certainty of being capable of loving without limits. Nothing except the Cross of Christ can give in a full and definitive way these two certainties and the freedom they bring. Through them, consecrated persons gradually become free from the need to be at the centre of everything and to possess the other, and from the fear of giving themselves to their brothers and sisters. They learn rather to love as Christ loved them, with that love which now is poured forth in their hearts, making them capable of forgetting themselves and giving themselves as the Lord did.
By the power of this love a community is brought to life as a gathering of people who are free, liberated by the Cross of Christ.
23. This path of liberation which leads to full communion and to the freedom of the children of God demands, however, the courage of self-denial in accepting and welcoming the other with his or her limitations, starting with the acceptance of authority.
Many have noted that this has constituted one of the weak points of the recent period of renewal. There has been an increase of knowledge and various aspects of communal life have been studied. Much less attention has been paid, however, to the ascetic commitment which is necessary and irreplaceable for any liberation capable of transforming a group of people into a Christian fraternity.
Communion is a gift offered which also requires a response, a patient learning experience and struggle, in order to overcome the excesses of spontaneity and the fickleness of desires. The highest ideal of community necessarily brings with it conversion from every attitude contrary to communion.
Community that is not mystical has no soul, but community that is not ascetic has no body. "Synergy" between the gift of God and personal commitment is required for building an incarnated communion, for giving, in other words, flesh and concrete existence to grace and to the gift of fraternal communion.
24. It must be admitted that this kind of reasoning presents difficulty today both to young people and to adults. Often, young people come from a culture which overrates subjectivity and the search for self-fulfilment, while adults either are anchored to structures of the past or experience a certain disenchantment with respect to the never-ending assemblies which were prevalent some years ago, a source of verbosity and uncertainty.
If it is true that communion does not exist without the self-offering of each member, then it is necessary, right from the beginning, to remove the illusion that everything must come from others, and to help each one discover with gratitude all that has already been received, and is in fact being received from others. Right from the beginning, it is necessary to prepare to be not only consumers of community, but above all its builders; to be responsible for each other's growth; to be open and available to receive the gift of the other; to be able to help and to be helped; to replace and to be replaced.
A fraternal and shared common life has a natural attraction for young people but, later, perseverance in the real conditions of life can become a heavy burden. Initial formation needs, then, to bring one to awareness of the sacrifices required for living in community, to accepting them in view of a joyful and truly fraternal relationship and of all the other attitudes characteristic of one who is interiorly free.(35) When we lose ourselves for our brothers and sisters, then we find ourselves.
25. It must always be remembered that, for religious men and women, fulfilment comes through their communities. One who tries to live an independent life, detached from community, has surely not taken the secure path to the perfection of his or her own state.
Whereas western society applauds the independent person, the one who can attain self-actualisation alone, the self-assured individualist, the Gospel requires persons who, like the grain of wheat, know how to die to themselves so that fraternal life may be born.(36)
Thus community becomes "Schola Amoris," a School of Love, for young people and for adults -- a school in which all learn to love God, to love the brothers and sisters with whom they live, and to love humanity, which is in great need of God's mercy and of fraternal solidarity.
26. The communitarian ideal must not blind us to the fact that every Christian reality is built on human frailty. The perfect "ideal community" does not exist yet: the perfect communion of the saints is our goal in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Ours is the time for edification and constant building. It is always possible to improve and to walk together towards a community that is able to live in forgiveness and love. Communities cannot avoid all conflicts. The unity which they must build is a unity established at the price of reconciliation.(37) Imperfection in communities ought not discourage us.
Every day, communities take up again their journey, sustained by the teaching of the Apostles: "love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour" (Rom. 12:10); "live in harmony with one another" (Rom. 12:16); "welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you" (Rom. 15:7); "I myself am satisfied... that you are... able to instruct one another" (Rom. 15:14); "wait for one another" (1 Cor. 11:33); "through love, be servants of one another" (Gal. 5:13); "encourage one another" (1 Thes. 5:11); "forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:2); "be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another" (Eph. 4:32); "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21); "pray for one another" (James 5:16); "clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another" (1 Pet. 5:5); "we have fellowship with one another" (1 Jn. 1:7); "let us not grow weary in well-doing..., especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:9-10).
27. It may be useful to recall that in order to foster communion of minds and hearts among those called to live together in a community, it is necessary to cultivate those qualities which are required in all human relationships: respect, kindness, sincerity, self-control, tactfulness, a sense of humour and a spirit of sharing.
Recent documents from the Magisterium are rich with suggestions and indications helpful for community living such as joyful simplicity,(38) clarity and mutual trust,(39) capacity for dialogue,(40) and sincere acceptance of a beneficial communitarian discipline.(41)
28. We must not forget, in the end, that peace and pleasure in being together are among the signs of the Kingdom of God. The joy of living even in the midst of difficulties along the human and spiritual path and in the midst of daily annoyances is already part of the Kingdom. This joy is a fruit of the Spirit and embraces the simplicity of existence and the monotonous texture of daily life. A joyless fraternity is one that is dying out; before long, members will be tempted to seek elsewhere what they can no longer find within their own home. A fraternity rich in joy is a genuine gift from above to brothers and sisters who know how to ask for it and to accept one another, committing themselves to fraternal life, trusting in the action of the Spirit. Thus the words of the Psalm are made true: "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.... For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore" (Ps. 133:1-3), "because when they live together as brothers, they are united in the assembly of the Church; they are of one heart in charity and of one will".(42)
Such a testimony of joy is a powerful attraction to religious life, a source of new vocations and an encouragement to perseverance. It is very important to cultivate such joy within a religious community: overwork can destroy it, excessive zeal for certain causes can lead some to forget it, constant self-analysis of one's identity and one's own future can cloud it.
Being able to enjoy one another; allowing time for personal and communal relaxation; taking time off from work now and then; rejoicing in the joys of one's brothers and sisters, in solicitous concern for the needs of brothers and sisters; trusting commitment to works of the apostolate; compassion in dealing with situations; looking forward to the next day with the hope of meeting the Lord always and everywhere: these are things that nourish serenity, peace and joy. They become strength in apostolic action.
Joy is a splendid testimony to the evangelical quality of a religious community; it is the end point of a journey which is not lacking in difficulties, but which is possible because it is sustained by prayer: "rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Rom. 12:12).
Communicating in order to grow together
29. In the renewal of recent years, communication has been recognised as one of the human factors acquiring increased importance for the life of a religious community. The deeply felt need to enhance fraternal life in community is accompanied by a corresponding need for communication which is both fuller and more intense.
In order to become brothers and sisters, it is necessary to know one another. To do this, it is rather important to communicate more extensively and more deeply. Today, more attention is given to various aspects of communication, although the form and the degree may vary from one institute to another, and from one region to the next.
30. Communication within institutes has developed considerably. There is a growing number of regular meetings of members at different levels, central, regional, and provincial; superiors often send letters and suggestions, and their visits to communities are more frequent. The publication of newsletters and internal periodicals is more widespread.
This kind of broad communication asked for at various levels, corresponding to the character proper to the institute, normally creates closer relations, nourishes a family spirit and sharing in the concerns of the entire institute, creates greater sensitivity to general problems, and brings religious closer together around their common mission.
31. Regular meetings at the community level, often on a weekly basis, have also proved very useful; they let members share problems concerning the community, the institute, the Church, and in relation to the Church's major documents. They provide opportunities to listen to others, share one's own thoughts, review and evaluate past experiences, and think and plan together.
Such meetings are particularly necessary for the growth and development of fraternal life, especially in larger communities. Time must be set aside for this purpose and kept free from all other engagements. In addition to concern for community life, these meetings are also important for fostering co-responsibility and for situating one's own work within the broader framework of religious life, Church life and the life of the world to which we are sent in mission. This is an avenue which must be pursued in every community, adapting its rhythms and approaches to the size of the community and to the members' commitments. In contemplative communities, it should respect their own style of life.
32. But there is more. In many places, there is a felt need for more intense communication among religious living together in the same community. The lack of or weakness in communication usually leads to weakening of fraternity: if we know little or nothing about the lives of our brothers or sisters, they will be strangers to us, and the relationship will become anonymous, as well as create true and very real problems of isolation and solitude. Some communities complain about the poor quality of the fundamental sharing of spiritual goods. Communication takes place, they say, around problems and issues of marginal importance but rarely is there any sharing of what is vital and central to the journey of consecration.
This can have painful consequences, because then spiritual experience imperceptibly takes on individualistic overtones. A mentality of self-sufficiency becomes more important; a lack of sensitivity to others develops; and, gradually, significant relationships are sought outside the community.
This problem should be dealt with explicitly. It requires, on the one hand, a tactful and caring approach which does not exert pressure; but it also requires courage and creativity, searching for ways and methods which will make it possible for all to learn to share, simply and fraternally, the gifts of the Spirit so that these may indeed belong to all and be of benefit to all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7).
Communion originates precisely in sharing the Spirit's gifts, a sharing of faith and in faith, where the more we share those things which are central and vital, the more the fraternal bond grows in strength. This kind of communication can also be helpful as a way of learning a style of sharing which will enable members, in their own apostolates, to "confess their faith" in simple and easy terms which all may understand and appreciate.
There are many ways in which spiritual gifts can be shared and communicated. Besides the ones already mentioned (sharing the word and the experience of God, communal discernment, community projects),(43) we should recall fraternal correction, review of life, and other forms characteristic of the tradition. These are concrete ways of putting at the service of others and of pouring into the community the gifts which the Spirit gives so abundantly for its upbuilding and for its mission in the world.
All of this takes on greater importance now since communities often include religious of different ages and different races, members with different cultural and theological formation, religious who have had widely differing experiences during these agitated and pluralistic years.
Without dialogue and attentive listening, community members run the risk of living juxtaposed or parallel lives, a far cry from the ideal of fraternity.
33. Every kind of communication implies itineraries and particular psychological difficulties which can also be addressed positively with the help of the human sciences. Some communities have benefited, for example, from the help of experts in communication and professionals in the fields of psychology or sociology.
These are exceptional measures which need to be evaluated prudently, and they can be used with moderation by communities wishing to break down the walls of separation which at times are raised within a community. These human techniques are useful, but they are not sufficient. All must have at heart the welfare of their brothers and sisters, cultivating an evangelical ability to receive from others all that they might wish to give and to communicate, and all that they in fact communicate by their very existence.
Be "of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.... In humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others". Your mutual relations should be founded on the fact that you are united to Christ Jesus (cf. Phil. 2:2-5).
In a climate such as this, various techniques and approaches to communication compatible with religious life can enhance the growth of fraternity.
34. The considerable impact of mass media on modern life and mentality has its effect on religious communities as well, and frequently affects internal communication.
A community, aware of the influence of the media, should learn to use them for personal and community growth, with the evangelical clarity and inner freedom of those who have learned to know Christ (cf. Gal. 4:17-23). The media propose, and often impose, a mentality and model of life in constant contrast with the Gospel. In this connection, in many areas one hears of the desire for deeper formation in receiving and using the media, both critically and fruitfully. Why not make them an object of evaluation, of discernment and of planning in the regular community meetings?
In particular when television becomes the only form of recreation, relations among people are blocked or even impeded, fraternal communication is limited and indeed consecrated life itself can be damaged.
A proper balance is needed: the moderate and prudent use of the communications media,(44) accompanied by community discernment, can help the community know better the complexity of the world of culture, receive the media with awareness and a critical eye and, finally, evaluate their impact in relation to the various ministries at the service of the Gospel.
In keeping with the choice of their specific state of life, characterised by a more marked separation from the world, contemplative communities should consider themselves more committed to preserving an atmosphere of recollection, being guided by the norms determined in their own constitutions about the use of the communications media.
Religious community and personal growth
35. Because religious community is a Schola Amoris which helps one grow in love for God and for one's brothers and sisters, it is also a place for human growth. The path is a demanding one, since it requires the renunciation of goods that are certainly highly valued,(45) but it is not impossible. A multitude of men and women saints and the wonderful figures of religious men and women are there to prove that consecration to Christ "does not constitute an obstacle to the true development of the human person but by its nature is supremely beneficial to that development".(46)
The path towards human maturity, which is a prerequisite of a radiant evangelical life, is a process which knows no limits, since it involves continuous enrichment not only of spiritual values but also of values in the psychological, cultural and social order.(47)
In recent years, major changes in culture and custom have been oriented, in practice, more towards material realities than towards spiritual values. This makes it necessary to pay attention to some areas where, today, persons appear to be particularly vulnerable.
The process of maturing takes place through one's own identifying with the call of God. A weak sense of identity can lead to a misconceived idea of self-actualisation, especially in times of difficulty, with an excessive need for positive results and approval from others, an exaggerated fear of inadequacy, and depression brought on by failure.
The identity of a consecrated person depends on spiritual maturity; this is brought about by the Spirit who prompts us to be conformed to Christ, according to the particular characteristic provided by "the founding gift which mediates the Gospel to the members of a given religious institute".(48) For this reason, the help of a spiritual guide, who knows well and respects the spirituality and mission of the institute, is most important. Such a one will "discern the action of God, accompany the religious in the ways of God, nourish life with solid doctrine and the practice of prayer".(49) This accompaniment is particularly necessary in the initial stage of formation, but it is useful throughout life, in order to foster "growth towards the fullness of Christ".
Cultural maturity also helps one face the challenges of mission by acquiring the tools necessary for discerning future trends and working out appropriate responses, in which the Gospel is continuously proposed as the alternative to worldly proposals, integrating its positive forces and purifying them of the leaven of evil.
In this dynamic, the consecrated person and the religious community are a proposal of the Gospel, a proposal which manifests the presence of Christ in the world.(50)
Fraternal life in common requires from all members good psychological balance within which each individual can achieve emotional maturity. As mentioned above, one essential element of such growth is emotional freedom, which enables consecrated persons to love their vocation and to love in accordance with this vocation. It is precisely this freedom and this maturity which allow us to live out our affectivity correctly, both inside and outside the community.
To love one's vocation, to hear the call as something that gives true meaning to life, and to cherish consecration as a true, beautiful and good reality which gives truth, beauty and goodness to one's own existence -- all of this makes a person strong and autonomous, secure in one's own identity, free of the need for various forms of support and compensation, especially in the area of affectivity. All this reinforces the bond that links the consecrated person to those who share his or her calling. It is with them, first and foremost, that he or she feels called to live relationships of fraternity and friendship.
To love one's vocation is to love the Church, it is to love one's institute, and to experience the community as one's own family.
To love in accordance with one's vocation is to love in the manner of one who, in every human relationship, wishes to be a clear sign of the love of God, not invading and not possessing, but loving and desiring the good of the other with God's own benevolence.
Therefore, special formation is required in the area of affectivity to promote an integration of the human aspect with the more specifically spiritual aspect. In this respect, the guidelines contained in Potissimum Institutioni(51) concerning discernment of "a balanced affectivity, especially sexual balance" and "the ability to live in community" are particularly relevant.
However, difficulties in this area are frequently echoes of problems originating in other areas: affectivity and sexuality marked by a narcissistic and adolescent attitude, or by rigid repression, can sometimes be a result of negative experiences prior to entering the community, but they can also be a result of difficulties in community or apostolate. A rich and warm fraternal life, one that "carries the burden" of the wounded brother or sister in need of help, is thus particularly important.
While a certain maturity is necessary for life in community, a cordial fraternal life is equally necessary in order to allow each religious to attain maturity. Where members of a community become aware of diminished affective autonomy in one of their brothers or sisters, the response on the part of the community ought to be one of rich and human love, similar to that of our Lord Jesus and of many holy religious -- a love that shares in fears and joys, difficulties and hopes, with that warmth that is particular to a new heart that knows how to accept the whole person. Such love -- caring and respectful, gratuitous rather than possessive -- should make the love of Our Lord seem very near: that love which caused the Son of God to proclaim through the Cross that we cannot doubt that we are loved by Love.
A special occasion for human growth and Christian maturity lies in living with persons who suffer, who are not at ease in community, and who thus are an occasion of suffering for others and of disturbance in community life.
We must first of all ask about the source of such suffering. It may be caused by a character defect, commitments that seem too burdensome, serious gaps in formation, excessively rapid changes over recent years, excessively authoritarian forms of government, or by spiritual difficulties.
There may be some situations when the one in authority needs to remind members that life in common sometimes requires sacrifice and can become a form of maxima poenitentia, grave penance.
In some cases recourse to the social sciences is necessary, in particular where individuals are clearly incapable of living community life due to problems of insufficient maturity and psychological weakness, or due to factors which are more pathological.
Recourse to such intervention has proved useful not only at the therapeutic stage -- in cases of more or less evident psycho-pathology -- but also as a preventive measure, to assist in the proper selection of candidates, and to assist formation teams in some cases to address specific pedagogical and formative problems.(52)
In all cases, in choosing specialists, preference is to be given to those who are believers and are well experienced with religious life and its dynamics. So much the better if these specialists are themselves consecrated men or women.
Finally, the use of such methods will be truly effective only if it is applied exceptionally and not generalised; this is so partly because psycho-pedagogical measures do not solve all problems and thus "cannot substitute for an authentic spiritual direction".(53)
From me to us
39. Respect for the human person, recommended by the Council and by various succeeding documents,(54) has had a positive influence on the praxis of communities. Simultaneously, however, individualism has spread, with greater or lesser intensity depending on the regions of the world, and in various forms: the need to take centre stage; an exaggerated insistence on personal well-being, whether physical, psychological or professional; a preference for individual work or for prestigious and "signed" work; the absolute priority of one's personal aspirations and one's own individual path, regardless of others and with no reference to the community.
On the other hand, we must continue to seek a just balance, not always easy to achieve, between the common good and respect for the human person, between the demands and needs of individuals and those of the community, between personal charisms and the community's apostolate. And this should be far from both the disintegrating forces of individualism and the levelling aspects of communitarianism. Religious community is the place where the daily and patient passage from "me" to "us" takes place, from my commitment to a commitment entrusted to the community, from seeking "my things" to seeking "the things of Christ".
In this way, religious community becomes the place where we learn daily to take on that new mind which allows us to live in fraternal communion through the richness of diverse gifts and which, at the same time, fosters a convergence of these gifts towards fraternity and towards co-responsibility in the apostolic plan.
40. In order to realise such a community and apostolic "symphony", it is necessary:
a) to celebrate and give thanks together for the common gift of vocation and mission, a gift far surpassing every individual and cultural difference; to promote a contemplative attitude with regard to the wisdom of God, who has sent specific brothers and sisters to the community that each may be a gift to the other; to praise him for what each brother or sister communicates from the presence and word of Christ;
b) to cultivate mutual respect by which we accept the slow journey of weaker members without stifling the growth of richer personalities; a respect which fosters creativity but also calls for responsibility to others and to solidarity;
c) to focus on a common mission: each institute has its own mission, to which all must contribute according to their particular gifts. The road of consecrated men and women consists precisely in progressively consecrating to the Lord all that they have, and all that they are, for the mission of their religious family;
d) to recall that the apostolic mission is entrusted in the first place to the community and that this often entails conducting works proper to the institute. Dedication to this kind of community apostolate helps a consecrated person mature and grow in his or her particular way of holiness;
e) to consider that religious, on receiving in obedience personal missions, ought to consider themselves sent by the community. For its part, the community shall see to their regular updating and include them in the reviews of apostolic and community commitments.
During the time of formation, all good will not withstanding, it may prove impossible to integrate the personal gifts of a consecrated individual within fraternity and a common mission. It may be necessary in such cases to ask, "Do God's gifts in this person... make for unity and deepen communion? If they do, they can be welcomed. If they do not, then no matter how good the gifts may seem to be in themselves, or how desirable they may appear to some members, they are not for this particular institute.... It is not wise to tolerate widely divergent lines of development which do not have a strong foundation of unity in the institute itself".(55)