In Mission With Christ
In the past several articles on the consecrated life, we have looked at the specific aspect of mission, one of the three dimensions of the consecrated life covered in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, the other two being consecration and communion. We have looked at the mission of Miles Jesu as one of engagement in the world, to be good witnesses to Christ in our job. We have looked at how Miles Jesu’s mission is in harmony with the Church’s own authentic secular dimension, “in light of the act of God the creator and redeemer, who had handed over the world to men and women, so that they may participate in the work of creation, free creation from the influence of sin and sanctify themselves...” (Propositio, 4). Finally we looked at how this secular dimension of Miles Jesu’s mission is part of a member’s consecration: “The service of one’s neighbor neither divides nor separates a consecrated person from God. If it is moved by a truly theological charity, this service obtains its value as service of God.” (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Directives on Formation, 17; February 2, 1990.)
We also looked at how a truly theological charity presupposes a prior missionary task that consecrated members have toward themselves. “The first missionary duty of consecrated persons is to themselves, and they fulfill it by opening their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit of Christ.” (VC, 25) It is the charism of each Institute of consecrated life to practice the evangelical counsels in a specific way: being open to the Spirit of Christ means becoming conformed to Christ in a specific manifestation of his own life and mission as expressed in the charism of one’s own Institute.
“Indeed, more than in external works, the mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness. This is the challenge, this is the primary task of the consecrated life! The more consecrated persons allow themselves to be conformed to Christ, the more Christ is made present and active in the world for the salvation of all...[C]consecrated persons are ‘in mission’ by virtue of their very consecration, to which they bear witness in accordance with the ideal of their Institute.” (VC, 72)
It is clear in Vita Consecrata that the dimension of mission takes on a deeper significance than external activity. As an expression of a community’s charism, mission entails a specific interior project of allowing oneself to become conformed to Christ. “... in every charism there predominates ‘a profound desire to be conformed to Christ, to give witness to some aspect of his mystery.’ This specific aspect is meant to take shape and develop according to the authentic tradition of the Institute, as present in its Rule, Constitutions and Statutes.” (VC, 36)
A clear understanding of the mission of a particular community is therefore a very important guideline for the full development of the individual members of the community. According to the 1994 document from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, Fraternal Life in Community, a cause of suffering for those in consecrated life in recent years is “a ‘generic’ approach [to one’s life and mission] that lacks the specific mediation of one’s own charism in considering… certain suggestions deriving from different spiritualities.” (FLC 46) Each Institute should be careful to preserve the specific characteristics of its life and mission which are part of its own charism and authentic tradition so that the person called to the consecrated life can find the clear path in which Christ is calling him to be conformed to himself.
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