It is not our intention to summarize the Working Paper and even less to communicate in great detail the responses and reactions to it. Approximately one hundred contributions were sent to the Congress Secretariat and a number of contributions have appeared in reviews, on websites, etc. All those who responded deserve our thanks: this interpretive synthesis is a response to the collaboration we have received. Suggestions, further development, additions, and critiques are presented here in three large groupings, text, context, and pretext. A re-reading both horizontal and dynamic – which we could call meta-textual – will help to open our history to new horizons and to new adventures, both evangelical and charismatic.
RESPONSES TO AND PROPOSALS ABOUT THE WORKING PAPER
1. THE TEXT
The positive, multifaceted, and encouraging tone of the text was appreciated by many. The presentation of the great socio-cultural themes in a realistic style, both sincere and provocative, was also very well received. The osmosis between the phenomenological vision and the theological and ecclesial interpretation, open to taking up the challenges and finding new paths of creative fidelity, was recognized by many. The density of the synthesis on certain complex issues perhaps produced at times some paragraphs too general or too dense, making immediate comprehension of the content difficult. Everyone realized that the text “will die” during the congress and, therefore, there will not be an “improved second edition.” Nevertheless, we also received observations for clarifying the text, making additions to it, improving it, rejecting aspects of it, and completing it.
a. The biblical icons. Pleasant surprise was expressed by many over the two gospel icons and above all for the method used to present and to interpret them. The method in reality is more symbolic and allusive than technical or exegetical. People liked the call to the processes of interior transformation experienced by the Samaritan Woman and the Good Samaritan. The possibilities of original applications to consecrated life were noted, with emphasis on the non-traditional aspects or the aspects not usually considered.
The method of lectio divina has shown itself to be a rich source of inspiration not only on the spiritual level but also in practice. There were some notes for enriching the interpretation by underlining the details not commented upon (e.g., the Good Samaritan’s night, the inverting of the typical: the Samaritan Woman speaks on theology and the Good Samaritan shows tenderness and care, the sacramentality of the body, the scribe who questions, the ecological elements, etc.)
b. Some critiques. Some rather well developed critiques also arrived. We quote some of them: there is one who thinks that the following of Christ which constitutes the true basis of consecrated life was not in evidence; others consider the two figures (feminine/masculine) an artificial couple; someone thinks that we feel ourselves to be “Samaritans” much too quickly, while we are among the “wounded” and perhaps also among the “wounders.” Someone also noted the lack of a communitarian context in these icons. Others do not like the excessive human initiative, which does not seem to take into account the theme of election and the primacy of the experience from above (it is God who calls).
Stories remain open to uncertain outcomes and this generates perplexity in those who want things to be well-defined. The word “re-foundation” seems to be easily accepted but is not justified with solid reasons. The preference in the type of consecrated life tends towards the apostolic life, leaving monastic and contemplative life almost on the margins. Monastic and contemplative life on its part also desires to live with full rights in the Church under the dynamic action of the Spirit. Among the new experiences a reference to the models born within consecrated life or within new ecclesial movements is lacking. Etc., etc.
There are a number of references, though, to inappropriate or equivocal expressions, missing elements, perspectives which are too Western (European and from the time just after the Council) or too masculine, or surprising, such as the “consecration ad tempus,” etc. In a few cases the critique is followed by a concrete proposal on the topic. Some well-developed proposals touched on ongoing formation, on some cultural aspects of modernity, on “new models” of religious life, on the feminine identity of consecrated life, on the reformulation of the vows in post-modern terms or in terms of interpersonal relationships, etc.
The third part of the Working Paper posed some questions on various aspects to be developed and to be clarified, and on perspectives for action in the future. These were not given much attention; in fact, responses to the specific points are rare. We do not have, therefore, significant contributions on those points just where they were explicitly requested with specific questions.
2. THE CONTEXT
The most important thing on which the comments reflected was the current situation of consecrated life. Many interpreted the situation in terms of “crisis” and of confusion of orientation and of options; others preferred to use the expression “chaos” to point up a context which has opportunities and not only dangers. Finally, others liked to speak of the complexity and of situations which are “multiversal.” They dealt with analyses of practical aspects (e.g., works, structures, organization, fragmentation, aging, cultural traditions), of religious cultural aspects (old models of spirituality, of language, and of life; new pedagogical and psychological needs; new socio-cultural situations; paradigm change), and of the ecclesial and current social context which is in a process of rapid transformation. We will make a general presentation on the major themes.
a. The ecclesiological dimension. On the theme of ecclesiology there are very interesting comments. It was reaffirmed that consecrated life develops in the midst of the Church and for the Church, always forming part of its holiness and of its very life and mission. We took up the ecclesiology of communion, strongly promoted by Vatican Council II, as well as afterwards and up to the most recent documents. Now however, we can see an ongoing regression. We see that the Church is getting ever further away from the realities and problems of our world, looking at them as from on high without any deep feeling, almost as one “passing by.” Legalism and indifference make the prophetic word sterile in the Christian people. The “spirituality of communion” is much proclaimed in words, but in reality it results in a reduction of areas of autonomy and prophecy. Prophecy is pushed into hiding and that generates mistrust. Consecrated life is affected by this problematic ecclesial situation, receiving from it a significant braking in the journey towards an authentic renewal. The process of refoundation, begun practically forty years ago in the light of the Council guidelines suffers serious damage from it.
Among the many reactions added as commentary to the Working Paper, there appears one sentence that particularly reflects these times: “Who can affirm that in these times religious life does not appear half dead?” (as that man who fell in among thieves). Consecrated life, at this time, really is experiencing a period characterized by contradictory signs. On the one hand there is evidence of a profound weariness, of inertia, and of uncertainty concerning identity which is seen in the fear of the future and in the crisis of the appearance of consecrated life clear to society at large. The debatable appearances of religious men and women on television presented in many forms are one example. Contemporaneously there are also many personal and community testimonies that become real in the radical and growing desire for commitment in discerning the signs of the new which are being raised up by the Holy Spirit and in the effective work of integrating those signs fruitfully into the charism of the community.
Such signs of newness and of creative fidelity in so many responses supports the conviction that today it is still possible for religious life to play its prophetic role: to live its unique vocation and mission in the Church and for the Church, at the same time creating newness and calling all to a fidelity rich in love and apostolic boldness.
b. The secularized and postmodern context. Some wanted to make some lengthier clarifications around the socio-cultural context; for example, on the crisis of modernity and postmodern culture, on the false readings around the “rebirth of the sacred,” on the dialogue among religions and cultures, on the communication both pervasive and symbolic, on the centrality of the body and affectivity in the present culture, on the crisis of credibility of institutions, on globalization as resource and as challenge, on the search for new and affectively gratifying relationships, etc. Perhaps there is some truth when people say that in the Working Paper, in the description of the variety of socio-cultural phenomena, true and sufficient spiritual discernment was not included. The spiritual reading of the crisis of these times could have pointed to and stimulated a more effective guiding wisdom which would go beyond the rather rapid glance at phenomena, which, in reality, are very complex.
According to some it is necessary to be on guard against accommodation with a secularized mentality, with consumerism, with various forms of an individualistic or bourgeois mentality. It is necessary to set ourselves up as a counter-cultural project, founded on a deep and solid experience of God and a radical following of Christ. In the document’s general plan – and thus in the plan of the Congress – some saw a worrying deficiency, because the perspective is too horizontal and the usual evaluations of the current evils are repeated without arriving at proposals which are concrete and livable. For these the development in the Paper is “general,” vague (light) and imprecise: e.g., on the new religiosity, on gender differences, on the concept of the Church and its institutional forms, on the “blocks” which hinder the realization of the ideals, on the new models of consecrated life and its possibilities for the future, on the renewed spirituality itself.
Others, instead, saw the real current context in which we all are living described in a serious way and with precision, in the Working Paper. Its shadows, which are cause for concern were present as well as the chances or opportunities and the stirring challenges. They were in agreement, for example, on the wide range of problematic situations put in relief in the first part, but also on the decisive points for consecrated life described in the two sections of the third part. Also the two areas to which the document called attention at the end and for which it requested proposals – formation and government – were looked upon as strategic and decisive. There is need for further guiding clarification which is awaited from the Congress in a definite and concrete way. In the pedagogy of formation and in the realistic solutions for the complex issues of ongoing formation, areas considered important, it seems that shared models and tested solutions are lacking.
c. To be attentive and incarnated. There are those who recognize that the entire cultural system that characterizes consecrated life and with which it is expressed today is weak in its ability to communicate, backward in respect to cultural sensitivities, set in other cultural worlds now obsolete (PC 3 already stated the necessity of updating on this point). Thus, there comes the suggestion for a definite “up-dating” of paradigms and of the presentation of the major values: the vows, community, witness, anthropology, life-vision, the sense for possessions and the religiosity of life, affectivity, corporality, dignity of the person, need for co-responsibility, etc. According to some, consecrated life will never be understood because it belongs to a different world and is based on an experience of transcendence which few know how to appreciate and interpret. These last like to insist on the aspect of “mystery” of this ecclesial vocation.
And, therefore, they are convinced that it is not adapting – in practice assuming the current secularized values – which will be able to make it understood and put it in dialogue in the new areapogi. Consecrated life must preserve its identity and irreducibility even as far as finding itself in a paradox. Returning to the monastic roots that is to the radical and intense passion for the contemplation of God, consecrated life will become truly capable of being seen clearly for what it is and capable of prophetic witness. This return to the monastic paradigm of consecrated life was not proposed by many but perhaps it is also implied in the insistence – this is from many – on a significant spiritual concentration. This nostalgia also appears among the characteristics of various new experiences of consecrated life. In these the management of works moves into second place, in order to give a privileged position to the quality of liturgical prayer, community life, hospitality, commitment to a wise discernment of history, spiritual dialogue, manual labor, and openness to culture and to other religions.
For many the most serious challenge and the most urgent turning point could be that of developing and living an intense spirituality, characterized by a radical following of Jesus, by a profound experience of God, by a new passion for humanity. And in consequence, freeing itself from the burdensome management of works to move on to sharing in the suffering of the poor and of the excluded with more flexible structures and initiatives. Also some elements of the two icons were brought up to reassert this: the thirst for living water, feeling and tenderness, the breaking of taboos, care for the body, new mediation, emotional and compassionate participation, etc. At the same time the prejudices of the disciples and the ethnic hostility, as well as the legalistic rigidity of the Priest and the Levite are recalled as warnings regarding some of our own hypocrisies.
2. THE PRETEXT
The ample phenomenology and the various proposals for responding to the gift received, described in the Working Paper, gave many the pretext for courageously enlarging the horizons and topics. We will summarize some more frequently developed issues.
a. Compassion and formalism. Someone had the courage to say that the Church has lost its sense of “compassion,” all taken up as it is by the safeguarding of its organizational system and by the concerns for formal orthodoxy for the sake of which it sometimes reaches excesses of rigidity and even repression. The Church itself – as institution and as people of God – ought to take more seriously its aspect of community semper reformanda, because in truth in many things it bears the signs of cultural and religious frailty. In times of the scarcity of resources and of the social marginalization of the religious element the danger of sacralizing the patrimony of the tradition can get transformed into fanaticism and fundamentalism. But also flexibility and up-dating without discernment can cause disasters and confusion in the charismatic identity. These two poles are brought out in the responses with a certain frequency.
There are signs which reveal a widespread schizophrenia in the world of those who are part of consecrated life, as is the case as well in the Church, where it is believed that theoretical proclamations are enough in themselves, even without putting them into practice. As if to spread a layer of varnish of good intentions would suffice to give rise to radical transformation (cf. EN 20). This transformation needs slow and laborious processes, very risky and needing evangelical boldness, marked by a mysticism which nourishes prophecy (cf. VC 80). We must remain vigilant to keep away from the gnostic illumination of the theoreticians and from the verbal proclamations without a praxis.
b. Exploring new meanings. The breaking of taboos which seems evident in the two icons – passing through the dialogic dance of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus and the innovative compassion of the “heretical “ Good Samaritan – should become the inspiration to break so many current taboos both ecclesiastical and cultural and when talking, to narrate stories and not simply to expound theories and universal judgments. The Congress itself has to become an event capable of showing a more charismatic and freeing development, which is participative, not only on paper, and an integration of charisms which can demolish fears and secular separations.
To live a life according to the Spirit it is not possible to do so only by “dreaming” a new life according to the Spirit, but it needs a process of radical transformation which is already glimpsed in the two major actors in our icons. It is necessary to begin to search for new wells of living water, to re-learn at well similar to those “left to us (as a heritage) by our father Jacob,” the art of dialogue which is revealing and healing, in company with all those who are thirsty for sincere affection and for a religiosity neither rigid nor too vague. It is necessary to walk through the streets which go down from the “holy” Jerusalem towards the “depression” of Jericho, that is from the comfortable and privileged life of the “sacred temples” to the hellish depths of oppression and violence. It is necessary to go more deeply into these precarious places in order to gather the “wounded” and entire nations “half dead,” to raise them up and to care for them, and to carry them to safety, giving one’s whole self and not just two denari.
c. Richness of the icons: Many particulars of the icons offered the “occasion,” a pretext, for developing comments often very original: it was that way for the thieves who use violence, for the husbands and their symbolic significance, for the scribe who asks for a theoretical answer, for the beast of burden and the bandages; but also for the unfortunate man “half dead,” for the disciples who were prejudiced against the woman, for the abandoned water pitcher, for the time of midday, etc. The presence – noted also in the comments of the Working Paper – of an interior process of transformation of people was as well broadened in many other aspects of the experience of faith and spirituality.
From the point of view of the impact of the communication of ideas, the icons and their symbolic and metaphorical meaning were very successful, because they pushed thinking towards broader and more original senses, present only in a vague way in the biblical text. Their use was very much appreciated and stimulated creative reactions.
“IT IS I WHO AM SPEAKING TO YOU. . . TAKE CARE OF HIM"
Let us now try to draw some conclusions from the many sided reactions to the Working Paper which we have described up til now. We can speak of the icons as two “small doors” which opened horizons which are very wide and fascinating. We could call this reading meta-textual (or even hyper-textual), because it tries to bring together theory and practice, existence and project, realism and utopia. To use an image which comes from Asia, it is the use of the “third eye,” that of intuition and emotion, which sees into the reality which remains invisible to ordinary vision. Let us identify now some kernels around which it will be possible to summarize what was said implicitly and explicitly.
a. Between paradox and mystery. Consecrated Life was located in the sphere of paradox by various responses. What it is proposing to live and to communicate is in disconcerting contrast to the accepted current cultural values. Present day culture has notably reduced authentic contact with life and this risks moving along on an unreal, virtual wave, to the detriment of deep relationships. A mentality is spred which seems to narcotize in the person the need
• to bring interior unification because of fragmentation,
• to focus on the essential because of consumption to excess of the superfluous,
• to structure time spontaneously, consciously, and interiorly because of the neurotic acceleration of time.
Consecrated life places itself therefore as an alternative to the current way of acting by means of the radicality with which it desires to take up certain evangelical proposals and the very life of Jesus of Nazareth as well (cf. VC 22). Because of this it likes to talk about the following of Christ in almost literal terms, seeking to make that way of living and the options which characterize it contemporary today. Many people think that it is necessary to return to this form following in the footsteps of Jesus and transforming this following into a serious norm of life without taking anything away or becoming hypocritically bourgeois. It is the call to a life “transfigured” and in the “form of Christ” (cf. VC 19) which makes the Father visible, making history alive with the creator Spirit and broadening the horizons which limit existence.
To this aspect, decisive and publicly evident, it is necessary to add the aspect of gratuity, of the wasting and squandering – in common eyes completely irrational – of resources and projects, for passion and compassion, for service and adoration (cf. VC 104-105). Clearly the frequent underlining of a spirituality able to meet the challenges of today and provocative for the aphasia of today points out the need to dismantle the great apparatus of works and structure, even glorious ones, for a more simplified and plain life, in which freely given, immediate and passionate presence is better seen. The works are still numerous and important, the source of prestige but also of problems. The greater number of people almost see in this “the signs” of identity and of the mission of consecrated life. Many asked for the courage to test an apparatus, which resembles a mastodon, to verify that it is working well. Inside this apparatus the members of consecrated life are often trapped and “half dead.” The current mental and material structures often hinder or brake the movement of the living water of the Gospel in history, smothering gospel freedom, through compromises which do not make the presence of the Spirit credible.
We note therefore the necessity of recognizing the signs of “sickness of spirit,” because of burdensome works and styles of life which warp the people. The poor look at us, they make requests of us and wait for us to structure time as God’s time both for the brothers and the sisters in order to make real here and now the plans of God in history, building a world of justice, of peace, and of joy. There is need of “Samaritans” who get down off their beasts of burden and are not hindered or absorbed by the structures, in order to gather the “half alive” and carry them with care, concretely, gratuitously, and tenderly to new inns of healing and liberation.
Finally, there is the prophetic aspect, which is associated with two points already mentioned and gives to both of them an enlightening and exploratory tension not purely functional and organic. Prophecy has an aspect of continuity with the past and with the present, not on a superficial or phenomenological level, but on a level of depth and future projection. The prophet, with creative fidelity (VC 37, 85), shows that the present is not enough for anyone, and scrutinizes the present for any signs of the flowering of the seed of the future sown by the past in the undersides of history. He communicates by means of his ministry that God always takes care of humanity, even when the darkness of history can make one think that he does not exist or that he has forgotten the men and women of our time. The prophet does not break with the past, nor does he cling to the present, consecrating it, but he places them both in an explosive and fruitful tension towards the future, with creative fidelity. This disconcerts those who like lazy and scared maintenance or adore “memory” mythologizing it and preserving it as if it were a fetish.
b. Apocalyptic provocation. Consecrated life has always been considered as a “goad” which announces a future, the Reign of God. It stretches and extends itself towards what we all await, or rather it gives the future an anticipated presentation (or prolepsis) (VC 26). This comes with the detachment from many forms of “possession” and self-realization, considering them transitory or non-vital for entering into the Reign of God (to possess goods, to marry and to have children, to live independently, to pursue a career and power . . .). The members of consecrated life emphasize the great guiding values of the gospel message in view of the final encounter: love, prayer, hope, faith liberty, communion, detachment vigilance, supplication, contemplation, etc. Narrating the gospel with one’s life, or rather becoming “living memory of Jesus’s way of being and acting” (VC 22), the members of consecrated life help men and women of the present times to recognize the traces of God in the beauty of their existence.
The entire qualitative structure of consecrated life – that is the vows, community life, gratuitousness, service, prayer, spiritual struggle, etc., – ought to have this eschatological pressure, this sense of the “beyond” and of the pre-eminence of the “Other.” The world is waiting for persons who live out their existence with wonder, with gratuitousness and gratitude, persons who pray and who structure time and space under the banner of love. The same solitude lived by many as an evil to be lived through can be re-interpreted by consecrated women and men as a constitutive element of human existence, the place where God is present, who loving the person reveals to them their uniqueness. Consecrated life is authentic when it is lived not as a flight from the world and from history but as a ferment and stirring within history: because new heavens and new earth emerge, because God, who is the absolute New (cf. Rev 21:1-7), lives within our limitations making them explode, thus bringing about the new heavens and the new earth.
Today, knowing how to bring together professional knowledge and ongoing formation, cultivating a deep culture, which makes it possible to look at history with an open mind and heart, ready to show to contemporaries paths of hope, are requested. Humanity needs to meet men and women who are moved passionately in the mystical dimension of life, who know how to hear the voice of silence, who are in contact with the flow of existence common to all, and whose word resonates with their life in God. The world needs to see living persons, who assume the sentiments of Jesus Christ in daily life (Phil 2:5), and are witnesses through justice, peace, pardon, mercy, tenderness, freedom, beauty, gratitude, solidarity, meekness, love . . . (cf. VC 27).
From this point of view it seemed that the references to the apocalyptic aspect, that are found in the Working Paper were not redeveloped and reinforced in the responses and in the reactions. The “apocalyptic goad,” strong and decisive, is lacking in consecrated life today. It seems rather to be committed to a “reform” of the watered-down updating, to a weak “refoundation” in which the scandalous apocalyptic provocation which relativizes everything and makes it profane in the name of the awaited fullness, has neither meaning nor function. It is possible to hypothesize that this weakness of apocalyptic thought and the low profile of the responses to its challenges is one of the causes of the fragility of the message that consecrated life is giving today. In this culture strongly moved by apocalyptic fears that paralyze all, a different apocalyptic image is necessary, and consecrated life should work at finding alternative responses.
c. Empathetic and healing function. Towards this sphere the icons clearly go. The wounded and confused feelings in the Samaritan Woman as well as the attention and tenderness of the Good Samaritan towards that “half-dead” traveler were placed in relief. We can translate these aspects with a certain immediacy in consecrated life’s many types of charitable service. All that goes very well, but does not finish here. Many requested a serious effort to explore the ways of building a new society, starting from the depths of mercy, making the body dance and giving to the flesh its meaning as sacrament of grace and of hope. Above all, the request was for knowing how to recognize new ministries of mercy and solidarity.
Also, without particularly insisting, but with a frequency that taken altogether, appears interesting there were many who gave much importance to consecrated life as a “therapeutic experience.” This concerns first of all the members of consecrated life and their own existence: thirst for life and social wounds, lost relationships and wounded feelings, marginalization and a need for tenderness, can become a cry and entreaty and must be guided into a liberating path always open to new ministries. Therefore, it is necessary to be insistent so that the entire system of life and organization of consecrated men and women becomes capable of offering healing and support, care and not violence, “dancing” liberation and not neurotic repression and suspicion of everything.
One reads in VC 87: “Thus, while those who follow the evangelical counsels seek holiness for themselves, they propose, so to speak, a spiritual ‘therapy’ for humanity, because they reject the idolatry of anything created and in a certain way they make visible the living God.” Developing this intuition of a therapeutic function of consecrated life for humanity and joining it with empathetic participation new perspectives are seen opening. Is it worth saying, going beyond personal perfectionism and a view of repressive ascetical renunciation, how can consecrated life carry comfort and hope to a collective way of thinking and seeing, traumatized by many tragedies and social and political absurdities? This could involve the vows being lived and interpreted as new modalities of interpersonal relationships and of cultural ferment, that community life be a realistic reference point as a cultural model for many situations of injustice and conflict (VC 51). The witness of reconciled communities which relate as equals, respecting the diversity of roles, as well as in reference to the service of authority is precious. The same use of goods and material resources and the way of deciding and of developing a mature psycho-affective identity, ought to be truly evangelically authentic. At the same time it should be a force for liberation and a force which says something as well as a force which destroys lying and oppressive structures. Human formation in all its requirements is, therefore, urgent. It becomes an important support for freeing and purifying the roots of existence, often dried up by the encrustation of infantilism and false needs accumulated over time. In order to do this, refoundation at different levels is necessary.
d. . . . starting from incarnation. There emerges from the analysis of the two icons the urgency of having a different kind of relationship with the body and corporality. For a long time a strong accent on spiritualism, to the detriment of the integral development of the person, has caused consecrated life to lose an aspect of incarnation, confirming entire generations in the conviction that to enjoy is an evil and that the body is a kind of “sickness of the spirit” and place where sin is found. In the book of Genesis (Gen 1:31) it is written that the man, just created, was very beautiful and his body was made in the image and likeness of God. Now because of the mystery of the incarnation – in which the Son of God takes a body completely like our own, except sin – consecration cannot leave out the positive aspects of the body and of corporality. In this time in which corporality is desecrated in many forms, consecrated men and women can make visible the beauty of God’s masterpiece by fully taking up their proper corporality, experienced as the “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16).
Integrating harmoniously the biological, psychic, social, and existential levels, consecrated men and women tell how to experience the body fully through their internal integration and communitarian unity. In this time in which materialism alone or spiritualism alone, are exalted, men and women who are deeply human, evangelical, sexually integrated, continuously giving themselves, can attest to the joy of living appropriate corporality and of the wonder face to face with the other. Redefining life starting from a theological and anthropological perspective of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the human face of God, would intend to give to God Himself, the possibility, of making Himself visible and salvific in history, through the corporality of each consecrated man or woman as well.
e. Sowing new hope. Consecrated life embraces the cross with Christ, as a symbol of every obstacle and resistance to the “good news” and takes up the same cause in the face of every unjust and manipulative system of religion. With this witness to men and women of today the infinite love of the Father for humanity and God’s fidelity draws everything towards the new life given in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are in the world many who are beaten and robbed, left on the edges of civilization half-dead, for whom God has a depth of compassion and tears of pity. They are God’s children, their dignity trampled upon, who are waiting for a deeply human presence which would make them experience the closeness of God. Love without end (cf. Jn 13:1), which does not grow numb trying to protect its own legal purity nor is consumed in a closed in and sterile spiritualism, asks consecrated women and men to constantly establish deep relationships, intimate and meaningful, in this society with its fragmented ethos.
In these times the number of persons is growing who live in relationships ever more purely virtual (and unreal) and appear as shipwrecked survivors of the spirit adrift on their life raft on-line. In a certain sense it is as if they give themselves a new identity, fluid, interchangeable, as a puzzle. Really they are as if they were in a labyrinth, without goals or ways out, where losing yourself and finding yourself is the same thing. At the same time that the meta-network connects everything and everybody, life has no more secrets; it is the death of intimacy and tenderness, of secrets and freedom. In this context men and women of God are called to spread identity and hope, goals and reasons for living, remaining in authentic relationships even when the other is disconnected. It is the new way of being “fishers of souls,” through net(-work)s very different from those of the Sea of Galilee.
If the interruption of the way into the future through the frailty of the projects and expectations recalls the fear and the death by bulimia in the present, consecrated women and men can save the world from desperation and from “not thinking,” constructing and reconstructing bridges of relationships at whatever level, making visible the invisible with passion for humanity (VC 27). This seems to be the true new frontier of mission for all those members of consecrated life and for all their charisms.
TO CONTINUE THE JOURNEY . . .
From the responses to the Working Paper it is possible to be disappointed because of a consecrated life which moves along haltingly and is short of breath, above all in the northern hemisphere where consecrated life is going through a phase of weakness of grand ideals and gospel projects. Or it is possible to have a positive confidence in the southern hemisphere, where there is lively and even tumultuous growth, but consecrated life has not yet succeeded in giving a stable form to inculturated models which are new and satisfying for cultures very different from the west.
Therefore, the conviction emerges, with strong evidence that is rather widespread, that this ecclesial and cultural change of vast and novel dimensions, is a call from God and a novel chance in our history. The choice of courageous discernment by all in faith, with a prophetic imagination, is the only choice possible. Because this time of weakness and decomposition of our patrimony and of our projects for the northern hemisphere, but also the growth and prophecy in the southern hemisphere, can become a time of grace (a true kairòs) in the most intense and fruitful sense. The geographic and cultural shifts can become a new stage of refoundation and of evangelical radicality, revisited with new eyes.
It is a matter of being in this history dirtying one’s hands, without pretending not to see, “passing on the other side,” fearful and confused, worried only with our “legal purity.” It is a question of always returning to seek the new living water at the “pure and perennial fountains of the spiritual life” (cf. DV 21). It is necessary to know how to entreat the Lord humbly, in order that he might give us eyes to see the needs and the sufferings of our brothers and sisters. It is a question of being attentive, listening to the Word with the ear of the heart, in order to recognize the time in which “the Father seeks worshipers in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23), in order to be servants of the Word in the new historical areopagi, beyond our frailty. In the daily human fabric as in the great horizons of globalization today we are asked to be prophetic witnesses to truth and freedom, to justice and peace, to tenderness and solidarity.
Consecrated person women and men, fragile and in love, compassionate and realistic, must nurture – narrating and living – nothing other than the parable of wounded existence which grace heals, disquieting painful testimonies that dialogue brings back to authenticity, provocative reactions that call theoretical curiosity to transform itself into compassionate practice, creative gestures of occasional meetings that compassion wraps with new hope.
Bruno Secondin - Diana Papa