Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: Pursuit of perfect charity Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel Rooney

Editor's note: During this Year of Consecrated Life, this is the second in a series based on the Second Vatican Council’s document, Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) written by Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, former abbot primate of the Benedictine order who now resides in Madison.

We have seen in the first reflection commenting on Religious Life that the basis for and origin of this way of Christian life is the example and teaching of Jesus (Perfectae Caritatis, #1).

The Second Vatican Council's teaching says that the consecration of Religious Life is focused on the pursuit of perfect charity.

Union with God

This perfect charity is directed first of all toward God himself. That is why all Religious men and women are called to a life of prayer-filled union with God above all else.

In responding to the special call which God has given, they take the commitment made in Baptism and Confirmation to a new level of intensity and self-surrender.

Indeed, the life of the vowed Religious will be structured in such a way that it always keeps this focus, not just in mental intention but even in the scheduling of the day’s activities.

Love of neighbor

Once Religious are clear about the primary focus of their lives being on God, in responsive love according to the first commandment, then it follows that their lives will also want to express the second great commandment Jesus gave in the Gospel (Matt 22:37, 39): love of neighbor.

The Vatican Council spoke of this charity as "being equipped for every good work" (citing 2 Tim 3:17) (cf. Perfectae Caritatis #1). All ministry flows from this impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Religious men and women do ministry not "because they need a job," nor "because they haven't anything else to do," but because the Holy Spirit moves them to express their love of God and neighbor through such service to the Church.

Service takes many forms

This service takes many forms, now, just as it has throughout the history of the Church. These many forms are aimed at "building up the Body of Christ" (Ephes 4:12), and thus leading many others to the same love of God which animates the life and work of Religious.

The council says that these various manifestations of ministry "reveal . . . the manifold Wisdom of God" (citing Ephes. 3:10). These manifestations are gifts -- often we use the term, charisms -- and they "adorn" all of Religious Life, just as the whole Church.

Such gifts make the Church beautiful in the eyes of God. They also make it attractive to the eyes of all peoples.

Sign of God's love

Thus, the educational and charitable outreach of Religious puts a face on the love of Christ for the world (such as, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa, etc.). The self-sacrifice of individual Religious as, for example as a teacher or a nurse, is intended to be a kind of sacrament, a special sign, of the love which God has for the world.

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, to save that needy world (John 3:16). When Religious serve selflessly in various kinds of ministries, they are trying to manifest that divine love in concrete ways that can reach the average person. The hope in all activities of ministry is to draw others to Christ, and through Him, to the trinitarian God of love.

All this theology and spirituality is summed up in #6 of Perfectae Caritatis: "Let those who make profession of the evangelical counsels seek and love above all else God who has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10). And let them strive to foster in all circumstances a life hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3). This love of God both excites and energizes that love of one’s neighbor which contributes to the salvation of the world and the building up of the Church."

In a word, genuine Religious Life can be summed up with a single word: love. It is this which draws one into the Religious Life. It is this which sustains one throughout Religious Life. It is this that is the hoped for and eternal blessing as the end of Religious Life.

The Second Vatican Council called for the renewal of this Life so that this great gift of God might shine more brightly in our world today, to bring that world new life, new hope, and ultimately, eternal life itself.


Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in our churches and other Catholic institutions. If its work would be helpful in your parish, call 608- 203-6735.