Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: Special gifts of the Holy Spirit Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, Apr. 09, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel RooneyEditor’s note: During this Year of Consecrated Life, this is the third 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.

The decree of the Second Vatican Council on which these reflections are based speaks in the very first paragraph about special gifts of the Holy Spirit which have been imparted to the Church.

The purpose of these gifts is the building up of the Church in the world, and for manifesting God's own kind of Life in the world.

Now, everyone has access to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, thanks to our Baptism and Confirmation. All share in them in some way, although most of us let them lie fallow, do not really call on the Holy Spirit in times of stress and difficulty, and do not really pay attention to the powerful graces which we have received in the Initiation sacraments.

Giving oneself more completely

The Religious Life was created to provide a special kind of "space" in the Church for those baptized and confirmed Christians who long to give themselves more completely in response to the call of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As the council decree states, ". . . All those called by God to the practice of the evangelical counsels and who, faithfully responding to the call, undertake to observe the same, bind themselves to the Lord in a special way, following Christ . . ." (Par. #1).

St. Thomas saw this as a special way of following the "new law of Christ" (Summa Theol, I-II, q. 108, a. 4).

As St. Paul taught, all of us have been called to follow this "new law." Thus, "When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions roused by the (old) law worked in our members and we bore fruit for death. Now we have been released -- for we have died to what bound us -- and we serve in the new spirit, not the antiquated letter" (Rom 7:5-6).

Again, he taught further about our "new life," ". . . You must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth" (Ephes 4:22-24).

What happens in Religious Life

But the new life is something to which all are called. What happens in the case of Religious Life is that the Holy Spirit spurs a person to embrace that new life with as great a totality of personal acceptance as possible.

In other words, one comes to Religious Life not because one hates Christian life in the world, but because one wants to transform one’s response to Jesus in Christian life by making it absolutely the center of one’s existence. The vows, such as poverty, chastity, and obedience, are simply an expression of this desire.

This doesn't mean that one loves others less; indeed, it normally means an increase in love of neighbor. This increase in love is due entirely to a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Without the power of divine love driving one's life, we love only occasionally, intermittently, and with a good deal of self-serving in it, too.

Once the call of Jesus comes to take hold of the heart's loves and hopes and desires, and once the graces of the Holy Spirit sustain one's response to that call, then a reordering of life is necessary. The Church has provided that by the way it has structured Religious Life.

From the Church's effort to help those baptized Christians to respond to this special call, comes the emphasis on prayer and the interior life, as well as apostolic work.


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.