In the course of church history there have always been “men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an undivided heart (cf. 1Cor 7:34)”. However, their history has always been marked by ups and downs to the extent that, at certain stages, religious life had to be reborn from “its own ashes”.
Even today, a realistic look at the situation of the Church, of the world in general and of consecrated life in particular impels us to also recognize that the graph of the history of religious life has taken a “descendant” trajectory. In effect, there is a sense of discomfort – vague but profound – in which many religious men and women live.
This is manifested by the fact that what some of them believe – or say they believe – does not impact sufficiently how they live. Moreover, as the document “Starting afresh from Christ” states:
“In addition to its life-giving thrust, capable of witness and self-sacrifice to the point of martyrdom, consecrated life … experiences the insidiousness of mediocrity…, of the progressive taking on of middle class values and of a consumer mentality. The complex management of works, while required by new social demands and norms of the State, together with the temptations presented by efficiency and activism, run the risk of obscuring Gospel originality and of weakening spiritual motivations. The prevalence of personal projects over community endeavours … deeply corrodes the communion of brotherly and sisterly love.
[In reality] the great treasure of the gift of God is held in fragile earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7) and the mystery of evil also threatens those who dedicate their whole lives to God”.
Or to say it simply consecrated life, as we know it today, is passing through an undeniable crisis.
Nevertheless biblical, scientific, spiritual and historical research all show that every crisis is a privileged catalyst of renewal, provided it is well managed. Originally ‘crisis’ referred to the state of decision making, the situation of a life open to several possibilities. So it doesn’t necessarily have a negative meaning(though in common language it is so). Rather it refers to a possibility of growth in an individual, in a community/ institution, or the opposite, depending on how it is handled.
That is why the Church affirms that “the difficulties and the questioning which religious life is experiencing today can give rise to a new kairos, a time of grace”.
the Pallottine charism as one of the responses
Actually, there are many initiatives aimed at helping to bring about this new “kairos”, this time of grace. My own research: “Current crisis in the consecrated life: prospects for renewal and the contribution of the Pallottine charism”, is intended to fit into the general pattern of such initiatives that aim to find ways and means to emerge ‘victorious’ from the current crisis. Two proposals are presented – a triple conversion (intellectual, moral and religious) and an approach of “re-foundation” or of rendering religious life “more vital” and “more consecrated”.
Faced with the current crisis, I believe that the Pallottine charism can be very useful in these devisive times. It suggests ten aspects of fidelity – a ‘decalogue of fidelity’ – in order for an institute to dynamically retain its vocation to be a “memoria Iesu”, an evangelical witness of Jesus to the Church and the world.
While the following elements are present in other ‘charisms’ within the Church, their originality lies mainly in the intensity and new meaning that Vincent Pallotti gave to them:
a synthetic view of the first three components
What follows is a synthetic view of the first three of these components, with the hope of developing the other seven on another occasion.
The first contribution appears to be a clarion call to be faithful to the primacy of God and his ongoing search. Indeed, God was always at the center of the world and life of Pallotti. And it is at the heart of the spiritual legacy he bequeathed to his disciples.
The whole life of “Don Vincenzo” and his writings reflect his profound and lively experience of God and his union with Him in Jesus Christ. They also show his ongoing effort to participate in the divine life of communion with the Holy Trinity. Thanks to this experience Pallotti felt so loved by God, and consequently also loved Him so much in return, that he vowed to do nothing that displeased Him. He reminds today’s religious men and women that the primacy of God has been and still is the indispensable requirement of religious life.
The second contribution of the Pallottine charism consists in fidelity to the centrality of Christ. Indeed, Vincent had a firm conviction that to achieve the Christian life in communion with God, Jesus Christ, as the most perfect model of Christian being, must be at the center of one’s life.
He also affirmed that “Jesus Christ is the divine pattern of all mankind” and that “the life of every Christian must be the imitation of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. Thus, placing Christ at the center once more and always starting from Him, from his Gospel, consecrated men and women can become again very significant in today’s society which is waiting to see in them a reflection of the actual behavior of Jesus, of His love for each person without distinction or qualification.
Without doubt, Pallotti truly was a “prophet of the spirituality of communion”. Following his example, the Union of Catholic Apostolate, his foundation, wants to be a communion of the faithful who are united with God and among themselves according to the charism of their Holy Founder.
Being and doing so, the Union – that is, it’s ideals – represents a very eloquent paradigm for consecrated life today weakened by the spirit of individualism, the virus of fragmentation and of individual achievement. The Union shows the direction that consecrated life communities – Pallottine communities included – should take in these difficult moments: “that of spreading the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the Church community, even beyond its boundaries, by beginning or continuing a dialogue in charity, especially in those places where today’s world is torn apart by ethnic hatred or senseless violence”.
Eugene Niyonzima sac [SF] – Rome – ITALY