01 December 2014

Religious Should Never Abandon Prophecy!

In Pope Francis' Apostolic Letter to Consecrated Persons, in the section devoted to his expectations from this year of grace for consecrated life, Francis writes,

"I am counting on you to wake up the world", since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy." He continues, "As I told the Superiors General: Radical evangelical living is not only for religious; it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, a prophetic way." This is the priority that is needed right now: "to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on the earth. . .a religious must never abandon prophecy".  

And further: [[Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.

So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive. Monasteries, communities, centres of spirituality, schools, hospitals, family shelters – all these are places which the charity and creativity born of your charisms have brought into being, and with constant creativity must continue to bring into being. They should increasingly be the leaven for a society inspired by the Gospel, a “city on a hill”, which testifies to the truth and the power of Jesus’ words.

At times, like Elijah and Jonah, you may feel the temptation to flee, to abandon the task of being a prophet because it is too demanding, wearisome or apparently fruitless. But prophets know that they are never alone. As he did with Jeremiah, so God encourages us: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).]]

The occasion of this year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium as well as of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis. These documents have driven the reform and return to the sources which has characterized religious life for the past 50 years. Both the implementation of these documents as well as the accent on being a prophetic presence in the world has met with much criticism of late so it is refreshing to have Pope Francis renew an official recognition of these underpinnings of  the dynamic of contemporary religious life.

As a hermit it is clear to me that Pope Francis esteems all forms of consecrated life, but I strained a bit to hear any reference to eremitical life or the charismatic witness consecrated hermits give in our world. That is really not surprising given the brevity and general focus of the document. I do think it is important for diocesan hermits to reflect on the various expectations Francis outlines as having of religious and of this year: 1) That the old saying will always be true, "Where there are religious, there is joy", 2) that we wake up the world because the distinctive sign of our vocations is prophecy, 3) that we truly be "experts in communion" and make the Church the home and school of communion, 4) to come out of ourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries, (hermits do this in a unique way but this and #3 are especially important in making sure we are not living isolation but rather the silence of solitude which is a covenantal and even a communal reality lived for the sake of others).

And 5) that each form of consecrated life will ask themselves what God and people today are asking of them. For the hermit, whose life of 'the silence of solitude' is to be a gift lived out on behalf of others, this remains a critical question no emphasis on union with God allows us to cease asking. I would argue, in fact, that union with God and an emphasis on the "unitive way," requires this question always be asked and even gives it greater impetus and urgency because God is the ground and source of all that exists as well as the Love-in-Act that binds all together in Love. To the extent we are truly in the 'unitive way' we will find ourselves called by God to love others in concrete, substantial ways as well --- just as the Love of God spills over naturally in creation, covenant, consolation, and completion. We will never be able to cease asking ourselves what others ask of and need from us.

As Francis also writes: [[Only by such concern for the needs of the world, and by docility to the promptings of the Spirit, will this Year of Consecrated Life become an authentic kairos, a time rich in God’s grace, a time of transformation.]] This is as undeniably true for the eremitical life as it is for any other form of consecrated life!