CHAPTER II, ARTICLE 3: FORMING THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY (f)
RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE MISSIONS (2)
No.18 of Ad gentes in its last three paragraphs recommends three things to religious institutes in the missions. Firstly, they should pass on to the new nations of the Church their mystical graces and see whether any traditions of the new peoples can “be incorporated into the Christian religious life” (ibid.). Secondly, various forms of religious life should be fostered in the missions in order to show the new Christian peoples the vastness and variety of Christ’s mission to the world. Lastly, the contemplative life should be encouraged everywhere because it belongs to the fullness of Catholic life.
Perhaps we have forgotten the fact that every founder of a religious community is endowed with a mystical experience of an aspect of Christ’s life, which he then passes on to his disciples, e.g. St. Benedict’s experience of Christ’s all-around human perfection, St. Francis’ experience of Christ’s poverty, the experience of the Passion of our Lord by St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, which he passed on to his religious community. Our founder, Abbot Francis Pfanner, had a sense for, and an experience of, the Lord’s desire to see His kingdom spread all over the face of the earth. These graces should be shared with the new peoples of the Church “in keeping with the character and outlook of each nation” (ibid.). The influence, however, should not go in just one direction. The religious institutes should see whether they can adopt any of the traditions of the new peoples, especially those regarding asceticism and contemplation, and integrate them with their own charism.
Over the centuries the Holy Spirit has inspired the creation of forms of religious life to meet the needs of the Church at each stage of its journey through time, e.g. the Benedictines in a time of Church and civil collapse, the Franciscans in a time of growing worldliness in Church and civil society, and the Jesuits to stem the tide of the Reformation. Others were inspired by the Holy Spirit to carry out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in all their variety in the Church. This richness of charisms and apostolates should be passed on to the new Christian nations, no. 18 says, so that the members of these institutes can “devote themselves to various pastoral works” (ibid.) in the missions.
Regarding the contemplative life, the document praises the contemplative institutes for their efforts to bring their way of life to the missions in two different ways. Some groups have tried to adapt their charism and traditions to the local culture, while others have sacrificed their traditions and practices to go back to “more simple forms of early monasticism” (ibid.) in order to connect more genuinely with the faith of the new peoples.
Then no. 18 ends with one of those statements of the Council Fathers that recapitulate so well the centuries long Faith and sense of the Church: “The contemplative life should be restored because it belongs to the fullness of the Church’s presence” (ibid.).