CHAPTER VI: COOPERATION
Finally in this last paragraph of no. 40 of Ad Gentes Divinitus the Council Fathers address the secular institutes, the latest form of consecrated life that has come to our Church.
Secular institutes are a rather recent phenomenon in our Church. They were officially recognized and accepted as a branch of consecrated life in 1947 by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution, “Provida Mater Ecclesia,” although there were some groups living this way of life way back in the 1700s already.
What distinguishes secular institutes from other forms of consecrated life is that the members do not wear a habit, nor do they ordinarily live and work in community. They are bands of men and women who feel called by God to dedicate themselves totally to Christ by vows, just as religious do, but to do this while living in the world.
The members of these institutes usually do not live in community. Rather they live either at home or on their own. Community life is usually reduced to regular meetings with other members of the group and to an annual retreat together. Rome, however, wants each group to have a house for its superiors to live in and a house for the care of its sick and aged members.
All the members find their own employment, which is not the same for the whole group. Their witness and apostolate is therefore to be seeds of goodness wherever they are and to be the leaven of the Kingdom in the dough of human society (cf. Mt. 13:33), whatever their employment may be.
The members take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as all consecrated persons do, in order to help them in their striving for the perfection of charity and the closer following of Jesus Christ. But they take private vows, and the vows are tailored to their way of life. For example, their vow of poverty binds them to live a life of simplicity, rather than deprives them of all ownership of property.
What the Council Fathers ask of these secular institutes for the missions is, in fact, very little. They simply state, “Their work, under the authority of the bishop, can be fruitful in many ways for the missions.” The Fathers could hardly ask for more, since the secular institutes do not have a common apostolate as part of their charism, which they could exercise as a group in the missions. Rather the Council Fathers see the secular institutes and their members as a valuable “example of total dedication to the evangelization of the world” in the mission lands. Their members will inspire the new Christians to be good missionaries themselves and to work and pray hard for the conversion of their fellow countrymen to the faith. In other words, their desire to be Gospel “leaven” in human society is a good example for the new Christians in mission lands.
Mary, our Mother, bless all the members of secular institutes. Increase their faith and strengthen their hope so that they remain examples of Christian living for the Church and for the world. Amen.