CHAPTER II, ARTICLE 3: FORMING THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY (e)
THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
No. 18 of Ad gentes begins with a statement that shows the Council Fathers’ regard for religious life in the missions: “Right from the planting of the Church the religious life should be carefully fostered.”
The Fathers give two reasons for this fostering of the religious life in the missions: firstly, for the help that religious communities render to the missions and, secondly, because religious life makes visible what the Christian vocation is. This second reason for fostering religious life in the missions is expressed thus in our no. 18 of Ad gentes: “Through the deeper consecration made to God in the Church [the consecrated life] clearly shows and signifies the intimate nature of the Christian vocation” (ibid.). Here the text refers to nos. 31 and 44 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.
No. 31 of Lumen Gentium is really about the laity. Only one sentence of the number deals with religious life. It reads: “Religious give outstanding and striking testimony that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes.” That transfiguration and offering of the world to God is the vocation of all Christians. The sentence says that we religious by our life are to give testimony to this by the way we live.
But notice how we are to do that: by living the spirit of the beatitudes. That is a big order! The spirit of the beatitudes is heroic Christianity. Already the first one shows us that: “How blessed are the poor in spirit; the reign of God is theirs” (Mt. 5:3). From there they go on to greater heights all the time until they end with: “Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me” (Mt 5:11). But that is not all! They are to be done with love and joy: “Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt. 5:12).
Here we begin to understand what the Church should look like when the Council declares that all our called to holiness (cf. Chapter V of Lumen Gentium). It is simply a reiteration of what Jesus said to all: “In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). That holds for all, and we religious are called to witness to that by our manner of life.
No. 44 of Lumen Gentium explains: “All the members of the Church should unflaggingly fulfill the duties of their Christian calling. The profession of the evangelical counsels shines before them as a sign that can and should effectively inspire then to do so. The religious state of life, in bestowing greater freedom from the cares of earthly existence on those who follow it, simultaneously reveals more clearly to all believers the heavenly goods which are already present in this age, witnessing to the new and eternal life which we have acquired through the redemptive work of Christ and preluding our future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.”