“EVANGELIZATION – DOES IT CALL FOR SOMETHING NEW FROM CONSECRATED LIFE?”
MARKO RUPNIK, SJ
“E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” Va’ e infiamma il mondo. La testimonianza della vita consacrata. Momenti di riflessione sull’occasione dell’Anno della Vita Consacrata. Facoltà di Missiologia, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Roma, 3 dicembre 2015.
We are living in a change of era. This is not just a cultural change, but an epochal change, a change of era. Romano Guardini, N. Berdyaev, Ivanov, all have spoken about this. Something new is being born, and has been in preparation for many years.
We have been living in an age of atomism, of individualism. But now the systems are breaking down. It is not easy to come across persons who are able to really reveal what an institution is all about. It is easier to find persons who show that there are problems within and with the institutions. It is a good moment for the revelation of the person, for a shift from the individual to the person.
Pope Francis has said that the central question for consecrated life and for the church is communion. 50 years ago, Vatican II oriented the church in this direction, the direction of communion. But, as a cardinal said during a synod: from where will this church of communion, this synodal church, come, if we continue with a formation that is totally based on the individual?
In his letter to consecrated persons, the pope has spoken of consecrated life as the home and the school of communion. But how will this be, if we still think that it is the individual who will create community? Theologically this is completely wrong: communion is a divine gift; if it is not given, it cannot be created.
The pope goes further, in his letter: he invites religious to go beyond the boundaries of their charisms. There is a temptation to think of charism as something that distinguishes. But this is wrong! Charisms are our way of belonging to the church, not ways of distinguishing ourselves from one another.
So what does evangelization ask of consecrated persons?
First, we need to realize that the era of the para-state church, the para-imperial church, is over. Consecrated life cannot any longer be thought of as a way of maintaining para-state institutions and functions. The era of functional consecrated life is over. The saints of the last few centuries were all saints of institutions. But the saints of the first centuries of the church were not saints of institutions. They lived in an era that was quite different.
The person of the religious is a theophany, a revelation of God. All our works were originally theophany. “If you do not believe me, believe at least the works, and you will see that I have been sent by God.” John Paul II once said: we have put so much into works of charity, we are exhausted doing good. And yet the world does not believe.
So the question is: how to make the Other emerge? We teach, we speak so much, but we find it difficult to reveal the Lord. Congar said that it took Christians four centuries before they could say anything sensible about the Lord, but they were able to show the Lord all the time.
Second, we need to rethink formative itineraries. Our works demand the perfection of individuals. But no one is interested any longer in our perfection. The world does not need to see our perfection. The individual can reveal only himself, he cannot reveal the Other. But the Son reveals the Father. This is the mission of those who are baptised: to reveal the Other, to reveal the Father. But from the novitiate onwards we are taught to perfect ourselves. To what end? We need to rethink our formation. The devotional tendencies we see around us are horrible. Many, most of these end up in psychotherapy.
We are fixated on the perfection of the individual. But when the individual receives the life of God, he dies. We cannot think of constructing the Christian on the basis of the perfect individual, because the individual dies, and is reborn as person, as part of the Body of Christ.
We have the idea that we first build humanity and then spirituality. But that only means that baptism is an optional. Can we really build humanity without the Spirit? The Fathers of the church were clear on this point: the individual cannot be corrected, but only regenerated. We cannot know God if we do not first become sons of God. Sons are not self-made men. They are generated of the Father. The death of the individual is the discovery of the person. It is not the individual who saves himself, it is in belonging to the Body that we are saved.
Third, consecrated life is meant to be a theophany. Life is communion. God is love. We are constituted as communion. The era of institutions is over.
The first evangelization passed through work. The second also has to pass through work. So we cannot be separated from the world. Congar: why did Vatican II insist so much on the laity? Because only they are still truly in touch with the world – not priests, not religious, but the laity. We have made the mistake of trying to bring the laity into our institutions, but we must do just the opposite: we have to get out of our institutions into the world.
Pope Francis has been saying: from consecrated persons, we ask for testimony. Ivanov says that the nature of the Church is symbolic. Being symbolic: within one reality we discover another. One reality leads to the discovery of another. The world discovers in us the Other. For this, we need to be with the people, in their midst. We are midwives to life, Ivanov used to say. We go to the missions, we build schools and hospitals. We have to make sure they are theophanies as they were meant to be. We need to reflect critically on what has happened among us here.
Fourth, Europa orientale docet. John Paul II believed that East Europe had to speak to the Church. The church in the East was given a time of grace under communism. And any great gift of God must be for the sake of all, for the whole church. By now, unfortunately, the East has imitated the West, and all its mistakes. The grace was this: that when we were freed from all our works, our institutions, even our properties, when we could not even associate, there remained only the person as the locus of theophany. We were able to evangelize, to create networks, to create communion, to fascinate, to attract. There were religious everywhere – they were doctors, nurses, workers, cleaners, they were everywhere. And everything was flourishing. God is giving us a message, a direction, through this experience. God teaches us through history. He is guiding us into a new era, a new human existence, an existence according to God, according to Christ.
Fifth, the mentality of communion. We are stubbornly attached to our mentality, to our ways of thinking, of theologizing. We have many professors of theology, but few who know how to theologize, few who are able to think.
There was a time when churches were theological in their constitution, in their architecture, in the way they were built. In the Church of John the Baptist in France, on the summer solstice the sun shines upon Christ, and on the winter solstice it shines upon the capitals, on the flora and fauna, on creation. Christ, as Ephrem said, illuminates the whole of the cosmos. The ancient churches had the glorious Christ presiding over the apse, and the whole church full of his body, the saints, one leading to the other. And the figures were not perfect, because man offers, but it is God who perfects. The newer churches instead are reflections of individualism: the altar is not connected to the rest of the church; there are many altars, one different from the other; there are many saints and many devotions, and there is the individual who relates to his Christ and to his saint and prays for his intentions.
Theology used to be done in the church itself. There was no need to go to the university to search for it. Now instead, the church [architecture] does not create the mentality of communion. And in fact, we pray, we are even passionate about the church, but we go home and in the evenings we watch the world, at our television sets. Even religious communities. The mentality is created by the world, not by the church.