NEW WINE IN NEW WINESKINS
The Consecrated Life and its Ongoing Challenges since Vatican II
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (January 2017)
(Summary made by Fr David Rowan SJ)
These Guidelines are meant to assess with parrhesía – that is, with candidness, boldness and freedom – the wineskins fit to contain the new wines the Spirit continues to give his Church, urging the initiation of changes through concrete short and long-term actions.
- FOR NEW WINE, NEW WINESKINS
Jesus’ Saying Logion
- The saying is present in all three Synoptic gospels. All place it in context of provocative criticisms of the Pharisees. It goes with patching unshrunken cloth onto an old cloak. Luke adds a revealing phrase ‘No one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says: The old is good (Lk5.39”.
- When Luke speaks of the old wine as good he is certainly referring to the attachment that the Pharisees and leaders of the people had to the standardized and rigid forms of the past. Second generation Christians also had to deal with their own tendency not to be totally open to the Gospel’s newness.
- The Gospel message cannot be reduced to something purely sociological. It involves a spiritual orientation that is always new. It requires open-mindedness in order to imagine prophetic and charismatic forms of discipleship that are realized through suitable and perhaps unprecedented schemes. A renewal which is incapable of affecting and changing structures – as well as the heart – does not bring about real and lasting change. Forcing change can lead to rejection. Rejection entails the loss of the effervescence of that vital newness.
Post- Conciliar Renewal
- The adaptation and renewal of the life and discipline of institutes of consecrated life, “according to the needs of our time” was an explicit request of Vatican II. After half a century, we can recognize with satisfaction that the mind of the Council has had particularly rich effect on the consecrated life. Before the Council, religious life saw itself in opposition to the world. In the new season of openness, the consecrated life, for the benefit of the entire ecclesial body, felt itself pushed toward the front life of exploring a new relationship between the Church and the world.
- All institutes of religious life have done their best to respond to call of Vatican II.
- Vita Consecrata (JPII 1996) describes consecrated life as a proclamation of faith in the Trinity. From this perspective there emerges the great challenge of unity and the need for consecrated to take a prayerful, testimonial, and martyrial ecumenism as their high road.
The New Paths Challenge Us
- New poverties question the conscience of many consecrated persons and press traditional charisms to respond in new ways. Experiences of ministry and presence have been initiated in unknown or multi-religious contexts. This brought great changes in religious families, in models of Church and has led to innovative styles of spirituality. Traditional formation programs were now unsuitable for new vocations and new contexts. While this was enrichment to some, it brought tensions leading some institutes to breaking point.
- The evolution of society and culture at present is chaotic and unforeseen, meaning consecrated life has to face continual adjustment. Leadership is unable to pass from everyday administration to one that is prepared to face new realities. Only through a communion of intention will it be possible to manage transitions with patience, wisdom and foresight. The vital commitment to renewal and creativity seems to have been followed by a stagnation with no way out.
- What is the quality of the new wine which has been produced in the long season of post conciliar renewal? How is the harmony and cohesion between the structures, organisms, roles and forms of consecrated life which have existed for quite some time and those introduced in recent years in response to the Council. Are the elements of mediation that operate in consecrated life adequate to welcome today’s most apparent newness? Is what we are savouring and offering to drink truly new wine? Or is this wine watered down to make up for the acids it contains because of bad harvest or poorly pruned vines?
- We can no longer put off the task of understanding together the knot which needs to be untied in order to shake of the paralysis blocking the dynamic growth and prophetic nature of consecrated life. It is important that we underline that the foundations of every journey is the need of a new thrust toward holiness on the part of consecrated men and women. “For new wine for new wineskins!…What does the Gospel bring us? Joy and newness.” Pope Francis.
II ONGOING CHALLENGES
- Jesus says about resistance to change “No who has been drinking old wine desires new for he says the old is good” (Lk5.39). Every established system tends to resist change, hiding inconsistencies or accepting the blurring of the old and the new.
Vocation and Identity
- We note the persistent high levels of those leaving the consecrated life (not only the young but also those of advanced age). These crises are often the result of some underlying disappointment at living in an inauthentic common life.
- It is difficult to manage on the one hand a few dozen elderly members tied to the classic cultural and institutional traditions which have hardly altered; on the other hand, a large number of young members from different cultures who are agitated and feel marginalized. Pressure is then put on those in decision making positions. It is necessary to take into consideration the process of de-westernization. What is important is not the preservation of models but rather the willingness to re-examine, in creative continuity, the consecrated life as the evangelical memory of a permanent state of conversion out of which insights and concrete choices flow.
- Institutes have made considerable effort in this area assisted by Conferences of Major Superiors. Despite this, there is still insufficient integration between the theological and anthropological vision in the concept of formation. There is no interaction and dialogue between the two essential and indispensable components of the growth process; the spiritual and human dimension. They need to be attended to in a complementary and harmonious way. This needs to be accompanied by an awareness of the specific anthropology of various cultures and of the specific sensibility of the younger generations, with particular reference to the new contexts of life.
- Even though, every Institute has issued its own formation guidelines, the implementation often remains improvised and undervalued. This happens particularly in institutes for women where the urgency of the apostolic work takes priority over a fruitful, systematic, and organic formative journey. Pressure from work risks the harmful regression of the progress made in the post-conciliar period. Intermittent attendance of theological courses, and the exclusive attendance at courses to obtain professional degrees should be avoided. One of the risks is that each member creates their own world, access to which is jealously closed.
- The shortage of members adequately prepared for formation is widespread. Formation cannot be improvised and demands both long term and continuous preparation. For formation to be effective it must not be a “one-size-fits-all” program but be strictly based on a personalized pedagogy, This entails the recovery of the ‘initiation model’ which entails contact between the master and the disciple who walk side by side in trust and hope. Care must be taken in choosing formators as their mission is to transmit ‘the beauty of following Christ and value of the charism by which this is accomplished.’ They are to be ‘very familiar with the path of seeking God.’ Formation activity is not only for formation directors but needs the participation of the entire community, for that is where initiation into the hardships and joys of the life together takes place, welcoming others as a gift from God.
Much is said about on-going formation but little is done about it. It is urgent that a culture of ongoing formation be put in place. it is more and more important that a serious introduction into government be included in ongoing formation since government is so fundamental and important to the life the community.
Reciprocity between Man and Woman
- We have inherited a mentality that emphasized the profound differences between man and woman instead of their equality in dignity. Multiple one-sided prejudices in society and the Church have prevented recognition of feminine gifts. Consequently, consecrated women have been marginalized in the life and mission of the Church. Given that the 20th century has been defined as the woman’s century yet in the ecclesial community, and even among consecrated women themselves, there is an attitude of resistance to this sensibility. With the encouragement of recent popes many consecrated women offer a biblical vision of humanity which confronts a society marked by chauvinistic stereotypes. The goal of this intellectual work is to promote brotherly and sisterly relationships among consecrated me n and women within the Church so as to become a model of anthropological sustainability.
- Despite progress made, a balanced synthesis has yet to be attained. Structural obstacles persist and more than a little suspicion lingers when an opportunity arises to “provide room for women to participate in different fields including decision making processes and above all in matters which concern women themselves” We are far from the liberating message received from Christ. John Paul II and Pope Francis assert “Consecrated women therefore rightly aspire to have their identity, ability, mission and responsibility more clearly recognized, both in the awareness of the Church and in everyday life.” True maturation of the complementarity between man and woman is lacking in the sphere of consecrated life. There is need for a pedagogy which enables younger members to attain a healthy balance between self-identity and alterity [otherness]. Older members need help in accepting respectful and tranquil reciprocity. There is a cognitive dissonance that runs between older and younger religious. For one group, relations between women and men are characterized by tremendous reserve, even phobia; for the other, by openness, spontaneity and naturalness.
Service of Authority
- This is not excluded from the ongoing crisis affecting consecrated life. Some superiors insist on the personal character of their authority, almost to the point of devaluing the collaboration of their councils. This results in weak practice of co-responsibility in governance with no delegation of authority. Some superiors do not take capitular decisions into account. In some cases, the distinction between general, provincial, and local levels get muddled because the autonomy which corresponds to the subsidiarity of each level is not upheld. The phenomenon of superiors who only worry about upholding the status quo is well known.
- In serious matters, it not wise to resort to majorities pre-established by authority. Governance based on strategic alliances is even less acceptable as it destroys the communion of charisms within institutes and negatively affects members’ sense of belonging. John PauI II reminded us of Benedict’s rule “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” No one in authority – not even the founder- can be the exclusive interpreter of the charism. Recently in institutes recently founded, there has been the manipulation of the freedom and dignity of persons – sometimes leading to sexual intimacy and great scandal.
- Those in authority must not encourage infantile behavior such as insisting on the constant asking for permission to carry out normal everyday tasks. This seems to motivate numerous members to leave as this is the only way to respond to an unbearable situation. Every departure should be a moment of questioning. Authoritarianism weakens the vitality and fidelity of consecrated persons. The authority of the religious superior must be characterized by the spirit of service, in imitation of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.
- Replacing wineskins does not happen automatically but requires commitment, skill, and the willingness to change. There must be a willingness to renounce every form of privilege. No change is possible without renouncing obsolete models so as to be open to new horizons and possibilities with regard to government, the common life, the administration of assets and mission; this is especially important for those in authority. In some congregations, especially those of women, some individuals remain in various functions of governance for too many years. Regulations that would prevent the keeping of offices beyond the canonical deadlines would be helpful.
- Clericalisation of the consecrated life has intensified in recent decades. One obvious result is the numerical crisis in lay religious institutes. Another effect has to do with religious priests who are dedicated almost exclusively to the life of the diocese and less to -community life which is thereby weakened. Theological and ecclesiological reflection on the figure and function of the religious-priest remains open especially when they take on pastoral service. The reality that religious priests are welcomed in good will by a bishop without adequate discernment and inquiry needs to be addressed, as does the case when seminarians dismissed from a diocese and welcomed into religious institutes without adequate discernment.
- What used to work in a pyramidal and authoritative relational context is no longer desirable nor liveable because of our sensibility to communion and the way we feel and want to be part of the Church. For some, the terminology of superiors and subjects is no longer suitable. True obedience does not diminish the rendering of obedience, in the first place, to God. This is true for the person in authority as well as the person who obeys. Pope Francis urges “communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another.” When the conviction of an individual, matured through discernment, about what should be done, does not coincide with what is being asked by the superior, then charitable obedience for the sake of communion is put into practice. (St Francis of Assisi: Admonitions6)
There is a widespread impression that fraternity is often missing in the superior-subject relationship. The institution is deemed more important than the persons who compose it. The main reasons for leaving are: the weakening of the vision, conflicts in the common life and a fraternal life that lacks humanity. The Code of Canon Law states: “Superiors are to exercise their power in a spirit of service…they are to govern their subjects as sons and daughters of God, and, promoting the voluntary obedience with reverence for the human person,…superiors are to strive to build a community of brothers or sisters in which God is sought and loved above all things.”
- The connection of superior-founders to their new foundation needs particular consideration. Attitudes often betray a narrow concept of obedience and can become dangerous. Infantile subjection and scrupulous dependence are promoted instead of collaboration “with an active and responsible obedience” resulting in harming the dignity of a person to the point of humiliation. The distinction between the internal and external forum is not always respected. This distinction prevents psychological subjection that could cause a certain control of consciences. In this context, it is necessary that the figure of the superior should be separated from that of the founder.
- Consecrated persons are called to be truly faithful and creative in order not to weaken the prophetic call of their common life within the community, and their solidarity with those living outside their community, especially the poor and weakest. We need to refocus on economic and financial transparency as a way to recover the true evangelical significance of a genuine communion of goods, and also a tangible sharing with those who live near us.
- An administrative style in which the economic autonomy of a few co-exists with the dependence of others is unacceptable. This undermines the sense of reciprocal belonging and the guarantee of equity among members. The lifestyle of individuals does not excuse the lack of serious and prudent discernment on the poverty of the institute through meaningful witness in the Church and among God’s people.
- Rooted in the primacy of being over having, consecrated persons should assume an ethic of solidarity and sharing as the basis for their actions. This prevents the administration of resources exclusively in the hands of a few. The administration of an institute is not a “closed circuit” otherwise it would not express ecclesiality. The goods of institutes are ecclesial goods to promote the human person, mission, charitable sharing and solidarity with the people of God. Solicitude and care for the poor can give new vitality to an institute. This solidarity should also be extended to other institutes. Why not consider the pooling together of resources, especially among those institutes going through situations of need? It would be a beautiful witness of communion within the consecrated life, a prophetic sign in a society dominated by a new tyranny…the tyranny of power and possessing which knows no limits.
III PREPARING NEW WINESKINS
- Jesus words and gestures continually urge us towards a process of infinite openness to the newness of the Kingdom. The life of Jesus Christ is the story of a new praxis on which is rooted the new life of his disciples.
Faithfulness in the spirit
- In the light of the open challenges presented earlier, we are called to abandon the complacent attitude that says, “We have always done it this way”. We have to be bold and creative in rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization. We need to discover new paths towards authenticity of witness and initiate processes of purification and healing from the leaven of malice and evil (1Cor 5:8). In this there will be inevitable tensions and suffering which can be signs of a new gestation.
- Pope Francis’ daily solicitations for an evangelical joy without hypocrisy should inspire a simplification of ways in order to retrieve the faith of the simple and the audacity of the saints. The originality of the Gospel hands on concrete attitudes and choices: the primacy of service (Mk10: 43-45) and the constant movement toward the poor and solidarity with the least (Lk9: 48); the promotion of the dignity of persons and subsidiarity.
- The consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling. It is thus in a privileged position within the dimension of evangelical prophecy. This prophetic dimension is the sign and fruit of its charismatic nature, making it capable of inventiveness and originality. This requires continuous availability to the signs coming from the Spirit to the point of listening to the still soft breeze (cf.1 Kgs 19:12).This is the only attitude that permits being reborn to a new hope.
- This identity is not an immobile and theoretical given. It arises from a shared process of growth. The generational gap, inculturation, multi-culturalism, and Intraculturality can move institutes from a place of weariness to a milieu which challenges them to true communitarian dialogue. Only in this way will everyone feel responsible in the communitarian project, which becomes a mutual support in fulfilling the vocation of each.
Formation Models and the Formation of Formators
- Pope Francis says, “We must always think of the People of God in all of this…We must not form administrators, managers, but fathers, brothers travelling companions.” “Formation is a work of art, not policing.’ he says. Many institutes and societies have committed themselves to responding to these new demands by adapting their formation programmes. Revision is often necessary as the language of these formation programmes is often copied from others or unsuitable.
- Pope Francis has told the Superiors General that Ongoing formation needs special attention.
a) It is not just a matter of being up-to-date regarding new theologies, ecclesial norms or new studies relating to the history and charism of one’s own institute. The task is one of reinforcing, or often rediscovering, the institute’s appropriate place in the Church at the service of humanity. A second conversion often comes during decisive moments in life such as middle age, a crisis situation or withdrawal from active life due to illness of old age.
b) We all know that formation is a lifetime activity but we admit we do not yet have a culture of ongoing formation. We have not yet found concrete programs, at either individual or communitarian levels, which translate into a real journey of growth in creative fidelity, with lasting effects in actual life.
- c) Ongoing formation is not just keeping oneself up-to-date or feeling and meeting an eventual need for spiritual renewal. It is a continual attitude of listening, sharing, and allowing oneself to be touched, educated, provoked and enlightened by all that happens in daily life – by life and history, near and far. There is still a weak understanding of ongoing formation being only truly ‘ongoing’ when it takes place in everyday realities.
- d) Initial formation cannot be content with forming persons to be docile, and according to the customs and practices of the Congregation. It must render a young person open to day-to-day formation [docibilis]. It is forming a heart free to learn from daily life throughout his or her life according to how Christ lived – by placing oneself at everyone’s service.
e) It is indispensable that a reflection on the structural-institutional dimension of ongoing formation be carried out. As, after the Council of Trent, seminaries and novitiates were set up for initial formation, so today we are called to create models and structures that support each consecrated person’s journey toward a progressive conformation to the sentiments of the Son (Phil2:5).
- It is the specific task of superiors, through sincere and constructive dialogue, to accompany those in formation or those who find themselves in various ways on the formative journey. Emergent difficulties necessitate the promotion of a fraternal life in which humanizing and evangelical elements are balanced. The community is, in fact the foremost place of ongoing formation.
- A “new professionalism” should appropriately prepare the formation of formators in multicultural contexts. Formators should be selected who are truly convinced that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, ‘remaining completely true to itself with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it also reflects the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root’. This requires competence and humility.
Towards an Evangelical Relationship
Reciprocity and Multicultural processes
- Reflection on the consecrated life for women means asking concrete questions both about their institutions and about consecrated women themselves – as individuals and as a community. In particular, cultural diversities require the double task of rooting oneself in a particular culture and of transcending its limits in an evangelical atmosphere that is ever-widening. With religious profession, consecrated persons choose to mediate between their own specific cultural heritage and their desire for the evangelical life, which widens their horizons and deepens their sensibility. There is a need to reconsider the theology of the consecrated life in its constitutive elements, accepting the realities emerging from the female world and harmonizing them with those from the male one.
- Urgent and focused attention needs to be given to the recent and hasty process of internationalization of institutes and societies especially those for women. Geographical expansion has not been accompanied by an adequate modification of styles and structures, mindsets and cultural consciousness that allow for true inculturation and integration. In particular, this lack of renewal concerns how women’s way of feeling is to be given greater value in the Church and in society. The lack of awareness or, worse, the dismissal of the “woman question” has negative consequences and can do great harm to younger generations of women. They find themselves obliged to adopt models of behaviour that have become obsolete. They become trapped in a “servitude” rather than serving in evangelical freedom.
- Such processes of internationalization should oblige all institutes (male and female) to become laboratories of supportive hospitality where different cultures can acquire strength and meaning unknown elsewhere and therefore become prophetic. This will help all to be converted to the Gospel without renouncing their particularities.
Sometimes, having a weak and unacculturated anthropological-spiritual vision of the female identity risks extinguishing or harming the vitality of present members. Much still needs to be done to encourage community modes which are suitable for the female identity of consecrated women. Relational structures of equality and sisterhood between superiors and sisters must be reinforced. Care is to be taken that the difference between consecrated women who serve in authority or have the task of administering goods and the sisters who depend on them does not become a source of suffering because of disparity and authoritarianism.
Service of Authority: Relational Models
- Since the Council the centrality of the role of authority has given way to the centrality of fraternal dynamics. Authority must be at the service of communion, accompanying brothers and sisters towards conscious and responsible fidelity. In fact, a dispute among brothers or sisters and listening to each individual involved becomes an essential occasion for the exercise of the service of authority in an evangelical way.
- The challenge in a superior-subject relationship lies in the responsible sharing of a common project. Hence the requests for reformulating the terms ‘superior’ and ‘subject’. Perfectae caritatis said “The manner of living, praying and working should be suitably adapted everywhere to the necessities of the apostolate and the demands of culture and social and economic circumstances.”
- A service of authority which fosters collaboration and a common vision of the fraternal lifestyle is to be encouraged. It is disconcerting that more than 50 years after the Council there are government styles and practices that distance themselves from or contradict the spirit of service to the point of authoritarianism.
- Pope Francis admonishes: “Let us think of the damage done to the People of God by men and women of the Church who are careerists, climbers, who ‘use’ the People, the Church, our brothers and sisters – those they should be serving – as a spring board for their own ends and personal ambitions. These people do the Church great harm.” Those who exercise the service of authority must not give in to the temptation of personal self-sufficiency, believing that everything depends on him or her.
- Self-referential authority detracts from the evangelical logic of responsibility among brothers and sisters. Even in situations of conflicts and disputes, recourse to authoritarianism triggers a spiral of misunderstandings and stokes disorientation and distrust within the institute or society. Those called to the service of authority should have a balanced sense of responsibility towards their brothers and sisters, “promoting the voluntary obedience of their subjects with reverence for the human person.”
- Those in the office of governance for a defined time should not continue for a long period without interruption. A careful evaluation of the slowness in the replacement of superiors shows that it seems to be motivated more by a concern to ensure continuity in the management of works and less by attention to the other needs for the religious- apostolic animation of communities. The presence of a younger generation of brothers and sisters creates the conditions for a generational change. Delay in change of offices could often be understood as a lack of confidence in the younger generation.
- Pope Francis said: “It is good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young; and it is good for the young to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom, and carry it forward, not so as to safeguard it in a museum but to carry it forward addressing the challenges that life brings…”
The Service of Authority: Chapters and Councils
- The chapter is to be composed in such a way that, representing the entire institute, it becomes a true sign of its unity in charity. Electing members to chapters cannot disregard the changed cultural and generational make up of institutes today. The multicultural dimension must be expressed fairly and equitably in the chapter’s composition.
- Unsuitable and obsolete rules can produce unbalanced representation, subjecting the chapter’s composition to inappropriate cultural hegemonies or to restricted generational frameworks. It is necessary to open representation to those of different cultures and to trust those considered too young but who in other fields – both civil and cultural – exercise significant responsibilities.
- The pressure to reach unanimity and the possibility of attaining it are not utopian goals, but on the contrary, express the clearest sign of listening and collective openness to the Spirit. “Discernment does not stop at describing situations, and problems… but always goes beyond and manages to see possibility behind every face, every story, and every situation.” (Pope Francis) The general chapter is the forum of personal and collective obedience to the Holy Spirit. This docile listening is made possible by bending our intelligence, heart, and knees in prayer.
- The Chapter also includes the election of the Superior General. There is a recent tendency to resort to postulation. Canons 180-183 guide us on this. The required majority is at least two thirds of the votes, thus encouraging prior discernment. Some have introduced informal or preliminary consultations.
- General chapters ordinarily elect the council which is a collaborative body in the government of an institute or Society. A personal and confident participation in the community’s life and mission is required. If uneasiness and misunderstandings among councilors are not addressed in time, the common good of the institute can be compromised. The council instead of being preoccupied with its own image should be concerned about its credibility as a collaborative body in the government of the institute.
- The international composition of a chapter is usually expressed in the multicultural configuration of the council as well. Many already have this tradition but newer institutes are in a period of apprenticeship towards “making present in Catholic unity the needs of different peoples and cultures” (Pope Francis). Cultural and generational change should not lead to situations that can compromise the internal dynamics of conciliar discernment and, consequently, good governance.
- Members of a council from different cultures and generations – an already complex combination – should foster a new impetus for facing a sustainable future in the institute. Initiation into a role of responsibility is done through experience. Sometimes it is good to rediscover or reconsider the guidelines that have developed regarding the tradition of government in institutes. The near future cannot restrict the horizons: a new professionalism (with its knowledges and skills) can broaden our horizons. It will keep us from being short-sighted prisoners remaining on the margins of the future.
- In these decades of conciliar renewal, consecrated men and women have worked with generous commitment in the vineyard. Now is the time for harvesting and for the new wine to be squeezed and collected into suitable
The new wine requires the ability to move beyond inherited models in order to appreciate the newness provoked by the Spirit. Even the new cloak that Jesus talks about in the same gospel passage has been completed through the various phases of the renewal process. The time has come to joyfully wear it before the people of faith.
- New wine, new wineskins and new cloak indicate a season of maturity that cannot be jeopardized by imprudent compromises. Old and new do not go together because each one pertains to its own season. They are fruits of different times and skills and their genuineness should be preserved according to their own right. May the Master of the vineyard grant us the knowledge to protect the newness that has been entrusted to us without fear and with renewed gospel impetus.
- Holy Mary, Woman of the new wine, protect our desire to proceed in obedience to the newness of the Spirit. Make us docile to his grace and industrious in the preparation of wineskins capable of containing and not wasting the vine’s fermented juice. Teach us to do that which your Son will tell us so that we might sit each day at his table. Nourish hope in us as we await the day when we will drink of the new fruit of the vine with Christ in the Kingdom. (Mt 26:29)