The prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal Franc Rode, spoke on the origins of the crisis in religious life this week and encouraged authentic renewal by pointing to the continuity of tradition and the decisive contribution of Vatican II.
According to the L’Osservatore Romano, during an extensive speech given in Boston at a meeting of religious men and women, Cardinal Rode said that today there are some “who have chosen paths that have carried them away from communion with Christ in the Catholic Church, even though they have decided to physically ‘be’ in the Church.”
Others, however, “firmly believe in their vocations and seek out ways to reverse the current trend, in other words, to bring about true renewal,” he continued.
Noting that Vatican II has often been misinterpreted by some who have fall into a series of errors and distortions, the cardinal pointed out that “surely there was much to be corrected in religious life and much to be improved in the formation of religious. We should also admit that society posed challenges that many religious were not prepared for,” he said.
In any case, he went on, “we must categorically affirm that not only was the Council not wrong in its drive for renewal in religious life but that it was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so.”
“Religious life, being a gift of the Holy Spirit for each religious and the Church, depends especially on fidelity to its origins, fidelity to the founder and to the particular charism. Fidelity to this charism is essential, because God blesses faithfulness, while he ‘resists the proud.’ The complete rupture of some with the past, therefore, goes against the nature of a religious congregation and in essence, leads to the rejection of God,” he said.
Cardinal Rode said the misinterpretation of the Council made “naturalism accepted as a new way, with obedience (in religious life) becoming its first victim, because it cannot survive without faith or hope. Prayer, especially community prayer and the sacramental liturgy, was minimized or abandoned. Penance, asceticism and what has been called ‘negative spirituality’ became things of the past. Many religious felt discouraged from wearing the habit.”
In addition to these problems, other emerged such as “political and social agitation, which became the focus of their apostolic action. New technology led to the personal interpretation and dissolution of the faith. Everything became a problem to be discussed. With traditional prayer being rejected, the genuine spiritual aspirations of religious have been directed towards more esoteric forms.”
As a result, Cardinal Rode said, religious communities suffered mass exoduses, with charitable ministries and schools suffering the consequences. Vocations declined, and “many of those responsible for the disastrous decisions and actions of the post-conciliar years also themselves abandoned religious life.”
“Many of you remained faithful,” the cardinal said gratefully. “With great courage you see yourselves called to remedy the damage and reconstitute your spiritual religious families.” Central to this renewal is fidelity to the charisms of the founders, which “attracts vocations,’” he said.
“The Council,” he stressed, “insists on this point. “We must guarantee that in our congregations, our lives are fully Catholic and forever aligned with the charism of the founder or foundress. There cannot be contradictions regarding this issue since the charism has been given to the founders in the ecclesial context and has been subjected to the approval of the Church.”
“We should not be surprised that the path we must follow is full of difficulties and challenges,” Cardinal Rode said. “Nevertheless, I want to assure you of my total support for any sincere effort at renewal in each religious family in fidelity to the Church and to its founder.”