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History of Religious Life

New Testament Origins of Religious life – Part 2

Total Dedication

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Institute on Religious Life and the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence of Chicago bring you this second tape in the series of conferences given by Fr. John A. Hardon S. J. on the theme: The History of Religious Life. On this tape Fr. Hardon concludes the first lecture in this series entitled New Testament Origins of Religious Life, under the subtitle: Total Dedication. Father Hardon.

Christ - The First Religious

Part II. Total Dedication. Having seen very briefly that Christ was and remains - notice, remains - He is the First Religious. He not only came first; He remains our primary motive and the primary means. The key word - if we were to analyze more closely - what is the key word in what Christ did during His own mortal Life on earth? What did the immediate followers of Christ who formed with Him the first community, what is the key word that summarizes and thus distinguishes religious life from other ways in which Christ can be followed? The distinctive word is “total”, or the noun “totality”. You know that twenty years ago I couldn’t have been giving this conference. The Second Vatican Council has very profoundly analyzed the meaning of religious life more clearly than its ever been analyzed before. Honest! One reason they’re so many people leaving. They are being told what it is or they’d rather not stay.

Three Kinds of Totality

What did the Church tell us? And we go back to Christ Himself and His immediate followers. Three kinds of totality, we are told by the Church, identify religious life as first practiced by the Savior and His immediate followers and to be somehow imitated by all who since the first century claim to be religious.

1. Totality of Sacrifice

There was first, totality of sacrifice. Meaning what? Meaning that those who have the grace literally give up the exercise, never the natural right, but the exercise to possess or, at least, to use material goods as their own. That’s the first kind of totality of sacrifice. Did Christ do that? He did. Did His immediate followers, His close intimates, do that? They did.

Sacrificing Right to Marry

Second, the sacrifice of giving up the use of one’s perfectly natural right to marry and to beget children. Do we have the right? We do. Can we yield the right? No. Can we, under the Church’s guidance, sacrifice the use of the right? Yes.

Religious Give Up Use of Their Right to Autonomy

And third, that one who becomes a religious in imitation of Jesus gives up the use of his or her right to autonomy. There are few more important words in the spiritual vocabulary today than autonomy, derived from two Greek words; εautós, which means self and vóµos which means law. Where I am, as far as I can under God be a law to myself. Correct? Autonomy means always within the limits of the divine law. When I get up when I wish, I go to work when I want, I do this or I do that. Did I sacrifice that kind of autonomy by one’s consecrated obedience to Religious Superiors? Did Christ do that? He sure did! Were Mary and Joseph superior to Jesus? Well, yes and no. They were not superior because they were creatures and He was God, but they were taking the place of God; and to that extent they were superiors. That’s the first kind of totality that Christ practiced, that His immediate followers practiced and that ever since, religious as the Church is now telling us with crystal and clarity, is the first condition for religious life.

2. Totality of Service

There is a totality of service. When Christ came into the world to serve, He came to serve others. He did not come to serve Himself. Those, who like Him, become religious, become religious in order to serve others. But I would like to add, to serve others as the Church bids them serve others: In other words, to serve the people of God through the directives or under the aegis of the hierarchical Church, under the Holy See.

3. Totality of Duration

The third totality is the totality of duration. On the most telling statements of the Savior was on the Cross when He said, depending on the translation you read; “It is finished.” Christ’s service of His heavenly Father in meeting the needs of those whom He came to save was until death. This means that everyone who has a genuine religious vocation intends to make a lifetime and not just a temporary or part time commitment of sacrifice to God and of service to the Church. There are not or there should not be any associate members in a religious community. We don’t put in a forty or even a fifty-hour week. That’s why I don’t like to hear people saying they are retired. Retired from what? When I hear religious going on a vacation - well now don’t get me wrong- we all need a break but from what I hear some religious when they take a vacation seem to be taking a vacation, so they think, from the religious life! This is twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year, until death.

Distinction Between His Followers and His Believers

Against this background of what religious life is it becomes easier to cope with the more difficult question that we still have to resolve. At this point I want to be as clear as my language can make it. Here’s the question. Did the Savior during His visible stay on earth distinguish between His close followers and those who, well, were to listen to Him and believe in Him? His believers. Yes He did. And the whole climate of the New Testament makes the distinction obvious. There are always the people who listened to Christ, who heard His sermons and parables by the thousands. And say on Pentecost Sunday where the first converts to be baptized; but there were also those from the beginning whom He called His friends. If I’m not clear here, the rest of the course will be wasted.

He chose, He picked, He selected

The Evangelist and St. Paul give different names, disciples, intimates, simply followers. And although the English word is Friends: the Greek word is Lovers. Reread the Gospels with this in mind and you’ll be shocked to see how often the Savior distinguished. Guess to whom He first preached the Beatitudes? His immediate followers only. With whom and for whom did He first consecrate bread and wine into His Body and Blood? And after His Resurrection of the tens and maybe hundreds of thousands that somehow had heard about or maybe even witnessed the Via Crucis on the way to Calvary. There were not all that many who saw Him after the Resurrection. He chose, He picked, He selected. If, then Christ and this is a strange expression but it’s the only one that helps me, at least, to make it clear. If Christ was the first Divine Religious, than certain chosen of His followers were the first human religious. And they were the Apostles and after Pentecost it began with those who waited as Christ told them for the coming of the Spirit. A total, and the numbers are even counted - the evangelists keep counting people - notice who belongs, who’s in this inner circle? Ah, these are harsh words on today’s democratic ears: A total of about one hundred twenty including we are told - this should please all of you - women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus. How’s that? That’s how it all began.

Specialists in The Practice of Holiness

For our purpose, what deserves emphasis is that already in the Gospels the Savior distinguished some persons to whom He said, “Come, follow me.” He didn’t shout out to the crowd of five or more thousand - look you people way in the back - follow me. Right? He picked, He chose and He chose the most unlikely people in Palestine. Now let’s be clear. It is not as though the Apostles were necessarily better, the other contemporaries of Jesus. Can’t be. There was a Judas. There was a Peter. And there was a Thomas. That’s quite a percentage out of twelve Apostles - a traitor, a denier, and a skeptic. It is not, let’s be sure here, that Christ did not want others to be His followers, too, or to become holy. He sure did! No! But Christ wanted persons from the beginning to be more intimate with the Master, more frequently in His company, more often the object of His special attention and teaching and care. Having said that - what does all of this mean? It means that the New Testament foundations of religious life are to be sought among those persons who are to be divinely selected means of sanctifying others. Because as Christ instituted the Church there are to be, as St. Paul later on adds, not all evangelists, not all prophets, not all this not all that. There are to be in the Church of God and there was from the beginning people who are to be, if you wish, specialists in the practice of holiness in order that they might be the divinely chosen channels of sanctifying the rest of the people of God.

Some People Are Called to A Higher Degree of Holiness

There is more than passing value in emphasizing what we’ve just said because otherwise we are liable to lose our balance. It is a seductive temptation to argue that since all the faithful are called to holiness, therefore so it seems, seems that no one is called to a higher degree of holiness than somebody else! Is that true? Are some people called to the higher degree of holiness? Yes! Or we’re liable to think and there are enough people talking this way, that all are called to the same kind or form of holiness. Is that true? No! A mother rearing a family becomes holy in rearing that family, a Bishop in guiding a diocese, and a religious in living up to his or her way of life. Or, most importantly, we might have the question or doubt - how do some people become holy? Or how does God want the Church to be sanctified? Through other persons. In other words, what God wants is some people to be the providential instruments or channels to promote holiness in their fellowmen. We may then conclude that already in the first century and even during Christ’s visible stay on earth; this is precisely what occurred. Some were chosen, in fact called by name to follow me. Not all received this kind of invitation. Some were then called to a higher order of sanctity. Beginning with the Mother of Jesus and John the Baptist and going on through the great figures in the Gospels and through the Apostolic Age; they were called moreover to be God’s channels, means to other people so that like the Savior, being holy themselves, they might also sanctify everyone whose lives they entered.

I would like to go over with you now the quiz on Perfectae Caritatis because I think a number of things missed there, though some might be controverted, most of them I think are pretty clear. You meet early and I think we should spend the time otherwise I might be taking things for granted that I shouldn’t.

First, the essentials of religious life are divinely revealed. Why is that better than - derived from the Bible? So this is the third time we’re coming back to it, isn’t that true because there is more to Revelation than just the Bible. And to say that it’s based on Revelation is pretty good. But something can be based; for example, you put a statue by the base. The base is not the statue. Correct? Revelation is not merely the, the base for religious life; Religious life is itself revealed. All right?

Second, every Christian is called to holiness. Oh, by the way, same thing; may I ask, don’t mind, I hate to do this but I think it’s good for me so I know, you know how much to react to these things. Number two, anybody make - that, that was wrong, number two. What did you say my answers were? Same kind of holiness? Oh I see. Well, no not that because otherwise it would be hard to distinguish a religious who lives the evangelic counsels. So the best answer is - holiness without qualifying.

Third. Superiors in a religious community are? Anybody say anything else except necessary? Oh, it’s good to know that the question is provocative. Did you say they were important or just useful? (important). That’s pretty high. They are important all right - you don’t have a community without them.

Fourth. Effective renewal of religious life is mainly in the interior renewal of spirit. Anybody miss that? What did you say, adjusting to the times? Well, I’m sure except the give away word, I thought, was mainly. Without interior renewal of spirit, well, you can adjust to the times and it wouldn’t be or need not be what is left anymore in fact, adjustment may be so thorough.

Fourth. Totally contemplative communities practice; how many said the correct answer is solitude and silence? Did they practice constant prayer? Well, not really. Voluntary penance? Yes they do. But the word totality is important. If you say constant prayer for totally contemplative communities or, better, for contemplative communities, shouldn’t you say for every community? I mean that’s constant, right? The constancy is not the distinctive feature. Notice, it’s rather the solitude and the silence. For example, as a teacher what you don’t have is solitude and you sure can’t keep silence when you’re supposed to teach. Correct? So what distinguishes the totally contemplative communities is their solitude and silence.

Fourth. Apostolic communities are not contemplative. That’s true, they are engaged in the service of others, well, yes - but how many gave another answer than contemplative in action? Well let me explain because there are subtlety here which I admit if there was more said and you explained fully what you meant – but we’ve got to stop somewhere. We can’t write a speech about each one. What I had in mind was that apostolic communities are to be contemplative. Don’t shortchange apostolic communities as not contemplative but their being apostolic (and the term is technically) is precisely because they are contemplatives in action. They maintain their contemplation even, as, or while, they do whatever their work is.

Fifth. The unqualified center of a religious community is? What did you say, Sister? I bypassed it? What did you say? Constitutions? Well, I mean that’s a very strong statement. But the term is, as a matter of fact, directly from Pope Paul VI apostolic constitution. The unqualified center of every community should be the Eucharist.

Sixth, The poverty of the religious should be? Generous: Well of course. Exemplary, you would expect. Ah! Actual poverty: That’s the key. We should be actually poor, lacking what others who are not religious don’t have; pardon me, for those who are not religious do have. We should lack what they have.

Seventh, The pursuit of holiness in the religious life is – primary. What did you say - what was necessary? But is something necessary necessarily primary? Does that follow? No, let me ask - is something which is necessary, primary? Does that follow? You get the logic of my question? So the best answer is primary. If you put down necessary, that’s not the best answer. Think of something which is necessary but not primary. Well, look we just had a meal. Whoever packed my lunch, thanks. So is eating necessary in the religious life? I’d hate to say it’s primary.

Number eight. What mainly distinguishes secular institutes from religious institutes is- community life. How many missed that? Well, thanks for missing it because it gives me a chance to say something. That really is the distinctive feature because secular institutes do take vows. Right? And then they engage in the apostolate. There’s got to be something different and there’s only one thing left - community life.

Number nine: Wearing a distinguishing habit by religious is - required by the Church. How many said something else? Oh, well! May I enlighten you? How many said, recommended? How many said - requested? Well, there are three re’s; but there’s only one that is correct - required; which you’d never guess from the number of sisters now who are now in secular garb? Right? You can’t imagine that many disobedient women!

About ten years ago when the revolution had just got started, I gave a lecture at the National Convention of Vocation Directors happened to be somewhere outside of Chicago and I talked for a full hour. I said the crisis in religious life is obedience: And not so much obedience within the community as obedience of Superiors to the Holy See. Well I was lucky to - pardon me I’m exaggerating - leave the place in one piece. They were so upset that I had said that. Then the habit came up. The Holy See has literally become tired of repeating that a religious habit is required.

(Sister: What did they say a religious habit should be - I mean like what should be the minimum or the maximum?) Well it should be distinguished, really distinguished from secular garb. It should really be distinguished from a secular garb that everyone will recognize this as sign of consecration. Now as part of that, barring places where religious garb is forbidden as it is in some countries - Mexico, for example or countries behind the Iron Curtain - that means a distinctive, uniform garb, which for women, includes the veil. It is well to know, by the way, that when the Second Vatican Council voted on Perfectae Caritatis - there were nineteen areas they voted on; they divided the document into nineteen pieces. They separately voted, the whole Hierarchy of the Catholic Church voted and the vote was something like twenty-two hundred Bishops to about ten. In other words, even if they hadn’t voted that overwhelmingly; besides the Pope has to approve it - they voted separately on the habit. There are some one-hundred thousand changes made in the documentation on Perfectae Caritatis - over a period of years recommendations and changes. In all the drafts of Perfectae Caritatis, all the drafts, religious habits - from the first summoning of the Commission to the final draft of Perfectae Caritatis - there was always a required religious habit. Ok!

Number ten. Christian obedience is our submission to - authority, superiors, the Will of God? Sister, well, I would say yes and that all three are correct. Now the reason I chose the Will of God over the other two was that I wanted to bring out two things. First of all, Christian obedience and not just, say, to those who are in religious communities. Secondly, I wanted to bring out the fact that most submission to authority or superiors is not necessarily Christian obedience. Do you agree? All obedience to superiors or authority is not necessarily Christian obedience. For example yesterday and last night when I got in there was a phone call from another state where the Community has secularized in the extreme, it’s still in existence; Midwestern Community well-known without identifying it and the Sisters are all over the country in you name it what positions. Well, this particular religious Sister has been working and not turning in her salary for the Community. She was so counseled by pretty high authority in the Church that she may do that. In fact the community has no prospect of a future so she was hoping that, somehow, her vows will survive. So she was not obedient and I’ve seen letters insisting that she pay up. The Sisters have to pay a tax - that’s their poverty; but she has to support herself. Or where superiors are telling thousands of Sisters not to wear the habit. Correct?

Yes, to put it down as superiors, you see we’re living in a very kind of awesome age and the one thing and that’s the main reason that I’m here is because I’m speaking to people who believe in religious obedience.

Well, sometimes you can’t Sister. There are situations, there are situations; now this is a very important question. And have no fear Sisters that as long as your Community in its superiors, beginning with the general administration and your constitutions, are approved by the Church; have no fear that the distinctions that are made or will have to be made, you will be called to make. But not to make this distinction would be unfair to almost one hundred thousand Sisters in North America. That’s their anguish about which you hear, you read. Let me tell you, you really don’t know what they’re going through. You couldn’t dream the suffering they’re undergoing - and for them the Will of God. Oh, can’t imagine the struggling conscience they may have. Have no fear Sister, I know what you’re driving at; I know exactly what you’re saying. But if I didn’t make this distinction I’d be talking in a different age. We’re living in today’s Church where most religious communities in the United States: Their superiors are not submissive to the Church’s authority. And there are things they just, all kinds of problems and questions keep coming up; they don’t know if the, you know, what the Church’s position on something is all kinds of things come up, take for example this problem here; and I could be very autobiographical here because I know just what I’m saying and I cannot - whom I’m going to appeal to in the Church now? I happen to be working for the Holy See which gives me, you might say, a great deal of leverage but many of the questions that arise in the secular life or secularizing communities, all the person can do - that’s why you are all either in or, please God, interested in becoming religious.

The only Communities that are represented here, either actually or in potency, are those for whom you could drop number 3, ok: is submission to authority or superiors period. And obedience to the Will of God - as one would interpret that, would create a problem. You know, as I understand the Will of God for my own conscience, I don’t have to obey you. You see, so I recognize the problem but we’re living in an age, as I said, where this is a major crisis for most American religious.

Number eleven. The counsels are related to Charity as its - means. In other words, supernatural Charity is protected, is increased, can be perfected through the practice of the counsels. How many missed that?

Twelve. Religious are all to be: perfect, striving for perfection, or holy? How many missed that? Oh, nobody thought religious were perfect? So it’s the nature of the question and I have some one thing to bring out you see in each question and I would be the first to admit it could have been expressed either more clearly or accurately.

Thirteen. Sacrifice means: suffering, surrendering or immolation? How many said something else? Who put down suffering? I’d be very intrigued to know why you put down suffering. Kind of obvious I admit. Why didn’t you put down – well, I don’t want to press you - surrender? When we suffer, we surrender what? The pleasure of the joy that or at least the absence of pain that when we suffer we don’t enjoy. Immolation - Who put down immolation? Very edifying but sacrifice is total, complete immolation. Immolation is complete sacrifice. Martyrdom, for example is a form of immolation. Let’s not make this too hard, both to surrender and to suffering - my will. All kinds of people are suffering, honest. They’re not all offering sacrifice, honest. Surrender is the will so it’s some kind of pain, suffering, you name it; and the voluntary acceptance of it - surrendering to God’s Will.

Fourteen. Religious vows are to be made – freely. How many had something else; (Someone in the audience: Generously, freely, for life.) I didn’t give you the choice between the two. Actually that’s the Second Vatican Council’s language. The word vow in Latin is voltum- it comes from the Latin word volo - I will. Voltum is - the thing willed. So the Vatican Council to bring out the notion of the vows, that it is one’s own free, one’s own free decision to bind oneself for life, generously, for the essence of a vow, qua vow act of the will - voltum. In other words, nobody does it for you. You can’t take a vow for somebody else. There, I took a vow for you. Then, you keep it (laughter).

Fifteen. Consecrated chastity is founded on? Anybody have something else? You mean it’s unanimous? Thanks, it heartens me.

Number Sixteen: Religious witness to the world by their - life. What did you put down? Actions, which is pretty good but there’s more to witness than just action. By what you are, right? In fact, there’s proverb in English; Say something, so I can know who you are. But we do reveal ourselves just by being what we are. All right? My apologies for some of the grades you got. It’s good for your humility.

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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