In this world of lies and sophisms in which we must live, there can be no lack of those who bow before this world and are accomplices of it, those who misunderstand religious life, negating its biblical origin, even the apostolic origin. They are the ones who criticize the Second Vatican Council because the Council taught the biblical and apostolic origins of the evangelical counsels. For this reason, it is very important to have clear ideas about the real origin and foundation of religious life, given that many things are said about it, and, unfortunately, many errors are propagated as well.
These people criticize all of the post-conciliar Magisterium (which is supported by Revelation), forgetting that it is theology that serves Revelation, and not Revelation that should explain some theological opinion.
Although they disagree amongst themselves, all of these critics assume that the acceptation of the evangelical counsels is equivalent to introducing two forms of morality: one, a maximalist approach, that of perfection, aristocratic, proper only to religious, as though only religious were called to Christian perfection; the other level, minimalist, vulgar, plebeian, for the laity. One, for a select group, the other, for the masses. As a result, they affirm that there is nothing “in the Gospels that has the character of a counsel, but rather, everything is a precept for everyone.” They think that with this solution (the denying of the evangelical counsels), they annul the “two moralities” which would be generating the differences. On the contrary, they are the ones who are creating an insurmountable abyss between religious and non-religious in regards to perfection.
But this is nothing more than one of the many progessivist prejudices that do so much harm, prejudices that are:
- The destroyer of religious life, which loses its base and its sense
- The cause of the loss of vocations
- Responsible for the languishing death of so many congregations
Who cannot perceive the destruction caused by this way of thinking?
1. Answer to the Progessivist Aporia
Saint Thomas had already expounded the solution to this false aporia, a response which is found in Sacred Scripture and in the Magisterium of the Church. Even some contemporary Protestant theologians recognize the origin of consecrated life in the words of Christ Himself regarding obedience, poverty, and chastity – we should note that consecrated life is also taking root or re-emerging in the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which originated in the Reformation, and is the sign of a grace shared by all of Christ’s disciples.
And what are, concretely, the words of Jesus that give rise to religious life. First, it must be noted that the New Testament speaks of matrimony, and at the same time, it proposes as well the renunciation of it and the guarding of virginity for the Kingdom of Heaven; that is to say, there are two types of life that cannot take flesh in one same person, but rather, they reclaim a true diversity of vocations.
In the second place, in the realm of poverty, it would suffice as a refutation to the aporia of progressivism to cite two examples of the evangelical counsel of poverty that should be lived by all the baptized. Blessed are the poor in spirit, although this effectively does not imply the abandonment of all temporal goods on the part of all Christians. There are, rather, two examples treated by Saint Thomas in order to show clearly the two diverse options in the realm of poverty, even though Christians profess the same faith:
First Example: Matthew and Zaccheus. Saint Matthew, upon hearing the call of Jesus, left everything and followed Him. His work as a tax collector gave him a large salary, but Jesus called him to a total abandonment. In contrast, Zaccheus, upon finding himself with Christ, made the decision to give back great amounts, but he did not renounce his work, which had given him so many goods, as his post was even higher than that of Matthew.
The two follow the voice of Jesus, but, at the same time, they make very different decisions in conformity with the will of the Lord. This clearly refutes the progressivist aporia.
Second Example: The Siblings of Bethany and the Rich Young Man. With regards to poverty, the faithful friends of Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary continued to live in their ordinary way, whereas Christ asked the rich young man to sell everything.
Beyond this, when speaking of the vows and of consecrated life by means of them, the Magisterium of the Church has always supported the evangelical basis for religious life. If we ask what this foundation is, Pope John Paul II responds: The evangelical basis of consecrated life is to be sought in the special relationship that Jesus, in his earthly life, established with some of his disciples. He called them not only to welcome the Kingdom of God into their own lives, but also to put their lives at its service, leaving everything behind and closely imitating his own way of life. The pope continues, making manifest the biblical origin of the vows: By professing the evangelical counsels, consecrated persons not only make Christ the whole meaning of their lives but strive to reproduce in themselves, as far as possible, “that form of life which he, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world. By embracing chastity, they make their own the pure love of Christ and proclaim to the world that he is the Only-Begotten Son who is one with the Father (cf. Jn 10:30, 14:11). By imitating Christ’s poverty, they profess that he is the Son who receives everything from the Father, and gives everything back to the Father in love (cf. Jn 17:7, 10). By accepting, through the sacrifice of their own freedom, the mystery of Christ’s filial obedience, they profess that he is infinitely beloved and loving, as the One who delights only in the will of the Father (cf. Jn 4:34), to whom he is perfectly united and on whom he depends for everything.
What’s more, John Paul II does not hesitate in speaking of the objective excellence of consecrated life, which in turn makes apparent the relations and differences that exist between the diverse calls to evangelical perfection. In effect, all of the baptized are called to be ‘saints’, to be ‘perfect as the Heavenly Father’, but not all are called to consecrated chastity, nor to live a vow of poverty nor religious obedience. For this reason the pope emphasizes the hierarchy or categories of mission in the Church: Within this harmonious constellation of gifts, each of the fundamental states of life is entrusted with the task of expressing, in its own way, one or another aspect of the one mystery of Christ. While the lay life has a particular mission of ensuring that the Gospel message is proclaimed in the temporal sphere, in the sphere of ecclesial communion an indispensable ministry is carried out by those in Holy Orders, and in a special way by bishops. The latter have the task of guiding the People of God by the teaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of sacred power in the service of ecclesial communion, which is an organic communion, hierarchically structured. As a way of showing forth the Church’s holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ’s own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church’s purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, will be achieved, and when the children of the Resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt 22:30). The Church has always taught the preeminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom, and rightly considers it the “door” of the whole consecrated life. She also shows great esteem for the vocation to marriage, which makes spouses “witnesses to and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church, who signify and share in the love with which Christ has loved his Bride and because of which he delivered himself up on her behalf”
2. The Evangelical Counsels Are Diametrically Opposed to the Spirit of the World
Our Lord placed the three evangelical counsels as diametrically opposed to the triple concupiscence, to all worldly things, and to temptations, as He taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. Chastity, poverty, and obedience are to be lived by each Christian in proportion to their personal vocation. As religious, it corresponds to us to live them radically, in imitation of Christ. This, without a doubt, does not obligate all Christians to live as He lived. There are not two moralities, one for the laity and a different one for religious. Rather, both religious and laity must move to perfection in accord with the gift they have received. The evangelical counsels are thus above all a gift of the Holy Trinity. The consecrated life proclaims what the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, brings about by His love, His goodness and His beauty. In fact, “the religious state reveals the transcendence of the Kingdom of God and its requirements over all earthly things. To all people it shows wonderfully at work within the Church the surpassing greatness of the force of Christ the King and the boundless power of the Holy Spirit.
The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called.
Moreover, because we are very weak, we make ourselves slaves of Mary, entrusting all things to her and Marianizing everything, because she has crushed the head of the serpent…