Instruction on the Religious Life

Source: FSSPX News


On May 28, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life published an Instruction entitled The Service of Authority and Obedience, approved by Benedict XVI on May 5, and signed by Cardinal Franc Rodé and Archbishop Gianfranco Gardin, respectively prefect and secretary of the dicastery.

A member of the Congregation in charge of religious confided to I.MEDIA that the document proved necessary “in today’s world which contests any form of obedience and of power.” It is explained by “changes which occurred these past years inside institutes and communities” and “the realization that, during these years, the manner of understanding and of living authority and obedience was changed.” The document is “addressed to members of institutes of consecrated life who live a community life, that is to all men and women who belong to religious institutes, to which societies of apostolic life are very similar. However, other consecrated persons, in relation to their type of life, can also cull useful information from it.”

The text of the Instruction, about some fifty pages long, is divided into three parts which reflect the three great dimensions of consecrated life: consecration, life in common, and mission,” the Roman dicastery specified. “The principle intent of this Instruction is that of reaffirming that obedience and authority, even though practiced in many ways, always have a relation to the Lord Jesus, the obedient Servant. Moreover, it proposes to help authority in its triple service: to the individual persons called to live their own consecration (first part); to construct fraternal communities (second part); and to participate in the common mission (third part).” The document mainly deals with religious obedience considered by the person who has taken a vow of obedience as the seeking for God and His will. Christian and religious obedience is in no way the mere execution of laws and Church’s decision, by a means of seeking God, by listening to the Word, by becoming aware of His project of love, and of the fundamental experience of Christ who obeyed out of love to the point of dying on the cross. “Authority and obedience are not therefore two distinct realities or things absolutely opposed but rather two dimensions of the same evangelical reality, of the same Christian mystery, two complementary ways of participating in the same oblation of Christ.”

Authority in the religious life is first of all meant to help the community or the institute to accomplish God’s will. Authority is at the service of the community to seek and accomplish all together the will of God. Religious authority thus enters into a general commitment to obedience, but the Instruction also deals with the delicate question of “difficult obedience” when what is required of the religious is especially hard, when the subject can see things better or more useful to his soul than what the superior commands. Lastly, a possible objection of conscience foreseen by a text of Paul VI and still enforced is mentioned.

The document then goes on to recall that obedience in the religious life may bring about difficult times, and painful situations which require that we remember the obedient Jesus. The exercise of authority may also be difficult and engender discouragement, and a tendency to give up, or put off the task of governing the community. Reference to conscience helps to understand obedience as a responsible commitment and not the mere execution of orders which do not represent God’s will.” It is also specified that authority is a “human mediation of the divine will.” This does not mean that the will of the superior perfectly and automatically coincides with God’s will: it is an instrument, characterized, like any human reality, by limitations and errors, the Roman dicastery pointed out.

Lastly, the document means to be an exhortation to a serene obedience motivated by faith, and it gives indication for the exercise of authority considered as an invitation to listening, to dialogue, to sharing and to co-responsibility as well as to mercy towards those entrusted to them. The Instruction emphasizes the value of the religious community as a place where, under the guidance of the superior, there is a community discernment in the face of decisions to be made. Such a practice, while bringing important indications, takes nothing away from the charge of authority. “Finally one must not forget that consecrated life commonly sees, in the ‘synodal’ figure of the general chapter (or of analogous gatherings), the supreme authority of the institute, to which all the members, beginning with the superiors, must make reference.” (Sources: apic/imedia/VIS)