SALESIAN CONSECRATED LIFE: PRESENTATION
[based on our Letter on the Salesian Brother, version 13 - "The Salesian Brother: Icon of Salesian Religious Consecration, of the Family Spirit, and of the Lay Dimension of the Congregation," draft 13 of 25.06.2016]
Pope Francis invites us to contemplate the beauty of consecrated life.
Why a reflection on consecrated life? Because we are convinced that at the root of symptoms such as clericalism, diminishing number of vocations to the Brotherhood, and the significant number of Salesians who become diocesan priests, lies a difficulty in giving attention to, understanding, and living out the consecrated dimension of our vocation. This is the root also of the subtle shift from our consecrated identity to work.
2. The relationship between the two forms of our vocation
We feel the need to define better the relationship between the two forms of our one Salesian vocation, but this is not to be had by distinguishing roles or tasks. Far better is the emerging theology of the states of life. Pope Francis seems to have made use of it when he said, in his letter of indiction of the year of consecrated life, that religious are marked not by radicality but by the fact that they are signs within the church. The three encyclicals (PDO, CL, and VC) point out that the states of life within the church are ordered to one another. Each state, we might say, is a sign to the others of an aspect of the church that belongs to all. Thus the created world is sacred for all Christians, but the laity are for us a sign of this sacredness. Again, all are called to the life of the resurrection, when there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but consecrated people are signs of this reality, “eschatological signs.” And the whole church is called to service, but deacons are for all of us signs and embodiments of service.
How might this help us understand better the relationship between the ministerial and lay forms of our Salesian vocation? Rather than seeking the distinction in the jobs we do, we could remember that, as Fr Viganò taught, the whole congregation has a lay dimension, and the whole congregation, like the whole people of God, is a priestly people. The Salesian Brother embodies the former, while the Salesian priest embodies the latter, and each is a sign and reminder to the other.
Given that, as Fr Rinaldi and Fr Chavez have said, the Salesian Brother represents the Salesian vocation in its pure form, we might even say that the Brother is a sign and icon to his priest confreres of our basic and fundamental salesian consecrated identity.
3. A theology of consecrated life
It might be worth spending a few moments putting down a few elements of a theology of consecrated life.
Consecrated life makes no sense without reference to Jesus.
Jesus came to reveal the Good News of the gift of eternal life, our call to communion with God, and to draw all people into that communion.
The Church is the body of those who respond to that call.
Within the church there is the ministry of Peter and the figure of Mary. Peter and his successors are at the service of the church, while Mary in her Yes to the Lord is a figure of the Church. Not all are called to the Petrine ministry, but all are called, like Mary, to say Yes to the Lord. In fact, the CCC states clearly that the church is Marian before being Petrine, that the Petrine ministry is totally at the service of the basic vocation of the church to holiness, and that it will come to an end with the passing of this world.
Consecrated life takes its place at the Marian heart of the church. It is a sign of the fact that we are all called to the final embrace of God, to the life of the resurrection that Jesus prefigured already especially in his celibacy. It is in this sense that consecrated life is a living memorial of Jesus.
The priestly ministry remains valid even when the priest is unworthy. But the consecrated life is totally emptied of its meaning when the consecrated person fails to live up to his vocation. There is no chastity in one who is not chaste.