Article 80 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 914-933 THE CONSECRATED LIFE
Sister Act and Sister Act 2 are the closest that most people have come in recent years to understanding life in the convent. Both movies star actress Whoopi Goldberg as showgirl Deloris Van Cartier hiding from her mobster beau by entering the witness protection program and hiding out as “Sister Mary Clarence” in a California convent. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are familiar with the terms “nun” or “Sister,” partly because of movies such as Sister Act and other such Hollywood depictions, but not all understand the differences between nuns and consecrated Sisters, which include several thousand different groups of women in religious communities in the Catholic Church worldwide. There are also as many groups of religious communities of men, which include both clergy (priests) and (lay) brothers.Although the differences from one religious community to another are numerous, one of the common features of consecrated religious life is the evangelical counsels that ordinarily include chastity, poverty and obedience. The intensity with which one lives out these counsels often depends on the specific religious community a person feels called to enter, especially regarding poverty and obedience. For example, when speaking about consecrated religious women, the Catechism explains: “The state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels … belongs undeniably to her life and holiness” (ccc 914). The next paragraph continues: “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple (but) … it is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God” (ccc 915). A more comprehensive explanation follows: The religious state is thus one way of experiencing a “more intimate” consecration,rooted in baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing theperfection of charity in the service of the
Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come (ccc 916).
The next several paragraphs in the Catechism outline various types of consecrated living in the Church. Introduced as “one great tree with many branches,” we are told that men and women drawn to such a vocation enter “into various forms of the religious life lived in solitude or in community” (ccc 917). Consecrated living like this began in Apostolic times when followers of Christ, “led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These, the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved” (ccc 918). Some of the different groups that emerged over the years include hermits or those who follow the eremitic life. Hermits “devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance” (ccc 920). Many dioceses worldwide have one or more hermits living in their diocese to offer prayerful support for the Mission of the local Church. In the Diocese of Metuchen, we have one such hermit, Sister Wilma, who dedicates her life for this very purpose.
The Catechism also highlights the role of consecrated virgins and widows. “From apostolic times,” the Catechism tells us, “Christian virgins and widows, called by the Lord to cling only to him with greater freedom of heart, body, and spirit, have decided with the Church’s approval to live in the respective status of virginity or perpetual chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven” (920). Again, our diocese has given its approval for a few women who have discerned this vocation, to publicly assume this role in a perpetual way through a “solemn rite” (ccc 923). The Catechism explains that “consecrated virgins can form themselves into associations (or communities) to observe their commitment more faithfully” (ccc 924). Three final categories outlined in the Catechism under “Consecrated Life” include Religious Life, Secular Institutes and Societies of ApostolicLife. “Religious life,” the Catechism tells us,“was born in the East during the first centuriesof Christianity” (ccc 925). It is “lived within
institutes canonically erected by the Church, [and] is distinguished from other forms of consecrated life by its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life led in common, and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church” (ccc 925).
Secular Institutes, in the words of Pope Pius XII quoted in the Catechism, share in the Church’s task of evangelization, “in the world and from within the world, [where their presence acts] … as leaven in the world … to order temporal things according to God and inform the world with the power of the gospel” (ccc 929).
Societies of Apostolic Life, “whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of their society, and lead a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life, strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions. Among these there are societies in which the members embrace the evangelical counsels according to their constitutions” (ccc 930).
The remaining paragraphs in this section reaffirm the truth that all who enter a special religious vocation, already consecrated to Christ in baptism, continue this consecration by consecrating themselves “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” as “members of institutes of consecrated life” (ccc 931).
T h e final paragraph observes that the “example” and “striking witness” of those in special Church vocations shows us all that “the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes” (ccc 933), which those in Consecrated Life seek to live with constant faithfulness.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Offi ce of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Personswith Disabilities