On March 25, 1996, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II promulated the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata ("The Consecrated Life").
The following are excerpts from this document pertinent to the vocation of consecrated virgins living in the world.
The Order of Virgins:
7. It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times. Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.
The Origins of the Consecrated Life in the Mystery of Christ and of the Trinity:
14. The evangelical basis of consecrated life is to be sought in the special relationship which 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.
Many of the baptized throughout history have been invited to live such a life "in the image of Christ." But this is possible only on the basis of a special vocation and in virtue of a particular gift of the Spirit. For in such a life baptismal consecration develops into a radical response in the following of Christ through acceptance of the evangelical counsels, the first and essential of which is the sacred bond of chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. This special way of "following Christ," at the origin of which is always the initiative of the Father, has an essential Christological and pneumatological meaning: It expresses in a particularly vivid way the Trinitarian nature of the Christian life, and it anticipates in a certain way that eschatological fulfillment toward which the whole Church is tending.
In the Gospel, many of Christ's words and actions shed light on the meaning of this special vocation. But for an overall picture of its essential characteristics, it is singularly helpful to fix our gaze on Christ's radiant face in the mystery of the Transfiguration. A whole ancient spiritual tradition refers to this "icon" when it links the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus "on the mountain." Even the "active" dimensions of consecrated life can in a way be included here, for the Transfiguration is not only the revelation of Christ's glory, but also a preparation for facing Christ's Cross. It involves both "going up the mountain" and "coming down the mountain." The disciples who have enjoyed this intimacy with the Master, surrounded for a moment by the splendor of the Trinitarian life and of the communion of saints, and as it were caught up in the horizon of eternity, are immediately brought back to daily reality, where they see "Jesus only," in the lowliness of his human nature and are invited to return to the valley, to share with him the toil of God's plan and to set off courageously on the way of the Cross.
Consecrated Life as a Sign of Communion in the Church:
42. The fraternal life, understood as a life shared in love, is an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion. It is practiced with special care in Religious Institutes and in Societies of Apostolic Life, where community living acquires special significance. Nor is the dimension of fraternal communion alien to Secular Institutes or even to forms of the consecrated life lived individually. Hermits, in their profound solitude, do not withdraw from ecclesial communion but serve that communion by their specific charism of contemplation. Consecrated virgins in the world live out their consecration in a special relationship of communion with the particular and universal Church. The same is true of consecrated widows and widowers.
All these people, by practicing evangelical discipleship, commit themselves to fulfilling the Lord's "new commandment," to love one another as he has loved us (cf. Jn. 13:34). Love led Christ to the gift of self, even to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross. So too, among his disciples, there can be no true unity without that unconditional mutual love which demands a readiness to serve others generously, a willingness to welcome them as they are, without "judging" them (cf. Mt. 7:1-2) and an ability to forgive up to "70 times seven" (Mt. 18:22). Consecrated persons, who become "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32) through the love poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5), experience an interior call to share everything in common: material goods and spiritual experiences, talents and inspirations, apostolic ideals and charitable service: "In community life, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in one individual passes at the same time to all. Here not only does each enjoy his own gift, but makes it abound by sharing it with others; and each one enjoys the fruits of the other's gift as if they were his own."
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