Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cardinal Francis Arinze on Radical Discipleship and the Consecrated Life

The Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments discusses the origin, nature, and purpose of the consecrated life.

After growing up in Nigeria and being named the youngest bishop in the world at the age of 32, Cardinal Francis Arinze attended the final session of the Second Vatican Council. Following his elevation to cardinal by Pope John Paul II, he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, a position he held until 2002, when he became the first African Cardinal to head a Vatican office, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2002-08). His biography, God's Invisible Hand, was published by Ignatius Press, as were his books The Layperson’s Distinctive Role, and Meeting Jesus and Following Him.

Cardinal Arinze's most recent book, also published by Ignatius Press, is Radical Discipleship: Consecrated Life and the Call to Holiness (2015), released in conjunction with the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on November 30, 2014 and will conclude with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on February 2, 2016.

After growing up in Nigeria and being named the youngest bishop in the world at the age of 32, Cardinal Francis Arinze attended the final session of the Second Vatican Council. Following his elevation to cardinal by Pope John Paul II, he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, a position he held until 2002, when he became the first African Cardinal to head a Vatican office, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2002-08). His biography, God's Invisible Hand, was published by Ignatius Press, as were his booksThe Layperson’s Distinctive Role, and Meeting Jesus and Following Him.

Cardinal Arinze's most recent book, also published by Ignatius Press, is Radical Discipleship: Consecrated Life and the Call to Holiness (2015), released in conjunction with the Year of Consecrated Life, which began on November 30, 2014 and will conclude with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on February 2, 2016.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, at the Vatican in a February 2013 photo, is the author of a new book, "Radical Discipleship: Consecrated Life and the Call to Holiness". (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Arinze corresponded this past week withCatholic World Report about the meaning and uniqueness of consecrated life, the roots and development of consecrated life, and some of the challenges facing embracing and living the consecrated life today.

CWR: In the Introduction to Radical Discipleship, you focus on how discipleship consists of accepting Jesus invitation, “Follow me.” In what unique ways is the consecrated life an embrace of the call to radical discipleship?

Cardinal Arinze: The consecrated life is an embracing of the call to radical discipleship, the call to follow Christ in a radical way, because the consecrated person takes the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The life of Jesus was a model of the three virtues lived to an extraordinary degree of commitment. All followers of Christ are indeed called to live three three virtues, but not in the same way. Consecrated people live the three virtues as vows binding them for their whole lives.

CWR: In your previous book, The Layperson's Distinctive Role, you reflected on the role of the lay person and apostolate. How do the consecrated life and the life of the lay person differ, and how do the two compliment and enrich one another?

Cardinal Arinze: The call to follow Christ as a layperson and the call to follow him as a consecrated person differ in this, that a layperson is called to witness to Christ in the secular sphere, that is, in the family, in work and leisure, in politics and government, and in trade and commerce; whereas the consecrated person is called to live a life of sacrifice of marriage, seeking earthly goods and sacrifice of one's will, and thus show that the attraction of the things of God is stronger than all earthly considerations. The layperson marries, looks for wealth, and conducts his or her own life and strives to do all this with the spirit of Christ.

These two ways of life complement each other. They show us two ways of following Christ. The layperson shows how to use the things of this world and consecrated them to God's glory. The consecrated persons shows how to renounce them for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Christianity needs both ways of witnessing to Christ.

CWR: Along similar lines, how is consecrated life distinct from the lives of priests and bishops? What confusion sometimes exist about those differences?

Cardinal Arinze: The apostolate of priests and bishops is to celebrate the sacred mysteries, to preach the word of God, and to gather the people of God together in the parish and in the diocese. The vocation of the consecrated person is different. It is to offer to God the sacrifice of the three best things on earth by the three evangelical counsels or vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Sometimes the same person can be a priest and also a consecrated person. Examples are Jesuit, Franciscan or Carmelite priests. In the strict sense, a religious or consecrated person is not the same as a priest. The vocations are different. The Church needs both.

CWR: What are the biblical roots of the consecrated life, and has the Church's understanding of the consecrated life developed and deepened over the centuries?

Cardinal Arinze: The biblical roots of the consecrated life from the Old Testament are the lives of the prophets and the nazirites vowed to God (cf. Num 6:6-7). But more specifically it is the life and example of Jesus Christ in the New Testament that motivates the consecrated life. He lived chaste, poor, and obedient to an exceptional degree. He proposed such a way of life to those of his followers who were ready freely to embrace it: “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12). “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Lk 18:22). Jesus proposes: he does not impose the consecrated life as obligatory for any of his followers.

Yes, the Church's understanding of the consecrated life has developed and deepened over the centuries. The early Christian community shared their goods. The early Fathers of the Church praised the virgins who formed communities inspired by the Gospel. Saint Anthony of Egypt (251-355) went to live in the desert. Disciples followed. Monasteries grew up with saints Pachomius, Bernard, and Benedict as leaders. Saint Francis of Assisi inaugurated the consecrated life lived not in monasteries but among the people. Nearer our times, some religious congregations have been founded for the medical or educational service of the needy or to look after street children or orphans. The very title of the Roman Curia office which is charged with encouraging the consecrated life has changed in the last forty years from Congregation for Religious to Congregation for Institutes of the Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life.

CWR: What is the origin of the three evangelical counsels, and how do they provide a foundation for the consecrated life?

Cardinal Arinze: The origin of the three evangelical counsels is the life and example of Christ. Lives vowed to God in chastity, poverty and obedience are ways of following Christ with radical adherence to his Gospel message. While Jesus invited all his followers to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect (cf Mt 5:48), he proposed even more demanding offers to those ready to sacrifice marriage, earthly goods and doing one's own will "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12).

CWR: The number of men and women in consecrated life apparently peaked, in the West, in the 1950s, and then dropped dramatically following the Council. What were some of the reasons for that sudden shift? What has the situation been like in other parts of the world?

Cardinal Arinze: In the final analysis, only God's Providence can exhaustively explain why religious vocations rise or fall in place from time to time. In our weak human ways of explaining such developments we can say:
In Europe and North America the number of men and women in the consecrated life went up in the 1950s because people had come out of the sufferings of the Second World War and learned that things of this world are passing away, there was relative stability in society and life in the Church and the family was reasonably stable.

There was a big drop as from the end of the 1960s, not because of the Second Vatican Council, but because of the following developments in the Western world: the welfare state and greater abundance of the goods of this world; the so-called sexual revolution which was really sexual irresponsibility; problems raise by some communications media (especially the TV) which can do much good but also much harm; rapid spread of ideas good and bad; revolt against authority of all kinds especially as from 1968; freedom understood as liberty to do whatever one likes; and growing influence of materialism atheism, communism and secularism. There was also in some places a wrong interpretation of some decrees of the Second Vatican Council.

In Africa and Asia, consecrated vocations have been on the rise. Latin America is in-between the West and Africa. In Africa, in particular, the success of missionary evangelization work and the dynamism shown by the young local churches have meant the growth of larger seminaries and the yearly increase of consecrated men and women. Also helpful is the general good health of the family in Africa, although generalizations should be avoided.

CWR: You write that the consecrated life is prophetic and that it “challenges the current of life in society.” What are some examples of that prophetic quality? 

Cardinal Arinze: The consecrated life, when live authentically, can challenge the current of life in society in the following ways:

A life of vowed chastity is a proof that a life of continence is possible, with God's grace; it is a challenge against sexual irresponsibility, desecration of marriage, divorce mentality, and other sins against God's will for marriage and the family.

The vow of poverty challenges immoderate pursuit of earthly things, stealing, corruption in public life, idleness, and forgetfulness of the poor.

The vow of obedience challenges the abuse of authority, revolt against legitimate authority, selfishness in people in public service, and precipitation of tension, revolts, and wars.

A consecrated person who lives the three vows authentically is delivering a prophetic message to society.

CWR: What are the greatest challenges facing those living the consecrated life today? How can the laity help support and encourage their brothers and sisters living the consecrated life?

Cardinal Arinze: Some challenges facing those who live in the consecrated state are the following:

perseverance, ability to continue even when not sufficiently appreciated by people; constancy in the vowed life year after year; refusing to be carried away by the spirit of the world; and readiness to continue going against the current of life in the world of today. 

The laity can help, support and encourage their brothers and sisters living in the consecrated life in the following ways: prayer, advice, respect, working together at projects, encouraging their children or friends who are called to the consecrated life to embrace that vocation, and by donations in cash or kind.

 See here for the article.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Simplicity of Truth

God’s teaching, while rich in its depths for theologians, is remarkable in its simplicity for ordinary men. Simplex, the Latin word for simple, means “without fold”—one sheet or layer with nothing hidden under a fold. Complex in Latin means encircled, embraced, and enfolded—“with fold,” something not easily seen or understood. The Ten Commandments are straightforward and direct (without fold), not subtle, nuanced, or roundabout. What is complicated about “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not steal”? God’s moral law is explicit and lucid. What is incomprehensible about the Golden Rule or the Two Great Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”? While the Christian faith has profound mysteries that surpass human reason like the Trinity, the Resurrection and the Immaculate Conception and teaches in paradoxes that transcend logical reasoning (“He who is greatest among shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”), the moral law is explicit: adulterers and sodomites will not inherit the kingdom of God as St. Paul teaches. “The dictatorship of relativism” in modern thinking identified by Pope Benedict XVI produces the artful complication and obfuscation of truth that confounds the simple meaning of right and wrong.

reniWhat is simpler, the moral law that teaches that contraceptive acts are objectively sinful and inherently disordered or the ideology that argues that it is a subjective matter of individual conscience that varies from person to person and couple to couple? If the truth is simple and one, then evil is legion or many, a number of pieces of parts with no unity. The more exceptions, the more qualifications, the more distinctions—the more obscure the meaning. What is simpler, the Catholic teaching that abortion is an unspeakable evil that is always wrong or the reasoning of the Supreme Court that no one knows when life begins and that it is a private matter between a physician and patient? What is more intelligible, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” or the argument in Roe v. Wade that killing a child in the womb is legal the first and second trimester but illegal in the third trimester except in the case of a threat to the health or life of the mother? Can anything ever be absolutely true or right if it is always mutating with more modifications? What is more luminously true, Christ’s teaching about divorce, “It was not so from the beginning,” or the legal sophistry that anyone at any time for any reason without any fault may divorce?

God does not speak in equivocal language, use technical or philosophical jargon, or communicate with specialized vocabulary. Christ often teaches with the words “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” that is, truly—that is, without any second guessing or confusion. The Beatitudes also have an unambiguous clarity: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The innocent, the childlike, those without guile have a clear vision of the light of God. When the Word becomes Flesh in the miracle of the Incarnation, again God reveals Himself with the utmost visibility and light. When Christ asks Peter, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answer with undeniable certainty the self-evident truth: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The simplicity of truth means without confusion, complexity, equivocation, or doubt. Modernity, however, is notorious for what Melville in Moby Dick calls “bland deceits and civilized hypocrisies”—clever, sophisticated, intricate lies that torture the truth by burying it under layers of conflicting opinions, up to date reports, recent studies, scholarly research, recent articles, and repetitious propaganda.

Which is simpler, the Church’s teaching that all human life is sacred, precious, and of inestimable value, or eugenics theories and population control programs that only superior races, classes, or ethnic groups (the “thoroughbreds” and “the fit”) have a right to life and procreation? Which is grounded in common sense and right reason, the Church’s teaching that only God, the author of life and death, determines the moment that a person passes from this world or the freethinking that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are matters of personal choice with no reference to God? When every man decides for himself, then the name of evil, “legion,” exalts the chaos of the many opinions above the unity of the one truth. Which teaching is more luminous and based on the accumulated experience of the world, the idea that man is an image of God with a rational, moral, and spiritual nature—a person with inherent dignity and worth who possesses an inviolability of conscience—or the modern view that man is a product of evolution or creature of the state with no God-given rights, not even the freedom of conscience to reject dictates of government that contradict natural law or revealed religion?

What could be clearer than God’s commandment “Be fruitful and multiply,” and what is more self-evident than Nature’s design and God’s purpose for marriage in the exchange of love between man and woman? What could be possibly more perverse than reinventing the meaning of marriage and the family, the most universal of experiences? What could be more complicated than taking pills, resorting to implantations, and suffering tubal ligations and vasectomies with all their medical effects and consequences? What could be simpler than living a chaste, pure life that never risks sexually transmitted diseases or infects others with hepatitis or AIDS? What is more convoluted, unnatural, and irrational than high-risk, promiscuous behavior that invites suffering and tragedy? What is more sensible, planting seeds to bear fruit and engaging in acts that have a natural purpose or planting seeds and then killing the fruit to frustrate the act?

What is more simple and direct than the way God performs miracles: “Go, thy faith hath made thee well,”  “Take up your pallet and walk,” “Do you want to be healed?” God’s ways are not labored, devious, or bewildering. They are forthright expressions of divine power and supernatural intervention that serve a deep human need or answer a sincere prayer. In one simple act God multiplies the loaves and the fish to feed the five thousand.  In the marriage at Cana Christ makes a simple request (“Fill the jars with water”) and instantly performs the miracle of changing it to wine. In one word God heals: “Arise.” Who complicates everything more than modern man who takes a devious course and never a straight road; who resorts to a hundred measures when one will do; who needs cancer-causing pills, problematic surgeries, harmful abortions, and complicated procedures like in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood; and who relies on elaborate legal reasoning and artful rationalizations to make evil good and good evil? What could be more plainspoken than Christ’s unequivocal words, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Nature’s language and God’s word resound with simple Yes and No answers: Yes to life, No to death; Yes to the fruitfulness love, No to barren lovemaking; Yes to marriage, No to divorce; Yes to truth, No to lies. But sophisticated modern man who shuns those two simple words and their most basic meanings chooses complexity over simplicity. As Christ reminded Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (emphasis added). While modern man can think of endless ways of bypassing, circumventing, twisting, and reinventing unchanging moral truths and traditional norms, he cannot see that truth is one, simple, universal, and eternal—for all men, in all times, in all places, and in all cultures.

.Michell Kalpakgian, Ph.D