By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, JULY 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- An erroneous understanding of the concepts of freedom, obedience, fidelity, authority and spirituality have weakened the charism of consecrated life, says Cardinal Franc Rodé.
The prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said this at the dicastery's summer course for superiors of religious communities organized by the Regina Apostolorum university.
The one-week course, which gathered 161 religious women from Italy, Spain, France, the Dominican Republic, Peru, England and the United States, ended Tuesday.
Cardinal Rodé emphasized the role of authority as service, explaining that "in sacred Scripture [offices of authority] have the name 'diaconia,' that is, 'ministry.'"
The prefect continued: "It is in Jesus that we find the model, the paradigm, the example for understanding, exercising and living authority and obedience.
"It is a matter of authority and obedience centered on seeking the will of God, even if we are all aware of the fact that the exercise of authority carries with it a whole series of challenges that we must face."
Speaking about these challenges, the cardinal observed that modern culture has problems with the witness of the evangelical counsels of "chastity, poverty and obedience," even though the choice of these "far from constituting an impoverishment of authentic human values, proposes itself rather as their transfiguration."
Treating the relationship between authority and obedience, Cardinal Rodé noted: "In the past the problem came from an authority primarily oriented toward the concern for works that risked neglecting persons.
"Today, however, the problem is with the excessive timidity over offending personal sensibilities, or from the fragmentation of specializations and responsibilities that weaken the convergence the common goal and hamstring the role of authority."
The prefect warned against secularization that "threatens to make faith irrelevant."
"We must admit that we are witnessing a retreat of the religious dimension, given that the legislation of the various states is distancing itself more and more from Christian principles," he said.
The cardinal said that he is very worried about internal secularization, which manifests itself with a "language that has lost religious content," the "diminishing of prayer time and common religious practices," the "loss of the visibility of the consecrated," "the decision for social activities to the detriment of ecclesial ones such as catechesis, preparation for the sacraments, etc.," and the "understanding of mission more as agent of social progress than evangelization."
"We must intensify common prayer, the visibility of consecrated persons, the use of a language with more Christian references, we must emphasize the religious and pastoral dimension of our works, manifesting visible communion with the pastors of the Church," Cardinal Rodé said.
In regard to freedom, the cardinal criticized those who "emphatically focus on the freedom of individuals without presenting the obligations that come from freedom," and he added that "that person is free who constantly lives ready and attentive to see in every situation of life, and above all in every person with whom they live, a mediation of the Lord's will."
The prefect noted that "the spirit of our times is not favorable to fidelity."
He explained that there is often a "fragility to decisions that are made, commitments that are short lived, a facility in giving up projects and obligations that have been assumed."
Because of this situation, the cardinal added, there is a need to reinforce consecrated life as "an example of fidelity, even in the difficulties of life."
Consecrated life, explained Cardinal Rodé, "does not stop looking at Christ [...] the faithful witness."
The cardinal criticized the confused spirituality of our times, a kind of "psychological decline of spirituality," and proposed in its place a Christian way of "life according to the Spirit."
Addressing himself to the superiors on the topic of authority, he said: "You must never forget that, in the first place, you are called to be primary ones who are first of all called to be obedient, demonstrating with your lives and attitudes that you are at the service of the community.
"Only in this way can you lead and help your sisters obey."
The prefect emphasized that "no superior can renounce her mission of animation, of fraternal help, of proposing, of listening, of dialogue," because "the Lord Jesus considers this office and act of love toward him."