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Or, if you are already a subscriber Sign in. Close drawer menu Financial Times International Edition. Search the FT Search. World Show more World. US Show more US. Companies Show more Companies. Markets Show more Markets. The advice that St. Reverence for the will of God keeps those in authority in a state of humble seeking, so that their acting conforms as much as possible to that holy will. Augustine reminds us that the one who obeys always fulfils the will of God, not because the command of the authority necessarily conforms to the divine will, but because it is the will of God that is obeyed by the one who is in charge.
Otherwise, instead of representing God, superiors risk putting themselves carelessly in God's place. With the intention of doing God's will, authority and obedience are not therefore two distinct realities or things absolutely opposed but rather two dimensions of the same evangelical reality, of the same Christian mystery, two complementary ways of participating in the same oblation of Christ. Authority and obedience are personified in Jesus: for this reason they must be understood in direct relation to him and in a real configuration to him.
Consecrated life intends simply to live His Authority and His Obedience. To be in the position of promoting the spiritual life, persons in authority will have to cultivate first in themselves an openness to listening to others and to the signs of the times through a daily familiarity in prayer with the Word of God, with the Rule and the other norms of the life.
Celebrating and adoring the gift of the Eucharist in faithful obedience to the Lord, the community draws from it the inspiration and strength for its total dedication to God, in order to be a sign of his gratuitous love for humanity and an efficacious pointing toward future goods. It is appropriate to recall that before invoking obedience necessary one needs to practice charity indispensable.
Faced with some difficult situations in consecrated life, for example, where its presence seems to be weakening and even disappearing, the one who leads the community will recall the perennial values of this kind of life, because today, as yesterday, and as always, nothing is more important, beautiful and true than spending one's own life in the service of the Lord and for the littlest of his children. Leaders of the community are like the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep, because even in the critical moment they do not retreat, but are present, participating in the concerns and the difficulties of the people confided to their care, involving themselves personally; and like the Good Samaritan they will be ready to care for any possible wounds.
Furthermore, leaders humbly recognizes their own limits and need for help from others, knowing how to turn their own failures and defeats into rich learning experiences. The exercise of authority also includes putting oneself at the service of the proper charism of the institute to which one belongs, keeping it carefully and making it real in the local community and in the province or the entire institute, according to the plans and orientations offered, in particular by General Chapters or analogous meetings.
Persons in authority have the task of helping to keep alive the sense of faith and of ecclesial communion, in the midst of a people that recognizes and praises the wonders of God, witnessing to the joy of belonging to him in the great family of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The task of following the Lord cannot be taken by solitary navigators but is accomplished in the bark of Peter, which survives the storms; and consecrated persons contribute a hardworking and joyful fidelity to good navigation.
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A task always to be considered most important today on the part of p ersons in authority is that of accompanying the persons for whom they are called to care throughout their lives. Therefore, it will be the responsibility of persons in authority to keep a high level of openness to being formed as well as the ability to learn from life. In particular, this is important to do regarding the freedom of letting oneself be formed by others and for each one to feel a responsibility for the growth of others.
Both will be fostered by making use of means of growth in community passed on by tradition and that are today especially recommended by those who have solid experience in the field of spiritual formation: sharing of the Word, personal and community plans, communitarian discernment, review of one's life and fraternal correction. In the preceding paragraphs the service of authority in consecrated life was described in reference to the search for the will of the Father and some of its priorities were pointed out.
In order that these priorities not be understood as purely facultative, it seems appropriate to consider the particular characteristics of the exercise of authority according to the Code of Canon Law. Moving from the characteristic nature of munus of ecclesial authority, the Code reminds the religious superior that he or she is first of all called to be the first one to be obedient.
In the strength of the assumed office, he or she owes obedience to the law of God, from whom his or her authority comes and to whom he or she must render an account in conscience, to the law of the Church, to the Roman Pontiff, and to the proper law of the institute.
Therefore, every superior is called to bring to life again, brother to brother or sister to sister, that love with which God loves his children, avoiding, on the one hand, any attitude of domination and, on the other, any form of paternalism or maternalism. The principle means that the superior should use to attain such a primary end can only be based on faith: they are, in particular, listening to the Word of God and the celebration of the Liturgy.
Today, it is not rare that the mission is addressed to people concerned with their own autonomy, jealous of their freedom, fearful of losing their independence. With their very existence, consecrated persons present the possibility of a different way for the fulfilment of their own life, a way where God is the goal, his Word the light, and his will the guide, where consecrated persons move along peacefully in the certainty of being sustained by the hands of a Father who welcomes and provides, where they are accompanied by brothers and sisters, moved by the same Spirit, who wants to and knows how to satisfy the desires and longings sown by the Father in the heart of each one.
This is the primary mission of the consecrated person: he or she must witness to the freedom of the children of God, a freedom modelled on that of Christ who was free to serve God and the brothers and sisters; and moreover to affirm with his or her very own being that that God who formed the human creature from clay cf. Gen , 22 and knitted that creature in his or her mother's womb cf. Ps , can form his or her life, modelling it on that of Christ, the new and perfectly free man.
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The building of fraternal community constitutes one of the fundamental tasks of consecrated life, to which the members of the community are called to dedicate themselves, moved by that same love that the Lord has poured out into their hearts. In fact, fraternal life in community is a constitutive element of religious life, an eloquent sign of the humanizing effects of the presence of the Reign of God.
If it is true that there is no meaningful community without fraternal love, it is likewise true that a correct view of obedience and authority can offer a valid help for living the commandment of love in daily life, especially when it is a question of facing problems regarding the relationship between the individual and the community. Persons in authority at the service of the community, the community at the service of the Reign of God.
The function of authority enters into this plan. Superiors, in union with the persons entrusted to them, are called to build a fraternal community in Christ in which God is sought and loved above things, in order to fulfil God's redemptive plan. Only if superiors themselves live in obedience to Christ and sincerely observe the Rule can the members of the community understand that their obedience to the superior is not only not contrary to the freedom of the children of God but causes it to mature in conformity with Christ, obedient to the Father.
One and the same call from God has gathered the members of a community or of an institute together cf. Col ; one and the same desire of seeking God continues to guide them. Obedience to the action of the Spirit unifies the community in its witness to his presence, makes the steps of all joyful cf. Ps , and becomes the basis of community life in which all obey, each with various tasks.
The search for the will of God and the willingness to carry it out is the spiritual cement that saves the group from the fragmentation that can arise from the great variety of persons in all their diversity when they are lacking a unifying principle. In these last few years, a renewed concept of anthropology has made the importance of the relational dimension of the human person much more evident. Such a conception finds ample confirmation in the image of the human person that emerges from the Scriptures and, undoubtedly, has also influenced the way of conceiving relations within the religious community, making it more attentive to the value of openness to someone other than oneself, to the fruitfulness of the relation with the diversity and enrichment that come to each one from it.
Such a relational anthropology has also exercised an influence, at least indirectly as we have already recalled, on the spirituality of communion , and has contributed to the renewal of the concept of mission understood as a shared commitment with all members of the people of God, in a spirit of collaboration and co-responsibility. The spirituality of communion presents itself as the spiritual climate of the Church at the beginning of the Third Millennium and, therefore, as an active and exemplary task of religious life at all levels.
It is the main pathway for the future of a believing life and of Christian witness. Holiness and mission pass through the community because the risen Lord makes himself present in it and through it, 50 making it holy and sanctifying the relationships. Has not Jesus promised to be present where two or three are gathered in his name cf. Mt ? Thus, brothers and sisters become sacraments of Jesus and of the encounter with God, a concrete possibility of being able to live the commandment. In this way the path of holiness becomes a way that all members of the community follow together; not just a path for an individual but ever more a community experience: in the reciprocal welcoming; in the sharing of gifts, above all the gift of love, of pardon, and of fraternal correction; in the common search for the will of the Lord rich in grace and mercy; in the willingness of each one to bear one another's burdens.
In today's cultural atmosphere, community holiness is a convincing witness, perhaps even more than that of the individual: this shows the perennial value of unity, a gift left by the Lord Jesus. This becomes particularly evident in international and intercultural communities that demand high levels of welcoming and dialogue. A lack of clarity in this area is a source of confusion and conflict. Within this picture persons in authority promote the growth of fraternal life through the service of listening and dialogue, the creation of a favourable atmosphere for sharing and co-responsibility, the participation of everyone in the concerns of each one, service balanced between the individual and the community, discernment and the promotion of fraternal obedience.
The exercise of authority implies that persons in authority should gladly listen to those who have been entrusted to them. Listening is one of the principal ministries of superiors for which they must always be available, above all for those who feel isolated and in need of attention.
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In fact, listening means accepting the other unconditionally, giving him or her space in one's own heart. For this listening conveys affection and understanding, declares that the other is appreciated, and that his or her presence and opinion are taken into consideration. Whoever presides must remember that the one who does not listen to his brother or sister does not know how to listen to God either, that an attentive listening allows one to better coordinate the energy and gifts that the Spirit gives to the community and also, when making decisions, to keep in mind the limits and the difficulties of some members.
Time spent in listening is never time wasted, and listening can often prevent crises and difficult times both on the individual and community levels. Persons in authority will have to be concerned with creating an environment of trust, promoting the recognition of the abilities and the sensitivities of individuals.
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