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RELIGIOUS-RENEWAL Oct-6-2008 (950 words) With photos posted Oct. 1. xxxn
Cardinal Rode calls for 'authentic renewal' of U.S. religious life
By Catholic News Service
EASTON, Mass. (CNS) -- The prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has called for an "authentic renewal" of religious life by "renouncing the world and living for God alone."
Cardinal Franc Rode said the Second Vatican Council provides clear guidelines for renewal in consecrated religious life by emphasizing the centrality of Christ as found in the Gospels.
His comments came during a Sept. 27 symposium at Stonehill College in Easton that examined apostolic religious life since Vatican II. Nearly 600 people attended the daylong event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Boston Archdiocese.
In introducing his presentation, Cardinal Rode recalled Pope John Paul II's belief that "consecrated life is at the very heart of the church." He said U.S. history records numerous contributions from consecrated men and women while noting that their work has "left an indelible mark on the culture."
"Without the presence and activity of monks, nuns, religious women and men, despite their acknowledged cultural and historical limitations, the history of Western civilization and the evangelization of vast areas of the globe would be vastly poorer," he said.
Despite these efforts, Cardinal Rode said, the church is facing "one of her greatest crises of all time" as the number of religious vocations has declined precipitously in Western cultures. He said that in some of those cultures, religious communities have lost hope and are resigned to the "loss of vitality."
"But America is different," he explained. "The vitality, the creativity, the exuberance that marks the thriving culture of the United States is reflected in Christian life and also in consecrated life."
He said more than 100 new religious communities have been founded in the U.S. since Vatican II. Even so, the cardinal suggested, there are signs that religious life in America is "not well."
The renewal in religious life promised by Vatican II has been largely sidelined by a misguided hermeneutics -- or interpretation -- of council documents, Cardinal Rode said. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the cardinal said, "The problems in (the council's) implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and clashed. One caused confusion; the other silently but more and more visibly bore and continues to bear fruit."
Cardinal Rode described one interpretation as "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture." He said that such an interpretation is based upon "a false concept of the church and hence of the council, as if the former were from man alone and the latter a sort of constituent assembly."
On the other hand, he continued, there is the "hermeneutic of reform," grounded in the teachings of the church and the Gospels.
"The hermeneutics of rupture has dominated the attempts at renewal of religious life," he said. "There is a fine balance in the council's documents, but at the time, given that the mandate was for updating, it was easier to justify change than to defend continuity."
Under the mantle of renewal, the cardinal said, any change that occurred was more an "adaptation to the changed conditions of our time" rather than working toward changing the world to adapt to Gospel values.
As a result, he said, the number of consecrated men and women declined, leading to the end of various apostolates and ministries, the merging or closing of religious communities and the graying of religious communities, which resulted in the "invisibility of corporate witness" to consecrated life.
Religious life was not alone, Cardinal Rode explained, saying that "updating" occurred throughout the church. He said changes that evolved "supposed the radical centering of man on himself, the rejection of the supernatural and operated in a climate of radical subjectivism."
Cardinal Rode offered several examples of how change showed itself: "In talk about holiness that is totally divorced from the fulfillment of Christ's law and the concept of grace. In minimizing sin. In the acceptance of the world as it is with no need of conversion. In taking the world as the criterion according to which the church ought to be reformed. In a notion of apostolate or ministry that consists of being at ease in the world rather than changing it. In rejection of authority, and especially divinely constituted authority, hence the rejection of the magisterium and all canonical and disciplinary ordering in the church."
In contrast, the hermeneutics of continuity and reform adheres to the "substance of the ancient doctrine" revealed by Christ and interpreted by the magisterium with the "infallible and constant assistance of the Holy Spirit," the cardinal explained.
"Reason enlightened by faith will not fall into the trap of modern secularism," he said. "Authentic prophetism in the church intends to rectify behavior, not to change the apostolic revelation."
Cardinal Rode called for renewal in consecrated religious life that "means not only dying to sin, but renouncing the world and living for God alone, service of the church and fostering of all the virtues, especially humility and obedience, seeking God alone, joining contemplation to action."
He suggested that authentic renewal draws from both the new and the old. He urged consecrated religious communities to move forward by "a greater seeking of continuity and clarity."
Continuity with the Catholic faith, the concept of religious life as understood by the church, and the charism of a community's founder as well as a renewed emphasis on formation for new members and the active promotion of vocations are vital for the renewal promised by Vatican II to be realized, Cardinal Rode said.
"The renewal of the church in this great country, and her ability to serve, necessarily passes through the renewal of religious life," he said.
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