CONSECRATION IN THE MIDST OF THE WORLD
The search for the perfection of love in the midst of the world has always existed in the church.
Secular Institutes have emerged as a way of consecration in the midst of the world.
A Secular Institute may be described as a spiritual community of Christians who live a consecration in the midst of the world, and who work for its sanctification, especially from within. The member of a Secular Institute lives a life of consecrated secularity. Thus, ‘Consecration’ and ‘ Secularity’ sum up what a Secular Institute is all about.
Consecration is an action of God on a person who accepts God’s initiative and surrenders himself into God’s hands. Consecration fills such a person with an infinite tension that aims to attain perfection in God and fills the person with the capacity of loving in the likeness of God. Consecration thus implies a divine initiative, a certain degree of separation where the person is transferred from the purely human to the divine order, and gains a newness of life. It is being gripped by the power of God in Christ and separated from sin. There is the universal call to live the evangelical virtues or evangelical imperatives as explained in the Gospels. Among them poverty, chastity and obedience have a special symbolic meaning and function in and for the Church and the world. These virtues are customarily called ‘evangelical counsels’. Secular Institutes involve a true and full profession of the Evangelical Counsels in the world.
Secularity on the other hand is the attitude of people who are living in the world not as a mere external condition, but as people who are aware that they have a responsibility being in the world to serve the world, to make it as God would have it – more just, more human – to sanctify it from within.
The prayer of Jesus has special significance for Secular Institute members - - “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. And for their sake, I consecrate myself (immolate and sacrifice myself) that they may also be consecrated in truth”.
The mystery of the Kingdom has a special significance for the way Secular Institute members must function. Christ likened the Kingdom of God to leaven which a woman put in three measures of wheat till the whole was leavened (Mat 13:37). The simile suggests both the hidden and mysterious aspects of the Kingdom of God and the vitalizing effect it has on the very ordinary material which it is in contact with. The growth of the Kingdom depends more on an inner response to the grace of God than on external manifestations. The Secular Institute member is hidden not by enclosure, but by the very lack of it. By being an ordinary person among other people, with God’s grace he hopes to establish the world in Christ. Secular Institute members have an important role to play in transforming the world from within. As the leaven in the mass, their members must be immersed in the world around them. Every sphere of life, every profession compatible with Christian life must be used. By their nature of being hidden they can penetrate and enter every area of life, and with fellow workers witness to the spirit of the divinization of the human.
The essential goodness of creation and its corruption by sin is clear to us even today. The words of St Paul might be addressed to Christians today : “You live in an age that is twisted out of its pattern and among such people you shine out, beacons to the world, upholding the message of life” (Phil 2:15). Christ became man to restore the pattern, to bring back under His dominion the whole of creation which has been disrupted, creating a gap, as it were, between the Creator and His creatures. Excessive financial profits and aggressive individualism rather than integral humanism; rugged competition rather than harmonious co-operation, appears to be the situation in most parts of the world. The profound meaning of the Incarnation, the sanctification of the profane, the divinization of humanity - -this has been obscured, as man searches the world for the message of Christ Jesus who reminds us “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
Every initiative in the Church belongs to the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to renew the face of the world. A new way of life has developed over the years, flowering as Secular Institutes. The documents of the Church have repeatedly addressed the nature and role of Secular Institutes – from Provida Mater Ecclesia (1947), Prima Feliciter (1947), the documents of Vatican II (1962-1965), and Perfectae Caritatis II to the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
The Church has been very attentive to the Secular Institutes. Pius XII wrote “The Holy Spirit … has called to himself …many beloved sons and daughters whom with great affection we bless in the Lord”. Paul VI frequently spoke of the nature and the role of the Secular Institutes and reminded the members that are in the world, not of the world but for the world. He emphasized that this was not just a play on words but that the Secular Institutes had a mission in the salvation of humanity today. He also spoke about them as a “Model” of the untiring impulse towards the new attitudes the Church wishes to have with the world. They are, in his words, “providential instruments” through which the channels of consecrated secularity can be transmitted to the world. Finally they are “laboratories of experience” of its relationship with the world. John Paul II praised the Secular Institutes as “eruptions of grace” in the life of the Church.
The Secular Institutes have then an important role to play in the Church. Their very ‘newness” makes them at times difficult to understand. Many who do not find them fitting into familiar categories have a tendency to reject them. On the other hand, the simplest and most tempting way of presenting them – as modern religious or lay religious – is misunderstanding the divine intention to which it is called to respond. Among the different states of the life like marriage, Secular Institutes, also provide an avenue for the layperson whom the Lord calls in and for the world, to attain holiness.