Last Saturday, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Church observed the World Day of Consecrated Life, instituted by Blessed John Paul II.
ZENIT spoke with the Brazilian cardinal who is the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, João Bráz de Aviz, about the World Day and his work in the Vatican. He says the presence of the Pope “fills us with joy.”
ZENIT: What do you wish to reflect on in this year’s Day?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: In the Christian experience, to follow Jesus is the path for all the baptized, whereas consecrated life is a somewhat special call, in the sense that there isn’t a commandment on this. There are people who, to follow Jesus, leave all goods and live in poverty. Another dimension is that of virginity, not because marriage is not valued, but because some have felt that God is greater than marriage. This means to follow Jesus, as Christ followed the Father, and Mary who followed God in virginity.
ZENIT: And what can you tell us about obedience?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: The whole question of obedience and respect for authority is a very beautiful dimension, because one chooses to obey God and does so accepting the mediation of the human authority inspired by the Lord. These are the ways proper to consecrated life. I think that wherever mature communities are born, consecrated persons are born; it has been so since the beginning of the Church. The only thing that is needed now is a return to the original beauty, namely, that of the founders, characterized by profound witness which shows one how to follow God completely.
ZENIT: After 50 years since the publication of the decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life, what are the fruits and what are the paths to be traveled?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: Vatican II was a decisive moment to deepen and develop the consecrated life. In this connection, Perfectae Caritatis was a great contribution. It was an appeal of the Church to all Religious Families to update their statutes and rules.
Now, at a distance of 50 years, it is evident that it is necessary to return to the authenticity of the witness. I am also thinking of the need to walk together, helping one another mutually to live our own consecration more intensely.
In addition, I see something else, which we heard from our pastors, especially the last Pontiffs, namely that we must rediscover the two essential dimensions of the Church: the hierarchical dimension and the prophetic and charismatic dimension.
Charisms and prophecy are not small things, but something that comes with the ministry. The ministry will continue to discern the charism, but it must do so after it knows and loves the charism.
ZENIT: In the modern world, where secularization is strong, what is the prophetic voice of the consecrated?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: The task of the charism is to “transmit the experience of God.” I must ask myself: Does God really make me happy? Or do I have other sources of happiness? Do I find happiness in other persons or other ways?
This is a great challenge because it’s not enough to talk, it’s necessary that the other see in us that it is in fact so. And we are not made only to help those who have problems of health, education or poverty. In their action towards man and woman, the consecrated have an identity and an example which is to follow the Lord. And if this identity isn’t perceived, we won’t succeed in going forward and we won’t succeed in transmitting it to others.
ZENIT: What space do the new experiences of consecrated life have, many of which are made up of the laity, and how do they proceed?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: This type of vocation is very original. It’s a modern reality recognized by Pius XII. It’s a most beautiful form of consecration because it is a question of totally lay persons. The persons are conscious of not being Brothers or Sisters, but they are profoundly religious because they are consecrated with vows. Sometimes they don’t have an intensely communal life — as their charism indicates — but they live inserted in the local communities. They witness and live as Christian men and women in their own environment; not everyone knows that they are consecrated.
It is a somewhat special and very beautiful vocation. The number is growing both for the secular Institutes as well as for the Order of virgins, which was something already present in the first communities of the Church.
ZENIT: How do you evaluate the experience of the Ordo Virginum and its realization?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: I evaluate it very positively. In the Congregation we have a person who takes care of this aspect directly and follows this reality. It’s something that is spreading. Many bishops have seen vocations born and have supported them. We are close to them and want them to develop.
ZENIT: Why is it only for women? Can’t men also be consecrated in this way?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: The Ordo Virginum is more for women, but that there should be consecrated men, in this sense I don’t see why not.
ZENIT: What are the topics you consider important for the near future?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: There are several topics. Personally, I see the need for a certain attention to contemplative life. The Church is very interested in keeping and promoting it. It is necessary to help convents, especially those that are being emptied, the small realities and those that have internal problems.
The problem must be resolved of Religious Brothers who aren’t priests. Here also it’s about a special vocation because it is a question of those in whom the charism seems strongest.
ZENIT: What message do you wish to send to ZENIT readers who are consecrated?
Cardinal Bráz de Aviz: I would like to stress the Holy Father’s appeal for the Year of Faith and the taking up of the teachings of Vatican II as true life. For us consecrated, the most important thing now, is to believe in the gift that God has given us as a gift of love. It’s not that we are persons who have left everything and have nothing. On the contrary, we are persons who left everything to have much more! God is the reason for our joy and our happiness.[Translation by ZENIT]