New Spiritual Communities and Movements

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Spiritual Renewals as an Expression of "Ecclesia semper reformanda"

Throughout the centuries, the constant need for renewal of the Church has decisively influenced the history of the Church. Again and again, there have been renewals within the Church that sought to live the gospel in a radical way (for example, the founding of orders by Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola).

Throughout the centuries, the Imitation of Christ was for the most part linked with the spirituality of the orders. A separate "spirituality of the laity" evolved again more intensively only in the 20th century. The view of God's people as the "chosen race" and "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2,9) was discovered anew. The majority of the spiritual movements was founded prior to the Second Vatican Council; however, the Council has decisively influenced the movements themselves and their vitality. Briefly, here are some of the key themes, which may serve as starting points: the teaching on the historically Pilgrim People of God, of the Body of Christ in the unity and diversity of its members, on the dignity of individual charisms and gifts of the Church, on the exceeding importance of the common priesthood of all faithful, on the collaboration of the laity and hierarchy of the church. The following text exemplifies this connection. This is what Lumen Gentium, The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II says about charisms: "The same Holy Spirit sanctifies ... not only God's people through the sacraments and services, He not only leads it and enrichens it with virtues, but 'distributes His gifts individually, as He wishes' (1 Cor. 12,11) and distributes also special graces among the faithful of any standing. Through them, He equips and prepares them to take on various tasks and services for the renewal and the complete edification of the Church, according to the text: 'To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit' (1 Cor. 12,7). Such gifts of grace, whether they are particularly outstanding or more simple and widespread, must all be accepted with gratefulness and the consolation since they are specifically adapted and useful for the needs of the Church" (LG 12). With this text of the Council, which surely is one of the most impressive witnesses of the renewal through the Second Vatican Council, it also becomes clear what is meant with the term spiritual in the concept of spiritual renewal: a reality, a Spirit wrought, charism determined reality as one becoming alive in the sphere of faith, hope and charity.

Official statements and documents of the Church repeatedly point out that the new spiritual movements are most closely connected with the great basic forces of the post-Council renewal and with many other movements of present-day ecclesiastical life. The statement of the Bishops' Conference regarding the Guidelines for the Bishops' Synod of 1987 mentions the classic Catholic federations, the spiritual movements and base communities as important basic forms of communities in the apostolate of the laity (cf. Statement 2.5, published by the Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference as a Work Aid 45, May 2, 1986, 18 ff.). The post-synod apostolic publication Christifideles Laici (CL) emphasizes also for the alliances of laity the richness and the diversity of the gifts, which the Spirit keeps alive in the Church (cf. CL, 29). The new spiritual communities thus play a central role in the life of the Church, they partake in her many facets of self-realization and are the Church in an authentic sense. Of course, depending on their sructure, also legal questions result from this, as to how they relate to the constitutional organs of ecclesiastical life and to the spiritual office in particular. For this, the new Canon Law has provided a broad space for various ways of realization, which have not yet by far been sufficiently utilized (cf. CIC 1983, Can. 113-123, 215, 223, 298-329).

The Bishops' Synod of 1994 conferred on The Consecrated Life and Its Mission in the Church and in the World. Already in the preparatory documents "new communities and renewed forms of life according to the Gospel" had been defined. In its definition of the new communities, the post-synod apostolic publicaton Vita Consecrata, which was presented on March 25, 1996, points out that the new associations are not alternatives to the earlier institutions but rather are a gift of the Spirit, which manifests itself through the signs of the times and is the origin of the community and of perpetual renewal of life (cf. VC, 62).

 


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