New Spiritual Communities and Movements

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Common Leading Elements of New Spiritual Movements

From the complex appearance of the new spiritual renewals and movements, it is possible - in somewhat abstract terms - to pick out some common and continuous aspects. The importance of these key elements varies in the individual movements (For the following, cf. F. Valentin (editor), New Ways of Succession, Salzburg 1981, p.207 ff; M. Tigges, New Spiritual Movements - an Inquiry into the Calling and Mission of the Church Today, in Ordenskorrespondenz 3/1987, p. 291 ff.).

Spirituality and Experiences in Faith

The various groups and movements are held together by their interest in spirituality. The primary concern is not actions and programs, efficiency and strategy, but rather a renewal of human thinking and willing according to the spirit of the gospel. This spirituality is often based on great ideals and masters of spiritual life and uses often traditional but also new techniques and practices of meditation and prayer. The spiritual movements also seem to have in common an impetus toward experiences in faith. They are not content with getting to know phrases and concepts externally, but - to say it in the classical tradition - they want to experience God from within.

The experiences of faith in the community also bring about the mutual discussion about it, which, in itself, is a basic prerequisite for the testimony of faith to the outside world. In almost all the groups, the reading of the Sacred Scriptures and Bible discussions play an important role. The renewal of Divine Service in small groups but also in larger communities, and a new consciousness of the Sacraments are part of this spirituality, which is conscious of its belonging to the Church.

Some groups strive particularly for a deeper understanding of baptism; the renewal of baptism is for some a decisive point (Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo-Movement, Neo-catechumenate).

For various marriage groups, the renewed experience of the sacrament of marriage is of special concern (Equipes Notre Dame, Marriage Encounter).

Also the sacrament of reconciliation is being newly discovered in these communities. The development from the short schematic confession to a dialogue confession and spiritual counsel and direction has practically become the norm for the members.

The sacrament of confirmation and the celebration of the ointment of the sick has taken on new importance particularly in the charismatic renewal groups.

Finally, in such intense Christian groups, a feeling grows for the necessity and for the gift of spiritual vocations. From the various movements already numerous young people have decided for official service in the Church (cf. the post-synod Apostilic Letter Pastores Dabo Vobis of March 25, 1992, 68).

Besides reflection and spiritual direction, times of silence and Divine Service, spiritual experience also needs the element of further development if it is not to remain a subjective inner experience. Thus, the movements see to it that individuals are given appropriate help in regular meetings and/or in written communications (workbooks and monthly periodicals).

Evangelization and Catechesis

The words "evangelization" or "evangelizing" are relatively young terms in the German language; however, during the past years they have been used more and more frequently in theological articles, catechetical papers and sermons (cf. the fundamental apostolic writings, the encyclicals of Pope Paul VI on evangelization in the world of today Evangelii nuntiandi of December 8, 1975; the Apostolic Letter Christifideles laici of Pope John Paul II, particularly Church, nos. 34 and 44; cf. also the article "Evangelization" in the Encyclopedia For Theology and Church, Vol. 3, column 1033 - 1036, Freiburg, 1995).

The new spiritual movements attach importance to the realization of the mission of preaching the gospel, especially in areas where the Church can become "the salt of the earth" only through the apostolic testimonies of the laity (cf. also the pronouncements of Vatican II on the lay apostolate, LG, 33).

For example, the Neo-catechumenate and the Cursillo, which are especially open to committed Christians as well as to the so-called less committed, came into being because of the lack of a true catechesis. There are often unusual, new ways in which the gospel is being spread. However, the effects show that such ventures are a real assistance in fulfilling the mission of Christ in our times. Among other things, this is noticeable in the commitment of individual members or groups who courageously live the faith and so make the Christian message accessible especially to the young. In the wake of the charismatic renewal, more "Spiritual Bible Schools" are reinforced and "Life- and Faith Schools" are being made available. In order to credibly put the evangelization into effect, the spiritual movements - according to their particular charism - emphasize and promote interior unity between pracitcal life and the faith of their members.

Fellowship and Fraternity

Characteristic of the spiritual movements is also the conviction of being believers on the way together. For some communities, the passage in the Sacred Scriptures, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18,20) has become their primary text; only through Christ and in Him is true community and mutual fraternal like-mindedness possible. The experience of community life in the name of Jesus, however, is not an end in itself. It is from the beginning open to others. So the group, that is, the concrete spiritual community, can also be understood as a "chuch in miniature" (cf. LG, 11; GS, 48; AA, 11; Apostolic Letter Familiaris Consortio, 49 among others). This way, the designation for the Church as "Communio" can be translated into an experiential and visible proximity.

Such a life in spiritual community is, therefore, stamped with a different sense of brother-sister fraternalism. This, by necessity, has a broad spectrum. It has the security and closeness of a small group, it also has the solidarity of larger communities; particularly in the Church this means all embracing Catholicism and internationality. That is why many spiritual movements also go out "onto the streets and to the edges", the fringes and marginal areas of our lives. Brother-sister fraternalism becomes ministry to others. The way to God leads through the brother and the sister.

Above all, it is always again a matter of realizing Christ-likeness in everyday life. With that purpose in mind, the various group meetings are intended to be an aid and encouragement. The personal discussions, corrections and encouragements, but especially the experience of not being alone in this endeavour, of being connected to others and of being supported by them, give the individuals new strength for their different duties. For today's materialistically-minded and consumer-oriented society, the tendency towards poverty, as it is being lived by the members of the spiritual communities, should be a particularly up-to-date testimony.

As open communities, many spiritual movements also have an ecumenical orientation. So, for example, the "Ottmaring Life Center" near Augsburg has developed an ecumenical meeting center through the involvement of Focolarini.

Tasks in the World and Mission

As has already been pointed out, this brother-sister fraternalism is not only within the group, but extends itself to all men. However, the Church's mission in the world first turns to persons, who need help, and only secondarily do social and political structures become the center of interest. This is particularly obvious in the tasks of ministry. It is a characteristic of the new spiritual movements that their openess towards the world cannot be separated from their spirituality. Roger Schutz of Taize says, that contemplation and combat belong together. Ministry in the world and ministry of salvation are indeed different, but need each other and supplement one another. Of course, a critical trait is noticeable in this form of world mission: the engagement in the world is coupled with a simultaneous distance. Vis a vis the open society with its needs and interests, there exists a final reserve. Even if the world is the place of spirituality stamped with faith, hope and charity, it still remains next to the last. So the mission to the world of the new spiritual communities and movements also somehow always remains a sort of counter-project, an alternative, which certainly links them with some tendencies in certain groups of today's subcultures. This, for example, is true of the search for alternate forms of life. But these are also being influenced by the spiritual impulse, which, for example, can be recognized by the often practiced exercise of "days in the desert". The sincere involvement in the world goes along with an eschatologically oriented renunciation. Here there are points of contact with the classic orders and with the secular institutes (for this also see cf. VC, 62).

New Relations of Laity and Office Holders

The new spiritual movements are largely maintained by the laity, even though many priests do hold or have held pioneer functions within them. The function of those in responsibility is to exercise guidance of the charism rather than to perform an office. Frequently we find coordination in the movements by a leadership team. Undoubtedly, in the spiritual movements a certain renewal of the lay apostolate is taking place. However, beyond this fact, the spiritual movements are making a new relationship possible between the laity and the hierarchy. They do not stand in opposition to each other as different "classes". They meet each other first of all on the basis of the commonly lived Christian faith. The common priesthood of all believers creates a basic community of brothers and sisters, which self-evidently allow for different duties and functions, and indeed downright demands and acknowledges them. The often fruitless opposition of institution and charisms, of hierarchy and laity, becomes more relaxed because, in the lived Christian life there is a presumption which comprises all opposites and tensions and thus, at least, alleviates them. So the new spiritual renewals make possible the translation of the main principles of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council into the lived everyday life in the world.

A New Form of Ecclesiasticism

If one looks back at the mentioned five structural elements which seem to be common to the various new spiritual communities, one can observe from all aspects how there becomes discernible a new form of ecclesiasticism, which is no longer only institutionally bound or even assumes ideological characteristics: primarily and fundamentally based on spirituality and religious experience, with the goal of spreading the Gospel to the whole world, all embracing community on many levels and practiced brotherhood, turning towards the needs of the world and a new togetherness of laity and office holders. Especially in these perspectives a new and much sought after form of ecclesiasticism reveals itself, leaves room for the manifold charisms and ministries and makes possible a mutual enrichment. Thus the spiritual movements and intense communities make no absoslutist claims; common to them is the consciousness of being a spark in the fire of the Holy Spirit that is a gift to the church of our times. The spiritual movements have always sought contact with the official Church. Being faithful to the local church is an important element for them. It is certainly also a sign of the Catholicity and breadth of the Church that the new spiritual communities and lay movements consciously continue within the Church and are recognized by it (cf. especially AA, 21 and CL, 30, where the criteria for the ecclesiasticism of lay associations are mentioned).

 


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