Evangelization according to Ecclesia in Africa (1995) needs agents. For as scripture says: "how are men to call upon him [the Lord] in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15). The proclamation of the Gospel can be fully carried out only through the contribution of the various agents of the universal and local Church (no. 88). While there is an eloquent emphasis on the contribution of all believers, it is good to observe that if the evangelical objective of Redemptoris Missio (1990) “to stir up a new ardor of sanctity among missionaries” (90) is to be realized, the place of Consecrated Persons as agents of evangelization cannot be relegated to the background.
It is therefore not surprising that in 2014, the Roman Pontiff, Francis I issued a letter for the Year of Consecrated Life, which started throughout the universal Church on the first Sunday of Advent, 30th November, to end on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 2 February 2016. In his message, the Pope specified the aims of the Year of Consecrated Life, namely to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope. The Bishop of Rome further expressed his expectations for the yearlong observance: “that consecrated men and women would be witnesses of communion, of joy and the Gospel, and go evermore to the peripheries to proclaim the Good News”. He added that: “I am counting on you (Consecrated Persons) ‘to wake up the world’, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy”. If the Roman Pontiff counts on Consecrated Persons for the evangelization of the world, then circumstances have arisen, especially in this Year of Consecrated Life, to reflect on Consecrated Persons as agents of Evangelization.
The Theology of Consecrated Persons
Consecrated persons according to Kanu (2015) are the members of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Code of Canon Law (1983) teaches that they are lay persons or clerics who assume the evangelical counsels by means of a sacred bond, and become members of an institute of consecrated life according to the law of the church. They totally dedicate themselves to God with the goal of pursuing perfection in charity by faithfully embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. In this sense, consecrated persons respond freely to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ the poor, the celibate, the obedient son, more closely, thus becoming in this life a sign of the life to come. Lumen Gentium (1964) maintains that:
The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commanded by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls (No. 43).
These counsels in the contention of Fleming (1990), are referred to as evangelical because the religious vows are central to the life of Jesus and message and also because religious consecration is founded on baptismal consecration. The consecrated life is also traceable to the post-apostolic church, especially to those early Christians who dedicated themselves to a gospel-oriented life-style, to a radical following of Jesus Christ. The first person in this line according to Nwachukwu (2010) was Anthony of Egypt. He was followed by a line of disciples, until it became an institution in the Church.
Very significant is the idea of consecration. It is derived from the word ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’. In Hebrew it is qadash and in Greek Hagios; these are translated to mean ‘to consecrate’ (Leviticus 15:31; Ezekiel 14:7). In Numbers 6:5-7, 12, the Nazirites were referred to as consecrated because of their vows to God. This makes the person holy, a consecration that separates the person from others. Thus the word consecration implies a setting apart or a separation. This separation for Mayers (1987) does not in any way imply superiority, or complete severance from those the consecrated are called to serve. Lumen Gentium (1964) says, “The state which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, though it does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the church, nevertheless, undeniably belongs to the life and holiness of the church” (No. 44). The document continues, “The holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the gospel by the Lord to his disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state” (No. 42). Thus, Perfectae Caritatis (1965) exhorts consecrated person thus: “Members of each institute should recall first of all that by professing the evangelical counsels they responded to a divine call so that by being not only dead to sin but also renouncing the world they may live for God alone. They have dedicated their entire lives to his service. This constitutes a special consecration, which is deeply rooted in that of Baptism and expresses it more fully” (No. 5).
Evangelization and the Agent of Evangelization
Evangelization is the proclamation of the Gospel. McBrien (1966) observes that this was at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus said: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). He conferred the same mandate upon his apostles when he said: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Ogar (2014) avers that evangelization designates the entire services that the Church render to the world in obedience to Christ’ mandate and for the salvation of the whole world. This understanding of evangelization establishes a link between evangelization and mission. Thus, evangelization becomes mission. It is in this regard that Lumen Gentium (1964) speaks of evangelization in terms of sending missionaries to infant churches to prepare the hearers to receive and profess the faith (no. 17). Ad Gentes (1965) identifies the specific purpose of evangelization as planting the gospel among peoples (no. 6). Evangeli Nuntiandi (1975) further teaches that this gospel is planted for the people’s liberation from every form of sin and oppression (n. 29).
Since evangelization in the church is essentially ecclesial, by agent of evangelization, it is meant those who have been sent by the church, the Bride of Christ to proclaim the gospel. It is duty not the prerogative of a particular group in the church. It is duty of the various agents of the universal and local Church to evangelize. If Consecrated Persons are referred to as agents of evangelization, it would mean that they have been sent to proclaim the gospel on behalf of the Church and united with the evangelical activity of the Church; in conjunction with the mission of the Church and in her name.
Consecrated Persons and Evangelization
As agents of evangelization, Consecrated Persons make enormous contributions in diverse ways. These include: the evangelization of the evangelizer, evangelical liberation, prophetic witnessing and evangelizing through human advancement.
- 1. Consecrated Persons and the Evangelization of the Evangelizer
According to Vita Consacrata (1996) Consecrated Persons, because of the nature of their specific vocation evangelize in a unique way by manifesting the unity between self-evangelization and witness, between interior renewal and apostolic fervor, between and acting, showing that dynamism always from the first element of each of these pairs (no. 81). As a way of life, it evangelizes the evangelizer by its fundamental that evangelization must start from oneself, and that the evangelization of the other is part of the evangelization of oneself. Thus, the life of Consecrated Persons reveals the authentic way of evangelizing. Ogar (2014) observes that much of what passes for evangelization today is a unilateral relational process, expressly emphasizing projects, actions and goals that need to be achieved. Underneath this, is a poor care for oneself, the unwillingness to be evangelized.
- 2. Consecrated Persons and Evangelical Liberation
Gaudium et Spes (1965) emphasized the need for an awareness of the connection between the church and the lives of the people in her evangelizing mission. This is very familiar to Consecrated Persons as there are many of them who witness courageously to supporting the lowly and defending human rights. This echoes the gospel and voice of the Church. In collaboration with Episcopal Conferences and in respect of the charism of individual Institutes, the Conference of Major Superiors, especially in Nigeria have made enormous contributions regarding the defense and promotion of Justice through the various arms of their Conference like Justice and Peace Initiative (JPI), a brain child of the CMSN (Men) and COSUDO, the brain child of NCWR.
- 3. Consecrated Persons and Prophetic Witnessing
Africae Munus (2011) established a relationship between the evangelical counsels and the prophetic character of Consecrated Persons: “Through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, the life of consecrated persons becomes a prophetic witness. Hence, they can be examples in the area of reconciliation, justice and peace, even in circumstances marked by great tension. Community life shows us that it is possible to live as brothers and sisters, and to be united even when coming from different ethnic or racial backgrounds (cf. Ps 133:1)” (no. 19). Thus, Consecrated Persons prophetically witness to the gospel by being living examples to the world that they have been called to change, especially in the area of reconciliation, justice and peace. When they live together in mutual love and fraternal communion as brothers and sisters in a world where sectionalism and tribalism has destroyed the future of many innocent men and women, then they are prophetic witnesses.
- Consecrated Persons and Evangelization through Human Advancement
Consecrated Persons play a great role in the Church’s mission of evangelization through human advancement. By being attentive to the signs of the times they are able to discover new modes of being present to the modern world, in keeping with the original purpose of their Institutes. The social works and activities which have always formed part of their apostolate testify to their constant commitment to human advancement. These instruments of evangelization include: schools, hospitals, relief centers, cultural and spiritual centers.
The foregoing has studied Consecrated Persons as agents of evangelization. To arrive at this understanding, it put the theology of Consecrated Persons and evangelization and the agents of evangelization in proper perspective. This led to a discourse on the different dimensions that affirm that agency of Consecrated Persons in evangelization, and these include: the evangelization of the evangelizer, evangelical liberation, prophetic witnessing and evangelizing through human advancement. The call of Consecrated Persons places them at the front line of evangelization. By their presence and life style they proclaim the message of Christ and invite others to give their response to him as well.
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