Those who are the leaders of the Church in the world are the consecrated religious; the priests, sisters and other consecrated whose very lives testify to the revealed truth of the Church, magnifying it in the world, and it is vital that they live according to the Magisterium, that they live according to the truth of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI speaks to this in this recent talk, which is excerpted here.
"Next to these difficult situations, which should be looked upon with courage and honesty..."
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters, at the end of this morning of common reflection on some aspects of consecrated life that are especially relevant and important in our time, I would first of all like to thank the Lord for offering us the possibility of this encounter, which has been very profitable for all. We have been able to analyze together the possibilities and expectations, the hopes and difficulties that institutes of consecrated life encounter today. I listened with great attention and interest to your testimonies and your experiences, and I have taken note of your questions.
We all recognize how in modern globalized society it is becoming increasingly difficult to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. If this is true for all of the baptized, it is all the more so for the persons whom Jesus calls to follow him in a more radical way through religious consecration.
The process of secularization that is advancing in contemporary culture does not spare, in fact, even the religious communities.
But we must not allow ourselves to become discouraged, because if today, as it has been opportune to recall, there are not a few clouds forming on the horizon of religious life, there are also emerging, and indeed growing constantly, signs of a providential reawakening that is providing reasons for consolation and hope.
The Holy Spirit is breathing powerfully everywhere in the Church, prompting a new commitment to faithfulness in the historical religious institutes, together with new forms of religious consecration in harmony with the needs of the time.
Today, as in every age, there is no lack of generous souls willing to abandon everyone and everything in order to embrace Christ and his Gospel, consecrating to his service their existence within communities marked by enthusiasm, generosity, and joy. What distinguishes these new experiences of consecrated life is the common desire, shared through an eager response, for evangelical poverty practiced in a radical way, for faithful love of the Church, for generous dedication to one's neighbor in need, with special attention toward those spiritual forms of poverty that strongly characterize the contemporary period.
Many times I too, like my venerable predecessors, have wanted to repeat that the men of today feel a strong religious and spiritual urging, but that they are ready to listen to and follow only those who consistently bear witness to their own adherence to Christ. And it is interesting to note that the institutes with a wealth of vocations are the ones that have preserved or chosen a tenor of life that is often very austere, and in any case faithful to the Gospel lived "sine glossa."
I think of the many faithful communities and of the new experiences of consecrated life that you know well. I think of the missionary work of many ecclesial groups and movements that are giving rise to many priestly and religious vocations. I think of the young women and men who abandon everything to enter cloistered monasteries and convents.
It is true – and we can say it with joy – even today, the Lord continues to send workers to his vineyard and to enrich his people with many holy vocations. We thank him for this, and pray to him that the enthusiasm of the initial decisions – many young people, in fact, set out on the road of evangelical perfection and enter into new forms of consecrated life following emotional conversions – that, as I was saying, the enthusiasm of the initial decisions may be followed by the effort of perseverance in an authentic journey of ascetic and spiritual perfection, in a journey of true sanctity.
As for the orders and congregations with a long tradition in the Church, we cannot fail to note, as you yourselves have emphasized, that in recent decades almost all of these – both men's and women's communities – have passed through a difficult crisis due to the aging of their members, a more or less pronounced decrease in vocations, and sometimes even a spiritual and charismatic 'weariness'. In certain cases, this crisis has become worrying.