15. The constitutions as a means of attaining perfection
For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Congregation of the Mission is a clerical society of apostolic life and of pontifical right, in which the members pursue their own apostolic purpose according to the heritage bequeathed by Saint Vincent and sanctioned by the Church. They live in common as brothers by following their own rule of life, and they strive for perfect charity by observing the Constitutions.
Constitutions, 3, 1
The Church affirms that the members of Societies of the Apostolic Life aspire to the perfection of charity through the observance of their Constitutions1. The Church’s approval of the Constitutions guarantees that their observance leads one to holiness. Saint Vincent gave the Congregation the Common Rules to help us remain faithful to the demands of our vocation and mission. Today, the Congregation has been given new Constitutions.
1. The Constitutions Serve Our Charism
The words of John Paul II concerning the relationship between the new Code of Canon Law and the Church can be applied to the relationship between the Constitutions and the Congregation of the Mission:
It is sufficiently clear that the purpose of the Code is not in any way to replace faith, grace, charisms, or above all, charity, in the life of the Church and in the life of Christ’s faithful. On the contrary, the Code rather looks toward organizing ecclesiastical society so that while attributing a primacy to love, grace and the charisms, it will also facilitate an orderly development in the life both of the ecclesial society and of the individual persons who belong to it… The Code, then, is an instrument fully in accord with the nature of the Church2.
The Constitutions also respond to our reflections about ourselves and our mode of being present in today’s world. The Superior General expresses this thought when he writes in the cover letter to the new Constitutions:
The identity of the Congregation within the Church is outlined in the pages of this book. Let us not, however, allow that identity to be found only there. Rather let us imprint the text of the Constitutions in the depths of our hearts and live it in our daily lives, so that we might fully accomplish our vocation as evangelizers of the poor3.
2. Fidelity to the Constitutions Is a Sign of Our Fidelity to the Church
The spiritual, apostolic, and organizational content of the Constitutions give elements of strength, cohesion and unity to the missionaries. The Superior General, in the letter cited above, affirms this reality:
Permit me to make just this one observation on our Constitutions: the way in which we are faithful to the letter and the spirit of the Constitutions will determine the degree of our dedication to the life of the local Church into which the Congregation is inserted4.
In the same way, we remember the words of Saint Vincent at the end of the Prologue of the Common Rules:
Be assured that if you keep these rules, they will keep you and lead you with certainty to the desired end, namely, eternal life5.
3. The Observance of the Constitutions Is a Sign of Our Commitment to Achieve Perfection
Saint Vincent’s idea is this:
The fidelity with which we all carry out this rule will be a proof of the exactness with which we have observed all the Rules and Constitutions, and a sign of our desire for perfection. If you discover that you have made some progress in their observance, give thanks to Christ, the Lord, and beg God to grant the whole Congregation the grace to observe them better in the future6.
- Am I someone who always opposes any rule?
- How have I accepted our Constitutions?
- Can I say that our Constitutions affect my missionary life in any way?
Oh God, you are the eternal law and the unchanging pattern who shapes the universe with infinite wisdom. From you spring all our rules and laws of good living. Bless us to whom you have given these rules, and may we receive them as coming from you. Grant us, Lord, the grace to observe them faithfully until death. We pray in your name, Lord Jesus, who live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.