God at the Center

Book Pick: Radical Discipleship


Consecrated Life and the Call to Holiness

By Francis Cardinal Arinze

Ignatius Press, 2015

111 pages, $11.95

To order: (800) 651-1531 or ignatius.com




Pope Francis proclaimed 2015 the Year for Consecrated Life, and this short book, by retired Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, is an overview and introduction to religious life today.

The character of a given community or institute depends on its charism and tradition. That’s why Cardinal Arinze, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, devotes a whole chapter to a much-misunderstood reality: the religious brother. “A religious brother is a mature man who feels called to the consecrated life.” Nothing more, he said, but nothing less. Cardinal Arinze takes pains to correct the confusion and injustice when people suggest “he is wasting his life as a brother instead of going the whole way and becoming a priest. The brother is not a minor edition of the priest!”

In 11 chapters, Cardinal Arinze sketches the history of consecrated life; discusses the multiplicity of forms (active, contemplative and secular institutes) it has assumed; provides statistics on the state of religious life today; and lists some of the ways (and documents) in which the Church has esteemed religious life. He then turns to specific aspects of religious life. He spells out the meaning and significance of poverty, chastity and obedience. (His treatment of chastity, in terms of loving, rather than using another and as fostering spiritual fruitfulness, maternity and paternity, shows the powerful influence of St. John Paul II.)

His reflections on “community life” show the value of life in common in the shaping and refining of people. His comments on the consecrated life as prophetic remind us that religious people should always shake up the dust of complacency.

Cardinal Arinze has a deep appreciation for religious life. He writes about Blessed Cyprian Tansi, a Nigerian diocesan priest who became a Cistercian, although he omits the fact that Tansi received the young Arinze into the Church.

All the while, the cardinal is aware of the pressures that religious life has faced since Vatican II, reflected in part by its quantitative decline, especially in the First World. But he also sees the essentials. “It is essential that God be at the center of the life of each consecrated person. Initial and ongoing formation should focus on this. Community life is to be greatly encouraged. The radical nature of discipleship that the consecrated life demands should always be put before the candidates. … And it should always be remembered that, while the maintenance of works is necessary in each religious or other consecrated community, compassionate attention to the state, spiritual and human growth and the performance of each of the members has a higher priority. Finally, each community, when it has done what it can, is to leave its present and its future in the invisible hands of divine Providence.”

For Catholics seeking a good general orientation to religious life today, not too heavy on the history and with a bias towards the lived and practical, this brief book is a fine place to start.

John M. Grondelski writes from Shanghai, China.