Remember, this document was written in 1978 and followed on much consultation in the few years prior. Yet here, as today, we hear of the missionary apostolate as a very necessary aspect of the Church, and therefore, of great concern not only to bishops, but the religious faithful as well.
The document speaks of “obligation.”
Missionary duty and the spirit of initiative
19. A clear missionary obligation, rooted in their very ministry and charism, emerges for bishops and religious. This obligation becomes more pressing each day as present cultural conditions evolve in the form of two principal trends, namely materialism, which is invading the masses even in regions Christian by tradition, and the increase in international communications, whereby all peoples including non-Christians can readily be united one with the other.
Materialism and communications: still relevant today. The former covers a lot of bases if we consider the full extent of it, especially what Pope Francis has referred to as the “throwaway culture.” People themselves become commodities to be maximized, eliminated, or something in between. The Church has not escaped unaffected–I think of that San Francisco pastor who justified a recent initiative in terms of more priests, more parishioners, more money.
Moreover, the deep upheavals of situations, the growth of human values, and the manifold needs of the world today (cf. Gaudium et Spes 43-44), press ever more insistently on the one hand for the renewal of many traditional pastoral forms of activity, and on the other for the search for new forms of apostolic presence.
Two approaches: renewal of traditions and even a diligence is lauded to respond to the need for experimentation:
In such a situation a certain apostolic diligence is urgently necessary in order to devise new, ingenious, and courageous ecclesial experiments under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is by His very nature Creator. A responsiveness rich in creative initiative (cf. n. 12) is eminently compatible with the charismatic nature of the religious life.
If religious are indeed part of that impetus for what is new, what is ingenious, what is courageous, it seems their actual state in life is so well suited for these experiments. God knows we need them today more than ever.
In fact, the Holy Father Pope Paul VI himself affirmed this: “thanks to their religious consecration, [religious] are above all free and can spontaneously leave everything and go to announce the Gospel even to the ends of the earth. They are prompt in acting; and their apostolate frequently excels because of the ingeniousness of their projects and undertakings, which evoke admiration in all who observe them” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 69).
Thoughts or comments? Quite a different tone than other recent documents from Rome, isn’t it? Remember, you can check the full document Mutuae Relationes online here.