The MOST Theological Collection: The Holy Spirit and the Church
"Chapter 6: Religious Life"
§43. LG says that religious life provides a stable and more solidly based way of Christian life. This means it is a better state. That is true.
So we can say: the religious state provides more effective means, and so the state in itself is better - but it is another thing to say that a given person in that state is spiritually better. Such a one should be, having more powerful means. But whether the person is really better - perhaps yes, perhaps no.
LG next brings out that the religious state is not something in between clergy and laity. Rather, the religious state should be seen as a form of life to which some Christians - both laity and clergy - are called, while some are not called to it.
§44. The counsels are a means of consecrating oneself to God completely. This is a way of getting more abundant fruit from the consecration of baptism. One does this for two reasons: (1) to get free of hindrances to love of God- cf. what we said in chapter 5 on detachment and the ability to perceive spiritual truths; (2)to dedicate self more fully to the service of God.
The more stable the bonds, the more complete the consecration.
Religious life is for the benefit of the entire Church. Cf. 1 Cor 12:26, and Rabbi Simeon Ben Eleazar (c. 170 A.D. Tofesta, Kiddushin, 1. 14): "He has carried out a commandment. Blessings on him!. He has tipped the scale to the side of merit for himself and for the world. He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe on him! He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world." It should serve as a sign to encourage and inspire people to greater freedom from the things of this world, by showing more strongly that we are made for heavenly things. It is a closer imitation of the form of life chosen by Jesus and Mary.
§45. The hierarchy oversees religious life. It should make wise laws to regulate it. But it should respect the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in accepting rules drawn up by holy persons.
The Pope has supreme supervision over all religious communities. So he can exempt an order or society from jurisdiction of Bishops. He can also put an order under a Patriarch. Even if exempt, members of religious orders should show respect and obedience to Bishops within the sphere provided by Canon Law.
The Church receives the vows of those who enter religious life, commends them to God, and gives a special blessing.
§46. Religious life is not an obstacle to human development - the GUN spirituality had said that, especially it said that obedience prevents maturing. Really, if there were only a few decisions to be made by a person, and all were taken over by a superior when the person was young, there would be that problem. But there are so many decisions to be made, and not all are preempted by the religious superior. So there is ample room to cultivate both obedience as a spiritual good, and to make decisions for maturity. On the positive side, the counsels contribute a great deal to purification of heart and to spiritual freedom, they continually provide a stimulus to growth in love.
Religious life does not alienate people and make them useless to human society. In fact, the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, § 7 says: "Institutes that are totally dedicated to contemplation, so that their members, in solitude and silence, in continual prayer and eager penance take time for God, always retain a special place in the Mystical Body of Christ... no matter how urgent be the needs of the active apostolate." We recall St. Therese of Lisieux was made patroness of the missions. Missioners and other active workers may labor intensely - but there will be no fruit even if Paul plants, and Apollo waters (1 Cor 3:6) without interior grace, which is obtained by the spiritual means of which we are speaking.
§47. Let all those who are called to religious life take earnest care to excel still more in that life.