In Perfectae Caritatis or Decree on the Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life, the Vatican II Fathers addressed the men and women who have chosen to imitate Christ by following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in religious communities and secular institutes. Although the Fathers emphasized the need for communities to update some of their disciplines and expressions in order to better interact with the modern world, they also told religious men and women to hold fast to their spiritual heritage and grow ever closer to Christ by faithfully living out their vocations.
Here's a sample of the ideas and topics you'll find in Perfectae Caritatis.
* Religious men and women seek to imitate Jesus more closely and to attain perfect charity by following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
* Jesus is the founder of the evangelical counsels, which have developed in the Church over the centuries and are practiced by a “wonderful variety of religious communities” that build up the Body of Christ, perform a variety of good works, and adorn the Church with the “manifold gifts” of God.
* Those who profess the evangelical counsels bind themselves to Jesus and give their whole lives to God and to the Church.
* Religious communities ought to initiate an “up-to-date renewal of the religious life” that returns to the community's sources but also adapts to the modern world. The renewal must rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and follow five general principles: 1. religious communities must follow Christ above all; 2. the spirit and traditions of the communities' founders must be “faithfully accepted and retained”; 3. all communities should share fully in the life of the Church; 4. members of communities must understand the conditions of the modern world in order to help people more effectively; and 5. spiritual renewal must take first place.
* The life, prayer, and work of religious communities should be “in harmony” with the requirements of their members and with cultural, social, and economic circumstances as well as with the precepts of Vatican II.
* While authorities within the communities are in charge of the renewal, they must work closely with every member so that each has a share in the process.
* All religious dedicate their lives to God in a “special consecration” that deepens their baptismal consecration and expresses it more fully. Religious live for Christ first and seek God in contemplation apostolic love.
* Through prayer, Scripture, spirituality, and liturgy, religious “foster a life hidden with Christ in God,” which flows out into love for their neighbors. The Holy Eucharist especially nourishes the spiritual lives of religious.
* Contemplatives “give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence,” “offer to God an exceptional sacrifice of praise,” and adorn the Church with heavenly graces.
* Religious who pursue apostolic work must look to Christ as the source of their activity.
* Monastic life is especially important to the Church, and religious who live in monasteries must hold onto their traditions and rules and at the same time adapt to modern-day needs.
* Secular institutes help lay people live out the evangelical counsels in the world as they seek to “give themselves to God totally in perfect charity.” They must be “truly leaven in the world” through their apostolic activities and ought to be carefully formed in “matters divine and human.”
* The evangelical counsel of chastity frees one to become more fervent in loving God and man. It is also a symbol of heaven and “an exceptional gift of grace.” Those taking a vow of chastity must rely on God's help to fulfill their vow even as they “practice mortification and custody of the senses.”
* Poverty helps religious imitate Christ, Who was poor. Religious should strive to be poor in spirit “having their treasures in heaven,” and to “trust in the providence of the heavenly Father.” Religious must always share whatever resources they have with the Church and the poor.
* Through obedience, “religious offer the full dedication of their own wills as a sacrifice of themselves to God.” They must obey their superiors and use their gifts and talents to build up the Body of Christ. Superiors, in turn, should exercise their authority “in the spirit of service,” love, respect, and cooperation.
* Religious lead a common life of prayer and work. Communities are true families that must strive to live in love and unity.
* Religious habits should be “simple and modest, at once poor and becoming.” They may be updated to fit the requirements of the community.
* All religious should receive instruction about modern society that they may better serve the people around them and help meet the needs of the Church in the modern world.
* Religious communities may form federations, associations, unions, conferences, and councils in order to cooperate and support each other in their renewal and apostolate.
* Religious communities can and must foster vocations, but they must also carefully screen candidates. The best commendation religious can give for their communities is “the example of their own lives” of love and imitation of Christ.
The full text of Perfectae Caritatis is available online at the Vatican website.