Women’s contemplative life: the strength of the consecration to God
On July 22 2016, the Apostolic Constitution “Vultum Dei quaerere” was published. It is dedicated to women’s contemplative life in monasteries. Pope Francis, once again, stresses the importance of the female component of the Church and he creates a continuum with Pope Pius XII who, 66 years ago, gave birth to the Apostolic Constitution “Sponsa Christi”. With “Vultum Dei quaerere”, the Holy Father reminds that, nowadays, “the dark night of time”, there is a urgent need for contemplative nuns, “the lighthouse which enlightens the journey of today’s women and men”.
The Church has always shown huge love for women and men who have decided to live completely and unconditionally in Christ and for Christ. Throughout history, monastic contemplative life has progressively acquired a female nuance, becoming the heart of a restless prayer. Women’s contemplative life, the Bishop of Rome states in “Vultum Dei quaerere”, has undergone an evolution along the history of the Church. The individual experience of consecrated virgins has evolved in an institutionalized order, recognized by the Church. The latter, explains the Apostolic Constitution, has always identified the Virgin Mary as the “summa contemplatrix” (Dionigi il Certosino, Enarrationes) who, “From the annunciation to the resurrection, through the pilgrimage of faith that reached its climax at the foot of the cross, Mary persevered in contemplation of the mystery dwelling within her” (“Vultum Dei quaerere”).
What is the contemplative life? The etymology of the verb “to contemplate” represents the essence of the consecration to God and of living in His contemplation. “To contemplate” comes from the Latin “cum (with) templum (sky space)”. In the ancient Rome, the priest, called augur, interrogated the Gods through the birds’ flight. He used the lute to map the portion of the sky he would observe to retrieve Gods’ willingness. Through this con-templation he was able to receive God’s messages. Consequently, in general terms, “to contemplate” means attentively observe something or someone and do not care about the material things of the world. The contemplative is a person who constantly looks at God, considered as the unum necessarium. Contemplatives appreciate the value of material things, they do not allow them to block their mind and heart. Contemplatives have their face constantly turned to God, as Jesus Christ’s face is turned to the Father. The Holy Spirit, then, gives contemplatives peace, serenity and strength, taking them away from the world’s futility. Obviously, contemplative life can meet subtle temptations and internal spiritual fights. Only faith, prayer and the strength of the spirit deriving from contemplation can drive away ‘the most precious of the devil’s potions’, i.e. the temptation to escape form eternal life and get closer to the ephemeral and the fleeting , faint melancholy, lacking in hope (“Vultum Dei quaerere”).
We do not have to identify contemplative life only with a monastic order. Contemplation, broadly considered, can become a practice and an added value for those who have decided to live their everyday life on the basis of the example of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Living with one’s face constantly turned to God means decide to live praying, as reminded by Pope Benedict XVI; it means conferring a crucial role to the word of God in individual and collective life; it means confide in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation; it means dip personal relations with fraternity, transforming a multitude of subjects into “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).