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from issue no. 12 - 2004

… to say to Him: «Come»

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life explains why the cloistered vocation still has meaning

by Franc Rodé C. M.

Archbishop Franc Rodé, Lazarist,  Prefect for the Religious since February 2004

Archbishop Franc Rodé, Lazarist, Prefect for the Religious since February 2004

A question has always arisen in the heart of man, a question that expresses the final essence of humanity, that arises everywhere and at all times, that is at home in the innermost part, in the depths of the human being: «My soul thirsts for thee, O God; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is» Ps 62.1.
As Saint Teresa of Avila writes in her Path of Perfection, «thirst expresses the desire for something, but a desire so intense that we die if we remain without it» (Path of Perfection XIX). Thirst is not a problem resulting from unhappy days or to unfortunate circumstances, it is no accident, it is not occasional but is an ordinary condition, normal, eternal. This thirst translates itself into the desire for an authentic life, that sinks its roots in the depths of being and not on the surface, at the center, at the heart of the person and not at the margins: it is a thirst for communion, for love, for encounter, for answering looks, for truth, for beauty. It is a thirst for a God who comes down to walk in the garden in the cool of the evening.
This desire for God is a desire for the infinite, for perfection; it is the answer to the questions posed by our human condition; it is the awareness that man is not explained by himself, that we and reality have meaning only in the light of a greater reality, hidden from our eyes, but perceived and desired by our heart. This thirst for days and for eternity – for life –, this desire for a spring that gushes for eternal life, can be satisfied: «If any one thirts, let him come to me, and drink he who believes in me» (Jn 7:37-38). Saint Augustine, the 1,650th anniversary of whose birth we celebrate this year, in the famous opening of his Confessions well expresses the irrepressible need that drives man to seek the face of God: «You have made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee». The contemplatives have responded to the call of Love, with a capital L. Only God is their Bridegroom, only He can quench their thirst: «Capacem Dei, quidquid Deo minus est non implebit», whoever is able to contain God, cannot be filled by anything else that is less than God.
The life of contemplatives, dedicated to prayer, to prayerful intercession, to simple and poor work, to humble fraternity, evokes the cell of the heart, the place of encounter with the Beloved, where everyone is called to live the union with the Bridegroom, that place where the whole of human existence finds fullness of meaning and joy.
The cloister is the place in the desert, where God unites the beloved to Himself, in an intimate and indissoluble relationship: «I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her» (Hos 2:14). The wilderness where the need for water, where thirst becomes more insuppressible, more urgent, a matter of life and death.
I had an opportunity of breathing the clean air and the sweet perfume of life totally dedicated to contemplation in a community in the diocese of Ljubljana, of which I was priest and pastor for seven years: the community of the Discalced Carmelites of Sora. The cloister «accepted as gift and chosen as free response of love» (post-synod Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, 59): twenty women, young, in age or with the will to live (it is indeed true that contemplatives do not grow old!).
Whoever enters that monastery, as in the many monasteries of contemplatives, nuns or monks, spread throughout the world, feels the profound, pure, simple joy that reigns there; experiences how it is possible to pass from the fists clenched tight on one’s own things to the open arms of those who know how to receive because they have experienced the sweetness of being welcomed, being eternally loved, how one can pass from the cracked and sealed cistern, closed on itself and its own few drops of bitter water, to a poured jug, to a heart open to the great needs of man and of history, open to whoever seeks encounter, communion, open to all the thirsty and hungry for God and His love.
Their joy, intimate, profound, which is purity and nobility of bearing, manifests itself in an open, receptive smile, in eyes and faces transfigured by the encounter with God, which transforms little by little; is translated into a community where vulgarity and falsity find no lodging, driven away by an atmosphere of truth and sincerity, where affection free of human conditionings dwells.
The cloister thus is not only «the place of spiritual communion with God» but becomes the place of the communion of love «with the brothers and sisters», where «the limitation of spaces and contacts works to the advantage of the interiorization of evangelical values» (VC 59).
As Saint Teresa of Lisieux wrote, the place of contemplatives is in the heart of the Church and their vocation is love: «In the heart of the Church, my mother, I shall be love, and shall be everything». These men and women offer their life for the Church, for the bishops, for the priests, for those in doubt, for those who suffer, for those who are far from God and for all the tragedies and needs of humanity: notwithstanding the grilles – or, in some mysterious way, actually because of them – that materially separate them from the world, through the narrow and infinite spaces of their cloister, they are present with their hidden life of love and sacrifice to all the dramas of the world and the Church. They become the spring from which every man and woman can draw strength, joy, serenity, courage, in a continuous communication formed of simple words, of requests for prayers, of spiritual closeness, which all those who knock at the monastery door can have concrete experience of.
The cloister therefore is the place where the bride Church gives glory to her Bridegroom and, moved by the Holy Spirit who inhabits her, calls out to Him: «Come!» (Rv 22:17). Every contemplative repeats, incessantly and full of wonder, the prayer of Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi: «O Bridegroom, O Word, I always want to call you in this way. Well look, admire my Bridegroom Word, how beautiful he is, how great, how dignified, how resplendent his face. O Bridegroom, O my loving Word! O creatures created by him what are you doing? I invite you all to marvel at and consider his greatness, his magnificence and glory».

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