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from issue no. 12 - 2004

Ancient Lecceto, seduction of sanctity

We asked the Augustinian nuns to write short accounts of their life and of the history of their convent for us

by the Augustinian nuns

On this pages, some shots of the monastery of Lecceto

On this pages, some shots of the monastery of Lecceto

What amazes most – so they tell us – about coming to Lecceto (even if it’s often taken for granted, almost as if it were natural) is the fact that a group of women who did not chose themselves, coming from experiences, both in personal history and in the Church, even very different from each other, with very divergent personalities, sensibilities, temperaments and characters, tastes and points of view, should live together twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, testifying a unity and mutual affection, a manner so fully human of being together that it can only be a gift of God: «It is grace of God that brothers can live together in unity; it is not because of their efforts or their merits, but it is a gift of God, because of His grace which like dew descends from Heaven» (cf. Saint Augustine, Comment on Psalm 132:10). One encounters a beauty in this place. It was a beauty that I encountered coming here the first time more than fifteen years ago by now. And it doesn’t have to do only with the harmony of the chants, of the liturgy, of the humble elegance of the monastic habit, of the sweetness of the feminine manner; it is a beauty, a goodness, a truth that belong specifically to this place, for centuries called “Attraction of Sanctity”, «Ilicetum vetus sanctitatis illicium» (Ancient Lecceto seduction of sanctity). A history of sanctity has in fact inhabited it. What led each one of us to ask to be allowed to live in the Augustinian community of this hermitage, even if the circumstances were very diverse and particular, is this very attraction … «Love» Saint Augustine says «is a force that attracts the soul» (cf. Comment on the Gospel of John, 26:4).
It’s a love that has invested my life from the beginning, gratuitously, anticipating the desire of my heart. Bigger than my heart. A grace and a mercy that embrace life giving pardon and the possibility of always beginning over again. A love that bestows truth, that sets free. At a certain point a greater question is born in the heart: to whom does life belong, who should it be lived for? And a new perspective and an unthought of possibility and a new desire begin to be glimpsed: to live for God. Saint Augustine translated this into a Rule. The Rule is charity: «Most dear Sisters, love God with all your heart and then your neighbor, because the Lord wants this of us above all other things (ante omnia diligete)» (cf. Saint Augustine, The Rule, 1). «The essential reason that you are gathered together», he tells us getting ever closer to the heart of our life, «is that you live unanimously in the house and that you have a single soul and a single heart stretched toward God» (cf. Saint Augustine, The Rule, 3). This is nothing other than the experience of the first Christian community. Augustine wants the monastic community to live the same experience as the growing Church: «As we wish to live and how, with the help of God, we already live is described exactly in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, many already know it directly from Holy Scripture; but so as to remember it better the passage from the Acts of the Apostles where the kind of life that we intend to follow is described will be reread to you: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one declared what belonged to him his property, but everything was in common among them” (Acts 4:32). You have heard what our intention is: pray that we may be able to enact it» (cf. Discourse 356, 1:2).

And the description that Augustine gives of his convent : «Ecclesiola in Ecclesia Dei» (a small Church in the Church of God). The unique heart of Christ beats within it, testifying to the beauty of unity and peace. We are therefore called to become the Church. Perhaps our contemplative life may seem a waste to some. For us it is to intercede like a mother for the happiness of man, within the simplicity of the everyday that runs through work and prayer, in the encounter with the other. «In the heart of the Church I will be Love», Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus used to say, in perfect harmony with Augustine. Especially in liturgical prayer, which is our way of being publicly present to the world, we feel in communion with all men. The monastic life is a very particular way through which God acts in history and the salvation brought about by Jesus shines and spreads in the world. It is asked of us only that we put ourselves at the disposal of God, who may deign to use our life as it pleases Him, through the mysterious ways that He knows, for the happiness of the world. The means is simply that of living to the core, fully, what is the gift of God for us, «in love with spiritual beauty, as free women under grace, who give out from the sanctity of their conduct the good perfume of Christ» (cf. Saint Augustine, The Rule, 8).

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