Contemplative Women Must Change Their Lifestyles

Contemplative Women Must Change Their Lifestyles

Document on Women Religious – 1

[Hat-tip to gpmtrad]

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Francis latest Apostolic Constitution on Women’s Contemplative Life is much more revolutionary than it might appear at first sight. Perhaps that is why it has not received the attention it deserves from the Catholic media, who typically try to avoid reporting the more destructive fruits of Vatican II.

Titled Vultum Dei Quaerere (VDQ), it calls for women religious living in contemplative orders around the world to re-regulate their lifestyles and re-write their constitutions to better conform to the Vatican II guidelines and the changing modern times. The Vatican press release plainly admits VDQ is a “call to implement changes” in 12 areas of the monastic tradition, from formation to cloister and asceticism. In the long term, it is a full re-structuring of contemplative religious orders.

The document is short, if we consider the prolixity of other Francis documents, only 21 pages. Despite much flummery and praise for the contemplative life, the tone of Vultum Dei Quaerere is clear: All Catholic religious in contemplative communities – and that means absolutely all: the cloistered, semi-cloistered, those devoted primarily to prayer, etc. – must officially “get with” the Vatican II program and actively engage in adaptation to the modern world. (VDQ art. 2: §1)

No more exceptions or excuses like “we are following the order’s special charisma.” The move toward centralization and modernization is mandated by the Supreme Pontiff himself and applies to every order under his jurisdiction, including the traditionalist female contemplative institutions – those linked to Fraternity St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, the Good Shepherd Institute and, shortly, to those dependent on the Society of St. Pius X, when it officializes its status with Rome.

Forbiddingly, Francis begins by dictating that VDQ abrogates and over-rules all past documents with norms governing the lives of religious contemplative women, including the 1983 Code of Canon Law. To make the command crystal clear, he specifically lists the more relevant documents starting with Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi (1950) to the Vatican Instructionn Verbi Sponsa (1999) on the contemplative life and enclosure of nuns. (VDQ art. 1 )

Therefore, with a sweep of the hand, Francis mandates:

1. All contemplative women religious orders must review their aims and rewrite their constitutions to be in better accord with Vatican II;

2. All past norms and regulations governing contemplatives including Canon Law are voided

3. The contemplative women religious orders must submit unquestioningly to VDQ and await another set of guidelines to come.

These new constitutions, once adapted to the new guidelines, still to be issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, must be approved by the Holy See. (VDQ art. 14: §2)

Card. Avis insists all religious women must enter the modern world in the spirit of Vatican II

It should be noted here that the one appointed to issue these norms is Brazilian Card. João Braz de Aviz. the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious Life. Card. Aviz makes no secret that he believes all religious orders should live their lives more “inserted” into the world.

Addressing the religious formation directors at a Rome congress in 2015, he spoke harsh words against those religious who try to avoid the changes in the Church brought about by Vatican II.

“In fact, those that are distancing themselves from the Council to make another path are killing themselves – sooner or later, they will die,” Braz de Aviz said. “They will make no sense. They will be outside the Church. We need to build, using the Gospel and the Council as a departure point.” (National Catholic Reporter, “ Cardinal to religious: Those who abandon Vatican II are killing themselves,” April 9, 2015)

This is the Cardinal chosen by Francis to issue and regulate the coming specific norms that will direct the contemplative women religious in their task of adaptation to the modern world. I believe it can be fairly said that this does not bode well for the more traditional and conservative orders that have been growing in the past few decades.

Participation in liturgy & new social agenda

While Francis heaps praise on “the life of special consecration,” he is also insisting that these women religious become “women of our time.” (VDQ n. 2) For this, “special attention needs to be given to two great documents of Vatican Council II: Lumen gentium and Perfectae caritatis.”

The first of these in effect sets a new definition of Church as “the People of God,” promotes the protestant notion of the priesthood of the faithful and makes a theoretical call to holiness, but in practice exalting the life of service above all others.

How does this translate into transforming the lives of contemplatives? More participation in the liturgy as ”the people of God,” of course, and a prayer aimed toward improving humanity vs. praise of God.

VDQ effectively asks all contemplative women to embrace the social agenda of the post-conciliar Popes, which eschews prayer for conversion to the Catholic Faith and the primary goal of contemplative life in the past: becoming victim souls to appease the just anger of Our Lord for the sins of individuals and nations.

A new signpost is erected: to offer “intercessory prayer for prisoners, migrants, refugees and victims of persecution.” These intercessory prayers must also extend to the unemployed, the poor, sick, drug addicts, AIDS victims and others in such “urgent” situations. That is to say, the contemplative sisters are to change their focus from prayer for conversion and salvation of souls to prayer for the social well-being and health of bodies. (n. 16)

They can “dirty their hands,” as this Pope akin with mud likes to say, by going in prayer to the most miserable and filthy places. The contemplative religious are thus invited to join the secular orders, who since Vatican II have taken up the mission to help mankind have a better life, disregarding one’s faith or lack of faith, and to destroy the “structures of sin” of Capitalism.

Since now the lectio divina (divine reading) has been “commended to the entire people of God,” the contemplatives must do more to share their “transforming experience of God’s word” with other religious and the laity. “Look upon this sharing as a true ecclesial mission,” Francis instructs them. (n. 19)

This sharing must especially be present in the liturgy, where Francis emphatically urges the sisters “to avoid the risk of an individualistic approach” and, instead, build “communion.” Since the Eucharist is the heart of consecrated life, then, for “this profound mystery to take place and shine forth in all its richness,” each “celebration of it” must be carefully prepared and “all should take part in it fully, faithfully and consciously.” (n. 22)

It is a call to a full “participation” of the “people of God’ “– including the consecrated contemplatives – in the Mass, now labeled “the Eucharist.” The sisters should also take advantage of the “biblical renewal” stimulated by Vatican II, utilizing the new methods and “existential interpretation of Sacred Scriptures” in their scriptural readings and prayers (Divine Office).

But this is more than just a call to participation, DVQ mandates it: “Community celebrations must be reviewed to see if they constitute an authentic and vital encounter with the Lord.” (art. 4 § 2) The new federations this document establishes will have the final word on the matter, effectively forcing the traditionalist orders into compliance with participation. Only the purposely naïve or simple-minded could imagine differently.

In the next article, I will look at the provisions of VDQ on the formation of sisters and the centralization of the contemplative communities by placing them into federations that will ensure conformity with the spirit of Vatican II.

To be continued

Get AQ Email Updates

2 comments on “Contemplative Women Must Change Their Lifestyles

  1. More bafflegab on “aggiornamento” from the cardinal now given a warrant to demolish contemplative life as it has been known since long before St Gregory the Great, perfected by the greatest saints, including St Benedict and St Therese of Avila.

    The following, dated April 9, 2015 is from:

    Cardinal to religious: Those who abandon Vatican II are ‘killing themselves’

    by Joshua J. McElwee | Apr. 9, 2015



    Rome — The cardinal who leads the Vatican’s congregation for religious life told members of religious orders globally that they must live their vocations “inserted” into the world, not closing themselves off to new things but open to changes of modern life.

    Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, speaking to a first-of-its-kind congress of many of the world’s religious formation directors, also warned the religious against trying to abandon the changes in the church brought about by the Second Vatican Council.

    “We feel today new geographical and cultural contexts that manifest in intense ways,” Braz de Aviz said Wednesday to some 1,200 formation directors at the Rome conference.

    “The contexts have changed,” he said. “We are disoriented. In our identity, we are a bit insecure. We need a new deepening, a new pausing, a new listening.”

    Continuing, the cardinal told the formation directors: “Do not distance yourself from the great lines of the Second Vatican Council.”

    In honor of the Season of Creation, download NCR’s Laudato Si readers’ guide, or sign up for our Eco Catholic email alert.

    “In fact, those that are distancing themselves from the council to make another path are killing themselves — sooner or later, they will die,” Braz de Aviz said. “They will not have sense. They will be outside the church. We need to build, using the Gospel and the council as a departure point.”

    The Brazilian, who is the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, spoke at the opening of the conference, which is being held Wednesday through Saturday at a Rome-area hotel.

    The Second Vatican Council was a 1962-65 global meeting of Catholic bishops that led to many reforms in the church, such as using vernacular language during the liturgy, but has sometimes also been a flashpoint of discussion about whether and how the church can change.

    Braz de Aviz told the formation directors that they must know that the needs of people considering religious life in today’s age “are not the same” as when the founders of their orders first received their charism, or fundamental characteristic, of the orders.

    “These contexts have changed,” the cardinal said. “And the council reminds us that consecrated life must be Christian discipleship … must be discipleship of the founders that we remember, but also must be open to the culture of the present moment.”

    “When we look only to the past and are not perceiving this moment that we are passing through, we run the risk of not being understood,” he continued. “Also, [we risk] having [kept] inside ourselves a unique treasure like the consecrated life.”

    Developing his thoughts later on the role of discernment in community life, Braz de Aviz told the formation directors: “We must not be closed to new things.”

    “God is not static,” the cardinal said. “God is always new movement — of light, of heat, of demonstration. He speaks in every time to men and women with the true language of that time.”

    The Rome conference is one of several events the Vatican congregations will hold to mark the Year of Consecrated Life, called by Pope Francis and being held through the beginning of 2016.

    The conference, which has the theme “Living in Christ according to the way of life of the Gospel,” will see almost a dozen presentations on various aspects of religious formation, or preparing and working with people who feel called to enter religious orders or institutes.

    Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, the Vatican congregation’s secretary, said in brief remarks Wednesday that the conference was the first of its kind, calling together religious formation directors from many parts of the world.

    Rodríguez said just under 1,200 people were attending, with a fairly even split between the five languages being used at the event — English, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

    Braz de Aviz spoke for nearly 40 minutes, giving a wide overview in his remarks of the themes of the consecrated life year, a letter to religious order members from Francis, and on the struggles particularly facing orders and their formation directors.

    A primary question faced by orders: “What are the fundamentals of our identity?”

    “There is a trademark of this that is very significant,” he told the directors. “Namely, this consecrated life is in the church; it is not only within its own charism. In the world, not only outside the world — even for the monastic life.”

    “This is the first point that is important for us, this context in which the identity is made,” the cardinal continued. “A consecrated life, a life in God but inserted in the ecclesial family, in the church — inserted in the world.”

    “Not in conflict with the world, but inserted in continuity,” he said.

    During his remarks, Rodríguez also referred to the Second Vatican Council, saying that the theme of the event was taken from one of the council’s documents: Perfectae Caritatis, the 1965 decree on the renewal of religious life.

    “With this explicit reference to the Second Vatican Council, we point to our profound conviction that the council is the point of reference, non-negotiable, in the formation to the consecrated life,” Rodríguez said.

    The archbishop also thanked the religious formation directors at length for their ministry, which he called “sacred, non-substitutable, and precious.”

    Rodríguez said their work was sacred because they are forming people to be like Christ. “In your ministry, remember always that you have in hand a precious vase,” he told the directors.

    The archbishop said the directors’ work is precious. “You are bridge-builders between the liberty of that God that calls and the liberty of men and women who respond.”

    “You were chosen as collaborators of God in the great work to help our young people learn the way of Christ, to assimilate the thoughts and feelings of Christ,” Rodríguez told the directors. “You have in your hands the present that gives the future of your institutes and therefore of your charisms.”

    The archbishop also told them that they must have three passions: to listen, to give hospitality, and be communities of communion.

    “A formation director is a person that more than speaking must listen,” Rodríguez said. “May you be men and women of listening, dedicating most of your time to listening, knowing that to learn to listen you must have a real awareness of yourself.”

    “Remember that the protagonist in formation is not you, but God that calls and the young person that responds,” he said.

    Another speaker Wednesday reflected on the theological background of religious life, focusing on St. Paul’s writing that Christians should “have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

    Reflecting particularly on the image of the Trinity, theologian Michelina Tenace said the Trinity shows how vocation is fulfilled in giving of self.

    “What makes us different is our way of becoming gifts to each other, and in this gift, we can grow in different ways thanks to love,” said Tenace, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

    “Formation needs to encourage people to give of themselves,” she said.

    One participant of the international conference said Wednesday he already finds it helpful.

    “I think it is a great help for those who are involved in formation, because each person has his own difficulties and his own experiences but now has the possibility of sharing to discover that others are going through the same difficulties,” said Capuchin Fr. Theo Jansen.

    Jansen, a Dutch native who has lived in Rome for decades for his order, also said he appreciated the speakers’ focus on diversity in the church.

    “The principle of unity in diversity is very important,” he said. “Because until now in the Catholic faith, many times, unity meant uniformity.”

    “Now we are discovering that is … not wrong but very limited,” Jansen said.

    • “In fact, those that are distancing themselves from the council to make another path are killing themselves — sooner or later, they will die,” Braz de Aviz said. “They will not have sense. They will be outside the church.

      No salvation outside Vatican II !!!!!
      — unless, of course, you become a Prot, Jew, Muslim, atheist. No problemo!

Leave a Reply