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The right to a course of solid and coherent studies

· ​For all consecrated people, including women ·

Réflexions sur le bon usage des études scolaires en vue de l’amour de Dieu [Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God] refers to study as the wisdom of the look, underlining the female valence of that attitude to learning which, while it enriches us with data and notions, overcomes them in the vision of soul, as a fertile synthesis which does not permit us to become rigidly set on stereotypes and age-old forms, people, situations and institutions. This feminine aspect leads to gestation, refusing to stagnate or become entrenched in a manner that could cause intellect, vitality and practices to groan. Attention to the human and to its universal meanings, in addition to the various appurtenances, is indicated by Simone Weil as fundamental for the third millennium: “Christianity must contain in itself all vocations, without exception, because it is catholic”. However, consecrated women must have the concrete possibility of proceeding on this path to qualifications.

Maria Lai, “The Holy Shroud” (1998, detail)

In 2017 Pope Francis approved the publication of the guidelines New Wine in New Wineskins published by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which take a favourable view of studies for women religious, but in which is nevertheless reflected an attitude of resistance to this new mentality in the ecclesial community, and at times even among consecrated women themselves. Even with the noteworthy progress that has been made, it must be recognized that a balanced synthesis has not yet been achieved, nor a purification of the plan and models inherited. Too many obstacles persist in the structures and too much diffidence remains whenever an opportunity arises to provide “room for women to participate in different fields and at all levels, including decision-making processes, above all in matters which concern women themselves” (Vita consecrata, 58).

To unfold these possibilities to consecrated women it is necessary that they receive an adequate cultural training, never of a minority kind; institutes of consecrated life, in fact, both male and female, “have always had great influence in the formation and transmission of culture” (Vita consecrata, 98). The ardour and dedication present in the lives of consecrated women should thus be sustained by study: “Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis (Caritas in veritate, 4).

Born from several voices is the invitation to the systematic study of the sciences and of theology in their plurality, and not only these fields, in order not to regress in comparison with the paths taken in the period that immediately followed the Council. The pressure of works often compels women religious to choose brief cultural and university courses, devaluating a patrimony of competences which the institutes with foresight fostered and encouraged during the 20th century. Paradoxically, in the past more than in our own day congregations appear as explorers of culture, leading women religious to study and to take various paths, running schools and hospitals. In Italy as in other European countries, the first women to frequent state universities at the end of the 19th century were women religious. Moreover, since the beginning of the 20th century, in the United States of America women religious have attended university faculties for humanist, scientific and artistic disciplines. In effect, women religious have been pioneers in the instruction of women in the secular environment during the years in which they were still barred from Catholic universities, and hence from the possibility of studying exegesis, theology and Canon Law. After the Second Vatican Council these doors were opened, providing the possibility for many women researchers and intellectuals to take part with creativity and courage in the cultural debates opened, and especially to open new debates.

With the critical trends of cultures in the process of mutation and of recasting what it is to be human, our own day calls those who carry out the service of authority in institutes to pay special attention to the individual person: “the commitment to study cannot be limited to initial formation or to the gaining of academic degrees and professional qualifications. Rather, study is an expression of the unquenchable desire for an ever deeper knowledge of God, the source of light and all human truth (Vita consecrata, op. cit.). It is proposed to review the rationes formationis of the institute with a plurality of voices and more authoritative assemblies and to complete them with the rationes studiorum, so that to consecrated women, as to candidates for the priesthood and the religious life, a course of studies may be guaranteed which is coherent and solid, adequate for the identity and mission which they have been given to live in the Church.

The truth, aletheia, requires a lively and free movement of closeness, a journey driven by wonder, a nostalgia for revelation. Aristotle models an image of truth revealed as a light that envelopes and surrounds us, while the eye of our intelligence is similar to the eye of the noctule bat: it is unable to see in bright light (cf. Metaphysics, ii, 993). Study, therefore, as a journey towards the truth, requires that the interior eye be trained in research and in the loving application of the soul in such fascinating work – the only thing that can kindle change and transformation.

It is not macrorevolutions but rather microprocesses, intuited, desired and pursued, that change history. Macrorevolutions give rise to violence and harshness. Microprocesses bring about change in concrete pasts, they transform age-old ancient apparatuses, improbable mechanisms, and modify resistances to the end with a light touch. In the process of history, women have made a special contribution, without revolutions, managing daily life with ingenious and critical tenacity. Thus for consecrated women, the turning points brought about are the result of microprocesses, intuitions, decisions, of daring actions, sometimes silent: from intelligence to the centre of the heart in which one decides for the humanum and for God. With a light touch.

Nicla Spezzati

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