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Women who live in the world

· ​Consecrated women ·

This space, which we have dedicated to the consecrated life of women in the plurality of its forms, begins as an areopagus in which the rich (biblical-theological-ecclesial) traditio and the multi-cultural experience of consecrated women can be compared with the provocative atmosphere of a female anthropology whose impact on cultures is changing.

It is an areopagus in which we desire to meet with foundations and practices of life, visions that are on trial and practices that have reached an impasse, in order to work out living thought, flexible and fertile, in accordance with principles that have the flavour of the premises present in Evangelii gaudium (222-225).We refer above all to the first, the one dearest to Pope Francis: “time is greater than space”, affirmed for the first time in the Encyclical Lumen fidei (57), repeated in the Encyclical Laudato si’ (178) and cited in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia (3 and 261), which proves to be a dynamic principle, a vector of new sowings, heralding deep roots.

This is a premise which to us consecrated women also sounds like an invitation to a common interpretation, both loving and critical, of what today the vocation to the consecratio per evangelica consilia means for women; an invitation to work in the long term without an obsession with instant results, an invitation which helps one to face situations of crisis patiently, with the changes of plan that the dynamism of reality imposes; to take on the tension between fullness and limitation; not to crystallize processes and not to claim to stop them, giving priority to time (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 223). Time orders spaces, illuminates them and transforms them into the links of a chain in constant growth, with no going back.

Women who live in accordance with the consecratio per evangelica consilia dwell in the world in the succession of days, tried by a difficult season. In the northern hemisphere of the world the decrease in the number of women choosing this permanent form of evangelical life is clearly evident; abandonment is more frequent and to glimpse a horizon and a goal is proving overall to be hard.The crisis can be seen just as clearly, but with different connotations, in the southern hemisphere where the encouraging number of women who accept the invitation to permanent discipleship in the form of the Gospel is accompanied by a corresponding variegated network of difficulties in hermeneutics and formation in the cultural and multicultural contexts.

The complexity which marks today’s societies in a global cross-section places multiple demands on the consecrated life: it calls for vital roots and humble brilliance in order to discern what belongs to space and what is entrusted to time. We are asked for an arduous effort of discernment from which to draw a paradigm of life: to root in the female identity a discipleship for the Kingdom which will have the taste of the silent truth of the Gospel and of belonging to the Church in an inclusive society and in an interactive cultural context.

The challenge resounds of transferring from roads that are safe, because they have long been trodden, to unprecedented paths, barely marked out.In such a complex time Pope Francis sets himself beside consecrated men and women, making himself a prophetic guide and travelling companion (“I, Successor of Peter, like yourselves consecrated to God”), and has constantly shown the world his special attention to the consecrated life of his time, looking at consecrated men and women with “pro-vocative” love. He has done so since the beginning of his ministry with solid and creative invitations, sometimes caustic, as is his style. They are invitations that get over the hurdle of routine, of securities and charisms that are preserved “like distilled water in a bottle”, from playing to being prophets: the tradition and the memory of the past must help us, Francis recommends, to have the courage to open up new spaces for God. Those today who obstinately seek to recover the lost past have a static and regressive vision. Faith becomes one ideology among the many. Pope Francis, continuing the beautiful work of Benedict xvi, jolts our consciences, giving us back to the heart of the Church: consecrated men and women are a strong point in his vision.

What does this mean for us consecrated women?Francis’ instruction to give priority to the peripheral viewpoint finds fertile ground in women: for us it is natural “to go outside ourselves”, that is, to seek to have the eyes of those we are looking at, to think the thoughts of those to whom we are listening, to intuit the desires of those who are desiring, to choose the colours with which others want to paint the rainbow. It means that looking beyond the things that are apparent, beyond the wounds shown, beyond the feelings described and beyond the spoken words belongs to us.

This space of reflection thus asks us to kindle fertile questions, processes of asking and of discernment that take their bearing from the anthropological and cultural instances that touch us closely. Not removing our quality of being women, not forgetting it, but rather making it the centre of a specific reflection must be an item on the agenda of consecrated women, a challenge that comes from Mary of Nazareth, a woman set by the Spirit, gratia plena, as a model-bridge between the cultures of the feminine.In the times in which we live it is inevitable that the identity of the consecrated woman be confronted by the new proposals of female identity inspired by the secular society from which the young vocations come.What innovative aspects we should accept, which we should subject to a strict examination, and in some cases even reject, judging them to be in conflict with a permanent consecration of life to the service of God in the following of Christ, constitutes a new and unavoidable task both for the various forms of consecrated life and in the women’s religious institutions in the Church. It is likewise an invitation to adequate teaching.

God manifests himself in time and is present in historical processes. This gives priority to actions that generate new dynamics in patience and in waiting. The Church, Francis says, needs the viewpoint of women so that the Spirit may create. In this space consecrated women are to kindle in time processes of thought and of practices.

Nicla Spezzati

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 17, 2018

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