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Young and consecrated

· ​Consecrated women ‘per evangelica consilia’ ·

Two years ago I had the gift of living my week of Spiritual Exercises at the Monastery of the Visitation at Santa Maria ad Ortì, a special place not only geographically but also spiritually. The beauty and enchantment that one can admire from that hill which dominates the city of Reggio Calabria marked my days of contemplation, relaxation and repose with wonder and depth.

It is necessary to pause in our lives in order to put some tidiness into our affairs and to have a care for our vision. A short- or long-sighted eye is not a healthy organ. It is thus appropriate to put on lenses which can correct and compensate our vision in order to be able to see ourselves, others, the world and God’s mystery with wonder and a contemplative attitude. “Salvation lies in looking” and “The effort that brings a soul to salvation is like the effort of looking or of listening; it is the kind of effort by which a fiancée accepts her lover. It is an act of attention and consent” (Simone Weil).

I learned in those days to seek a new viewpoint in reality and that when you sit in “God’s lap” everything acqires a different meaning: joys, disappointments, bitterness, indifference, inadequacy and effort. Being consecrated today, as I am, is to live in one’s own skin the yearning of the world and that of God, and to be a bridge between the two freedoms. It is a wonderful challenge and a great mission in the Church today.

Such memories and awareness come back to me clearly in these times, on the eve of the Synod on Young People (15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 3-28 October 2018) on the theme Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, and in whose Instrumentum laboris an entire paragraph is devoted to consecrated life: “The prophetic testimony of consecrated life also needs to be rediscovered and better presented to young people in its original attractiveness, as an antidote to the ‘paralysis of normality’ and as openness to grace that turns upside down the world and its ways of thinking. Rekindling the allure of evangelical radicality in younger generations, so they can rediscover the prophetic value of chastity, poverty and obedience as a harbinger of the Kingdom and the complete fulfilment of their lives, is something that cannot be neglected at a time dominated by consumeristic and commercialistic mindsets” (103).

As a young consecrated woman I live the need not to stop at this very instant, at the present moment, but I consider it is vital to extend my gaze towards that horizon which inevitably unites the earth with heaven and where my muddy flesh is raised towards the purity of God. It is important to have one’s eyes full of the Resurrection wherever everything speaks of death and where the word “now” seems to preface every kind of discussion about young people. There is a wish for redemption in the face of a potential which is entitled to a sense of belonging like any other human being. It’s true, something has changed, or rather we have all changed, because we are human creatures journeying on, because we are rich in different experiences, because we are called to redefine our finiteness, because we are asked to trace new boundaries for our existence.

In everyday life it is newness that heralds life and creation and the female face of consecrated life bears witness to this and is its principal emblem. Its features of innate delicacy, its boundless acceptance of the other, its silent waiting, its custody of intimacy, its song of gratitude have no time and space because they exist in the present and will be in the future.

A new charge of hope lodges in my heart, in which I feel that an unprecedented desire is coming to light, a new breath of the Spirit settling on my Church.

“Do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency and even less to trust in your own strength. In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert” (Pope Francis, To All Consecrated People).

To complete these words of Pope Francis those of Fr Tonino Bello come to my help: “As well as keeping vigil you must awaken people too! Wake people up from spiritual flattening. Wake them from religious slumber, from somnolent habits, from ritual repetition. Help them to enter history, making everyday choices in accordance with the logic of the ‘Beatitudes’ and not with the criteria of personal gain”. The attitude which marks me most is that of resilience and recognition that the roots are firmly planted in the terrain of the Word, in striving for charity and in the courage of truth.

The terrain of the Word is a space to dig in and to cultivate ceaselessly so that, in a continuous dance, narration may give way to silence or be expressed in another way: with symbols, gestures, images, colours, parables. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith” (166). Called in my freedom to respond to the initiative of God who reveals himself to my life, it is important to be able to narrate and to bear witness to how love becomes flesh.

I thought of how today no one is excluded from the World Wide Web which has revolutionized the characteristics of information and narration. It is not enough to click, to select and to go online to be able to transmit and to witness “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands” (1 Jn 1:1). An SMS, a chat or an email does not suffice to tell of our personal encounter with the One whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain and who comes to dwell among us. The new communications media can shorten distances, can be used to share opinions, to meet and to make new acquaintances but do not assure us that human beings have “connected” their hearts in all this.

Just as our God made himself man in order to reach out to our humanity, so we are called to make ourselves close to our neighbour, also in our corporality. The road to take is not a motorway with several lanes nor an easy downhill road, but, from Bethlehem it proceeds inexorably towards Golgotha, that is, “it goes from the manger to the Cross” (Edith Stein, The Mystery of Christmas).

The experience of faith is something which cannot be expressed but only lived, because it is something that is felt, that is perceived, that is vibrant within, that makes eyes shine, that gives rise to a shiver, and enables us to intuit a presence and an absence.

My life has a reason to be lived because it is constantly striving for charity, that is open, naked, with a dilated and active heart, in dialogue and in tune with what pulsates, what loves and what fights to be born.

Consecrated life has “a great heart”, as Teresa of Avila reminds us, undivided, whole, which models and touches God and the brothers and sisters. Thus with courage I invite other consecrated women too, like me, to fill the earth with “beatitudes” in order to nurture the beauty of hope.

Francesca Palamà

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