Vatican City, Jul 22, 2016 / 05:53 am America/Denver (CNA).
Amid modern challenges emerging from a culture which provides increasingly easier access to outside distractions, Pope Francis has issued new norms for women’s cloistered communities, which place a special emphasis on prayer and the centralization of communities.
“Dear contemplative sisters, without you what would the Church be like, or those living on the fringes of humanity and ministering in the outposts of evangelization?” the Pope said in a new Apostolic Constitution, published July 22.
The Church, he said, “greatly esteems your life of complete self-giving. The Church counts on your prayers and on your self-sacrifice to bring today’s men and women to the good news of the Gospel. The Church needs you!”
However, he also cautioned that the “silent and recollected peace of mind and heart” lived in contemplative live “can meet with subtle temptations.”
The most serious of these, he said, is what the Desert Fathers called “the midday devil,” referring to “the temptation to listlessness, mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and paralyzing lethargy.”
He also cautioned against the temptations presented by the current digital culture, which “has a decisive influence in shaping our thoughts and the way we relate to the world and, in particular, to other people.”
“Contemplative communities are not immune from this cultural climate,” he said, and while recognizing the benefits of media and communications, particularly in the process of formation, urged a “prudent discernment” aimed at ensuring these means are truly put at the service of the community, “and do not become occasions for wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community.”
The new norms also encourage communities of the same spirituality, such as Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, etc., to centralize into one federation, however, the specifics of these federations haven’t yet been defined.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution “Vultum Dei Quaerere,” or “Seek the Face of God” on cloistered women religious was signed June 29, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and was released July 22, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.
An apostolic constitution is the highest level of decree to be issued by a Pope, and is addressed to the public. They typically focus on solemn matters of the Church such as the promulgation of laws or definitive teachings.
In Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Pope said that contemplative monastic life, which is mainly composed of women, is a “signpost” and reminder of life’s ultimate meaning. Contemplative life, he said, is “a priceless and indispensable gift which the Holy Spirit continues to raise up in the Church.”
However, as a means of assisting contemplative women to “attain the goal of their specific vocation” amid the rapid changes in modern society and the temptations that come with them, he issued new norms on 12 areas of discernment and renewal for consecrated life, particularly the monastic tradition.
These areas are: formation, prayer, the Word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal life in community, autonomy, federations, the cloister, work, silence, communications media and asceticism.
In the 21-page document, consisting of 37 articles, Pope Francis offered a reflection on each of the points, explaining the nature of each and why they are essential for the life and vocation of contemplative women religious.
In light of these reflections, Pope Francis established that, in reference to canon 20 of the Code of Canon Law and with the publication and promulgation of the constitution, any canons in the Code of Canon law which directly contradict the articles of the new constitution “are derogated,” meaning canceled.
More specifically, he said the articles containing norms and dispositions found in Pius XII’s 1950 Apostolic Constitution “Sponsa Christi,” the Statuta Generalia Monialium, the Congregation for Religious’ 1950 “Instruction Inter Praeclara,” the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life’s 1999 Instruction “Verbi Sponsa” on the contemplative life and enclosure of nuns, are also derogated.
The new norms will be drafted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which will eventually result in amendments made to Canon Law which reflect the wishes the Pope voiced in the constitution.
In order to help in the drafting of the norms, Francis provided a series of points based on his reflections on each of the 12 themes, which serve as a guideline for what the new norms will consist of.
In these guidelines, he established that individual monasteries “are to give special attention to ongoing formation,” which he said “is the foundation for every stage of formation, beginning with initial formation.”
He said that to ensure this ongoing formation, federations of religious communities will promote a greater cooperation between monasteries “through the exchange of formational materials and the use of digital means of communication,” though he urged the “due discretion” in using these means.
Monasteries, he said, “are to pay special attention to vocational and spiritual discernment, ensuring that candidates receive personalized guidance,” and must ensure that “ample time” is set aside for the initial formation process.
While establishing international and multicultural communities is good and a sign of the universality of the community’s charism, Francis stressed that “the recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery is to be absolutely avoided.”
In order to ensure this doesn’t happen, “certain criteria are to be determined,” he said. He also stipulated that to ensure “a high quality of formation,” monasteries should promote common houses for initial formation.
Since prayer “is the heart of contemplative life,” Pope Francis also established that “each monastery is to review its daily horarium (schedule) to see if it is centered on the Lord.”
Community celebrations, he said, should also be reviewed “to see if they constitute an authentic and vital encounter with the Lord.”
He placed special emphasis on the use of “lectio divina,” traditional form of Benedictine prayer that focuses on the prayerful and contemplative reading of scripture.
Each community, he said, “is to establish fitting times and means for respecting this requirement of reading and listening, ruminatio (pondering), prayer, contemplation and sharing of the sacred Scriptures.”
Francis also stressed the importance of sharing the “transforming experience” of God’s Word with priests, deacons, other consecrated and laity, and insisted that each monastery determine how this “spiritual outreach” can be achieved.
The guidelines offered by the Pope also stressed that in addition to “carefully preparing its Eucharistic celebrations,” each monastery must “set aside appropriate times for Eucharistic adoration, also inviting the faithful of the local Church to take part.”
He noted that particular attention must also be given to the selection of chaplains, confessors and spiritual directors.
The daily schedule for each community must also include “suitable moments of silence, in order to foster a climate of prayer and contemplation.”
In terms of autonomy, Francis stressed that juridical autonomy must be matched with “a genuine autonomy of life” entailing a certain number of sisters with “the vitality needed to practice and spread the charism, a real capacity to provide for formation and governance, dignity and quality of liturgical, fraternal and spiritual life, sign value and participation in life of the local Church, self-sufficiency and a suitably appointed monastery building.”
Pope Francis also stipulated that at least initially, “all monasteries are to be part of a federation.” These federation, he said, can be established not only on a geographical basis, but also on “an affinity of spirit and traditions.”
If “for some special reason” a monastery can’t join a federation, permission to remain outside of it will be sought from the Holy See.
The specifics, he added, will be in the norms drafted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who will determine the responsibilities of the federation’s president and council.
Francis also specified that even if some monasteries receive a small income, it doesn’t mean they are “exempted from the obligation of labor.”
He also required that each monastery, in its plan for community life, find a “fitting means” of expressing the ascetic discipline of monastic life in order to make it “more prophetic and credible.”
Once each individual institute has adapted the articles of their constitutions or rules to the new regulations laid out in Vultum Dei Quaerere, they must be submitted to the Holy See for approval.
During the July 22 presentation of the constitution, Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo O.F.M., secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, told journalists that the constitution was “a gift” from Pope Francis to the Church.
The process started two years ago with a questionnaire the congregation sent to cloistered communities around the world, he said, explaining that the answers they got back were “rich” and useful, so a synthesis was compiled and given to the competent authorities so that the constitution could eventually be written.
He said there are no plans to issue a similar constitution for cloistered male religious, given the fact that the majority of contemplative communities are composed of women.
Although there is a vocational crisis throughout across the globe, the archbishop noted that there are 4,000 contemplative communities in the world, with the highest numbers being “in Italy and Spain.”
Carmelites “singularly possess…the most numerous” contemplative community in the Church, he said, noting that others such as Benedictines, Dominicans, and Augustinians are also high in number.