Poor Clare Federation of
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The Church's Vision of our Vocation
Excerpts from Verbi Sponsa
Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns

The Church as Bride of the Word shows forth in an exemplary way in those dedicated to a wholly contemplative life the mystery of her exclusive union with God. For this reason the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata presents the vocation and mission of cloistered nuns as “a sign of the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with her Lord, whom she loves above all things”, showing how they are a unique grace and precious gift within the mystery of the Church's holiness. In their undivided attention to the Father's word: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, and in their loving acceptance of that word, cloistered nuns are always “with Him on the holy mountain”.

Fixing their gaze upon Christ Jesus, shrouded in the cloud of God's presence, they wholly cleave to the Lord. Cloistered nuns see themselves especially in the Virgin Mary, Bride and Mother, figure of the Church; and sharing the blessedness of those who believe, they echo her “Yes” and her loving adoration of the Word of life, becoming with her the living “memory” of the Church's spousal love.

The Meaning and Value of the Enclosure of Nuns
In the mystery of the Son in His communion of love with the Father

In a specific and radical way, cloistered contemplatives conform to Christ Jesus in prayer on the mountain and to His Paschal Mystery, which is death for the sake of resurrection. The ancient spiritual tradition of the Church, taken up by the Second Vatican Council, explicitly connects the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus “on the mountain”, or solitary place not accessible to all but only to those whom He calls to be with Him, apart from the others (cf. Mt 17:1-9; Lk 6:12-13; Mk 6:30-31; 2 Pt 1:16-18).

The Son is always united with the Father, but during His life there are special moments of solitude and prayer, encounter and communion, when He exults in His divine Sonship. In this way, He shows the loving impulse and ceaseless movement of His being as Son towards the One who begot Him from all eternity. This association of the contemplative life with the prayer of Jesus in a solitary place suggests a unique way of sharing in Christ's relationship with the Father. The Holy Spirit, who led Jesus into the desert (cf. Lk 4:1), invites the nun to share the solitude of Christ Jesus, who “with the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14) offered Himself to the Father.

The solitary cell, the closed cloister, are the place where the nun, bride of the Incarnate Word, lives wholly concentrated with Christ in God. The mystery of this communion is revealed to her to the extent that, docile to the Holy Spirit and enlivened by His gifts, she listens to the Son (cf. Mt 17:5), fixes her gaze upon His face (cf. 2 Cor 3:18), and allows herself to be conformed to His life, to the point of the supreme self-offering to the Father, for the praise of His glory.

The enclosure therefore, even in its physical form, is a special way of being with the Lord, of sharing in “Christ's emptying of Himself by means of a radical poverty, expressed in ... renunciation not only of things but also of "space", of contacts, of so many benefits of creation”, at one with the fruitful silence of the Word on the Cross.

It is clear then that “withdrawal from the world in order to dedicate oneself in solitude to a more intense life of prayer is nothing other than a special way of living and expressing the Paschal Mystery of Christ”. It is a true encounter with the Risen Lord, a journey in ceaseless ascent to the Father's house.

To the gift of Christ the Bridegroom, who on the Cross offered His body unreservedly, the nun responds in like terms with the gift of the “body”, offering herself with Jesus Christ to the Father and cooperating with Him in the work of redemption. Separation from the world thus gives a Eucharistic quality to the whole of cloistered life, since “besides its elements of sacrifice and expiation, [it assumes] the aspect of thanksgiving to the Father, by sharing in the thanksgiving of the beloved Son”.

In the mystery of the Church in her exclusive union with Christ the Bridegroom

The history of God's relationship to humanity is a history of spousal love, prepared for in the Old Testament and celebrated in the fullness of time. Divine Revelation uses the nuptial image to describe the intimate and indissoluble link between God and His people.

The Lord Jesus pours into human hearts His love and the love of the Father, enabling them to respond fully, through the gift of the Holy Spirit who never ceases to cry out with the Bride: “Come!”. This fullness of grace and holiness is realized in “the Bride of the Lamb ... coming down out of heaven, from God, shining with the glory of God”.

The nuptial dimension belongs to the whole Church, but consecrated life is a vivid image of it, since it more clearly expresses the impulse towards the Bridegroom. In a still more significant and radical way, the mystery of the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with the Lord is expressed in the vocation of cloistered nuns, precisely because their life is entirely dedicated to God, loved above all else, in a ceaseless straining towards the heavenly Jerusalem and in anticipation of the eschatological Church confirmed in the possession and contemplation of God.

By means of the cloister, nuns embody the exodus from the world in order to encounter God in the solitude of “cloistered desert”, a desert which includes inner solitude, the trials of the spirit and the daily toil of life in community, as the Bride's sharing in the solitude of Jesus in Gethsemane and in His redemptive suffering on the Cross. Nuns moreover, by their very nature as women, show forth more powerfully the mystery of the Church as “the Spotless Bride of the Spotless Lamb”, rediscovering themselves individually in the spousal dimension of the wholly contemplative vocation....

Nuns relive and perpetuate in the Church the presence and the work of Mary. Welcoming the Word in faith and adoring silence, they put themselves at the service of the mystery of the Incarnation, and united to Christ Jesus in His offering of Himself to the Father, they become co-workers in the mystery of Redemption.

Just as in the Upper Room, Mary in her heart, with her prayerful presence, watched over the origins of the Church, so too now the Church's journey is entrusted to the loving heart and praying hands of cloistered nuns.

The ascetical dimension of the cloister

As an ascetical means of immense value, the cloister is especially well suited to life wholly directed to contemplation. Its totality signals absolute dedication to God, and it therefore becomes a sign of God's holy watchfulness over His creatures and a unique mode of belonging to Him alone.

The contemplative nun fulfils to the highest degree the First Commandment of the Lord: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind”, making it the full meaning of her life and loving in God all the brothers and sisters. She moves towards the perfection of charity, choosing God as “the one thing necessary”, loving Him exclusively as All in all.

Through her unconditional love of Him and in the spirit of renunciation proposed by the Gospel, she accomplishes the sacrifice of all good things,“consecrating” every good thing to God alone. This is so that He alone may dwell in the utter silence of the cloister, filling it with His word and presence, and the Bride may truly dedicate herself to the Only One, “in constant prayer and ardent penance” in the mystery of a total and exclusive love.

The cloistered desert helps greatly in the pursuit of purity of heart understood in this way, because it reduces to the bare minimum the opportunities for contact with the outside world, lest it disrupt the monastery in different ways, disturbing its atmosphere of peace and holy union with the one Lord and with the Sisters. In this way the cloister eliminates in large part the dispersion which comes from many unnecessary contacts, from the accumulation of images, which are often a source of worldly thoughts and vain desires, of news and emotions which distract from the one thing necessary and dissipate interior harmony.

“In the monastery everything is directed to the search for the face of God, everything is reduced to the essential, because the only thing that matters is what leads to Him. Monastic recollection is attention to the presence of God: if it is dissipated by many things, the journey slows down and the final destination disappears from view”.

Withdrawn from things external in the intimacy of her being, purifying her heart and mind by an ardent journey of prayer, of renunciation, of fraternal life, of listening to the Word of God, and exercise of the theological virtues, the nun is called to converse with the divine Bridegroom, meditating upon His law day and night so as to receive as gift the Wisdom of the Word and to become one with Him, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

This yearning for fulfilment in God, in an uninterrupted nostalgia of the heart which with unceasing desire turns to the contemplation of the Bridegroom, feeds the ascetical commitment of the cloistered nun. Wholly absorbed by His beauty, she finds in the cloister her dwelling-place of grace and an anticipation of the blessedness of the vision of the Lord. Refined by the purifying flame of the divine Presence, she readies herself for the fullness of beatitude, intoning in her heart the new song of the redeemed, on the Mountain of sacrifice and oblation, of the temple and of contemplation of God.

The Sharing of Contemplative Nuns in the Mission of the Church
In the communion of the Church

Through their specific call to union with God in contemplation, cloistered nuns are fully within the communion of the Church, becoming a unique sign of the entire Christian community's intimate union with God. Through prayer, especially the celebration of the liturgy, and their daily self-offering, they intercede for the whole people of God and unite themselves to Jesus Christ's thanksgiving to the Father.

Therefore the contemplative life is the nun's particular way of being the Church, of building the communion of the Church, of fulfilling a mission for the good of the whole Church.

The cloistered community is also an excellent school of fraternal life; it is an expression of true communion and a force which draws towards communion.

Because of the mutual love involved, fraternal life is a God-filled space in which the mystical presence of the Risen Lord is experienced: in a spirit of communion, nuns share the grace of the same vocation with the members of their own community, helping one another to follow the same path, advancing together towards the Lord, one in heart and soul.

With monasteries of the same Order, nuns have the common duty to grow in faithfulness to their specific charism and spiritual heritage, cooperating if necessary in ways provided for by the Constitutions.

By force of their vocation, which sets them at the heart of the Church, nuns undertake in a special way to have “the mind of the Church (sentire cum Ecclesia)”, with sincere adherence to the Magisterium and unreserved obedience to the Pope.

In the mission of the Church

“The pilgrim Church is by her very nature missionary”; therefore mission is also essential to Institutes of contemplative life. Cloistered nuns fulfil that mission by dwelling at the missionary heart of the Church, by means of constant prayer, the oblation of self and the offering of the sacrifice of praise.

Their life thus becomes a mysterious source of apostolic fruitfulness and blessing for the Christian community and for the whole world.

It is charity, poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, which makes nuns co-workers of the truth (cf. 3 Jn v. 8), participants in Christ's work of Redemption (cf. Col 1:24), and through their vital union with the other members of the Mystical Body makes their lives fruitful, wholly directed to the pursuit of charity, for the good of all.

Saint John of the Cross writes that “truly a crumb of pure love is more precious in the Lord's sight and of greater benefit to the Church than all the other works together”. In the wonderment of her splendid intuition, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus declares: “I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was ablaze with love. I understood that Love alone enabled the Church's members to act . . . Yes, I found my place in the Church . . . at the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love”.

The insight of the Saint of Lisieux is the conviction of the Church, repeatedly voiced by the Magisterium: “The Church is deeply aware and, without hesitation she forcefully proclaims, that there is an intimate connection between prayer and the spreading of the Kingdom of God, between prayer and the conversion of hearts, between prayer and the fruitful reception of the saving and uplifting Gospel message”.

The specific contribution of nuns to evangelization, to ecumenism, to the growth of the Kingdom of God in the different cultures, is eminently spiritual. It is the soul and leaven of apostolic ventures, leaving the practical implementation of them to those whose vocation it is.

The monastery in the local Church

The monastery is the place guarded by God; it is the dwelling-place of His unique presence, like the Tent of Meeting where He is met day after day, where the thrice-Holy God fills the entire space and is recognized and honoured as the only Lord.

A contemplative monastery is a gift also for the local Church to which it belongs. Representing the prayerful face of the Church, a monastery makes the Church's presence more complete and meaningful in the local community. A monastic community may be compared to Moses who, in prayer, determined the fate of Israel's battles, or to the guard who keeps the night watch awaiting the dawn.

The monastery represents what is most intimate to a local Church – its heart, where the Spirit always groans in supplication for the entire community and where thanksgiving rises unceasingly for the Life which He sends forth each day.

It is important that the faithful learn to honour the charism and the specific role of contemplatives, their discreet but crucial presence, and their silent witness which constitutes a call to prayer and a reminder of the truth of God's existence.

In a spirit of freedom and hospitality, “with the tenderness of Christ”, nuns bear in their hearts the sufferings and anxieties of all those who seek their help, and indeed of all men and women. Deeply attuned to the experiences of the Church and of people today, they cooperate spiritually in building the Kingdom of Christ so that “God may be everything to everyone” (1 Cor 15:28).