SEPTEMBER 19, 1984
My dear Sisters,
"The Spirit and the Bride say 'Come'... Come, Lord Jesus" (Ap 22:17, 20). The Church, inspired by the Spirit present in it, continues to address this call to the Lord Jesus. She awaits his return. The Church awaits him, as a bride yearning after her beloved husband who is the right hand of the Father. She has already "washed her robes" in his redeeming blood. She hopes "to feed on the tree of life". She knows that she already shares in his life in a mysterious and partial way, through faith, the sacraments, prayer and charity. It is with Him that she works to renew this world according to his Spirit. But she is impatient for a complete renewal, for the full vision of her spouse. For the moment, her life is hidden in God.
The whole Church must live in this expectancy and bear witness to it. But consecrated souls have made "a charismatic choice of Christ as the exclusive spouse". This choice already enables one "to be anxious about the affairs of the Lord" but also - when it is made 'for the Kingdom of heaven’ - it brings this eschatological reign of God closer to the life of all people. Consecrated persons bring into the midst of this passing world news of the resurrection to come and of eternal life (cf. my letter Redemptionis donum, no. 11).
All religious men and women have this charism at the heart of the Church. But it is even more obvious in the case of cloistered Sisters who give up all activity in the world in order to be present to the Lord alone. And in this place it is first of all to you that I speak, dear contemplative sisters. The Church considers your place in the mystical body of Christ essential to the life of the Church, to its full development, and this, even in the young Churches whose energy is monopolized by the tasks of evangelization (cf. Perfectae caritatis, no. 47, and Ad gentes no. 40). In fact, the prayer of contemplatives has played a considerable role in the deepening of faith in Canada. That was certainly the insight of Father Mangin and Sister Marie-Zita de Jésus when they founded here, almost a hundred years ago, the Servants of Jesus-Mary. These religious women honour in a special way the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the eucharist, the supreme gift of his love, before which they keep a continuous vigil. Your spiritual apostolate, dear Sisters, is it not to support the ministry of priests and to collaborate in the eternal plan of the covenant for all believers: "that they might be one!"? I think also of all the men and women who have established the contemplative life in Canada according to complementary spiritualities. So, in addition to all the religious here today, I greet with affection and I encourage all those who lead a monastic life in Canada!"
"The Kingdom of heaven will be like this: ten bridesmaids took their their [sic] lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise". My Sisters, wait for the groom as these wise virgins did. Always be ready. Always be open. In your waiting for the Lord, be on watch.
Your convent life is organized in such a way as to encourage the experience of God. Your withdrawal from the world, with its solitude; your silence, which is a listening silence, a silence of love; asceticism, penance, the tasks which lead you to share in the redemptive work; fraternal communion which is always being renewed; the daily eucharistic celebration that unites your offering to that of Christ.
May the weariness, routine and monotony involved in your convent life not make you lose your vigilance, may the occasional impression that God is absent or temptations or even the normal trials of growing in mystical union with Christ not discourage you! May the lamp of your prayer, of your love, never stop burning! Keep it well supplied with oil, day and night.
For, even within a community, your path is still a personal one. Just as the wise virgins were incapable of making up for the carelessness of the foolish virgins, no one else can take your place in welcoming the Trinitarian life into the depth of yourself there, where the love received responds in adoration, praise and gratitude to love. It is then that you make your own the prayer of the psalmist we were reading a moment ago: "God, you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you my flesh is longing for you, a land parched, weary and waterless; I long to gaze on you in the Sanctuary and to see your power and glory. Your love is better than life itself,... all my life I will bless you,... I meditate on you all night long... I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings close to you, your right hand supports me" (Ps 63 (62), 2-5, 7-9).
This ineffable meeting with the personal and living God can only take place in the darkness of faith. The groom stands behind the door while you are still outside in the night. It is always in the light of faith that God gives himself. But the signs of God are so discrete in the ordinariness of your everyday life that you must be vigilant if you are to persevere and grow in faith in imitation of Mary. The "treasure" that awaits you in heaven will only be the eschatological fulfillment of what is hidden in the inner "treasure" of the heart (cf. Redemptionis donum, no. 5).
Your lives have a hidden but assured fruitfulness. "Whoever remains in me... bears fruit in plenty" (Jn 15,5). In the solidarity that unites all the members of Christ, you are like the heart, as Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus put it. Without your love, charity would grow cold. In the Church that prays, suffers and evangelizes, your part is the link with God. Your offering makes you like Christ, so that he can use your whole being for the work of redemption according to the pleasure of his love. And God hears the prayer of praise and intercession that rises up from your hearts and pans out His grace, without which there would be neither conversion to the gospel, growth in faith nor vocations of apostolic workers in the Church (cf. Decree Ad gentes, no. 40).
The Christian community in Hull seems to have clearly understood your vocation, as has the neighbouring community of the city of Ottawa. People are attached to your monastery and support it. They do not hesitate to entrust you with their sorrows and their joys, their plans and their prayer intentions.
More and more people - and among them, many young people - are seeking places of grace, of prayer, of contemplation. They are thirsting for the absolute. Some come to your monasteries in search of spiritual values. To all these seekers after God, show by the truth and the transparency of your persons that belonging to Christ makes you free and that experience of God fulfills you. Without shirking the requirements of contemplative life, find ways of expressing for the culture of our time your radical option for God. To those who say: "We do not know how to pray", say again and again by your existence that dialogue with God is possible for "the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness" (Rm 8,26). To those who want to do something great with their life, testify that the path to holiness is the most beautiful of adventures. It is not just the work of our efforts, but that of the infinite tenderness of God in the vastness of human misery. May your monasteries allow passers-by to approach the sources of living water: "Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life and have it free" (Ap 22:17)!
My meditation seemed to be focused on cloistered nuns. But, all along, I have had in mind all the women who have devoted themselves to God in religious life in Canada. There are almost forty thousand of them! What I said about the spirit of consecrated life is also valid for all the nuns dedicated to an active or apostolic life. Circumstances have not permitted a special meeting with them as a group, and I regret that. I have seen many of them at every stage of my visit, with the people of God. But I was waiting for this opportunity and now, this evening, I am happy to greet them all from this place of contemplation and to address to them this message.
Dear Sisters, in the Church, you carry out services that are precious to Christian communities and to the world: among other things, you are involved in teaching catechism, in education, in hospital care, in supporting the elderly and in parish activities... Happy are the villages and the cities where Sisters are still present! You exercise a certain professional activity, with preference for activity which allows you to express charity and to give witness to faith, and that, in a community way.
But that is not the original mystery of your life. You freely consecrated yourself to the Lord who was the first to choose you. Your religious vows are intimately rooted in the consecration of baptism but express it with greater fullness (cf. Perfectae caritatis, no. 5). You share in a special and permanent way in the death on the cross of the redeemer and in his resurrection. The paschal nature of your life is evident in each of the "evangelical counsels" which you have committed yourselves to practise in a radical way. At the same time you become truly free in order better to serve. You stake your all, not on "having" but on the quality of being, the quality of the person renewed in Jesus Christ.
More than ever before, our world needs to discover in your communities and in your lifestyle, the value of a simple and poor life in the service of the poor, the value of a life freely committed in celibacy in order to consecrate itself to Christ and, with Him, to love especially those deprived of love, the value of a life where obedience and community life silently protest the excesses of an independence that is sometimes irresponsible and barren.
Above all, the world needs witnesses to the free gift of the love of God. Those who doubt about God or who have the impression that he is absent, you show that the Lord is worth seeking and loving for himself, that the Kingdom of God, despite its apparent foolishness, is worth devoting one's life to. Thus, your lives are a sign of the indestructible faith of the Church. The free giving of your life to Christ and to others is perhaps the protest that most urgently needs to be made to a society where profit-making efficiency has become an idol. Your choice amazes, questions, interests or irritates the world, but it never leaves it indifferent. In any case, the Gospel is always the sign of contradiction. You will not be understood by all. But never be afraid to manifest your consecration to the Lord. It is your honour! It is an honour to the Church! You have a special place in the body of Christ where everyone has his or her role to assume, his or her own charism.
If, with the Holy Spirit, you seek the holiness which corresponds to your state of life, do not be afraid. He will not abandon you. Vocations will come to you. And you, you will keep the youthfulness of your soul, which has nothing to do with age. Yes, my dear Sisters, live in hope. Keep your eyes on Christ and walk firmly in his steps in joy and in peace.
I can not develop any further now this message to all the Canadian nuns. On March 25 of this year, I wrote a special letter to you and to all religious men and women entitled Redemptionis donum.
This evening, at the end of my long apostolic journey across Canada, I am very happy to be, together with Bishop Adolphe Proulx of this Diocese, the guest of the Sisters. As Jesus loved to withdraw to Bethany to the home of Mary and Martha - the one more contemplative, the other more active - I have come to your home in order to pray with you. As Peter and the other Apostles withdrew to the Cenacle, together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, I come to invoke the Holy Spirit. May he pour out his light and his power upon all the inhabitants of this dear country, so that the Church here might grow in holiness! Pray with me for all Religious, for all those who are consecrated, for the men and women who are members of Secular Institutes. Let us pray for the priests, who are the ministers of the Eucharist and the guides of consciences. Let us pray for those who educate people in the faith. Let us pray for those who undergo persecution for their faith.
Here, close to Ottawa where I shall meet this evening with political authorities and where tomorrow I shall celebrate the Mass for Peace, let us pray for all those who must contribute to establishing more justice, more peace and more fraternity, in Canada and in the less privileged countries.
Lord Jesus, may your Kingdom come! Amen.
Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada