My dear Sisters,
Peace and joy in Christ Jesus, to you who surround the humble successor of the Apostle Peter! And, through you, to all enclosed nuns of France.
I must tell you first of my deep emotion at being able to pray near the shrine the contains the remains of St. Therese. I have already experienced at length my thanksgiving and my attachment for the ‘spiritual way’ that she adopted and offered to the whole Church. I now feel great joy at visiting this Carmelite convent which was the setting of her life and death, of her sanctification, in the midst of her Sisters, and which must remain an important place of prayer and sanctification for the Carmelites and for all pilgrims. It is from here that I would like to strengthen you all, whatever your spiritual family may be, in your contemplative life, which is absolutely vital for the Church and for mankind.
Be humble, transparent witnesses
While loving our age deeply, it has to be recognized that modern thought easily confines to subjectivism everything that concerns religions, the faith of believers, religious sentiments. And this view does not spare monastic life. To such an extent that public opinion, and alas! sometimes some Christians who tend to appreciate only practical commitment, are tempted to consider your contemplative life as an escape from real life, an anachronistic and even useless activity. This incomprehension may make you suffer, and even humiliate you. I will tell you like Christ: ‘Fear not, little flock’ (Lk 12:32). In any case, a certain monastic revival, which is manifested throughout your country, must buoy up your hope.
But I also add: take up the challenge of the modern world and of the world of always, by living more radically than ever the very mystery of your quite original state, which is folly in the eyes of the word and wisdom in the Holy Spirit: exclusive love of the Lord and of all your human brothers in Him. Do not seek to justify yourselves! All love, provided it is authentic, pure and disinterested, bears in itself its own justification. To love gratuitously is an inalienable right of the person, even – and one should say, above all – when the Beloved is God Himself. In the footsteps of contemplatives and mystics of all times, continue to bear witness with power and humility to the transcendent dimension of the human person, created in the likeness of God and called to a life of intimacy with Him. St. Augustine, at the end of meditations made as much with his heart as with his penetrating intelligence, assures us that man’s bliss lies there: in loving contemplation of God! That is why the quality of your belonging lovingly to the Lord, on the personal plane as well as on the community plane, is of extreme importance. The fullness and radiance of your lives ‘hidden in God’ must challenge the men and women of today, must question the young who are so often looking for the meaning of life. Meeting you or seeing you, every visitor, guest or retreatant in your monasteries should be able to say or at least feel that he has met God, or he has experienced a revelation of the Mystery of God Who is Light and Love! The times in which we live need witnesses as much as apologists! Be, on your part, these very humble and always transparent witnesses!
Fidelity to your Profession
Let me assure you further – in the name of the constant tradition of the Church – that not only can your life proclaim God’s Absoluteness, but that it possesses a marvelous and mysterious power of spiritual fruitfulness (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, n.7). Why? Because your loving obligation is integrated by Christ Himself in His work of universal redemption in much the same way as the waves merge in the depths of the ocean. Seeing you, I think of the Mother of Christ. I think of the holy women of the Gospel, standing at the foot of the Lord’s Cross and communing in His salvific Death, but also messengers of His Resurrection. You have chosen to live, or rather Christ has chosen you to live His Paschal mystery with Him through time and space. All that you are, all that you do every day, whether it is the Office intoned or sung, the celebration of the Eucharist, work in your cells or in fraternal teams, respect of enclosure and silence, mortifications chosen or imposed by the Rule, everything is assumed, sanctified, used by Christ for the Redemption of the world. In order that you may have no doubt on this matter, the Church – in Christ’s own Name – took possession one day of all your powers of living and loving. It was your monastic profession. Renew it often! Following the example of the saints, dedicate yourselves more and more, without even seeking to know how God uses your collaboration. Whereas at the basis of every action there is a purpose and therefore a limitation, the ‘finitude,’ the gratuitousness of your love is at the origin of contemplative fruitfulness. A very modern comparison comes into my mind: you kindle in the world the fire of revealed truth and love, in rather the same way as the masters of the atom light space rockets: from a distance.
Thoughts to encourage
Finally, I would like to add two encouraging thoughts which seem to me opportune. The first concerns faithfulness to the charism of your founders or foundresses. The brotherhood and cooperation that exist more than before among certain monasteries must not lead to a certain leveling of contemplative institutes. Let every spiritual family watch over its particular identity in view of the good of the whole Church. What is done in one place is not necessarily to be imitated elsewhere.
My second encouragement is the following. In a civilization that is more and more mobile, sonorous and vocal, areas of silence and rest become a vital necessity. Monasteries – in their original style – have therefore more than ever the vocation of remaining places of peace and interiority. Do not let pressure from within or without strike at your traditions and your means of meditation. Endeavor rather to educate your guests and your retreatants in the virtue of silence. You certainly know that I had occasion to recall to participants in the plenary session of the Congregation for Religious, on 7 March last, strict observance of monastic enclosure. I recalled in this connection the very strong words of my predecessor Paul VI: ‘Enclosure does not isolate contemplative souls from the communion of the Mystical Body. Far more, it puts them at the heart of the Church.’ Love your separation from the world, perfectly comparable to the biblical wilderness. Paradoxically, this wilderness is not emptiness. It is there that the Lord speaks to your heart and closely associates you with His work of salvation.
These are the convictions I was anxious to confide to you very simply, dear Sisters. You will make the best use of them, I am convinced. You pray a great deal for the fruitfulness of my ministry. Receive my heartfelt thanks! Rest assured that the Pope also reaches and very often, in heart and in prayer, the monasteries in France and in the whole world. I hope, and I ask the Lord through the intercession of the holy Carmelite of Lisieux, that strong and numerous vocations will come to increase and renew various contemplative communities. I bless you from the bottom of my heart, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
VISIT TO FATIMA
Something would be lacking in the joy of our meeting if we did not pay a brief visit in spirit to the brothers and sisters who have consecrated their life to contemplation and live in silent meditation, personally offering themselves in the cloister ‘for love of the kingdom of Heaven.’ And what shall we say to them?
First of all, let us express our fraternal and joyful gratitude for what they are and what they represent for us, for the mission of the ecclesial community and for the world, placed as they are at the heart of the mystery of the Church. The contemplative life is absolutely vital for the Church and for humanity, which is always in need of the purifying and renewing oxygen of grace, breathed and distributed through these prayers and hidden immolations of our contemplative brothers and sisters.
But their silent immolation proclaims the Absolute of God and makes our fellow men ask themselves about the meaning of life. The love expressed in their adoration and supplication is lavished in the history of these same men: those who already know, and those who do not yet know, the Lord of history and the salvation that He offers. They all must more and more build a world of justice and brotherhood according to divine plans.
And I would like to repeat something that I feel very strongly on this pilgrimage to Fatima, and which is always in my heart when I address contemplatives: pray and sacrifice for us and for all those who pray, for those who cannot pray, for those who do not know how to pray, and for those who do not want to pray! And may the God of peace be with you always!
(Fatima, 13 May 1982)