Monday, October 10, 2011

The Spousal Relationship with the Lord in Religious Life

Verbi Sponsa
Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
May 13, 1999
1. 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. . . .

Cloistered nuns see themselves especially in the Virgin Mary, Bride and Mother, figure of the Church; and sharing the blessedness of those who believe (cf. Lk 1:45; 11:28), 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 (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). . .

4. 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 (cf. Hos 1-2; Is 54:4-8; 62:4-5; Jer 2:2; Ezek 16; 2 Cor 11:2; Rom 11:29).

The Son of God presents himself as the Bridegroom-Messiah (cf. Mt 9:15; 25:1), come to seal the marriage of God with humanity, in a wondrous exchange of love, which begins in the Incarnation, comes to its summit of self-offering in the Passion and is for ever given as gift in the Eucharist.

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!” (Rev 22:17). 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” (Rev 21:9-10).

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. Their life is a reminder to all Christian people of the fundamental vocation of everyone to come to God; and it is a foreshadowing of the goal towards which the entire community of the Church journeys, in order to live forever as the Bride of the Lamb. . . .

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.

The monastic life of women has therefore a special capacity to embody the nuptial relationship with Christ and be a living sign of it: was it not in a woman, the Virgin Mary, that the heavenly mystery of the Church was accomplished? . . .

7. “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 (cf. Rom 5:5), 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.” . . .

As a reflection and radiation of their contemplative life, nuns offer to the Christian community and to the world of today, more than ever in need of true spiritual values, a silent proclamation of the mystery of God and a humble witness to it, thus keeping prophecy alive in the nuptial heart of the Church. . . .

Living in and by the Lord's presence, nuns are a particular foreshadowing of the eschatological Church immutable in its possession and contemplation of God; they “visibly represent the goal towards which the entire community of the Church travels. ‘Eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation,’ the Church advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ.”

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