In April 2014 CICLSAL - The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life sent a questionnaire to the monasteries of contemplative women ("cloistered monasteries") requesting their response to an attached questionnaire. In 2008 the Congregation held a Plenary Assembly concerned with "The Monastic Life and Its Meaning in the Church and the World Today". Currently ecclesial legislation regarding monasteries of nuns is governed by the Apostolic Constitution entitled "Sponsa Christi" promulgated in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
To inform the work of the Congregation in preparing a new document a questionnaire was sent out with a return date of September 2014. The new document is to be promulgated during the Year of Consecrated Life which begins Advent, November 30, 2014 and will end on February 2, 2016, the World Day for Consecrated Life.
The essay below is my own general response which has come out of our community deliberations in response to the questionnaire.
Answer the Call:
General Response to Questionnaire
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life
Sr. Hildegard Pleva, OSsR
In concert with the desires of Pope Francis, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has been directed to prepare a proposal for a new apostolic constitution for monasteries of nuns, a successor to Sponsa Christi promulgated in 1955 by Pope Pius XII. It is possible to discern within this directive an invitation offered by our loving God. A call can be heard; a call issued to our Church which, having entered the 3rd millennium, is invited to affirm the dignity of all women created in the image and likeness of God and particularly women of our faith baptized into the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ who is priest, prophet and king.
In formulation of the proposed Papal document, the first of its kind in the 21st century, the Congregation, cognizant of current theology and scripture interpretation with regard to women as well as the cultural and societal norms of our period in history, can be attentive to the signs of our times. Recognizing the import of these factors, the new document should assert the dignity of women, render respect, declare trust and, by its stipulations, affirm the full equality of women in the Church and society, both secular and ecclesial.
The regulations concerning Papal Enclosure were first promulgated over 1,000 years ago. Analysis by historians has revealed that these regulations and their periodic reiteration in a variety of documents were rooted primarily in the political, economic and cultural context of times long passed; more rooted in constructs and circumstances long passed than in any purely spiritual value. To this day anachronistic provisions are draped with the cloth of spirituality.
Just as apostolic congregations of women are largely self-determining in the manner in which they live out their vows and fulfill their stated active apostolic purpose to serve the needs of the people of God, women in solemn vows and committed to the apostolic work of prayer, should be similarly self-determining of the manner in which they remain committed to and exercise their vowed ministry. In this way their dignity and equality in the ecclesial setting would be affirmed.
In the matter of interaction with the world at large and the ways in which modern technology can present a challenge to contemplative life, contemplative women, in accord with the philosophy described here, should be paid the respect and trust that their dignity and equality merit. They have the ability to self-manage the circumstances of their lives and the availability of new technologies in a manner that supports contemplation, corporate prayer, and community life in accord with their varied charisms while remaining focused upon the apostolic work of prayer for our Church and our world. The current technological challenge is not a new species of development. In the 16th century there was the appearance of the printing press. The 19th century brought with it the telegraph and telephone. In the 20th century we dealt with the advent of the automobile, television and mass media. All of these the challenges were weathered as this question was answered, “How can we use this development to foster faith, prayer and community (local as well as international) but not allow it to destroy the focus of our charism and crumble the enclosure of our hearts?” Contemplative women can be trusted today to answer the same question with great integrity and to respond appropriately to current technological developments in computer sciences, the ability to access to the Internet and the availability of social media.
The document under consideration can express this trust in allowing mature women who are committed to their vows and the person of Jesus to formulate the question over and over as the times demand and to continue to live lives centered on Jesus, pledged to Gospel values and determined to preserve contemplative life dedicated to the apostolic work of prayer.