Born in Spain, a consecrated Member of Regnum Christi, Director of the Superior Institute for Women’s Studies at the Pontifical Ateneum Regina Apostolorum, Rome.
It seems that the heart of Pope Francis is particularly sensitive to certain themes. Among many others, two are recurrent: women and the consecrated life. Concerning women, the Pope has spoken on several occasions, each time giving rise to interest and questions. He has asked for a renewed theology of woman and for the decision-making spaces of the Church to be opened up toreceive the specific contribution of women. These spaces need the benefit of women’s eyes and perspectives. He has asked for renewed witness of consecrated life and the joy of belonging to Christ, and he has dedicated this year 2015 to celebrating the gift of consecrated life in the Church. I believe that these two issues, consecrated life and women, are intimately connected.
One connection is that both of them are strongly challenged. When speaking about women, it is not culturally clear what belongs to them specifically: how femininity is defined and what its hallmarks are. The very concept of womanis put into question. A model of human being is being presented in which we can define ourselves with absolute freedom, beyond all determined sexual identity.
For its part, even the consecrated life has undergone a strong challenge. As noted in the document New Vocations for a New Europe,1 this dispute arises primarily as a manifestation of a deeper anthropological crisis: “This game of contrasts is reflected inevitably at the level of future planning, which is seen — on the part of young people — at a second glance, as limited to their own horizons, as strictly personal (self-realisation). […] This is, in other words, a sensitivity and a mentality which risks producing a type of anti-vocational culture. As if to say that in a Europe which is culturally complex and deprived of fixed points of reference, similar to a great pantheon, the prevalent anthropological model seems to be the ‘man without vocation’”.
So both women and the consecrated life are the targets of strong attacks. However, I believe that there is another link between women and the consecrated life. This link can be expressed with two arguments. The first is that for consecrated women, femininity should enrich consecration and consecration should enrich femininity. The second argument is that the testimony given by consecrated women in the world can give light to the identity and mission of women today.
Femininity that is lived out fully enriches consecration. This is because the consecrated life can never be a repression or denial of sexual identity. This has not always been taught in the right way. It used to seem that sexuality was something to drown, hide or take for granted. I believe that every repression can only lead to bitterness.
On the other hand, a woman who fully accepts her body, is ready to express in the silence of her sexuality her option and where she belongs. She is aware that the language of the body is a language of love, and that every action and every silence speaks of this love. She experiences the changes in her female body and the rhythms of her physical fecundity as a joyous offering, certain that this silent offering is making it fruitful at another level. She somehow feels “pregnant with the world”, and giving life to children with her virginal acceptance, perpetually fruitful through the Spirit in her heart and hence in everything she does, even the most hidden actions.
A woman who lives her femininity to the full knows that she cannot give up the desire to be seen by others and the desire to be beautiful. She directs her natural desire to attract the eyes of God, the only gaze that reveals who she is and makes her beautiful at the same time. This woman recognises, accepts and elevates her instincts and tendencies. She is attracted by beauty and by all creatures, and so renews her option for Beauty itself. Everything speaks to her of the Love for which she lives.She embraces both the beauty and the suffering of the world, and she accepts it and elevates it, and she consecrates it to God’s heart, in an intimate and continuous priestly gesture.
A woman who knows that she is made to be a wife and mother, discovers in consecrated chastity a mysterious but real way to develop her emotional potential and every resource she has through being a woman. She knows that a woman is the heart of the family, and for this reason she tries to make her heart a house where the Lord can find comfort and relief. Wherever she is, she makes it her family. In this way, the more she lives her identity as a woman, the richer her consecration becomes. The deeper she lives out her consecration, the more she develops her femininity.
This type of woman has much to say to the women of today. The consecrated woman remembers the significance of the body and sexuality. In a culture that treats the body as an object to be used at will, the consecrated woman reminds us of the precious dignity of the body. It is not a case of being liberated from one’s body, but to be free in one’s body. One’s body is accepted and welcomed as it is. In a world that runs away from pain and sacrifice, their offering is a living reminder that love and pain, especially in women, go hand in hand. Where there is a mentality that sees children as objects of our desires, spiritual motherhood reminds us that the foundation of all fruitfulness is the gift of self and total offering, and that each child is born amid pain and tears. In this way, virginity sheds light onmotherhood, and only motherhood can explain the profound mystery of virginity.
In a culture obsessed with quotas for women and the ability to reach the top of their career, consecrated women show that we are not defined by what we do or what we earn, but who we are. She reminds us that women, if they are women to the full, humanise whatever they touch, whether as leaders with great responsibility (which definitely needs women’s perspectives) or in less overt roles.
Let this be a year in which consecrated women rediscover the beauty of their femininity and of their consecration.