On July 16th our Bishop John Fleming came to witness our renewal of vows on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Since Bishop John loves to quote Pope Francis he treated us to words from the pope’s “Seek the Face of God” on contemplative life. These words apply so well to all of us who seek God through a vocation and contemplative life in the world.
- “Seeking the face of God has always been a part of our human history. From the beginning, men and women have been called to a dialogue of love with the Creator. Indeed, mankind is distinguished by an irrepressible religious dimension that leads human hearts to feel the need – albeit not always consciously – to seek God, the Absolute. This quest unites all men and women of good will. Even many who claim to be non-believers acknowledge this heartfelt longing, present in every man and woman who, drawn by a passionate desire for happiness and fulfilment, never remains fully satisfied.
St. Augustine eloquently expressed this yearning in the Confessions: “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. This restlessness of heart is born of the profound intuition that it is God Himself Who takes the initiative; He seeks out men and women and mysteriously draws them to Himself.
In seeking God, we quickly realize that no one is self-sufficient. Rather, we are called, in the light of faith, to move beyond self-centredness, drawn by God’s Holy Face and by the “sacred ground of the other”, to an ever more profound experience of communion.
Through Baptism, every Christian and every consecrated person is called to undertake this pilgrimage of seeking the true God. By the working of the Holy Spirit, it becomes a sequela pressius Christi – a path of ever greater configuration to Christ the Lord. This path finds notable expression in religious consecration, and, in a particular way, by the monastic life, which, from its origins, was seen as a specific way of living out one’s baptism.
- Consecrated persons, by virtue of their consecration, “follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way”. They are called to recognize the signs of God’s presence in daily life and wisely to discern the questions posed to us by God and the men and women of our time. The great challenge faced by consecrated persons to persevere in seeking God “with the eyes of faith in a world which ignores His presence”, and to continue to offer that world Christ’s life of chastity, poverty and obedience life as a credible and trustworthy sign, thus becoming “a living ‘exegesis’ of God’s word”.
From the origins of the life of special consecration in the Church, men and women called by God and in love with Him have devoted their lives exclusively to seeking His face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world. The presence of communities set like cities on a hill or lamps on a stand, despite their simplicity of life, visibly represent the goal towards which the entire ecclesial community journeys. For the Church “advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ”, thus announcing in advance the glory of heaven.
- Peter’s words, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”, have a special meaning for all consecrated persons. This is particularly the case for contemplatives. In profound communion with every other vocation of the Christian life – all of which are “like so many rays of the one light of Christ, Whose radiance brightens the countenance of the Church” – contemplatives “devote a great part of their day imitating the Mother of God, who diligently pondered the words and deeds of her Son, and Mary of Bethany, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened attentively to His words”. Their lives, “hidden with Christ in God”, become an image of the unconditional love of the Lord, Himself the first contemplative. They are so centred on Christ that they can say with the Apostle. “For to me, to live is Christ!”. In this way, they express the all-encompassing character at the heart of a vocation to the contemplative life.
Quoting the Pope’s message to Carmelites the bishop ended: “Contemplation is not an escape from reality, enclosed in a protected oasis, but an opening of the heart and life to the power that truly transforms the world, that is, God’s love”.