My Retreat with St. Teresa: What can a Carmelite cloistered nun teach us about our own vocation within Regnum Christi?
This is part 1 of a series of 6 blogs in which Lisa Small, a Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, shares about her 8-day silent retreat in Avila and what St. Teresa of Avila and the current Carmelites living there had to teach her about her vocation as a lay consecrated woman called to evangelize and sanctify the world through her Regnum Christi spirituality.
TERESA’S CALL TO REFORM
I couldn’t believe it! I was going to spend a week in solitude, silence and prayer in the sacred medieval town of Avila in the middle of the novena to St. Joseph in the year dedicated to him. I knew that this was going to be a special time. What I didn’t realize is that it would be precisely these two giant saints, Teresa a contemplative nun and Joseph a simple carpenter, who would teach me more about my own vocation to live a lay consecration in this highly secularized world. But as the Lord continued to guide me deeper into his heart, through the example and intercession of St. Teresa and St. Joseph, I began to wonder if they might actually have something to say to the whole spiritual family – all of us, lay, consecrated and religious. In this spirit, I attempt to share some of these thoughts here in these blogs as we continue deepening our understanding of the gift that God has given us in Regnum Christi, each of our unique vocations within it and our call to renewal, or as St. Teresa was called to do – reformation.
St. Teresa was born in Avila on March 28, 1515 and entered the Carmel in a time in the Church when it was common for women to enter religious life, and when a cloistered style of consecration was really the only way a woman could dedicate herself completely to God. While devout, it was only when she was 39 years old, during Lent, that Jesus began to gift her with very special graces of mystical prayer and union. Almost every Church we visited had some image, painting or sculpture capturing one of these profound experiences. With this deeper conversion of her heart, and the spiritual marriage Christ personally offered her in one of those moments of prayer, she deepened in that relationship and within a decade had founded another monastery in Avila. She experienced deeply that her beloved Carmelite order needed reformation – to return to the core of the charism and renew aspects of how they were living their vocation. This call resonated in others and by her death she had founded or reformed another 16 convents throughout Spain. There are now over 800 monasteries that share this spirituality around the world.
As I contemplated her life and her challenging yet courageous call to reform her own spiritual family, I could not help but looking at my own call as a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christ and the past 10 years of renewal within our own particular vocation and as a whole spiritual family of Regnum Christi. The news of our founder’s double life and its effects were devastating and our journey these past years extremely painful and purifying. Yet, it has also been a time of allowing the Lord to prune us and help us dig down to the essentials of why we first joined Regnum Christi and what needs ‘reformation’ by also looking at our own history and the needs of the world.
St Teresa was called into a specific time and place to answer the needs of the Church and world in the 16th century. Our particular style of vocation sprang up in the Church in 1969, just 4 years after the closing of Vatican II – the monumental council that opened wide the doors of the Church and pronounced that ALL Christians are called to be saints; that the call to holiness is universal and not restricted just to religious men and women. Actually, the first lay members of Regnum Christi made their commitment to this spirituality in 1968 (coincidentally here in Spain) and it was from there that some lay men and women felt a deeper call to live this spirituality more exclusively through the commitment to the evangelical counsels; thus the two vocations of the Lay Consecrated Men of Regnum Christi and the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi began. We have always been lay. We have always been Regnum Christi. And we have always been consecrated through a vowed life lived in community.
Yet, it was only when our renewal began 10 years ago that we had to actually discern and propose to the Holy See what canonical structure we felt called to. The Legionaries of Christ always had that clear as an approved religious congregation. Historically, we never had a clear canonical approval, and were often thought to be the female version of the Legionaries of Christ. Actually, we are more the equivalent of the Lay Consecrated Men of Regnum Christi. Yet it became clear that we were not called to be a religious congregation. We discerned, along with the Lay Consecrated Men of Regnum Christi, to ask the Church to be established as a Society of Apostolic Life – a form that would safeguard our lay state, our consecration, and as we chose within the official name, our Regnum Christi identity.
The 2020 General Assembly of the Consecrated Women’s communique, our latest reflections on who we feel God is calling us to be and where we are headed within the next 6 years, put this clearly in words. “Our identity integrates our consecration, the lay state and the charism of Regnum Christi in an inseparable way. These elements constitute a style of life and a way of being present in and relating to the world” (General Assembly Concluding Communique #60).
But what this means, and how this is lived out has been a journey these past years. A beautiful one. One where God has been revealing with greater light and clarity what our vocation is called to be within and without, that we continue to discover. And one that St. Teresa was continuing to encourage me to explore during my days of retreat in Avila.
Our General Assembly encouraged all of us to take time to deepen our understanding of our lay vocation. The delegates of the Consecrated Women wrote in our concluding communique: “On examining in-depth the various aspects of our identity, we recognized that throughout our history, the lay dimension has not been sufficiently reinforced or expressed. In the coming years, we are tasked with exploring in greater depth the meaning of the lay aspect of our consecration in order to reach a common understanding that can shed light and order various aspects in the praxis of our life. This will require a theological deepening of our vocation, within the framework of ecclesiology of communion, in order to have a better understanding of the vocation to lay consecration, and the theology and spirituality of the Kingdom” (General Assembly Concluding Communique #65).
So as I sat with St. Teresa in my first days of retreat, praying about her vocation within the cloister, I heard her call to my own heart, “Continue discovering your own path of reformation and renewal. We need the contemplative vocation that God called me to reform. But your post-modern world also needs witnesses to the attractive and saving message of Christ. Continue to unveil the beauty, yes of your consecration, but even more so of your lay vocation which is a gift to a world that does not know Christ. We will pray and intercede for you here within these walls; you… you go out and bring Christ into that world, consecrating the world to him through your consecration, life, witness, apostolate and prayer.”
I would continue this Avila experience bringing these thoughts to prayer with Christ, seeking deeper light and understanding of my own call and vocation. The Lord led me to different Church documents, our 2020 General Assembly Communique, the Gospel, and to our latest Regnum Christi Federation Statutes – especially #8. This particular number seems to draw many of my thoughts and reflections together. I invite you to join me in this blog series as I share how all of these came together in a special way looking at our spirituality, communion, mission, the role of St. Joseph in Regnum Christi and our call to reformation and renewal. I also hope that you enjoy the different photos I took during my time there so you too can enter into the Teresian experience of Avila.
“To fulfill our mission, we seek to make present the mystery of Christ who goes out to people, reveals the love of his heart to them, gathers them together and forms them as apostles and Christian leaders, sends them out and accompanies them as they collaborate in the evangelization of people and of society.” Regnum Christi Federation Statutes #8