This is part 3 of a series of 6 blogs where Lisa Small, a Consecrated Woman 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 own vocation as a lay consecrated woman called to evangelize and sanctify the world through her Regnum Christi spirituality.
Gathered by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into the one large family, the Church, and united by a shared vocation to Regnum Christi, we foster an esprit de corps and the union of hearts, ideals, purposes, and efforts. We promote communion and collaboration among all, aware that communion is missionary and that the mission is for communion. (RCF Statute #27)
Regnum Christi exists within the Church, serves alongside others in the Church,ng and strives to bring Christ into the world. And we do this as individuals, but also as a spiritual family. I feel deeply committed to live, pray and serve alongside the other vocations of Regnum Christi. And I am confident if we come together in a true communion, we will glorify God more and be of greater service to the wider Church and society.
My retreat allowed me time to deepen my understanding of God’s call to communion within Regnum Christi. And how we also fit within the wider family of the Church. This came to the forefront of my retreat when I experienced that even contemplative, cloistered nuns need the other vocations in the Church to live out and share their own charism and gifts.
A few days into my retreat, I set off to spend some time in the Monastery of St. Joseph – the first foundation that St. Teresa started in Avila, also known as the Mother House for the reformation of the Discalced Carmelites.
On arriving I was touched by the welcoming statue of St. Joseph who stood above the door with the child Jesus. The gate to the church was locked, but I found a small door to the left which was open so I stepped through to find a simple bell. I rang it and waited about 5 minutes until I heard a soft voice greet me through the turn table, “Ave Maria Purisima.” She paused, as if waiting for a response. Not sure how to reply, I said in my broken Spanish “Sorry Sister, I don’t know what I am supposed to say!” She quickly replied Ave Maria Purisima. Sin Pecado Concebida, Hail Most Pure Mary. Conceived without sin.
I asked if I could enter the chapel to pray. “Yes of course. But you are going to need to wait. I will call the woman to come and open the church for you,” and she scuttled away, obviously to call some lay woman, hopefully nearby, to allow me in.
I stepped back out into the bright sun and waited alongside the stone church, wondering where this woman would come from in. Within 10 minutes she arrived, shuffled over to the gate and unlocked it and the door to the monastery church. After asking if I could pray for an hour, she agreed and told me she would lock me in and come back within to let me out.
The church is simple yet striking. I also realized, after reading the bulletin board in the entrance, that it is a Jubilee Church for the Year of St. Joseph and that I could gain a plenary indulgence by visiting and praying there. A lovely statue and image of St. Joseph holding the Christ-child stood above the tabernacle, along with images of St. Teresa, St John of the Cross, our Lady, and the apostles Peter and Paul. It was quiet. Still. Dim. I settled into prayer.
I thought back to the dedicated lay woman and imagined her being available all day, for whenever she would receive a call from the sister to go and open the church for another curious tourist or pilgrim. Even contemplative nuns share their mission with others. Because they are called to the hiddenness of the cloister, they need lay people, outside in the world, to be able to share their chapel and place of prayer with others.
I too depend on the other vocations in our spiritual family of Regnum Christi to live out my own mission. I love that we seek to make present in Regnum Christi what the document on the role of the lay people in the world, Cristifidelis Laici, states, “Ecclesial communion… is characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body” (Christifidelis Laici #20).
We are all in this journey together, striving to make Christ the center of our lives and bring him to others and we lean on each other to live out our own particular vocation. Our RC statute #28 says: “There is a relationship of complementarity among the various vocations and their particular ways of living the common spirit and mission. Each one contributes to the body what is particular to its own state and condition of life, and values and promotes the specific contributions of the others.”
We need each other. We are all equal custodians of the Regnum Christi charism and are called to do this together! Each vocation is equal in dignity, responsibility, gifts, talents, and skills, and we are all called to lead, discern, and make decisions in our formation, apostolate, and organization.
Communion hasn’t always been an easy or simple path. In our journey of renewal within the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, we have had our fair share of conflict and division within and without. In 2012, we experienced that firsthand when over thirty of our sisters, many in positions of authority, left almost overnight to found a new group called Totus Tuus. While I understand many of the reasons they left, for the majority of us, this was a complete surprise and left us even more disoriented and disillusioned. Each one of us had to personally process and work through this, but it did lead us communally to come together and discuss how we wanted to continue as a group.
After much discussion and discernment, we did NOT feel called to live our consecration independently like other groups of women in the Church. We wanted to remain part of a wider ecclesial reality, even if we weren’t quite sure how that would look or what the Holy See would approve. We chose to continue belonging to the spiritual family of Regnum Christi.
It was around that same time that the Holy See counseled us to form our own governance as Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi and our first interim government was instituted in 2012. Prior to that we had been governed by the Legionaries of Christ. Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, appointed by Pope Benedict to oversee the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi in the years following the revelations about the founder, supported us as we began to take on the full responsibility for the organization and government of our personal and community life.
This has proved to be a huge blessing in our lives. We now have that autonomy and are approved as a ‘juridic person’ within the Church with both rights and responsibilities. But we also affirmed that we are united to the other vocations of Regnum Christi in charism, spirituality, and mission. We are Regnum Christi together. And even when we were discussing our name as part of the canonical configuration proposal to the Holy See, we reiterated that we wanted to continue including Regnum Christi in our official title, highlighting our belonging and commitment to this charism and family.
And what a gift it is to be part of this large international spiritual family. I cannot imagine living my vocation without the other vocations. Throughout my 20 years of consecrated life, I have been nourished, supported, encouraged, guided, and taught by so many Legionaries of Christ and lay men and women of Regnum Christi. I have experienced an enriching mutual receiving and giving. Even during this retreat I was attending Mass with a Legionary of Christ celebrant, and meeting daily with an incredible woman who is a lay member of Regnum Christi and was guiding me in my personal retreat. And I feel that each vocation continues to understand and live more fully their personal gift to the whole.
I resonate deeply with these words from the 2002 document published by the Holy See’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life called Starting Afresh from Christ, “Whereas in times past it was especially the task of religious men and women to create, spiritually nourish, and direct aggregate forms of laity, today, thanks to an ever-increasing formation of the laity, there can be a mutual assistance which fosters an understanding of the specificity and beauty of each state of life.”
I love how it continues encouraging us to embrace the gift of our differences, both within Regnum Christi and in our relationship with the wider Church, “Communion and mutuality in the Church are never one-way streets. In this new climate of ecclesial communion, priests, religious and laity, far from ignoring each other or coming together only for a common activity, can once again find the just relationships of communion and a renewed experience of evangelical communion and mutual charismatic esteem resulting in a complementarity which respects the differences” (Starting afresh from Christ #31).
These words highlight how much we, as consecrated men and women, need to receive from our lay members, not just provide formation for them. When we look at the mission and purpose of Regnum Christi, I believe it is precisely the lay people who have a greater understanding of the world we are called to evangelize as they are on the front lines of our mission. They are also by far the greatest number of Regnum Christi members in comparison to our consecrated men and women. Although we are called to flourish in our particular vocations, I feel there is still a lot more to continue discovering and valuing in the role of the lay members who have so much to teach us about evangelizing in this world.
In that quiet moment of prayer in the Monastery of St Joseph, as I felt united to the Carmelite nuns, St. Joseph, St. Teresa, and the Spanish woman who dropped whatever she was doing to let me into the Church, I also brought my whole spiritual family to the Lord.
‘Thank you God for the Church, and my place within it in within Regnum Christi. Thank you for all the priests, brothers, lay men and women who have been an integral part of my own vocation as a lay consecrated woman within Regnum Christi. It is a gift that you have given me, and that I too am called to protect and safeguard. Give me a heart for communion so I can more fully live out your call to me.’