Christian hope believes in “God’s tomorrow”, his mysterious plan that sometimes seems to go against dreams and expectations, Pope Francis has told a group of cloistered nuns.
Even at the foot of the Cross, with her son dead, Mary could have thought God’s promise “‘is not true! I’ve been deceived.’ But she didn’t,” the Pope said.
“Instead, she, who is blessed because she believed, sees with her faith a new future blossom and waits with hope for God’s tomorrow,” he said.
“Mary is the mother of hope,” who faced life’s surprises and difficulties with unwavering trust in God’s plan, he said.
The Pope’s reflection was part of a visit to the Camaldolese nuns’ Monastery of St Anthony the Abbot on Rome’s Aventine Hill.
The Pope visited the cloister to mark the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Catholic Church’s celebration of “Pro Orantibus” Day, meaning a day to pray for those who pray.
He presided over a celebration of evening prayer with the community’s 21 nuns and a group of Camaldolese priests.
The evening included 30 minutes of Eucharistic Adoration, in which Pope Francis sat in a chair with the congregation, away from the altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed between two simple oil lamps in the darkened chapel.
“The only lamp lit at the tomb of Jesus is his mother’s hope which, in that moment, was the hope of all of humanity,” the Pope said in his reflection.
“I ask myself and you: Is this lamp still lit in the monasteries?” Do contemplative women and men know how to “wait for God’s tomorrow?” he said.
“Many times I wonder, do we know how to wait for God’s tomorrow” or do people think only of today, he said.
He added that Jesus told his disciples: “The will of God is the supreme law.”
Mary completely trusts in and follows God’s will, and “her whole life is a totality of acts of hope beginning with her ‘Yes’ at the moment of the Annunciation,” the pope said.
Her saying, “Let it be done” is not just about acceptance, he said, but also reflects “a trusting openness to the future. ‘Let it be done’ is hope.”
Pope Francis said Mary is “the mother of hope that sustains us in moments of darkness, of difficulty, of discomfort and apparent defeat.”
The Camaldolese nuns are part of the Benedictine family. While they are cloistered – dedicated to prayer and work, but rarely venturing out of the monastery – for decades they’ve run a guesthouse, a soup kitchen feeding about 80 people a day and a Saturday evening service of “lectio divina,” which helps visitors learn to read and pray with the Bible.
Abbess Michela Porcellato told Vatican Radio that, after the Second Vatican Council, the nuns tried to focus on their religious life not as an escape from the world, but as a way to purify themselves and worthily bring to the Lord the problems and concerns of the world around them.
“By putting together prayer and work and, especially, silence and solitude,” she said, the monastic tradition emphasises that a relationship with the Lord and self-purification must come before any evangelisation effort.
During the Pope’s visit, the nuns planned to show him the cell where US Sister Julia Crotta, known as Sister Nazarena of Jesus, lived in almost absolute solitude for 45 years until her death in 1990.
The cell had a stone floor, a wooden plank with a slightly raised cross on it for a bed and a tiny bathroom with a cold shower. There was a grill through which she could watch Mass being celebrated, a slot through which she received Communion and a flap through which her food, mostly bread and water, but occasionally some vegetables, was slipped.
The nuns planned to give Pope Francis some of the letters the US nun had written to her spiritual director after joining the monastery in 1945. Before arriving in Rome the nun, from Glastonbury, Connecticut, had studied music at the Hartford Conservatory and the Yale School of Music.
Benedictine Abbot Notker Wolf, abbot primate of the Benedictine confederation, wrote in the Vatican newspaper that most cloistered communities of women live in extreme simplicity, bordering on real poverty. As a priest, he said, “maybe we need to reflect on the taste shown in our sacristies. It’s not lace on surplices that make style and dignity, but rather simplicity. Modesty is expressed most of all in abandoning one’s privileges and the mentality that corresponds to them.”
If a cloistered community is not “fearfully closed off in their own worries, but lives in charity, showing each other love”, then it becomes an oasis or a beacon for others, the abbot said.