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No. 40b

This paragraph from no. 40 of Ad gentes begins with the sentence: “Institutes of the contemplative life, by their prayers, penances and trials, are of the greatest importance in the conversion of souls.”  In the paragraph we see the faith with which the Council Fathers viewed contemplative religious life and its relation to the mission work of the Church.  Evangelization and conversions to the Faith are first of all the work of God, which He gives when people ask for it in prayer, penance and the offering of the trials of life, which contemplatives do in an eminent manner.

The Council Fathers break down into three phases the response God gives when He answers our prayers, penance and trials for the missions.  First He gives vocations: “Beg the harvest Master to send out laborers” (cf. Mt. 9:38).  Then He opens the minds of non-Christians to hear the Gospel (cf. Lydia, the dealer in purple goods in Acts 16:14).  Finally, He “makes fruitful the word of salvation in their hearts” (cf. 1 Cor. 3:7: “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is of any special account, only God, who gives the growth”).  In the Council Fathers’ minds, it is contemplative institutes that call down these graces in a special way.

These contemplative institutes are requested to make foundations in mission territories, if they have not done so already, just because they are contemplative.  The Council Fathers do not ask that the members of these institutes, especially the priests, take part in pastoral service in the territories where they are set up, as our American bishops requested in many cases when contemplative communities came to the USA in the early history of this country. 

The Council Fathers want these institutes in the mission territories simply in their role as contemplative men and women.  They should adapt their way of life to the “genuinely religious traditions of the people” where they are living so they can better fulfill still another purpose of their presence in these countries, namely that “they might bear an outstanding witness among non-Christians to the majesty and love of God, and to union in Christ.”

As an example of the witness to the majesty and love of God that contemplative institutes bear to non-Christians, we might site the verse of the Koran 5.82: “Verily, you will find the Jews and the polytheists among the strongest men in opposition to the Believers [i.e. Muslims -ed.]; and you will find nearest in love to the believers those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because among these are men devoted to learning and men who have given up the world [emphasis added], and they are not haughty” (The Quran, Prof. Syed Vickar Ahamed (tr.), Book of Signs Foundation, 2007, 378pp).  At the time of Mohammed (ca 570-632 AD) the only men among the Christians who had in great numbers given up the world were the desert monks, and they were contemplatives.

Mary, grant to all in your Church an appreciation of the worth of contemplation, prayer and sacrifice for the advancement of your Kingdom on earth.  Amen.