Behind the Psychology of Consecrated Women

Father Bruno Giordani, Specialist in Assistance to Religious

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MILAN, Italy, FEB. 6, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAVVENIRE).- After spending a good number of his 78 years trying to help consecrated women psychologically, Franciscan Father Bruno Giordani has just summarized the experiences of hitherto unknown lives in a book entitled «Consecrated Women,» published in Italy by Ancora.

«I began to know them when I was a student of philosophy and pedagogy at the Salesian University,» Father Giordani said, «and for me, who had entered the seminary at 13, and was reared in that kind of mistrust with which the clergy in that time looked upon femininity, the feminine spirit has been like the discovery of a new world. There is such emotional wealth in women, a profound sensitivity that distinguishes them from men.»

The book ends with a thought-provoking image: consecrated women are «a treasure in earthenware vessels.»

–Q: What treasure are you referring to, and why do you speak of «earthenware vessels»?

–Father Giordani: The treasure is that profound emotional richness, availability to those in need and, in general, the capacity to give themselves. In many cases, comparing them to myself, I have felt my own interior poverty. The treasure is also the spontaneity with which women live their relation with God, while men easily reduce faith to the level of the cerebral cortex. As regards the earthenware vessel, it is precisely related to this emotional richness, which makes the woman more vulnerable and, therefore, more fragile.

Moreover, I have observed in women a certain tendency to self-devaluation and, therefore, also an inability to defend themselves against a certain culture that wants to degrade and use them.

–Q: Over 40 years, you have seen generations of novices knock on convent doors. Is it more difficult at present for a young woman to discover and respond to a vocation?

–Father Giordani: It depends on the atmosphere surrounding the young woman. If she lives among people of faith, Jesus´ invitation is easier to attend to. If not, the problem is to be able to hear it, in the midst of the noise and the many other invitations of opposite signs. Moreover, families today are more jealous of the few children they have.

–Q: You quote Orthodox theologian Evdokimov and his analysis of «suppression» of femininity in masculine models. How does this change affect young women who see in the convent an option for life?

–Father Giordani: Before approaching the religious life, they find that they have to reconstruct in their interior something they have lost, a different feminine image than the one imposed by the prevailing culture. It costs them a lot, and they often find little support from adults.

There is a lack of psychological capacities, rather than of spiritual help. Sometimes, also, the time that is dedicated is too little. A priest who heard confessions in a convent, once realized that he only had three minutes for each religious.

–Q: Is there loneliness in convents also?

–Father Giordani: Yes. Not a few religious lack a point of reference, someone who understands them, and especially, who can listen to them.

–Q: In the letters you include in your book, there is often a dilemma: the need for a human face and fear of that face.

–Father Giordani: It is, indeed, a frequent dilemma. For a long time, religious have been taught to repress their own affectivity, to reject love for specific persons, as if the latter were obstacles to the love of God. Of course, St. Teresa used to say that «only God suffices.» However, one must know how to look at the reality of a specific person.

If a woman is already «older,» spiritually mature, God might suffice her. However, if she still must mature, if she is young, it is natural that she also has a need for friendship, for the face of a person who is close to her. It is a mistake to suppress this need.

This is why much work must yet be done on the capacity to listen. It is necessary to teach how to listen, to accept a person as she/he is. At times concern over what a person should be prevails.

–Q: Have you known happy religious?

–Father Giordani: Many. I remember one in particular who came to see me at a time of great difficulty. To find that someone would listen to her and help her, made her happily retake the road, and reach full, visible spiritual maturity with confident spontaneity in her relation with God. There is a characteristic of feminine holiness that is fascinating.

As Karen Blixen said, the essence of man is found in his actions, in what he produces. The essence of woman, instead, is in who she is. Also in his holiness, man has a need «to do.» For woman it is enough «to be.» Feminine holiness coincides with infinite peace.

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