Contemplative Religious Orders Immersed in the World

Little Sisters of Jesus and their neighbours in Havana, Cuba

Little Sisters of Jesus and their neighbours in Havana, Cuba

Not all contemplative religious orders are cloistered or withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of the world. Sure, some are, like the Carmelites and the Poor Clares. But not all.

When I say this, I don’t mean to say that there exist active-contemplative orders like the Dominicans or the Redemptorists. I mean something else altogether.

To the Little Sisters of Jesus, Blessed John Paul II said,

This is your exacting vocation: love knows no frontiers… Be sure that the Pope appreciates your religious life and your apostolic witness.

And:

I understand more and more that it is right to have, amongst the diversity of vocations in the Church, this vocation which is quite exceptional. It is an apostolate of friendship, which witnesses to the truth, to the reality of God… So it is a good way to express this reality without words, to express it by keeping silence, in contemplation, in adoration, in love.

Of the same group, Paul VI said,

Go out fearlessly to live among the poor and those who are often very far from the Church, but always close to the Heart of God.

There are contemplative orders in the world. To be sure, this sounds bizarre to anyone who hasn’t lived a part of this life themselves of felt partially drawn to it in some way. But the vocation to a predominantly contemplative life – a life where the Holy Spirit leads primarily by the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge – is genuinely possible in the world. It is difficult. It requires a lot of abdication of power and influence. It requires a lot of poverty of heart. It requires a lot of time set aside for silence. But it’s possible.

Of contemplative-in-the-world religious orders, I am aware only of those inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916):

  • Little Brothers of Jesus (founded 1933 by René Voillaume in Montmartre, France)
  • Little Sisters of Jesus (founded 1939 by Magdeleine Hutin in Touggourt, Algeria)
  • Little Brothers of the Gospel (founded 1956 by René Voillaume in Sambuc, France)
  • Little Sisters of the Gospel (founded 1963 by René Voillaume in France)

The first two groups take as their daily bread contemplation, especially at Eucharistic Adoration; living in solidarity with the poor; having a regular, poor job (often manual labour) in the way that regular people do. They are contemplatives whose neighbours are not within the cloister walls. Their neighbours are atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, fellow Christians, or anyone else – and usually, their neighbours live in poverty of some sort: material, economic, the poverty of an itinerant life…

The latter two groups were begun because it was found that, in living the life of the first two groups, sometimes it seemed that apostolic activities (such as Catechism) were being demanded by God and their neighbours. Without ceasing to base their lives primarily around contemplative sharing in the lives of the poor, the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Gospel add to their mission the partaking of some apostolic activities. Their charisms are very similar to those of the Little Sisters and Brothers of Jesus; they have some small, “poor”, simple apostolic activities and practices added on top.

All four groups are present in various countries on various continents. (You can check their presence in the world on this website.)

These are groups who really are living a contemplative life (their goal is not to do some good to or with their neighbours; their goal is simply to live with them and share with them and pray and bring all concerns to the foot of the Blessed Sacrament).

These are contemplatives in the world who have joined religious orders. They are a profound sign and inspiration to anyone – lay or priest or religious – who sees contemplation moving to a central place in their life.

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5 thoughts on “Contemplative Religious Orders Immersed in the World

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