Women in Monastic life

6a21f0cfc30f69e020fcd0de044fe169The Poor Clares nuns in choir. The order was founded by Saint Clare

Early Christian monasticism in the East and the West sprang from the vitality of the local Churches. In the course of time, individuals responded to God’s call in particular distinctive ways, diverse ecclesial situations arose and, as a consequence, monasticism developed a rich and varied character :

The cenobitic life (from the Greek : koinos-bios, life in common) centered on the search for God in solitude. The eremitic life (from the Greek : erèmos, desert) in which the accent falls more on communal life. Two essential and complementary dimensions of Christian life, two forms of life closely linked which existed either in parallel or successively at different times.

Personal prayer
Personal prayer lies at the heart of monastic life : “a conversation with a friend, alone with the loved one by whom you know you are loved” Sr Teresa of Avila. “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” Mt 6,6.

Depending on the traditions of the different religious orders, one prays in the cell (cellula, small room) or in church, in the solitude of a hermitage (the desert) or before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Prayer can be brief or prolonged depending on the different orders.

But prayer always remains “a surge of the heart, it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of thanksgiving and love from the depths of suffering or joy” St Therese of Lisieux ; a participation in the prayer of Jesus to his Father ; a single breath which opens out to infinite spaces.

This “long labour” of prayer shows the way, one must advance : “Confident, cheerful with joy on the way of happiness… Blessed are you, o Lord, for having created me !” St Clare.

Silence and solitude
“Listen… to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart”
Rule of St Benedict.

The person who enters monastic life is drawn in a profound way to silence and solitude as the natural milieu where friendship with God is woven. Solitude and silence prepare the heart for the vigil of prayer; they are the weapons for spiritual combat, they link the community together.

A silence to listen

“The Word of God is Christ. It is He whom we hear in the Holy Scriptures… He whom we hear in the voice of the Church… He whom we hear when the world and our brothers call upon our charity” Dominican constitutions.

In this way all human sufferings and contemporary reality knock upon the door.

“An inhabited solitude. O beata solitudo, o sola beatitudo !” St Bernard.

“He who has God as a companion is never less alone than when he is alone”William of St Thierry.

Alone but not isolated.

What is the purpose of this retreat, this fertile setting oneself apart from the world ? It is to plunge into the heart of the Church so as to live out a more authentic apostolic zeal, St Dominic cried : “My God, my redeemer, what shall become of sinners ?”, and St Francis of Assisi : “Love itself is not loved”, St Teresa of Avila : “I am a daughter of the Church”, while St Paul of the Cross aspired to : “such a fire of love that it burns those who come near us… but also those who are far off, all peoples, all nations…”And St Therese of Lisieux would have wanted “to proclaim the Gospel to the four corners of the world… from the creation of the world to the consummation of time… In the heart of the Church… I will be Love”.

“Yes, truly, an apostolate as effective as it is hidden…” Perfectae caritatis.

Paradoxically, a nun responds to the call of the Church and the contemporary world in welcoming all those who want to take some time to return to their heart and to nourish themselves upon the riches of different spiritual traditions. “All guests are to be welcomed as Christ” Benedictine rule, 53.

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