Monday, November 26, 2012

Passionist Nuns

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently spent a good amount of time visiting with contemplative nuns and learning about their lives. In this post - and the next few - I want to share some of the things I learned. There are pictures coming; I have to figure out the whole download/upload piece for the camera I used. 

The Passionist Nuns
In the heart of the Church, these women live the remembrance of the Passion. With joy and total commitment, they render continual thanks to God for the overwhelming love he demonstrated in sending his Son to suffer the Passion for us. They unite every action with this saving crucified love, for the salvation of their sisters and brothers throughout the world.

The life is austere but full of joy. The nuns have full papal enclosure, which gives them complete separation from the world. In old movies, you see this type of enclosure which includes walls and grilles to maintain distance from all the distractions outside the monastery. The idea is not to shut the nuns in so much as to shut out the distractions of a very loud and importunate world. The whole focus of their lives is Christ, and prayer to him - and prayer is much hindered by every type of noise, internal and external. So they step away to focus.

These nuns pray the entire divine office - rising for Matins (Office of Readings) at 2:00 am and following that with thirty minutes of prayer. They rise again later for the regular day. They return again and again throughout the day to the Lord - both privately and as a community, bringing always to remembrance the great love of God, given to us in the Passion of Jesus.

The Passionist nuns take five simple vows: 
  • To promote devotion to and grateful remembrance of the Passion; 
  • Chastity;
  • Poverty;
  • Obedience; and
  • Enclosure
They live their poverty in a very austere life, but the monastery must have an income. They bake altar breads and maintain a prayer guild for their livelihood and apostolic service, but their main work for the Church is their prayer.

The time of formation is fairly standard: 
  • Candidacy - a longer live-in period before making the decision for entrance; 
  • Postulancy - 12 - 18 months;
  • Vestition - receive the habit, white veil, sandals and a new name. (Pictures are coming!) The Sister may also receive a title of spiritual nobility; this is her choice. The period of novitiate is one year, but may be extended if necessary;
  • The time of temporary profession lasts six years, with yearly renewal of vows.
The Passionist nuns were founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1771. He wanted women who would give back to God love - for all of the great love he has given us.

If you are interested in more information, here is the link to the website for the Passionist nuns.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Work of God - A look at the cloistered contemplative life.

Recently, as part of a research project for Mater Redemptoris House of Formation, I travelled to St. Louis and visited with a wide variety of cloistered contemplative nuns. They graciously told me about their lives, explaining this ancient form of the consecrated life so that I can pass it on to the girls and women of the Diocese of La Crosse.

So what do they do? And why do they do it?

Mainly, they pray. They chant and sing the Liturgy of the Hours, a prayer that has been around since the earliest days of the Church, and has developed into an intricate, lovely and powerful prayer of the Christian faithful to the God who loves and saves us. It consists of seven “hours,” spread over the day and night…and the nuns pray day and night. Some rise during the night to pray as a community, others follow one another in hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, all night long. They meditate on the truths of the faith, and God’s incomparable grace. They recite the rosary and pray the Stations of the Cross. They spend time in private intercessory prayer. They adore the Lord ever-present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The nuns live their lives in silence. There are times to talk, to laugh together, to speak with their Sisters and develop community ties, but most of their days pass in silence, for in silence they focus all of their spiritual, emotional and intellectual powers on God.

All of them engage in some form of work, mostly housework, artwork, the baking of hosts, and liturgical needlework. They offer their work to God as a form of prayer.

So, why?

For us.

All the nuns told me that their orders were founded to pray for the Church – the Poor Clares, to render continual praise to God through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Mass; the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, to adore the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament; the Redemptoristines, to provide prayer support for the mission and publication work of the Redemptorist Fathers; the Passionists, to adore Our Lord Jesus Christ and thank him continually for the gift of salvation won through his Passion; the Carmelites, to pray for priests and the missions.

And all of them pray for thousands of prayer intentions passed on to them by the faithful each day. For the sick, and the poor and the people with troubles of all kinds – but it is specific, in the many written, faxed, telephoned and e-mailed prayer requests they receive.

They know that people do not understand. It’s called selfish, or out of date, or irrelevant. Sometimes girls and women, looking at their lives, say, “It’s beautiful, but I want to do something.” As one Sister told me, “The reason several of our Sisters came was because they felt that the work they were doing as teachers or missionaries was inadequate: ‘I could only reach one classroom at a time,’ said one, ‘now I can reach them all.’”

It takes faith to see it: you have to believe that God answers prayer. Given that, the work these women do is more than any of us. They offer all their time, all their talents, their entire lives to God, knowing that they will never see the results, but knowing too, that he is all-powerful and will multiply what they give far beyond anything they could hope for or imagine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Run so as to Win

I am pondering the Fathers of the Desert.

An assignment by my spiritual director for the good of everybody in my range of influence, these men from the earliest times of the Church have been my companions on the journey for the last month or so. Surprisingly, they talk very little about asceticism and heaps about charity.

That is the essence of holiness after all.

Love God with your whole soul and mind and strength - and love your neighbor as Christ loved you. That's it. That's all. And that is the point of it all.

So the question comes up: What holds it up?

Or more effective: What holds it hostage?

Because on good days, I can do it. We all can. The days when the weather is fine, people are kind, my health is stable and nobody gets in my way. But what hinders the love on the other days?

Is it fatigue - when I am tired, then I'm crabby? Then my charity, my virtue, my soul-deep goodness, is only as good as the sleep I get the night before.

Or is it food? When I'm hungry, I lose patience? Then my holiness is dependent on what I eat.

Is it the behavior of other people? When someone treats me with contempt, or indifference, or just hurts my feelings, then I lose patience? Then my charity is dependent on their good behavior. (That's kind of scary!)

What is it that is my weak spot for patience? In discovering this, I discover God's call for my virtue - the skill set I need to acquire - by his grace and my very hard work - so that when tested by the devil, the world or the flesh, I can compete with distinction and gain ground for Christ.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pondering your life

We are pondering the aspirancy.

Six months is a long time to discern - at least as intensively as the aspirant program. A longer period of time is good, but not the forever live-in. So, we have created a briefer time. It's a three week program, for women who are interested in pondering their life with the Lord. It is an individual program -- you work on your own, pray every day, get a bit of a taste of a religious schedule, and have some direction.

The daily schedule will look something like this:

Morning Prayer
Silent meditation (30 minutes)
Study, instruction or spiritual reading
Holy hour
Midday Prayer
Volunteer service with Catholic Charities
Scripture reading
Evening Prayer
Free time
Night Prayer
Meeting for direction

Single Catholic women who have completed high school, up to 30 years old, are invited to particpate.

It is still under construction, but contact us if you are interested in more information.