The new Postulant has entered the Abbey, welcomed and surrounded by her new Sisters, and no doubt with eyes like saucers, trying to take everything in. She doesn’t soar above every pang of separation and doesn’t try to, but she is in her own “happiest place on earth,” and she wants to experience every shining floorboard and flickering candle.
This is her new home, and it will most likely be until her death. We will talk later about the Benedictine vows of stability, a two-way pledge between the monks and nuns who have chosen the house, and the house that has chosen them and won’t send them away. The “abiding” of which Jesus spoke in the fifteenth chapter of John is our stability, and without doubt, we are meant to have it, to hide ourselves in Christ, His Spirit alive in us. That is Cor Unum Abbey, this monastery of the heart.
Cecelia went first to Recreation, the hour when strict silence is broken and the Sisters gather with their handwork and with stories to tell about the funny and interesting things they have observed in quiet, at work and in prayer. Perhaps the Abbey cat has been leaving offerings at the feet of a venerable saint’s statue, or there may be news that blackberries need to be gathered assiduously over the next few days. When the bell or the clapper sounds the end of Recreation, the Sisters fall silent on the instant, gather their things, and make their way to Chapel for the Vespers Office.
Let’s be reminded continually that whatever we may think of cloistered life, those who take up a holy vocation do it for the sake of the pursuit of the Lord, and so may we, right where we are. We must do this right where we are, or it will never get done. We have this life and these boundaries and these responsibilities, and most of us are too old or too married to join a convent, anyway! Even so, if “real” monastics can give long hours to worship and prayer each day, we can give long minutes, at the very least.
Forget those myths about monastics trying to escape reality; there may be some men and women who enter in the hope of a fairy tale of religiosity, but seldom will those individuals be able to stay to the taking of Permanent Vows. Centuries of abbatial oversight can spot pretenders before they are ever admitted, and after that, the strength of character and laser-like focus required to remain does not often appear in someone trying to hide from life.
So then, what about us? We will need our own commitment and focus in order to live in this world, but not of it. If we determine to abide in Christ, His Word abiding in us, we have already seen that it won’t just happen, magically, but it will happen. As we learn to watch and pray and to keep ourselves in the love of God, as we learn that we share more of the life of God in Christ than ever we have imagined, one with Him now, not just in death, and as we keep plodding in pursuit, we will make progress. Interestingly, monks and nuns would be the first to say that, when one of us begins to take up the rigors of a disciplined devotional life at home, they are our most enthusiastic cheering squad. They know the rewards, and they know how difficult it is to persevere in the workaday world. That’s why they left it, and because they were willing to pay the price to have those fixed and unfailing hours in devotion. What would they say to us who will not be denied? If they wore hats, they would take them off to us! Three cheers for us!
Never forget, dear ones, we can always have those things that have been commanded and promised, and we have been commanded in our love for God and for others. Over and over again we have been instructed to watch and to pray, and to give thanks in all things. We have been promised the rewards of quietness and confidence, and when we are in no way alarmed by anything that transpires, our enemies are thrown into confusion. (Philippians 1:28) Those blessings cannot be for in-house monastics, only.
Night is coming on, and the Vespers Office will be sung, with the new postulants losing their places, completely confused, trying not to make a spectacle of themselves. Rather like us, starting out. Six months later, all the new Sisters are surprised at how far they have come and how very far they have to go. So, too, shall we all be, here in Cor Unum Abbey.
It is time to take a look at this Opus Dei, this Divine Office of worship and prayer and see what we can make of it for ourselves. Theirs will never be ours, but then, ours will never be inferior, not in the slightest, when we devote this freewill offering to the Lord our King.
A Monk’s Cell
HombreDHojalata, by permission