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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Prayer and Mystery


The Convent really isn't so mysterious as you might think, although it is a place shrouded in prayer and lit up with joy.

A year ago, I was invited by the Sisters to come visit them and pray Vespers with them in their convent near an inner-city parish. It was a wonderful evening, my first exposure to the Liturgy of the Hours, and a step in discernment towards religious life.

At the time, I wasn't seriously discerning, but rather, just recognizing I had to take a step and that prayer and dinner was maybe a small thing, but something I needed to do.

The Sisters and I have stayed in contact, and the Vocation Director of the community also has been in contact with me throughout the last year. I've had many invitations to head East to visit them, but haven't had the funds. Plane tickets aren't on the budget for parish employees. In fact...most of our own personal bills aren't in the budget. (Ask anyone who works for the Church...)

The Mysterious Convent

A year ago, I wasn't allowed into the locked area of the convent, but could only go as far as the parlor. These Sisters are in a very large building which, I'm guessing in the past housed a great many sisters.

The convent is next to a beautiful German Baroque church, adjoins the original parish school, and is home to a few offices and two religious communities. One community is housed on the first floor, while the Sisters I visited are on the second. Both communities share the convent chapel and divide their prayer times as their communities have different traditions and different prayers/devotions specific to their communities and charisms, although both pray the same version of the Liturgy of the Hours.

As I understand it, although the Sisters used to be obliged to go to the church for Mass each day, now, at least a few times per week, there is a priest available to come to the convent chapel to offer Mass for the Sisters, and, I imagine, anyone else who would care to attend as the chapel is in a public area.

I arrived around 4:40 pm, having been told Vespers would begin at 5 with the rosary and I should arrive any time after 4:30. I rang the bell and was surprised when a lay man answered the door with a quick, "Yes, can I help you?"

The last time I was there a Sister from the first floor had answered the door! I realized quickly as he admitted me that he was a parish employee just finishing his work for the day.

It was wonderful to greet the Sisters in their home again and take my own Breviary and rosary to the chapel in preparation for Vespers.

The chapel has several pews, and each Sister (4 of them in that convent) has an assigned spot with a little basket containing her breviary and some other prayer books. Last year when I was there, the Sister told me to disregard many of the times she was standing or sitting, and so it was necessary to be cued when it was my turn to rise, kneel, or be seated.

These Sisters, like others, carry a large rosary which is not used to pray during Vespers, although they do grasp it or its crucifix at various other times. Like me, they had regular rosaries, but began the rosary, after the Creed, with an invocation of the Trinity on each of the 3 Hail Mary beads. (Which reminded me a year ago, as it did last night, of my Trinitarian friend!)

There was some confusion, on my part, during the LOH, as one Sister and I had set up our books to pray the Common of Martyrs. As it turned out, we prayed the regular Evening Prayer of the day, and not the psalms we'd anticipated. Apparently this is set by the Superior (of the options of the day), but the Sister next to me helped me find my place with this switch. I did still have a marker there, but, having been lost for a few moments, needed my place to be pointed out to me!

I must remember to ask them more about how they decide which of the LOH options they pray on Feast Days.

After Vespers, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the Sisters maintain silence outside of meals and recreation, which means they speak only when charity demands. Dinner is usually served immediately at 6 pm. As Vespers ended at 5:30, the Sister responsible for dinner headed to the kitchen to finish, another Sister reposed the Blessed Sacrament, candles, etc., and when a bell rang, we rose to go to the kitchen. The Superior remained to pray until 6, and it's entirely likely she didn' t hear the bell, so it was rung again at 6 for her, more loudly.

I waited, with the Sisters, around the little table in the convent, this time admitted past the locked door. It had been decided that we would eat in the recreation room while watching a movie; Padre Pio, Man of Mystery. The Sisters know my connection to Padre Pio and have one themselves, and of course...love the movie!

We loaded our plates and walked down the hallway, past several cells, many used for storage or designated for a particular purpose, indicated by the signs on the doors.

The recreation room was down a hallway to the left, and contained a television and table, and might well have been a little informal dining room at any house found anywhere.

We were joined by another young woman while I was there; she had to work later and so came bringing her own dinner, and like me, had a devotion to Padre Pio and had never seen the movie.
This particular movie has two parts, so when the first ended, we opted to clear the table and wash dishes, etc., and found ourselves treated to ice cream and other random things the Sisters had on hand for special occasions. Not long after we began the second part of the movie, Sister Superior asked us to pause and pray. She wanted to go to bed, so we stood and prayed part of their traditional prayers (not Compline), she thanked the other woman and I for coming, gave the Sisters permission to finish the movie with us, and headed off.

The movie completed just as the bells began to strike the 10:00 hour at the church, so we thought at first the bells were part of the movie! We each picked up what we could hold and returned to the kitchen (refrectory in convent parlance) and assisted in cleaning up. Two of the Sisters walked us to our cars, and as it was, stood talking in the parking lot, which is EXACTLY what we did a year ago, too!

It was a cool windy night, and even though I had to impatiently push my hair out of my eyes, the Sisters didn't seem to mind that their veils blew around or that their scapulars turn into sails, fluttering in the night wind.

A Year Ago

One of the Sisters seemed to be in a fairly intense conversation with the other woman who was there last night, so I didn't want to disturb them as I tried to leave. She saw I was leaving, though, and wanted to say goodbye. Which, of course, led into another conversation. We recounted the evening we met, November 2007, which is about a year and a half ago.

That evening she was the one who had asked me, "Are you discerning?"

Her question had stopped me in my tracks. The cracked door was pushed open just enough to give a hint of light. I took a deep breath and said, honestly, "I don't know."

We'd stayed in touch, here and there, but I didn't visit them until maybe the following March, 2008. I did want to visit again, but it never worked out. They are not around in the summer when I wasn't in school.

But God's timing is always perfect.

Sister told me last night that, when we'd first met, she knew that there was no way I was ready for religious life. She said that in the time she's known me, there's been a change, and she DOES believe I'm a lot more open now, a lot more prepared for whatever He has to offer. She also told me more of her own story and how hellish was her own discernment. She said it was the most difficult period of her life, but God has used that, over and over again.

I can't even tell you how good it was to hear that she's been through the same torment as I, and maybe even worse.

As of now, I am hoping and praying to visit these Sisters in July. I have received word that the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations will assist as will, likely, my own parish, and there are a few friends who might also assist, also through my parish...but that is for another post.

*

I know there are those who wonder about more of the interior of the convent. Any college student would recognize it; it's much like any average dorm room, but with individual rooms called "cells". The floors are tiled, there are pictures of Saints, Our Lord, Our Lady, and statues, and in fact, there is a large statue of Our Lady at the end of the convent hallway.

I wish, for the romantic among us, that I could paint a mystery of gothic proportions, but I can't. It's a wonderful, peaceful life, no doubt one that has the same problems any of us find in our own lives.

One of the Sisters told me last night that it is a hard life, but acknowledged that each Vocation has its challenges, and they can be overcome.

It was wonderful to spend the evening with these dear, dear Sisters, in their friendly and prayerful company, knowing that, hopefully this summer, I will come to see yet another part of their lives and share in that as well.

Please keep all religious in your prayers, for you are always in theirs.
*

11 comments:

Easter A. said...

Praying as you discern...

T'was good to be here :-).

RJW said...

You paint a beautful picture with your words. My sister was a Benedictine and the images you related again brought back many wonderful memories. Prayers for you continuing.

Ray from MN said...

God bless you, Adoro!

I've been praying for your vocation discernment and will continue to do so.

makemeaspark said...

It sounds like you have come a long way, and the joy you find there is genuine, I wish you peace also!

Melody K said...

"Nunspeak"...the Sisters who taught me in grade school had a refrectory, too. They also called a closet a "press", and a snack was a "collation". Most of those dear ladies have gone to their reward; though I am still in contact with one.
Praying for you that whatever is meant to be, will be!

Terry Nelson said...

Why all this fuss over a vacation? Just go if you can afford it.


(I'm being silly of course.)

thegloriousagony said...

Adoro, when I first went to visit some nuns by Saint Louis, MO, in Alton, I was scared and kind of nervous. Then, I wrote the vocation director for several months. After that, I went there again, and I loved it! Then unfortunately, the vocation director was transferred and I haven't met the new one yet. I'm currently all alone.No Spiritual director yet...

Adoro said...

the glorious agony ~ Praying for you! Hopefully you'll meet the new DoV soon!

The Ironic Catholic said...

:)

you know who said...

prayers prayers prayers

and come visit me! ;)

Adoro said...

you know who... Maybe if I don't visit the Cistercians I can head down south and come your way! :-)