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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monastic Life

"Lord, let my cry come to you; do not hide your face from me." 
Ant. 1, Morning Prayer

I really love the contemplative life.

I only arrived home on Saturday, and immediately missed the hours of community prayer, the chanted psalms, chanted prayers, and the flow of life in a religious community.

I loved the fact that no matter what we were doing, it was the ONLY thing I had to do at that given time. When we were praying, there was nothing else on my mind (except the icon, which, of course, was being prayed!). When we were at meals, I was content to be present there, and only there.

When I was working on my icon, I was wholly absorbed into the process, and pondering, as I wrote, the mystery of the Incarnation, the identity of Mary and of Christ. I was realizing my many faults and the very real process of trying to grow in holiness, yet constantly failing. I came to learn that even that is a work of beauty when touched by God's grace.

It seems to me that life was far more real, and more honest, than the life I am living now. I felt....free.

Even though I regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I cannot do so at the same times every day, and so often when I go to pray my mind is on something I have to do next. I almost feel guilty for taking time out to pray and have to struggle hard against that temptation!

Last week, nearly every day it was my privilege to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form. By the end of the week I was able to follow along, understood how to find my place in the missal, and found that I was far more focused and aware in that form of the Mass than I am when I attend Mass in the Ordinary Form (what many people call the "Novus Ordo" which is somewhat of a perjorative term.)

It was a bit jarring to go from a week of contemplative prayer, Latin chants, and the deep holiness of the Extraordinary Form to Mass in my home parish on Sunday complete with the narcissistic show tunes that tend to characterize (and wreck) the Ordinary Form. On Sunday I was distracted, I was irritated and found that I couldn't focus...because I didn't "have" to; I could understand everything clearly.

Last summer when I visited the Cistercians we talked about Latin; Sister observed that even though they often don't understand the words they are praying, they know the focus is God, and they realize that the Mass, and the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours is so holy it has its own language. The Mass itself is so profound and mysterious that truly, on this side of the veil we are not MEANT to fully understand it.

We become sanctified by continually seeking the face of God, and, I have found, when things come too easily to us, it's very easy to think we understand everything, and therefore we stop seeking. So it is with Mass in the vernacular; I cannot focus because I have no REASON to focus. Nothing is mysterious; nothing draws me into the Mystery of Christ made present on the altar. I try to focus because I know what's going on, but in the Extraordinary Form, I am forced to look more deeply, to be more invested and in so being, to be more open to God.

I miss that.

I ache for that.

It was not a week of spiritual consolations by any means; most of my prayer life and Mass attendence is fairly dry. I desire to pray and I desire to attend Mass and enjoy doing so because I love God, but in all that I have written above, understand that none of it was about emotion or sentimentality.

Perhaps what I am trying to express is too far beyond words, although I suspect many of the faithful do understand and have the same interior sense.

Marriage to Christ

One of the things that came to me during prayer, and during Mass last week was, of course, the meaning of religious life. I considered the vows to be made, and how Our Lord courts his beloved, drawing her to Him in subtle ways. He is generous and does not withhold His generosity.

In prayer I pondered the vows of marriage, and the changes in life that must take place. If I were to marry, I would go to live with my husband, and his family would become my family. I would have a new circle of friends and acquaintances. I would have to get rid of many things, for they would not be needed or would be impractical in a new life. I would have to make sacrifices, and die to myself so as to offer myself more fully to the union to which I was called. My routine would change, my obligations would change.

So it is with religious life as well. All of that, and more.

I used to think about all the things I'd be "giving up", but in reflecting on the reality, it's not about giving anything up. It's about what is to be gained. If our hands are clinging to material things, they are not open  and able to cling to that which is eternal.

I want a life of prayer, a life of living intensely, a life of holiness.

I will never be satisfied with anything else.

"My heart is ready, O Lord, my heart is ready..." 
~ Ant. 1 Morning Prayer (Wednesday)

5 comments:

smk said...

Great post! I want to say more, but it would be editoralizing (is that a word????), and that's not fair to you... but some thoughts are almost burning me!!!!!!!

Brother Charles said...

People always ask, 'How do you really know you have a vocation to religious life?' To those of us who have had something like the experience you describe, we ask ourselves how we could not know it.

Katie O. said...

Although I have yet to attend a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I have found similar experiences in Masses in the vernacular. When I was in Italy, I became so much more aware of the liturgy, because, though I understood enough Italian to keep my place and could generally understand a homily and sometimes pray aloud with the congregation, it took a LOT of focus to do so. Besides, I couldn't sit/kneel/stand based on the cues that we generally react to at a Mass that we're familiar; I had to be thinking "What did we [or the priest] just say and why did we say and what does that mean and what does it mean we should do next?" to be aware of where we were in the Mass. I've even had related experiences at Masses where the priest is a non-native English speaker; there's one at my current parish who is a wonderful priest but nearly impossible to understand, and completely impossible to understand if your mind wanders for even a moment. I HAVE to prevent my mind wandering, and I find Mass with that priest particularly fulfilling as a result.

(Which makes me wonder whether it's my own prejudices that make me find Mass rather less fulfilling when I'm forced to pay attention because, say, the priest changes the words of the prayers or an unfamiliar congregation doesn't sit/stand/kneel when I expect them to.)

Stitchwort said...

Re the difficulty of maintaining focus during a vernacular Mass--you've put into words a sense I've been struggling to articulate for a long time.

Thank you!

Adoro said...

smk ~ Yes, "editorializing" is a word!

Father Charles ~ Well, I still have questions...but I do know what I need to do when I am free to do so. (But I am not free...)

Katie ~ Actually, you are describing exactly WHY the rubrics of the Mass are so important! Apart from legitimate language differences (the vernacular of diffrent countries), when we are aware of what is going on, we are more fully alive, and when the Mass is treated like a particular priest's or parishes own personal sandbox, you ARE going to be thrown off.

I've had that experience. I don't know the EF well enough yet to recognize if a priest does something wrong or messes up the words, but I have been totally absorbed in an OF Mass and was jarred out of my pew in utter and total disorientation when the music director did something weird with the Memorial Acclamation.

Stitchword ~ I think I just figured it out today!