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Monday, January 12, 2009

Purgatory on Earth

I have been reading Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede, set in Great Britain, about a woman in her 40's who leaves her professional life to become a cloistered nun at Brede Monastery. It's been especially poignant for me as my own friend has entered a Benedictine cloister, and it seems, in some senses, that I've been reading about her and her Sisters.

But it's also made me ask other questions, given the point I've reached in my own discernment.

While I've not given a lot of thought to entering a Papal enclosure, there are thoughts that draw me to it. The contemplative life IS attractive; it's tough, it's stable, and it's tranquil. The idea of routine does draw me, I have to admit. I love the idea of singing the Divine Office, I love the idea of learning the chants, of becoming a part of the tapestry that is the liturgical year.

There is a part of me that adores the hidden life; it's one of the reasons that even though so many people know who I am, I continue to blog under a pseudonym.

And yet, there is a part of me that rebels. Even as I want to be anonymous, I want to be known, and I'd lose that by entering the enclosure. If I wrote something, it wouldn't be under my name, but signed as an anonymous nun. Even as I love the habit and the importance of it, I'm not sure I'd be able to handle not being recognized within it.

I'm a person who would never stand out in a crowd...and yet, here I am, in my vanity, worried about being recognized in a habit!

Do you see the irony?

But I have yet to tell you about the biggest draw to that kind of life, and it transcends all of the above; purgation.

In reading about Brede, and in reading separately about the austere lives of the Cistercians, who also follow the Rule of Benedict, I have been deeply struck by their way of life.

It is a purgation; they die to the world, and live in self-denial, praying not for themselves, but for others, for the Church. They go about their daily tasks, they do what they need to do in order for the community to survive, but observe silence where they want to speak, eat what they may not want to eat, and spend most of their hours in prayer.


How little we hear of it, and yet, we must bear it out when we go to our Judgment.

And there are some who are called to this purgation on earth, to divest themselves of pleasures on behalf of themselves and the rest of us (more so the latter). To offer everyday sufferings, the life in a cloister, to leave life early in order to spend time in the earthly fires of purgatory, perhaps praying for a special cause.

We could not survive without these prayers, without these very real men and women who are praying for us at every hour, all over the world.

I don't think I could ever live that life, but the insight from this book prompts me to pray for them, for all our dear brothers and sisters who deny themselves...for us, the Church.

Pray for them. When you wake up at 1:14 am, offer a prayer, no matter how small. If you have insomnia, take at least a moment of it on your knees in unity with those who pray for you. And when you rise, offer a Hail Mary specifically for cloistered Vocations, the most hidden of lives, the least prayed for, the most unseen.



Anonymous said...

There's a Cistercian abbey near here (Dubuque, IA) if you ever wanted to visit. Our Lady of the Mississippi. Cloistered and they wear habits. I think their cut-off age is 39. They have guest quarters where visitors can come on retreat and pray with them.

Not sure where you are in Minnesota, but Dubuque is about 5 hours drive from Minneapolis/St.Paul.

Also, just wanted to note that I've been enjoying your writings. They always make me think.

Adoro said...

Reynardine ~ I did recently learn of that Abbey, although if I were to truly be interested in the cloisterd life I would NOT choose the Cistercians! lol....WAY too austere for me! I don't think I'd last a week.

It is nice to know they have guest would be a nice place for a retreat.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: Great post.

eulogos said...

Thomas Merton was certainly known for his writings while he was a Cistercian.

But I don't think it was good for him that he was. Do you?

Susan Peterson

Adoro said...

Susan ~ I don't understand your question. Was it good for him that he was known for his writings or that it was good that he was a Cistercian or was it good that he was known for his writings as a Cistercian?

Please clarify.

I thought he was a Trappist.

I've not read Merton, and as I understand it, his early works were good; ie Seven Storey Mountain. But I haven't read his Eastern mysticism-influenced works, nor do I intend to.

so I guess the question is...what do YOU think and what are you getting at with your own questions?

Adoro said...

OK, reading their liturature, Cistercian and Trappist are the same. I feel stupid. And will get over it.

I've never seen the two terms used in the same sentence, so assumed they were separate.

Banshee said...

Dr. Thursday's got a short story up about contemplatives. Pretty good story, too.

Adoro said...

Can you provide a link?

MemoriaDei said...

Merton was a Trappist and the main problem was that many people began to think he was hooked on buddhism or some such thing. He was a great learner and teacher but never lost sight of his full Trappist spirituality. I see too many people worshiping Merton instead of delving into his teachings on the Cistercian spirituality...which are excellent.