What is Cloistered Life?

Nun Cloistered life is a formal way of life recognized by the Church to invite men and women to find within the hidden life of the monastery a place where they can experience the loving exchange of hearts with Christ Jesus. In this enclosure, they find their true selves and experience a foretaste of Heaven!

Seeking Silence in a Poor Clare Monastery

poorclareKatie Devitt stood in front of the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Kokomo, Indiana.

She carried her only remaining possessions:

  • Clothes
  • Two rosaries
  • Two Bibles
  • A few family photos

Her family waited beside her, fully aware of what this day meant.

Devitt will never touch them or her friends again. She may see her parents just a few times a year, but only through a screen. Mail is limited. Personal phone calls are not permitted. She may only leave the monastery for medical appointments.

When Devitt was ready, she said her goodbyes and then knocked on the door. Behind it, nine cloistered sisters waited.

At a time when few young people enter religious life, Devitt, Arts ’05, chose what some would call one of the most extreme paths: the life of a cloistered contemplative nun.

A native of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Devitt once dreamed of being a rock critic for the Chicago Tribune. She was raised Ukrainian Greek Catholic, but never gave her faith much thought outside of Sunday Mass.

That changed when she came to Marquette University and discovered Catholic Outreach, a group that meets weekly to reflect on the Scriptures. When the group started singing the hymn “As the Deer,” Devitt felt something move inside her.

“And bam, it just happened,” she says. “I felt Jesus’ presence for the first time. I knew without a doubt that He was real and that He loved me.”

She fell to her knees and sobbed. She realized how little she knew about her faith, how desperately she wanted to know more.

Devitt started attending daily Mass and switched her major from journalism to theology. Still, she never thought about a religious vocation.

“I thought I’d get married and have kids like everyone else,” she says.

Sophomore year brought another pivotal moment—the 9 p.m. Sunday Mass at Straz Hall. Rev. William Prospero, S.J., shared the Gospel story of the rich young man who asks Christ how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus responds, “Sell your possessions, give to the poor, then come, follow me.”

During the homily, Father Prospero urged students to contemplate what Jesus wants them to do with their lives.

Devitt received Holy Communion. She prayed.

Endless thoughts of the sisterhood started bombarding her mind.

“I didn’t know what a sister looked like, but I could see myself being one. I didn’t know what a sister did, but I could see myself doing it,” she said. “I started crying because I felt such an intense peace and happiness.”

She wiped the tears from her eyes and sprinted upstairs to her three roommates.

“Guys,” she said. “I think I’m supposed to be a nun.”

By the following morning, Devitt wondered if she’d lost her mind. Her next five years of discernment involved a lot of research and internal struggle, wondering whether God was really calling her to this life.

She went on her first “Nun Run,” a whirlwind road trip of different Catholic orders. The first stop was at the Poor Clare monastery in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The place was a stark difference from the non-cloistered, active orders she later visited. A metal grate separated the Poor Clare sisters from visitors, and a nun in full habit came out to talk.

“I was completely shocked,” Devitt says. “It seemed so archaic in some ways. But the sister was speaking so gently, and you could just see the joy in her life. In a very internal, subtle way, I was like: ‘I want this. I want this in my life.’ It seemed intensely attractive to me, and, on the other hand, it freaked me out that I found it attractive.

After graduating from Marquette, Devitt spent three years teaching high school. Meanwhile, she went on eight more Nun Runs, visiting more than 30 orders. Along the way, she had the support and camaraderie of Maggie Voelker, a college friend, who briefly entered the Carmelites.

“I could always tell she had a very strong faith, and whatever she ended up doing it would be in service of God,” Voelker says of Devitt. “I could see something a little more intense in her spirituality.”

Devitt continued to feel a pull toward the Poor Clares. In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Poor Clare sisters take a vow of enclosure.

“Their purpose is to give their lives totally to Christ and offer prayers and penances for the entire world,” she explains. “They are hidden from the world in order to be accessible to the world. And that’s a very, very beautiful thing, but it scared me a lot to think about the practical things. … It would mean I wouldn’t get to travel, I wouldn’t get to go home, I wouldn’t get to hug my mom again. There was a lot of fear there.”

So, she prayed, telling God, “I know you want me to be a sister, but I won’t be one of those scary contemplative sisters.” But none of the active orders felt right. “I desired to give myself in a more radical, complete way. For me, an active order wasn’t enough,” she says.

Devitt made up her mind after her fourth visit to Kokomo. As she knelt in Mass at the monastery, a warmth and peace came over her. She knew she’d found her home.

“In the light of faith, it makes the most sense in the world,” she says. “We have the unique vocation to be all things to all people by being completely hidden in Christ. A missionary in Africa working with AIDS victims or a teaching sister, they are noble, beautiful and selfless people. If that is what God wanted me to do, I would do it. But you touch a limited amount of people directly. Through prayer you are able to touch the entire world.

She dreaded breaking the news to her family. Her mom called and asked how she liked Kokomo. “I loved it,” Devitt said.

“That’s great — you have to follow Jesus,” her mom told her. “Now’s the time to be brave.”

Christine Dsragnesevitt recognized something spiritually unique in her daughter years before, although she never envisioned her active, fun-loving Katie joining a cloistered order. But Christine was moved and reassured after hearing about a seriously ill girl in Kokomo who, unable to join the Poor Clares herself, prayed that someone else would take her place.

A few weeks later, Katie asked to join the monastery. “To think of yourself as the answer to someone else’s prayer is kind of humbling,” Devitt’s mother says.

Devitt, now Sister Mary Agnes of the Lamb of God, before taking her final vows

After visiting Katie at Christmas, Christine Devitt said her daughter was “positively glowing with enthusiasm and happiness” in her postulant jumper and short brown veil.

Although she knew it would be hard to hug her daughter for the last time, she says it would be harder if Katie were a missionary halfway across the world or in a monastery just up the street.

She is used to Katie living in another state, and she can visit her a few times a year.

Other family and friends had a harder time understanding Devitt’s decision and questioned whether she was “wasting” her life and talents by going into seclusion. Devitt says she understood their feelings but that they eventually came around when they saw her commitment.

“The bottom line is they care about me and support me,” she says. “Even if they don’t think it is right, they trust my decision and support me and my judgment.”

The nuns start their day at 5 a.m. Their activities revolve around Mass and seven sessions of prayer, known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The evening recreation hour is a time for the sisters to talk and laugh together, but most of the day is spent in silence.

“The world is so noisy,” she says. “We are afraid to be quiet. We are worried what we might figure out about ourselves. We are constantly on our cell phones, iPods and computers. The quiet is appealing to me, but it will be a big adjustment.”

After asking to join the Poor Clares, Devitt stopped buying new clothes and wearing makeup and contacts. For Lent she gave up her iPod, once one of her favorite possessions, to help ease her attachment to “stuff.”

But leaving behind the people she loved was infinitely more painful.

“In a weird way, it seems like all the people in my life are dying,” she says. “It hurts a lot. But you have to do it for the vocation. I need to have an undivided heart for Jesus.

“Once I give it all to Him,” she adds, “I can love the world with a divine love.”

 

Pope to Benedictine Abbots and Abbesses: Found New Communities; the Church Needs You!

benedictinespopeOn September 8, 2016, Pope Francis received in audience some 250 participants in the congress of Benedictine abbots and abbesses gathered in Rome to reflect on the monastic charism received from St. Benedict and their faithfulness to it in a changing world.

This theme acquires special meaning in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy since, as Francis affirmed, “if it is only in the contemplation of Jesus Christ that we perceive the merciful face of the Father, monastic life constitutes a privileged route to achieve this contemplative experience and to translate it into personal and community witness.”

Today’s world clearly demonstrates the need for a mercy that is the heart of Christian life and “which definitively manifests the authenticity and credibility of the message of which the Church is the depository, and which she proclaims. And in this time and in this Church, called to focus increasingly on the essential, monks and nuns safeguard by vocation a peculiar gift and a special responsibility: that of keeping alive the oases of the spirit, where pastors and faithful can draw from the wellsprings of Divine Mercy.”

With the grace of God and seeking to live mercifully in their communities, monks and nuns “announce evangelical fraternity from all their monasteries spread out in every corner of the globe, and they do so with that purposeful and eloquent silence that lets God speak out in the deafening and distracted life of the world.”

Therefore, although they live separated from the world, their cloistered life “is not barren: on the contrary, an enrichment and not an obstacle to communion.”

pope-benedictines-1300x753Their work, in harmony with prayer, enables them to participate in God’s creative work and shows their “solidarity with the poor who cannot live without work.”

Their hospitality allows them to encounter the hearts of the “most lost and distant, of those who are in a condition of grave human and spiritual poverty,” and their commitment to the formation of the young is highly appreciated. “Students in your schools, through study and your witness of life, can too become experts in that humanity that emanates from the Benedictine Rule. Your contemplative life is also a privileged channel for nurturing communion with the brothers of the Oriental Churches.”

“Your service to the Church is very valuable,” the Holy Father concluded, expressing his hope that the Congress may strengthen the Federation so that it is increasingly at the service of communion and cooperation between monasteries and urging the Benedictines not to be discouraged if their members age or diminish in number. “On the contrary,” he emphasised, “conserve the zeal of your witness, even in those countries that are most difficult today, with faithfulness to your charism and the courage to found new communities.”

 

Cistercians Monks Return to the Ruins of an Abbey Destroyed by Henry VIII

abbeyIt was Thomas Cromwell, through two parliamentary resolutions, who transferred the ownership of abbeys, churches, monasteries and other possessions of the Catholic Church in England to the hands of the English crown. Among these, countless manuscripts, libraries and works of art, but especially farms and other productive buildings were taken over by the government. In particular, of course, monasteries and abbeys. Those that were not destroyed, expropriated or simply shut down were handed over to the political allies of Henry VIII.

But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, basically for two classic, too-well-known simple reasons: money and power. These expropriations would provide Henry VIII with an extraordinary, unexpected income without resorting to deeply unpopular measures (such as higher taxes), while also eliminating the influence of the Roman papacy over the English crown.

rievaulx-monksNow, about 500 years later, in a series of photographs published in the Daily Mail, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.

Rievaulx had been founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France (the foundation of Saint Bernard), and soon was considered one of the greatest British abbeys. At its peak, 650 people actively lived and worked at Rievaulx, including monks, direct and indirect employees and other officials associated with the maintenance of monastic activities. On December 3, 1538, Henry VIII ordered them all to leave the building, expropriating every valuable object in it (particularly the lead used in stained glasses).

Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England. The museum exhibits some of the artifacts monks once used at the abbey, and chronicles of the history of the Cistercian Order in England.

 

Norcia’s Benedictines: Recovery Under Way in Wake of Devastating Quake

italy-quake

Restoration of Norcia’s Benedictine monastery and basilica will cost millions of dollars, following the recent devastating earthquake, according to the community’s monks.

“Both the church and the monastery are too dangerous to live in,” Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom, prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict and a Massachusetts native, said. “So we’ve put up two tents; one is a dormitory, and the other is a chapel.”

The tents are located about a mile away, outside the city walls, next to a medieval monastery the monks have been restoring but which was also badly damaged by the natural disaster; it will need to be rebuilt.

Pentin-NORCIA-650x495The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the region Aug. 24, and its continued aftershocks, forced the monks to transfer to Rome for three days, leaving two of their brethren to camp out in tents so they could mind the basilica and monitor developments. Almost all of them have since returned and will be living in the makeshift accommodations until buildings are made safe.

The birthplace of St. Benedict, the patron of Europe, Norcia was just eight miles from the quake’s epicenter. But it remarkably escaped with relatively little damage and no loss of life, compared to the nearby towns of Amatrice and Accumoli. Although just 25 miles by car from Norcia, they and a number of surrounding medieval mountaintop villages were closer to the fault line and had many buildings that were not earthquake-proof, and so were practically wiped out by the natural disaster that took 291 lives, many of them children.

The true extent of the damage won’t be known until a full analysis can be carried out once the aftershocks have ended, but Father Cassian predicts it will be a “huge rebuilding project.”

norciaprayerThe Monastery of St. Benedict, which has only been in Norcia since 2000 (Napoleonic laws forced the previous community to flee in 1810), has become well established and much loved by the local people. One of the few religious communities in the world to celebrate both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite, the monastery draws thousands of visitors every year. It recently became famous for its brewery, opened in 2012, which produces its popular “Birra Nursia.”

Norcia is part of the beautiful region of Umbria, the so-called “Land of the Saints” because of the many holy men and women born there, and the “Green Heart of Italy,” on account of its verdant, alpine scenery. August is the height of the tourist season there, but the town was practically deserted the weekend after the quake, except for emergency vehicles and some television vans. Many of the citizens who remained in the town camped outside in fields or slept in cars.

The town and some of its surrounding villages have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently after the town was struck by an earthquake in 1979 and reconstructed using earthquake-resistant techniques.Facade

Subprior Father Benedict Nivakoff said the earthquake “sadly served as a healthy reminder” for modern society, where “people can get so used to things being exactly how they expect them to be” that they cannot “control everything.” He said it will take some time for the town to get back to normal, and as it is very hard to obtain earthquake insurance, those hardest hit, including the monastery, will apply for government grants to help rebuild.

But for the monks, too, who take a vow of stability to live the rest of their lives where they took their vows, the event will serve a useful purpose, helping them to “root” themselves even more in the locality. “When you lose something that you’ve come to love, and we’ve been restoring this place for the last 15 years, one has to really dig in more; and so that’s what we’re doing, renewing and expanding our commitment,” said Father Nivakoff.

He said people can help by praying for them, the people in Norcia and the people hard hit in Amatrice and Accumoli. “That’s the most important thing: supporting us with prayers, sacrifices, acts of charity,” he said. He also said people can also help the rebuilding efforts by buying a best-selling CD of Gregorian chant that the monks produced last year, buying their beer and also making donations.

Father Nivakoff said the monks will also be giving around 15%-20% of whatever they raise to the people who most need it.

“The vow of stability means you love the place,” said Father Cassian. “We love the place, and so it needs to be rebuilt.”

 

© Copyright 2016 Institute on Religious Life. All rights reserved.
Website by TreeFrogClick  |  Admin