Featured in National Catholic Register— BY BRIAN O’NEEL
On Feb. 2, Pope Francis ended the Year of Consecrated Life with a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. But what fruits has the year delivered, in terms of highlighting cloistered religious communities and fostering more vocations there?
When the Holy Father, himself a consecrated religious, opened the special year on Nov. 30, 2014, he said he was doing so because he hoped the “shining witness of [the consecrated] life will be as a lamp,” placed where it can “give light and warmth to all of God’s people.”
As reported by the Register, His Holiness urged religious to “‘wake up the world,’ illuminating it with their ‘prophetic and countercurrent witness.’”
And yesterday, he praised the joyful witness of consecrated men and women: “How beautiful is it when we encounter the happy face of consecrated persons.”
By all accounts, religious’ response to the Pope’s call has led to a greater awareness of consecrated life.
Most of that attention was understandably focused on active religious, through congregations engaged in works such as teaching, outreach to the poor and health care.
The narrative of the last few decades tells of orthodox religious orders whose members wear habits as a distinct witness, reaping a great harvest of new members. Witness the phenomenal success of such congregations as the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (Ann Arbor Dominicans), the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (Nashville Dominicans), the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) Sisters and even Mother Angelica’s cloistered Poor Clares.
Cloistered communities, however, didn’t get as much exposure.
As Mike Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life, put it, “They oftentimes seem to be forgotten,” adding that this stems from the “nature of their vocation.”
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I have three CDs in my car of Gregorian chants, I’ve attended silent retreats at various monasteries, and lately one of my favorite activities is walking the labyrinth at a convent just down the road from where I live.
I’m not the only one who is drawn to monasticism.
Into Great Silence, a documentary about the Carthusian monks in France, won a special jury prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
A group of ecumenical Christians gathered together in 2004 to form what they called the “New Monasticism” movement, which has spawned books, conferences, and intentional communities. And the CD “Angels and Saints of Ephesus” by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, recently hit the top of the classical music charts.
In our hurried, distracted and disjointed lives, it’s easy to understand why we’re drawn to a life of simplicity, peace, prayer, and community. But what is it really like? Is it what we imagine?
Sister Mary Veronica entered a cloistered monastery at the age of 23. She took her first vows at the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, in 2013. Sometime in the next couple of years, she will take her solemn vows, committing her life to unceasing prayer, community, celibacy, and making soap that the nuns sell in their gift shop. Her commitment means she will not be drinking Starbucks coffee, she’ll be shunning contact lenses, and she won’t have a spouse and children.
It’s one thing to go on a silent retreat for a weekend, but giving up intimacy and Starbucks?
Sister Mary Veronica acknowledges that giving up a spouse and children wasn’t an easy decision, but she doesn’t really regret the lack of lattes: “I probably missed Starbucks a lot more as a postulant than I do now,” she told me. “I think if I went to Starbucks now and ordered a drink it would just be way too much sugar. They are so filling!”
On the phone, Sister Mary Veronica is friendly, soft-spoken, witty, and thoughtful. She laughs easily, and seems like someone you’d like have one of those lattes with. But that’s not an option: The nuns rarely leave the monastery (except for doctor’s appointments), and they maintain relationships mostly through letter writing (although her parents, who live an hour away, visit about once a month). Despite these restrictions, Sister Mary Veronica doesn’t have many doubts about her decision.
Read the rest of Sister’s testimony here.
Iconography is the oldest tradition of Christian sacred art, embodying the work of thousands of iconographers, many of whom were themselves saints.
Unlike other approaches to painting, the creation of an icon does not begin in the artist’s imagination. Rather, the iconographer’s first work is to study how the subject at hand has been traditionally depicted in this rich artistic tradition.
Through the centuries, many monks and cloistered religious, especially in the Eastern tradition, would write icons which serves as an intense form of prayer. Much prayer and fasting goes into creating this sacred art.
Here is an amazing link to a video of how the icon “O Holy Night” was conceived and painted, and below that a step by step walkthrough of the stages in the creation of an icon, in this case of St. John the Baptist.
For more information on how icons are written, visit here.
For more than 100 years, the cloistered nuns known as the Pink Sisters have worked in shifts to ensure nonstop prayer in Philadelphia’s Chapel of Divine Love.
Now, to address their shrinking numbers and ensure their prayers continue for another century, the Roman Catholic Holy Spirit Adoration sisters have begun quietly reaching out, seeking to grow their order while carefully maintaining their secluded life.
In the last year, they hung a banner outside their chapel and convent as a way to let other people know about their daily public Masses. They’ve granted more interviews with news reporters. And they have begun inviting Catholic women’s organizations and schools to speak to the sisters — with all conversations taking place through the grille in the convent visiting room, of course.
There’s even a subtle recruitment flier hanging just inside the front door of the chapel. It encourages visitors to ask themselves three questions: Do you love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Do you realize the power of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament? Is Jesus calling you to say ‘yes’ to a life of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament?
“We rarely reached out for vocation promotion before the centennial. But now we want young ladies to see how beautiful the life is and how truer the joy when it is without the trappings of material things,” said Sister Maria Clarissa, 55. “We do our part in addressing these challenges, but at the same time, we leave it to the Lord. He’s the one who calls.”
There were once as many as 40 nuns living in the Philadelphia convent. Now, there are 20: The youngest is 52, and the oldest is 90.
The order was founded in Holland in 1896 with a focus on the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated bread they uphold as the body and blood of Christ. The rose-hued habits are meant to symbolize the joy the sisters feel honoring the Holy Spirit.
In 1915, nine of the original sisters left the motherhouse and came to Philadelphia, where they were invited to open the order’s second convent.
Today there are about 420 Holy Spirit Adoration sisters living in 22 convents in 12 countries. There are three other U.S. convents — in St. Louis; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Lincoln, Nebraska.
It may come as a surprise to some that a group of 20 nuns live a contemplative, secluded life not far from Philadelphia’s famed museums, historic landmarks and government. The sisters leave the cloister only for emergencies, such as medical appointments. When they do venture out, the sisters wear gray so as not to draw too much attention to themselves.
It is a selfless life, focused on offering intercessory prayers on behalf of people they will never meet living in places they will never see. They pray most of the day, together and individually in shifts before the Blessed Sacrament, generally waking up at 5:15 a.m. to prepare for the first daily service, going to bed after the 8 p.m. final prayers.
All the sisters have jobs. Some craft Mass cards and rosaries, the sales of which support the convent. Other sisters respond to letters and answer the phones. Some callers are lonely; others are suicidal. Just listening, the sisters say, seems to make a difference.
The sisters get one hour of free time and one hour of recreation each day. They are allowed visits from family and friends three times a year.
Sister Mary Angelica, 55, said she wants people who have lost touch with their faith to know there is always someone praying for them, “no matter what their need may be.”
The sisters follow current events, but the newspapers they receive don’t include the sports or entertainment sections.
“We try to be as simple as possible so we can focus on the Lord,” explained Mary Angelica. “We are simple in everything, even meals — though on special occasions, we have ice cream.”
For more information visit Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.