Pro Orantibus Day Recalls Cloistered Communities as the “Heart” of the Church
Chicago, IL — Catholics throughout the world are encouraged to honor the cloistered and monastic life on Pro Orantibus Day, which is Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012.
“The primary purpose of Pro Orantibus Day (“For Those Who Pray”) is to thank God for the tremendous gift of the cloistered and monastic vocation in the Church’s life,” noted Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem., National Director of the Institute on Religious Life. “Since the lives of these women and men religious dedicated to prayer and sacrifice is often hidden, this annual celebration reminds us of the need to support their unique mission within the Body of Christ,” he added.
In 1997 Bl. Pope John Paul II asked that this ecclesial event be observed worldwide on November 21, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple. It is a special day to thank those in the cloistered and monastic life for serving as “a leaven of renewal and of the presence of the spirit of Christ in the world.” It is also intended to remind others of the need to provide spiritual and material support “for those who pray.”
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken often of the tremendous value of the cloistered, contemplative life. Speaking to a group of cloistered Dominican nuns in Rome, the Holy Father referred to such religious as “the heart” which provides blood to the rest of the Body of Christ. He noted that in their work and prayer, together with Christ, they are the “heart” of the Church and in their desire for God’s love they approach the ultimate goal.
The nationwide effort to publicize Pro Orantibus Day is coordinated by the Institute on Religious Life, a national organization based in Chicago.
For instruction and aids to celebrate the day please see our FREE resources.
This video is an explanation of the contemplative life of monks made by the Carmelite Monks located in Wyoming. The monks live a life of prayer, solitude, penance, and strict separation from the world. Their lives are completely dedicated to interceding for the Church and the world. St. Thérèse proclaimed the Carmelite vocation as being “love in the heart of the Church.” As the heart circulates blood throughout the whole body, so the Carmelite is called to circulate grace throughout the Church. View video.
(Click for printable PDF of this reflection.)
In observance of Pro Orantibus Day 2012
Reading: Lk 19:11-28
Mary accomplished outwardly through her body what wisdom from within gave to her faith.
— St. Lawrence Justinian
These words, taken from the Office of Readings for the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, can help us glimpse how the journey of a single disciple and that of his or her community are intimately A Day of Support for Cloistered Life.
“For Those Who Pray” connected and together form a response of faith. In fact, communities of the contemplative life seek to establish within themselves the same dynamic connection that made the Virgin Mary both a hearer and doer of the Word. The journey of an individual, in fact, happens and grows in the atmosphere of a community that is genuinely dedicated to a search for God.
The parable proclaimed in today’s reading from Luke speaks of some servants who received varying amounts of money from their king. The “coins” are often seen to be the personal gifts or talents that God bestows on each of us in varying degrees. However, we could also understand the “coins” as the gift of time, and the members of the contemplative life invite us to consider how we use the grace of each new day.
To receive a calling can be an unsettling concept. Our first impulse may be to ignore the calling if it puts us outside of our comfort zone. Or perhaps we may hide or run, rather than responding to it. Fear can be crippling. But what if the calling is from Love itself? We may remain uncertain, but our response is no longer one of fear. Ultimately, we are compelled to respond in love and trust.
This is how the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia view their calling – they have come to the religious life because of the calling of Jesus, who is Love incarnate. Thus, they are here for one reason: for love alone. Jesus desires that we seek his company, and waits for our response. The nuns stress that the call to religious life can hardly be considered an achievement of theirs, for none of them could have achieved it without the grace of God. The nuns firmly believe it is Christ who calls them, not the other way around!
As one of the Carmelites describes it, they are led by an interior pull. While it may be unclear initially, this pull becomes a conviction for each woman to live the life of a Carmelite Nun. The vocation that each of them receives is a gift, and the call is a tremendous honor. Called to a life of austerity, comtemplative prayer, and enclosure, the calling is one embraced with unspeakable joy.
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia recently launched their first website, www.discalcedcarmelitesphila.org, from which this article was inspired. Be sure to watch the three new videos posted there and learn more about this religious community. You can also see their video “The Call” on their YouTube channel.
One day our Mother foundress, Mother Mary Agnes Faulhaber, revealed to her companions on the Toledo Foundation a special grace she received on Holy Thursday. Our Lord revealed to her that “this foundation is to be for the manifestation of the glory of His Sacred Heart and that it will be so in proportion as its members practice self-abasement, self-effacement, self-contempt and self-annihilation.” These words sound harsh to a world in which one’s worth seems to depend on rank, honor, prestige, wealth. But if we go to an old Webster’s Dictionary (the 1935 edition to be exact) we will discover that they are an apt description of the life of Our Lord.
We are presented with a program of humility though which we experience the presence of God in the soul. Quite simply it is the life of our Lord who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. It is the hidden life.
For more information, go to the Sisters of the Visitation of Toledo, Ohio.
The following is a letter from a fictional novice of the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns in Rockford, IL.
Praised be Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother! I’m looking forward to my second Lent in the monastery. What a wonderful surprise was in store for me before Ash Wednesday — three days of more solemn and lengthy Eucharistic Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. You remember from our brochures that we do have Exposition every day, but this was special with a capital “S.” So many hours of prayer and adoration.
You may wonder what Lent is like in an Order that already keeps a perpetual Lenten fast and abstinence even outside of the liturgical season. Believe it or not, we do make a few changes that reflect even more the austerity of this season. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the organ is silent. The Liturgy of the Hours and Holy Mass are sung a capella except on Laetare Sunday and Solemnities. You remember that there is no correspondence or visiting until Easter. The community prays an offering of the Precious Blood together nine times a day and on Saturdays we pray the chaplet of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows, just to mention a couple of Lenten practices. Meals are simple without many condiments but, I assure you, healthy and quite sufficient. Oh, and so much more to tell you, but I’ll have to do that some other time!
Until next time, I am off to the Lenten desert!
Sister Mary Neophilus
Peace and Blessings! God reward you for the family news. Now to give another glimpse of my life here at the monastery. One great joy I want to share is that I’m becoming a polyglot! I’m learning a new language. A second language in the cloister? Yes, because silence is the language of God and you may recall that silence was not my predominant virtue! Here in our cloister it is an essential part of our union with Him. I pray someday it will become my best language!
Silence is also the language of love, another reason to become most fluent in it. I think the interior silence is the hardest to learn. Memories, images and thoughts tend to crowd in and occupy the mind. It takes practice not to pay undue attention to them and really focus on the present moment with full attention, intention and deliberation. So much to learn! Soon we will enter the great silence of Lent. More about that another time! How are the dogs, and that troublesome cat next door? Love and miss you, but we are one in heart and prayer!
Sister Mary Neophilus
To learn more, go to the website of the Corpus Christi Monastery of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford, IL and read, “A Life of Prayer and Worship.”
As Visitation Sisters around the world look forward to the feast of St. Francis de Sales Jan 24, the sisters in the United States say that the spirituality crafted by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal remains strong and shows signs of growth.
That’s true, judged by web visits to the Sisters’ new Second Federation website, begun last February. Visits have increased to 650 per month, and the website has posted a steady stream of articles on Salesian spirituality, while explaining little-known devotions and facts in the lives of the two founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal.
This spirituality is suited for both those living in the world, and for contemplative life, such as that of sisters living in the Visitation’s cloistered communities. The 1999 Vatican instruction Verbi Sponsa states, “. . . Just as in the upper room, Mary in her heart, with her prayerful presence, watched over the origins of the Church, so too now the Church’s journey is entrusted to the loving heart and praying hands of cloistered nuns” (No. 4).
The Order, formally known as the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, was founded in 1610 by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal in Annecy, in eastern France. The Order spread from France throughout Europe and beyond. Today the group numbers approximately 2,500 Sisters in more than 150 monasteries throughout the world. They are growing in Africa; there is a monastery in Korea, and in South and Central America the houses continue to expand.
For more information on the Visitation and its spirituality for religious and laity, visit the Second Federation of the Visitation. Learn also about cloistered Visitation communities, such as the Toledo, OH Visitation.
St. Anthony of Egypt, abbot, was born in Coma, Upper Egypt. While still young he got rid of all his possessions and lived among the local ascetics, and then withdrew into the desert, where he lived in complete solitude and was repeatedly tempted by the devil. Remaining steadfast, he attracted a number of disciples to a hermit’s life in the desert and a small monastery was formed at the place. From there he, in 311, went to Alexandria to encourage the confessors during the persecution of the Emperor Maximinus Daia (emperor in the east 310-313).
St. Anthony was reputed to be a miracle-maker and many were converted by him. His surviving works include a letter to the Emperor Constantine and several ones to different monasteries. St. Athanasius, who knew Anthony well and wrote his biography, said, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his worldly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God.”
Anthony lived a long and righteous life and died at the age of 105. In keeping with his instructions, two of his disciples buried his body secretly in an unmarked grave. In 561 his relics were transferred to Alexandria, and much later, they were claimed by Constantinople and by La Motte, where the Order of Hospitallers of St. Anthony was founded c. 1100. His feastday is January 17.
When a young woman knocks on the large wooden door of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford,IL to learn more about the sisters’ way of life, she is sometimes put off by what she sees. She might be used to driving a nice car, carrying a Blackberry, and enjoying the pleasure of fine food and drink.
But what she sees are barefoot nuns walking quietly who then share a meal of beans and rice. She may have experienced a world of exciting nights out, of a seemingly endless possibility of relationships. But what she finds here is the solitude of a flickering candle in a plain chapel, and the joyful laughter of friends bound by lifelong vows.
Why, then, are women today attracted to the sisters’ form of life? Maybe because they see the sisters living “according to the form of the Gospel,” as inspired by their foundress, St. Clare — a motivation that has been sending them to their doors for eight hundred years.
Are you interested in learning more about Poor Clare life? If you are seriously considering this vocation, the sisters invite you to come and see if the voice of Christ is calling you to their life. A discernment visit from two to five days may be arranged on an individual basis by contacting Mother Dominica (pictured above), at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, IL at 815-963-7369.
Read the article, with photos, about the Rockford Poor Clares on this website, “All Time Is At the Service of God.” Or read about what Pope John Paul II says about the difficulties of accepting Christ’s invitation on the Poor Clares’ Youth Page.
A postulant of the Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares in Barhamsville, VA named Kimberly did not know her religious name until she was received as a novice recently. Following an ancient tradition, the Poor Clares choose the name for new members of their community, and reveal it only at the reception ceremony.
On their new blog, Poor Clare Heart Ponderings, they tell the story and say, “We believe that God reveals this new name to Mother Abbess who does not divulge this divine secret until the very end of the ceremony of investiture.”
The Sisters say, “When a young woman takes on our Holy Habit, it signifies that she is ‘putting on Christ,’ taking up her Cross and following in His footsteps in a life of joyful penance. Yes, joyful penance! We deny ourselves, not out of hatred for our selves, but so that we can give our entire selves in love to the Divine Bridegroom who beckons us. Sin and selfishness are in the way of our union with Him, so they must go. It is that devastatingly simple.”
On Dec. 12, the beautiful feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Postulant Kimberly received her habit and was transformed into a Poor Clare novice. Her name is now Sister Marie Elise.
John was disappointed that the Carmelites no longer lived by the strict Rule that they were known for. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun who became a famous saint and Doctor of the Church, told John that she had been given permission to begin convents based on the original Rule. She asked John to join her in this work.
Teresa and John’s reforms meet with anger and resistance. Some friars did not like the changes John suggested. They imprisoned John in a dark and dirty cell. It was in those terrible conditions that he wrote some of his most beautiful poetry and mystical writings.
Even though John lived many years ago, from 1541 to 1591, his spiritual legacy is still read today by people who want to grow in their relationship with the Lord. One of John’s most famous sayings is, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”