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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On the Contemplative Life

One reason I went into the monastery for two months is that I do have a contemplative vocation. I have known this for years. God has allowed me to have graces for hours of prayer and meditation, which moves into contemplation. I have also, in the past, been blessed with excellent spiritual directors. Not recently.

Nuns in the Benedictine monastery where I was do not receive spiritual direction at all. Now, this may seem strange, and it was hard for me in discernment, but the Rule of Benedict provides the format for discernment: that is, if one can follow the Rule, one is on the right track as it were. The nuns only have Confession once every two weeks, which I think is sad. There is a priest shortage. I went to the Cathedral once a week and the priests were excellent.

However, being trained in Ignatian spirituality and having done Ignatian retreats three times in the past, including the thirty day, I decided to use the tried and true method of the eight day shortened retreat for discernment. The reason I did this was that I wanted to know for sure my path, not merely from the physical perspective, but from the spiritual. I got my answer.

One must trust in the Indwelling the the Holy Spirit, which we are all given at baptism. Lay people are not taught to get in touch with God Who dwells within and, horribly, the new age people have taken some of the language of the saints and twisted it for their own ends.

SS. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross understood and practiced contemplative prayer. It is a grace, and I am convinced, for all Catholics. One must start with meditation, which is using the events in the Life of Christ in the Bible and entering into these events, much like meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary.  Good luck finding an orthodox, trained and holy spiritual director. Since I have been in Europe, I have found only one, and he is too busy to take on another person.

God will bless all of your efforts, and that is one of the consoling ideas I came away with in the past few days-God can do in the lay person what He does in the religious. The religious is focussed on perfection and holiness. The entire set-up of monastic life is geared towards that goal. We have many distractions. But, it is possible in God, as He calls us all to be perfect. The difference is the call in which this holiness is to be perfected. The nuns and monks have a ready-made situation and the fantastic Rule of St. Benedict, which gives a short-cut to sanctity.

By the way, one of the things which concerns me is that the monasteries, for the most part, and the one I was in particularly, are not self-sufficient. This is dangerous. That the nuns need to shop, rely on outside amenities, such as bulk laundry, etc. is not good.  One hopes for more vocations to create self-sufficient communities again. If this does not happen, the orders are vulnerable to the hard times to come. And, I am afraid there will not be many who care to help....In small communities where the majority of sisters are old, these nuns are very vulnerable, indeed.

May I also add, and this is not a criticism as much as a lament, that I strongly feel that the lack of the TLM and the Gregorian Chant replaced by modern versions is a loss of spirituality for some Benedictine monasteries. There is a sublimity in the EF and the chant, as well as the older translations, which has been set aside for less exact and less aesthetically pleasing modes of singing. There is more to this than mere "taste". This comment is based on my personal experience of growing in the TLM, as well as others, including parents, who have shared with me that their faith and the faith of their children changed once they went regularly to the TLM. We could discuss the difference of spirituality as the focus from people back to God. It is a sad fact that so many English and other communities have their own translations and own melodies. I wish the Pope would ask the orders to embrace the Latin Mass again, and the Gregorian chant.