Rorate Caeli

Supporting Traditional Contemplative Religious Life for Women: A Call for Help

Rorate is pleased to share this text from a new community in process of formation, the foundress of which is known to us.

Our Lord assures the contemplative nun that not only does He accept her great desire to serve Him more directly and immediately, but He Himself has given this desire: “One thing is necessary…Mary has chosen the BEST part, and it shall never be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42)

When one finds something “optimal” in the “true and good” department, one cannot just leave it as a sidenote in one’s life. And this is even more true of the call of the contemplative nun. For the contemplative nun, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must be Everything. The Divine Office must be Everything. Scripture and Dogma must be Everything. Silence, solitude, and mental prayer must be Everything. Life inside the cloister must be Everything. For the contemplative nun, God must be Everything and the only Thing—the unum necessarium.

Today faithful Catholics are painfully aware of the effects of liturgical, doctrinal, and moral confusion on the culture and on families. What may not be as obvious is the effects this confusion has had on the wholly contemplative life (and thus on all religious life). This confusion was intended to gradually accustom religious to relegate God to the place of a sidenote, which is the opposite of the purpose for their existence. Consequently, very few communities exist that can receive the many, many women God is calling, through the Traditional Latin Mass, to the purely contemplative monastic life.

The progressive dissipation of contemplative monastic life has paralleled the progressive revolutions of Protestantism, the Enlightenment, and Modernism, culminating in the revolution that occurred during and after Vatican II. Let one example suffice for now to illustrate how these revolutions have permeated the whole of contemplative life. In one community, a retreat was given in which the retreat master (a prominent seminary professor) insisted that in order to “think with the Church,” the sisters should imitate Martha rather than Mary (Luke 10:42). At recreation that evening, all the sisters (except one) concurred by saying that if Mary were fully integrated, she would have gotten up to give Martha some help!

This new and prevalent interpretation of sentire cum ecclesia (thinking with the Church) has led to the phenomenon of sisters being called “strange” or “prideful” for devoting what little free time there is to personal prayer. The permeation of these errors produce communities that will never suffice for the resurgence of an integrally contemplative life, because those who want to love God with the radicality of Mary the sister of Martha will never be able to do so within their walls.

Loving God with the radicality of Mary is not to just “isolate” this one scene of Scripture to the exclusion of all the rest, as the seminary professor retreat master claimed. Rather, loving God with the radicality of Mary is commensurate with the whole of Scripture and the whole of Tradition. In fact, it is the Traditional Latin Mass which most fully expresses and nourishes the radicality of Mary (who, by the way, was the one who poured out all that expensive spikenard on Our Lord’s feet).

One can count on the fingers of one hand the number of contemplative monasteries in the U.S. today that are flourishing because of the Latin Mass and because they uphold ancient rules. As readers are probably aware, one of these communities attracts four or five young women per week on visits. The other communities are smaller but seem always to have at least one young lady there to discern. But these communities have admitted: “We can’t take them all!”

Is there room for another option among contemplative monasteries in Tradition? Where will these women go whom God calls to a life totally withdrawn from this ailing society and given over wholly to contemplative love? How many young women have shed tears because they have been turned away from these too-few communities, not because they are not good candidates for the life, but because the communities simply have to make choices, because there are not enough beds, or even enough floor space? For a young discerner in love with God, this is devastating.

But there is another reason why not all the women God is calling have found homes. Missing too is the variety of ancient monastic expressions. The Benedictines and the Carmelites certainly have shaped the monastic life of the Latin Rite. But these women’s communities are strictly coenobitical (communal) expressions of monastic life, even if the Carmelites did not begin as such. Their horarium or monastic schedule emphasizes a fully common life, which, though beautiful and holy, often leaves little room for private prayer, sacred study, and time in the cell alone with God.

In modern times there exist no traditional monastic communities of women at all with an eremitical (“desert”) expression in the daily horarium. Not a few women who have visited and/or been accepted into the aforementioned traditional coenobitical communities love the monastic life but find themselves desirous of a more contemplative pace, and more space in the hororium for private prayer and solitude. This is a legitimate desire, as tradition recognizes.

For an aspirant who has this desire, one of two outcomes is likely to occur upon entering one of the more well-known communities. The first is that she, desirous of pleasing God and not knowing of the other ancient monastic expressions, will try to make it work, often to no avail and much to her distress. The second is that the aspirant will walk away, thinking that she must have been wrong about her vocation, and so she decides to pursue the good of marriage. Yet why should it be the case that one called to a more contemplative way of life should find no opportunity for it among traditional communities?

An eremitical monastic vocation is the contemplative “Mary vocation” par excellence. Eremitic monasticism is the original form of monastic life. Indeed, it gave birth to the monastic life we know more commonly in the Latin Rite as the Carthusians. The Carthusians combine the cenobitic and eremitic by following a horarium that gives space for solitude and solitary prayer in the context of the safety and security of a monastic community and the basic elements of the common life. For example, the Carthusian monastic choir is nourished daily by the beauty of Gregorian chant during the great hours of the Monastic Office in common.

A traditional women’s community similar to this is urgently needed today to contribute to the restoration of the contemplative life for the Church. Our Lord already expresses His wish for this when He inspires women to radical imitation of Mary, the sister of Martha, by sitting constantly at His feet. For those whom Our Lord calls, there can be no other choice, however good, that will ever satisfy. Our Lord has promised: “Mary has chosen the optimam partem, and it shall never be taken away from her.”

The community in formation associated with the writing of this post is in need of assistance to obtain initial housing. Please email Mr. Jeremy Duplechain, who coordinates contact with the sisters, if you would like to help: