It’s Vocations Week. Normally, I don’t have many thoughts on cloistered contemplative life, except insofar as I have to read those Doctors of the Church who wrote predominantly about contemplation (John of the Cross, Teresa, Thérèse) and try to translate this into contemplation in a life lived on the world’s muddy highways. Today I’ll offer some small thoughts.
What is the point of a contemplative-cloistered life? Prayer.
What is the point of prayer? Union with God.
Does personal union with God have any bearing and effect on the lives of everyone else, “social issues”, and the world? Yes, I’m confident it does. This is a constant in the tradition and life of the Church. Cardinal Lustiger puts it this way:
Prayer can bring, always in the secret, hope of forgiveness for the tormentor, and at the same time life for the victim.
Jacques Maritain puts it this way:
He is John, the adoptive son of Mary and the solitary of Patmos, the apostle of love and of contemplation, together with his friends who, as he, at the very heart of the mystical Body, support everything, compensate for everything, renew everything, in the intimacy of the union of love with the unique Beloved…
Saint Paul originally put it this way:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col 1:24)
The saints work with Jesus. However pitiable our prayer may be, it is those souls who unite themselves to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross who, surprisingly sprouting up from the mud and being taken apart by their Lord to burst into living streams, provide the clarity so that this world does not perish. Their calling is high. Just witness Pope Saint Gregory’s reactions to being pulled out of the cloister: he knew that it’s the thousand unseen streams sprouting by the power of contemplative prayer that, by union with Jesus, sustain even the Petrine ministry that he was called to exercise in the world. This is how Jesus chose to save the world: in union with himself, and in a Church that is a Body that has many members and many parts.
That is what contemplatives in the cloister do. That is the amazing call that they have: prayer, prayer, prayer.
Those are my thoughts.
If this interests you, where do you find information?
- This page has some information about Benedictines (Cistercian, Trappist), Carmelites, Carthusians, and Poor Clares.
- The website of the Redemptoristine Sisters (Red Nuns) is here.
In closing, it’s worth remembering that, even for those of us who do not notice any draw to the cloistered-contemplative life, these roads are important. They served as models for what Christian contemplation is, means, and can accomplish. In fact, it is Thérèse, a cloistered contemplative who outlined a “little way” that, in many ways, extends easily beyond the cloister, who promises to pray for vocations (as in this beautiful post at By Love Alone) and to spend her heaven doing good on earth.