Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Eve, 2010 - Monastery of the Heart

Just now, in Bethlehem, Connecticut, 40 Benedictine nuns are settled into the Grand Silence that follows Compline. Speech is curtailed until well into the next morning; the silence will be broken only by the prayers and praises of Matins at 1:50 a.m. and the morning offices of Lauds and Prime.

Forty is rather a large community in this day and time. One cannot help wondering how it is that this monastery (Benedictine nuns live in monasteries, not convents) seems to be thriving in comparison with most others. Perhaps it is because Dolores Hart is cloistered there . . . but that name likely means little if anything to the young women who enter as postulants today, although she was a "star of stage and film" many years ago!

The permanency of this monastery might be due, of all things, to the fact that the nuns wear the full habit, a tradition nearly completely lost since Vatican II, and they sing and pray the entire Divine Office, entailing seven gatherings each day. Many religious orders today have curtailed their "office" to four-three-or two gatherings, often optional. Further, in Regina Laudis Abbey, they have kept the beautiful Latin text and Gregorian chant, so scorned in the last decades.

What now has any of this, the success or failure, indeed the existence or dissolution, of the Abbey of Regina Laudis to do with you or me? Of what interest to us are habits, long, short, full or forgotten, of what manner of intrigue or matter of importance is it to us whether nuns in Bethlehem, Connecticut or Bethlehem, Israel sing or chant, pray or maintain silence?

It is this, I believe. These women and others like them, men and women here and abroad, are praising God on purpose, giving up other things that they may do so, showing us, if we will attend, what may be done by those with a will to do them. Some of the more enduring orders have chosen the more exacting practices. If they are not winning the lost to Jesus Christ or feeding the hungry (and, God help us, sometimes we haven’t, either,) they are singing the praises of God while we do!

Photo taken at Ted DeGrazia's Mission in the Sun . . . Tucson, Arizona
Photo by Kerry

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