Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22 – The Monastery of the Heart

Just now, in Bethlehem, Connecticut, forty Benedictine nuns are settled into the Strict Silence that follows the evening Compline. Speech is curtailed until well into the 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 at daybreak.

Forty is rather a large community in this day and time. One cannot help wondering how it is that this monastery (Benedictines live in monasteries, not convents) seems to be thriving in comparison with many others. Perhaps it is because Dolores Hart is cloistered there, but it is unlikely that her name means anything to the young women who enter as postulants today, even though she was a “star of stage and film” in the 'sixties and kissed Elvis on screen!

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 services of worship each day. Many religious order have curtailed their “office” to four or three or only two gatherings, sometimes optional. Further, in Regina Laudis Abbey, they have kept the beautiful Latin text and Gregorian chant, which have been neglected and forsaken in the last decade.

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 in person, they are singing the praises of God while we do!

This year, in Cor Unum, we will endeavor to join them in an at-home postulancy, a turning of our hearts to God, to dwell with Him in the temple, like Anna of old, never going out again, worshiping him continually. The map to Cor Unum can be found in the Gospel of John; chapters 15, 16, and 17 show the way. Jesus said that He was leaving to prepare a place for us, which indeed He has done, and that place is in Him, and in the Presence of God, a place where we are united in heart with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit, this Cor Unum, the monastery of the heart

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