In our rush-to-be-fed-and-entertained modern life (so we will feel pleasure as we bloat) how often are you going to read a story or be shown a story on T.V. about religious contemplatives? A superficial view of this life will make comparisons with secular life – the secular being the standard of comparison of course. If you do see or read something beyond the superficial that tries to give a close-up look at this life, the pace of the telling slows down and gets more contemplative itself. Actually how often are you even made aware of contemplatives at all unless you happen to be Catholic? Did I hear you say never?
The recent book tour of Mother Dolores (Dolores Hart) of The Abbey of Regina Laudis got me interested in them. She spoke of her transition from being a successful actress in Hollywood and working in films with entertainers such as Elvis Presley, known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, to her commitment to a convent working for the King of The Jews. As I browsed their website, and especially the history of the Abby, I started to think more of what they represent than what they do. Although they are probably known around Bethlehem, Connecticut, in other parts of the country they may not be well known unless one happens to be Catholic, and even then not then until something sparks an interest.
The popular media, where we tend to get most of our information, is not often interested in the subtleties of life; mostly the selling of the temporarily exciting aspects of life. My examples would include fast-paced movies with lots of special effects, ads that show entranced faces anxious to experience the sudden drop of that roller-coaster or the childish excitement seen at the anticipation of a new overly sweet version of another corn- or wheat-based breakfast cereal. I like sugar too, but in order to prevent (or reduce) a permanent version of the bloat I mentioned above, I take it in moderation. But moderation is not only a necessary attitude towards eating that we must accept, a recognition of why beyond the obvious is necessary for a full appreciation of the life God gave us.
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1809)
The Catholic Religious communities that are in harmony with the Magisterium give us living examples of the finer understanding of the virtues. I do not mean that we must all wear habits, make hay in a field, pray and chant in community daily, or be mistaken for nuns. The importance of this life to a person observing it, is that by it’s contrast to secular life, illustrates Catholic concepts in a physical way. You might say that they seriously apply what we need to learn – they show the way.
Think about the progression of the Abby’s creation from it’s history page in terms of an example to us of Christian life:
A woman named Vera Duss studies to become a doctor and graduates, but is called to the religious life and emerges as Sister Benedict in a French Benedictine Abby .
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. (Matthew 10:8)
The Twelve have received their own call and mission through God’s gift, and the benefits they confer are likewise to be given freely. They are not to take with them money, provisions, or unnecessary clothing; their lodging and food will be provided by those who receive them. (USCCB, The Commissioning of the Twelve)
Because she was an American living in France at the time, she was hidden by others and therefore protected from evil during the Second World War. She was grateful for the gift of freedom given by the American commitment to the defeat of Germany and felt the desire to reciprocate with a gift.
I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35, St. Paul’s farewell speech at Miletus)
As her gift, the founding of a monastery, is pursued by Catholic nuns with the Church in support, the effort is joined by generous strangers and a Congregationalist who gifted the land. He believed it would be protected and cherished as a place of prayer to God. The focus of all this activity is on life under the guidance of St. Benedict and the worship of God.
Then, when all these degrees of humility have been climbed, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out all fear; whereby he will begin to observe, without labour, as though naturally and by habit, all those precepts which formerly he did not observe without fear: no longer for fear of hell, but for love of Christ and through good habit and delight in virtue. And this will the Lord deign to show forth by the power of his Spirit in his workman now cleansed from vice and from sin. (St. Benedict’s Rules, Degrees of Humility)
These sisters wear a traditional habit and have experienced a growth in numbers at their Abby. The importance of the habit seems to be understood by many in today’s casual dress environment. It is a uniform that evangelizes by saying that the one in front of you is dedicated to God and His Word. Uniforms tell others who you are and what you stand for. I have worn a Cub Scout and Boy Scout uniform, school band uniform, school athletics uniform, U.S. Army uniform, Post Office Department and U.S. Postal Service uniform. I have refused to wear the Hippie uniform in the 1960’s because it just seemed to send a conflicting message: conform in order to show others that you believe in non-conformity.
Both men and women seem to be drawn to habited communities. About two thirds of the newer members say they belong to a religious institute that wears a habit. Among those that responded affirmatively, a little more than half indicate that the habit is required in all or most circumstances. (National Religious Vocation Conference)
Are you now waiting for the end of this story? The hopefully widening influence of this continuing temporal tale, shifts now to me and you the readers.