On November 21 (the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple), the Church will celebrate World Day of Cloistered Life, also known as “Pro Orantibus” Day, which is a Latin phrase meaning “for those who pray.” This is an important ecclesial event for all Catholics worldwide to commemorate the hidden lives of consecrated religious in cloisters and monasteries.
We celebrate this day because the contemplative life is a gift from Almighty God to us all — all the world benefits spiritually from the prayer and sacrifice of these dedicated and faithful souls, even when we may not know it. On this day, the faithful are encouraged to reach out to the cloistered and contemplative communities in their diocese, through prayer, encouragement, and material support.
“Religious profession so orders our whole life to God and neighbor that it is a sign the unity of the Trinity reflected in our unity and our outpouring love for God, our sisters and all mankind. It is this loving kenosis which produces perfect human fulfillment.”
—Constitutions for Poor Clare nuns (Article 5, number 3)
St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that happiness is union with the One who is Goodness itself, namely God. Our country’s forefathers saw the human desire for happiness as not just a goal but a fundamental right, the “right to the pursuit of happiness.” However, pleasure and happiness are not the same and the “right to the pursuit of happiness” presupposes the moral obligation to live according to the laws of God. Indeed, the Catholic Church proclaims that we were created to know, love and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him forever in the next.
This happiness or blessedness is ultimately holiness. Therefore, we can say we have been endowed by our Creator with the “right to pursuit of holiness.” This pursuit of holiness, or striving for perfection, is the life’s work and obligation of those who make profession of the evangelical counsels. We do this by daily offering our lives at the service of God’s plan in the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, emptying ourselves in order to be filled with Christ and bring him to others. “It is this loving kenosis which produces perfect human fulfillment.”
Obedience is an act of the will, a free choice, not an act of fear or compulsion. “The love of Christ impels us,” St. Paul says, and it is through this love that any fear is transformed into the free surrender of our will and the great desire to do what God is asking of me at this moment. In his conferences on the evangelical counsels, Archbishop Charles Schleck, C.S.C. asserts that “obedience perfects the will instead of suppressing it. To love God is not merely to surrender or give up something of our own will. It is to adhere positively and firmly to the will of the one we love. And to love God means to do what He desires; it is obey. Obedience is universal in character and belongs to the very life of the Church. It brings to completion our baptismal faith … (it) perfects the consecration proper to baptism.”
In her biography of Saint Colette, Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., describes the young Colette, with the vow of perpetual virginity fresh upon her soul, as a woman no longer alone in the world. She is espoused to Christ now. Yet this reality is hidden from the eyes of men and is part of the great paradox of Christian life where the one who loses her life finds it and the grain of wheat that dies brings forth much fruit. It is our radical renunciation of all things, even the great good of earthly marriage, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven which is the source of our union with Christ. And it is our union with Christ which allows us to enter into His love for all mankind.
In a radical kenosis the second person of the Blessed Trinity became man to save us by His death and resurrection. In the words of St. Paul “… He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but emptied Himself.” Our form of life is to live the holy Gospel, and we do this by striving to imitate the self-emptying of Christ in every aspect of our life. “According to the thinking of St. Clare, evangelical poverty goes far beyond the renunciation of earthly possessions, extending to the whole of life. For in the Franciscan concept, the surrender of temporal goods is intimately bound up with the profession of obedience and chastity and also with enclosure and communion in the spirit” (Art. 11 #1).
“Enclosed nuns are called to give clear witness that man belongs entirely to God, and so to keep green among the human family the desire for a heavenly home” (Art. 20 #2). We strive for that union in this life and are a sign for the world of each soul’s destiny.
For those who are called and who respond to its totality of grace, ours is a life of profound joy in the pursuit of holiness through the total surrender of all we are and all that is, for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. “Amen, amen, without ever turning back” (Testament of our Holy Mother St. Colette)
We have just celebrated the Feast Day of St. Jane Frances de Chantal on Saturday, so it is wonderful to learn of the recent election results from the Assembly of the First Federation of the Order of the Visitation held on July 26-28, 2017.
Meeting at the Visitation Monastery in Rockville, Virginia, the Assembly participants elected a new Federation President and Council. Sister Sharon Elizabeth (Toledo, OH) was elected Federation President. She will be assisted by her Council comprised of Mother Rose Marie (Mobile, AL), Mother Marie de Sales (Toledo, OH), Sr. Mary Emmanuel (Tyringham, MA) and Sr. Frances Marie (Rockville, VA). Mother Miriam Rose (Tyringham, MA) and Mother Teresa Maria (Snellvile, GA) were elected as alternate councilors.
St. Jane Frances was the co-foundress of the Order of the Visitation along with St. Francis de Sales. Founded in 1610, in Annecy, Savoy (France), their desire was “to give to God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth.”
The Visitation Order was founded for women who could not handle the austerities of the traditional cloistered life but who truly had a call from God to give themselves entirely to God as a spouse of Christ. They also traditionally accept belated vocations (check each community for the information).
It is sometimes forgotten that St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a fifth sister, Léonie, who was not a Carmelite. Léonie was a difficult child and a poor student who nevertheless desired to enter religious life. Her mother once wrote that unless a miracle was worked, “my Léonie will never enter a religious community.” St. Thérèse predicted that after her death, Léonie would enter the Visitation Order and take her name and that of St. Francis de Sales. Indeed it came to pass. Léonie’s name in religion was Sr. Françoise-Thérèse and her cause for canonization was opened in Caen, France on July 2, 2016, the anniversary of her profession (1900).
In West Springfield, Massachusetts, on a busy street, up on a hill, is the Dominican Monastery of the Mother of God. Their presence there silently proclaims to the passers-by their faith in God and their desire to belong wholly to Him. Their foundress, Mother Mary Hyacinth of Jesus, entered the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, NJ, on September 8, 1908. She was chosen by Bishop Thomas Mary O’Leary to be the foundress of their community: “Come, come to Springfield in the name of God and Mary. This will be our gift to Our Lady on the feast of her birth.”
They eventually took on perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and went from Third Order sisters to Second Order nuns. Life in modern times is more complicated for everybody, cloistered nuns not excluded, but they have striven in recent times to strengthen the essentials of their enclosed life, striving for the one thing necessary – union with God.
In 2008, reflecting more deeply upon their contemplative vocation after the nuns’ Jubilee Year, they decided to take back their traditional veil, believing that each nun should strive to become a mini “house of prayer.” This was followed by the restoration of a simple grille in their parlors in 2011, as another reminder of their call to silence and withdrawal from the world.
Following the Rule of St. Augustine, they make solemn vows and follow Papal enclosure. The solemn chanting of the Divine Liturgy is at the heart of their day. Their Eucharistic adoration and Rosaries flow out of this wellspring of grace, while study and lectio divina are a fruitful preparation for it. They strive to make the Liturgy as beautiful as they can, all for the glory of God.
May Our Lady, who helped them to begin this work of love for God, allow it flourish through her special Motherly intercession. Amen!
Catholics throughout the world are encouraged to support the cloistered and monastic life on World Day of Cloistered Life, Monday, November 21, 2016, the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.
“The primary purpose of World Day of Cloistered Life, traditionally known as Pro Orantibus Day (“For Those Who Pray”), is to support—both spiritually and materially—the gift of the cloistered contemplative life,” said Rev. Thomas Nelson, O. Praem., National Director of the Institute on Religious Life. Pope Francis reminds us that “it is an opportune occasion to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and in silent work.”
Pope Pius XII first instituted this worldwide ecclesial event in 1953 to publicly recognize women and men who so generously give of themselves to this unique calling and who each day, from the various convents and monasteries spread throughout the world, offer prayer unceasingly. Pope St. John Paul II later expanded its celebration and encouraged Catholics to support this sublime vocation in any way possible.
Since his election, Pope Francis has highlighted the vital importance of cloistered contemplative life in the Church’s mission. In the recent Apostolic Constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Holy Father wrote that those who devote the whole of their lives to the contemplation of God “are a living sign and witness of the fidelity with which God, amid the events of history, continues to sustain His people.”
World Day of Cloistered Life has a special significance as the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to a close. “The prayers and sacrifices of cloistered religious is the foundation of all the Church’s work of mercy,” said Father Nelson, “because their prophetic witness and prayerful presence secures the grace needed for God’s merciful love to reach even the most hardened and distant of hearts.”
The nationwide effort to publicize World Day of
Cloistered Life (Pro Orantibus Day) is coordinated by the Institute on Religious Life. The IRL was founded in 1974 by Servant of God Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., and is comprised of bishops, priests, religious and laity who support and promote the vowed religious life.
A FREE PDF packet of resources is available online, including a meditation for this occasion at CloisteredLife.com.
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The cloistered religious featured on the 2016 World Day of Cloistered Life logo is from the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The community’s website is OPNuns-FH.org.
On April 6, 2016, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated by Most Rev. David Walkowiak to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Joined by 10 other priests, the Bishop told the assembled: “The confidence and consolation it gives us to know there are people who are pursuing the love of the Lord alone, and this is the focus of their lives, it gives us a model and an inspiration to do as much as we can in the same direction.”
The sisters also joyfully announce the reception of the habit and the new religious name of Miss Caley Nolan, now Sr. Mary Christina of the Holy Eucharist. Her family attends a local parish and her cousin also happens to be a priest in the Diocese!
The monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a title dear to the sisters’ hearts for their foundress and 15 other nuns were forced to flee Mexico during the persecutions in the early part of the last century. They were founded by the Carmel in Queretaro, Mexico, and after many separations and stops, were welcomed to the diocese by Bishop Joseph Richter in 1916.
Their epic journey to Michigan is an incredible story. Their foundress, Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament, was a woman who anticipated what was to come, prepared for it, faced it with courage and went back into the lion’s den time and time again to bring her sisters to safety.
Mother prayed to St. Therese, the Little Flower, not yet beatified, to help them out of their difficulties. She promised her that she would do all in her power to spread the Carmelite Order if they were spared. One day, Mother and another sister were led to a large yard to be executed. She knelt, saw the guns and heard the fire. When she regained consciousness, they were able to escape and though there was blood on their clothes, they were not injured. St. Therese had truly saved them.
From the little seed in Grand Rapids came foundations in Mexico (1919, 1936, 1940, 1950), Buffalo (1920), Schenectady (1923), Detroit (1926), Littleton (1947), Traverse City (1950), Iron Mountain (1950), and Denmark, WI (1992). She truly fulfilled her vow to the Little Flower to extend the order whenever she had the opportunity!
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, have recently issued their newest album, adding to the selection of their other very popular albums of songs and chants that give glory to God. Entitled “Adoration at Ephesus,” it is a collection of songs sung by the nuns when they gather together for Eucharistic Adoration.
The album contains 24 tracks in Latin and English and includes such favorites as: Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, Adoremus in Aeternum, Ave Verum, Panis Angelicus, Jesus My Lord My God My All, and many other well-known and not-so-well-known classics.
The nuns’ previous albums have risen to the top of Billboard’s Classical Traditional Artist’s list for three years running. They are tapping into to the world’s innate desire to lift up their hearts to God, finding peace to that restlessness that St. Augustine says can only be found in Thee.
All proceeds from the album will go towards the nuns’ new monastic church fund. The chapel that they pray in is only a temporary one. “As the community grows and the hospitality apostolate expands,” said Mother Cecilia. “the necessity of undertaking the design and building of a new church has become a pressing reality.”
Mother also noted the link between Fatima and Adoration, for this spring marks the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the Angel of God to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta in 1916 in Portugal. In the first apparition, the Angel told the shepherd children to kneel and repeat this prayer: “My God, I believe in Thee, I adore Thee, I hope in Thee and I love Thee. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe in Thee, do not adore Thee, do not hope in Thee and do not love Thee.”
“I was simply astounded that our album corresponds so perfectly and intimately with the message he brought to the children and the world,” said Mother Cecilia. “If one word had to be chosen to summarize that message, it would be: adoration. We pray that all souls will adore our Eucharistic Lord with great faith, love, reverence and thanksgiving!”
The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns of St. Veronica Giuliani Monastery in Wilmington, DE, are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. On December, 12, 1986, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, ten sisters left their beloved Mexico and came to a foreign land to be prayerful support to the Capuchin friars in their service to the poor. When they arrived in Philadelphia, a group of Capuchin Franciscans were awaiting them at the airport holding a large image of the Blessed Virgin of Tepeyac Hill, a heartwarming sign that Our Lady of Guadalupe was still with them in this new mission.
The sisters make the habits for the Capuchin Brothers as well as liturgical vestments and altar linens. They assist the Brothers by preparing meals for an emergency shelter for women with children.
The Capuchin Poor Clares were founded in by Ven. Maria Laurentia Longo in the 16thC. St. Veronica Giuliani, mystic and Capuchin Poor Clare, is their famous saint.
The sisters are blessed to have three young vocations, raising the number of nuns to twelve. They pray every day that the Lord will bring many more vocations “so they can join us in giving God adoration and glory through a life of prayer!”
The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Hanceville, Alabama, were in the news recently for two very different reasons.
The Catholic News Service reported that Mother Angelica, PCPA, their foundress and founder of EWTN, is receiving nutrients from a feeding tube. Suffering lingering effects and partial paralysis as a result of two strokes she suffering 14 years ago , she is able to communicate with a squeeze of the hand or gestures with her eyes. On her 92nd birthday in April, the sisters said that she offers all her sufferings for the Church.
It was also announced recently that the Poor Clares of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville will be merging with the Poor Clares from Charlotte, NC. Mother Dolores Marie, PCPA, who is presently the Abbess of St. Joseph Monastery in Charlotte, will be the superior.
In 2002, the Hanceville Poor Clares sent sisters to help their monastery in Portsmouth, Ohio. Sisters were also sent to help reopen their cradle monastery in Troyes, France. Over the past seven years, the community has also made new foundations in Tonopah, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas.
Mother Dolores Marie and three other solemnly professed nuns of the Charlotte community started out as members of Our Lady of the Angels in Alabama. They were invited to come to Charlotte from Portsmouth, OH, in 2010 by Bishop Peter Jugis.
Mother Delores says: “I ask your prayers for both of our Communities during this time of transition and for me as I assume the role of Superior of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. …With this new mission before us, our building plans in the Diocese of Charlotte are obviously placed on hold. However, the Holy See has granted that Saint Joseph Adoration Monastery be held canonically open to facilitate a return in the future.”
On November 21, 2015, Visitation Sisters around the world renewed their vows. On the day when the entire Church celebrates the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day when Sts. Anne and Joachim presented their daughter to the Lord, these daughters of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal presented themselves before the altar of the Lord and professed their eternal devotion to their Spouse.
Joining in this renewal of vows was the the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts. It is relatively new, the sisters having moved there in 1995 from Delaware. It is called Mont Deux Coeurs or the Mount of the Two Hearts because it is dedicated to the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of His Mother, Mary.
It could also be said that the term Mont Deux refers to the hearts of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal who were the co-founders of the Visitation Order. One biographer said that their relationship went unbelievably deep – “One is forced back to Scripture parallels: the love of Joseph for Mary, the love of our Lord for Martha and Mary.” One could say that the Visitation nuns are twice twice blessed!
The Visitation Sisters of Tyringham are cloistered, contemplative religious whose lives are dedicated to prayer and to living in community. They try to be gentle instruments of the Lord in the midst of a world increasingly violent and intolerant.
Their “work” is to sing the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day with the Church. On the first Sunday of the month, one of the Sisters gives a talk on the Heart of Jesus at the monastery, open to everyone. One of the recent talks was about Leonie Martin (d. 1941), sister of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a Visitation nun, in Caen, France, and her cause is being promoted.
Leonie was the most difficult of the Martin children, prone to outbursts and a poor student. Can you imagine having a saint for a sister? Yet, she persevered, really persevered and found her heart filled after a long life with the infinite tenderness of God.
Here is a Visitation sister’s reflection on what her canonization would mean to so many: “To those millions of souls who see themselves ungraced, ungifted, unlovable, unlikely to succeed (in every conceivable way), Leonie presents the impossible turned possible, the lost sheep hoisted upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, Who searches out the least of His flock and gathers them close to His heart.”