SAINT OLGA

SAINT OLGA
MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, SAINT OLGA, PATRON SAINT OF CONVERTS

Sunday, September 28, 2014

CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE VERSUS MONASTIC LIFE


Saint Thekla, Hermitess


There are a bunch of monastic wannabes parading around the internet claiming to be "hermits."  One of them calls herself "The Anchoress," yet she is married and lives with husband and children.  Another has done herself up in a nun's habit of sorts and has published a "rule of life," yet she also is married and living at home.  I do not pretend to know why these people are doing this, but one thing is obvious:  They aspire to some state of life for which they do not possess even the basic requirements.  It confuses the uninitiated and gives the wrong idea about monastic life in general.

If you are married, marriage is your vocation, and being the best wife and mother is your holy occupation.  You've chosen that life and it is up to you to throw yourself into it with all your heart and soul, for the sake of the Lord and the kingdom.  Your family will work together for the salvation of all, and it is beautiful.  There is no higher status elsewhere.

What is a monastic?  "Monastic" comes from the word "mono" or singular, alone.  Monastics have chosen to remain unmarried and unattached (or it has chosen them) so that their lives are given completely to the Lord in a singular way.  Monastic life is generally centered around prayer at regular intervals throughout the day.  Sometimes it is contemplative and sometimes not.

Saint Paula and her daughter Eustochium,
with Saint Jerome

Whereas today, "monastic life" is typically understood to be part of a recognized religious order, the early days of Christianity saw a number of independent people relocating to the desert, mostly the Scetes desert of Egypt, but also in Syria and Palestine, where they lived ascetic lives of prayer and penance.  Palladius of Galatia tells us that there were almost 3,000 women living in the desert as religious hermitesses or as a part of a loosely organized community of believers by the year 419-420


Hermit caves in Syria


These were Christianity's first monastics and I guarantee you that the desert fathers and desert mothers did not haul spouses and children out to the desert to live with them en famille, with the exception of desert mothers such as Saint Paula, whose daughter Eustochium, ALSO took up the religious life.  (Saint Paula had been widowed prior to this.)  The monastic life is a vocation of single people, not married ladies living with husband and children, with a job in town, Wednesday pizza night and family vacations to the beach every year.

Sometimes a particularly holy hermit would attract followers. Very quickly, the cenobitic life, a life lived in common, became the norm.  Monastics still do not marry, but they are "together, alone."  The hermit's cave became the monastic "cell."


Saint Theresa of Avila's cell


There are many different monastic orders in the United States.  If you have leanings toward a monastic life that is contemplative in nature, rather than try to live as a monastic or hermit on your own, I highly recommend that, if you meet the criteria,you go directly to a cloistered convent, do not pass go and do not collect $200.  Nuns who have LEFT the convents, thinking they can maintain their contemplative life and schedule "on the outside" routinely complain that keeping anything close to the convent's prayer schedule is nearly impossible.  There are torments, hassles and disagreeable people in some convents, perhaps in most convents, but the trial of living with these is worth the rewards.  Go to a cloistered convent and try it out.  Some of them will take older people.

The active orders are something else.  They live for God, but their focus is outward and is more service oriented.  There are teaching orders, nursing orders, all kinds of orders. I don't recommend these for the quiet contemplative who years for mystical union with God.  In another post, I will write about some of the contemplative orders, such as my favorites, "the pink nuns" who maintain continual adoration before the Divine Eucharist 24 hours a day.




The primary obstacle is often the HEALTH of a person.  If you do not have good health, then you are in my boat, and I will go on to discuss how to manage a monastic life at home in later posts.  Convent life is a very physical life, with lots of hard work.  There is plenty of manual labor to go around.  Also, you are never "off the clock," in that you are a nun 24/7 and it can be a strain for some. If you have PTSD, as I do, or depression or some other mental problem, it can be particularly difficult.  Religious orders usually insist that prospective members be physically and mentally healthy.

A simplified type of monastic life can be lived at home, though it is very difficult to maintain a rigorous schedule for most of us who are elderly and/or physically compromised.  But we are the ones who have the time and the circumstances to live a version of monastic life at home, however, and it is a shame to waste our golden years playing computer games, when we can grow closer to God in an intentional and intense way.  I intend to help us all explore that and to provide information that will be helpful.

Saint Rose of Lima
A Third Order Dominican who lived at home
and served the poor


I will be researching avenues of emotional and spiritual support, such as third order possibilities, and I will report on that later.  I do know that individuals may be allowed to take some sort of personal vows, with the permission of the local bishop, but this may be reserved for perpetual virgins.  I will have to check my facts on that score and get back to you with that information as well.

In addition, I will be supplying lists of resources, blogs and books that are helpful to the contemplative life in general, so look for those in future blog posts.  I also plan to write some blog posts highlighting the lives of some of our saints who were mystics that gained great consolations from contemplative prayer or those who either lived at home, in hermitage, or as an independent third order monastic.  Anything that I feel will be helpful and supportive to contemplative life and to the independent monastic will be included.

Everyone can benefit from contemplative prayer.  The fact that you enjoy the mystical union that is the reward of such prayer does not mean you are a monastic, however, and I think that is where some of the pseudo-hermits have gone off the rails.  Contemplative prayer is a religious practice.  Monasticism is a religious vocation.  Often, the two will intersect, but they shouldn't be confused with one another.

The thing to remember, most of all, is that each person is born in the likeness and image of God and we are equally loved by the creator who made us, no matter what our vocation.  Remember, we are human BEINGS and not human DOINGS.  In the long run, it doesn't matter what vocation we choose, only that we turn it to God as much as possible and rely upon His guidance within our circumstances.

God bless you.  Please pray for me as I pray for you.

Silver Rose Parnell

Sunday, September 21, 2014

THE CONTEMPLATIVE, MANUAL LABOR, AND PRAYER PROJECTS

Baby blankets and hats being prepared for donation
to the Gabriel Project at Project Defending Life
in Albuquerque, New Mexico


I just wanted to dash off a quick note for my other contemplative sisters and brothers with regard to the type of work one decides to do in the way of ministry or of making an income.

It is best to stick with what I call "manual labor," which doesn't have to mean you are out digging ditches.  As long as it is something that engages the body in rather routine tasks that do not involve much executive function of the brain, that will be suitable.

In the contemplative monasteries, they make candy and altar breads.  Some of them produce finely embroidered vestments.  I know one monastery that produces some awesome pumpkin bread.  Others make cheese and some even make wine.  Many grow a good deal of their own food.  We can take our example from the contemplative monasteries and convents and imitate their long-standing devotion to a simple life in which the hands are used for labor.

Something that occurs to me as being rather important is that most of these activities can be done in peace and silence.  I don't believe that a stock trader or a retail sales clerk would have an easy time of it, as far as developing a contemplative life.  Their jobs would pull them too far in another direction. Anyway, I am mostly speaking to the home-bound in my blog....the disabled and elderly who have the time and the quiet home life on which to capitalize.

Baby blankets and hats are one of my ministries.  The work is mostly repetitive, and with each stitch I can say a prayer for the welfare of the new baby being welcomed into the world.  Sometimes I listen to the rosary on EWTN and recite it along with Mother Angelica and her nuns.  Sometimes I wing it. I also paint, but I am having trouble getting back to that endeavor.

Anyway, if you choose a physical task like this, it is far easier to "pray unceasingly" than if you choose a more active ministry that requires interaction with other people or a lot of writing, research, typing, and that sort of thing.  The more involved you become with outside activities, the less you will be operating as a contemplative.  If you have a tendency toward loneliness and must be with people to feel alright, then the contemplative life is not for you.  We are communing with God at every opportunity we can snatch out of the jaws of time.

I don't mean to say that everyone should be a hermit. I do think we have to limit our interactions with the outside world and keep them within certain boundaries.  Each of you will have to decide what those are for yourself.

It is important to focus your prayer life also for, in addition to quietly spending time with the Lord in the practice of the presence of God and in strictly contemplative prayer, we are called to pray for the suffering world in many areas.  With so much going on in the world today, it is hard to know what to pray for.  It could be overwhelming.  I recommend having one primary prayer project that is a constant.  For me, it is the prayer that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches will resolve their longstanding rift and become one with each other again.  My prayer life is dedicated to that rather large request.  Not only does this give me a focus, but it gives me a PURPOSE as well.  This is important.

People will ask you to pray for them, and there will be transitory requests with which you can pepper the stew, so to speak.  Don't lose sight of your mission, however.  It will help you to stay more easily on the path.

I would be interested in hearing how you construct your contemplative life.  Feel free to comment and let me know.  Perhaps others will be interested also.

God bless you,

Silver Rose Parnell

Monday, September 1, 2014

PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

Baby hat made to give away


People think I have a lot of time on my hands because I am disabled and stuck at home.  It would be nice if I had hours of leisure time that I could spend sitting in front of my altar, but that just isn't the reality of my life.

It takes me three or four times as long to do anything as my able-bodied friends because of mobility challenges and chronic pain issues. What I find myself doing is praying and contemplating during my household chores.  The happy news about chores is that they do not occupy much mental space, leaving my mind free to practice the presence of God or recite favorite prayers like the Jesus prayer, the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary."

The joy of my life is making baby blankets and baby hats to give away to poor mothers.  I have to take frequent breaks while attending to my household chores because of my back and leg issues.  At that time, I take up my crochet or my knitting and continue work on whatever project I have going at that time.  Most of my fiber projects are fairly repetitious, so I can also pray while I crochet.  I pray for the happy life of whatever baby is going to be cuddled in that blanket.  I also pray for his whole family and especially that his parents stay together in a healthy, happy union.


Blanket and hat that I finished today

After all this practice on the blankets, I began to get creative, and some of them were turning out really nice.  I considered selling them at the local store that sells items made by local "artisans" but when I learned how little the other crochet artists were charging, I realized that this was not a good option.  The blanket, above, took me more than 30 hours to make.  How could I sell it for $20?  Golly, if I am going to give it away, I should give it to a poor child.  Consequently, none of the blankets will be made available for sale.  I'll just make whatever I can with whatever yarn comes my way, trusting in the Lord that He will provide the raw materials.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1Thesalonians 5:16-18

I highly recommend finding a ministry you can do at home during those moments when you have to rest or when you are having a particularly difficult "pain day," like me, and you are relegated to the recliner chair for the day.  If you would like to join me in my baby blanket ministry, please let me know at silvercottage@hotmail.com and we can work on a project together.  Winter is coming, and not only do the new babies need blankets, but homeless men and women needs hats and scarves for the frigid Albuquerque winters.  Believe it or not, it gets down into the single digits here!  Mittens and gloves are also much appreciated.  I have not learned how to make those yet, but if you can do it, that would be wonderful.

Alternately, you could opt to donate some yarn to the ministry.  I have a few discounted yarns on my birthday wish list, and Amazon.com has my mailing address.  See the links to the right.

Most of all, though, I pray that, if you do not already have a ministry that lends itself to continuous prayer, then find something or learn something you can do that will make a difference in the lives of the poor.  We don't have to do big things.  Hey, it takes me a week to make a crib-size blanket, but it is a labor of love AND a holy relic, each stitch representing a prayer for the baby that uses it!

If you home bound and you already have a ministry, write me and tell me about it and we will post it as a comment.  It will encourage other people and also perhaps give them ideas about something THEY could be doing to improve the lives of poor people.

In the meantime, pray for me as I pray for you.

God bless you.

Silver Rose Parnell