"God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us." (St. John Paul the Great)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

A friend of mine sent this to me. I thought I'd share it with you.
Carlo Carretto, a leading spiritual writer of the past half-century, was a hermit in the Sahara desert for more than a dozen years. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking a goat for food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin language, he prayed for long hours by himself. Returning to Italy to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than 30 years had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto drew the right lesson. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with what he’d been doing as a hermit. Rather, there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is a place to learn the value of powerlessness and to learn that time is not ours, but God’s.

Our home and duties can, like a monastery, teach us that. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of monasticism this way: “But they, O my God and my life, will see and experience your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus enabling themselves to experience and enjoy you.” John suggests that two elements make for a monastery: withdrawal from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.

Certain vocations offer the same opportunity for contemplation. For example, the mother who stays home with small children experiences a real withdrawal form the world. Her existence is monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centers of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

The demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the “monastic bell.” Bernard told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately: If they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. When the bell called you to the next task, you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it’s time for that task and time isn’t your time, it’s God’s time. For him, the monastic bell was a discipline to stretch the heart by taking you beyond your own agenda to God’s agenda.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times a day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it’s time for that activity and time isn’t her time, but God’s time. The rest of us experience the monastic bell when our alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the day, not because we want to, but because it’s time.

The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether – trustworthy. But there are different kinds of monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty can be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

Father Ron Rolheiser


  1. Thanks for sharing. I really needed that. After the day I had, I'm glad to have gotten a bit of perspective before I go to bed. I was just complaining to someone this morning that I have too many "little people" in my house. However, I can see (not always) that they are exactly what I need to die to myself on a continual basis.:)

  2. Oh my,this topic is exactly what my mind has been chewing on lately. My time is no longer my own and each year I slowly acclimate to more and more work. My problem is that I approach it with too much of a type A/choleric attitude rather than peacefully doing what I need to do.

    I have to admit to being a wee bit (okay, a LOT bit) jealous of monastics whose bells are pleasant to the ear and ring at regular intervals. Ours do not, on both accounts. (Children are mild and powerless? He doesn't know my three year old!)

    If we moms don't get too frustrated by this and worn too thin I am sure that crying babies and interruptions both constant and random can sanctify us.


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