A question about contemplative orders

I am 21 now, although my birthday is in June. I have been a devoutly religious person all my life, seeking the truth passionately, and discovered Catholicism in my teens. I found it lined up perfectly with what I already believed. I was finally confirmed earlier this month, although I have been Catholic in my heart for quite some time.

I love to go to Mass and to pray. It is in my nature to live deliberately, or intensely, although I am an introvert. I believe God is communicating to me, through the nature with which I was born, to enter into a Holy Order. I want to live a disciplined lifestyle, to learn from people who are selfless, deeply kind, and wise, and to study humility and to pursue it. And of course to give myself totally to God without a lot of distractions.

I have done a fair amount of research on different orders and I like especially the Order of St. Clare, but am open to the Carmelites and the Benedictines also. It is difficult to decide, but I am confident that going for retreats and frequent prayer will lead me well.

Although Jesus gave authority to the Church, and the Church seems to praise austere, contemplative orders, I am concerned that the lifestyle, although very attractive to me for the reasons listed above, is contradictory to the way Jesus seems to want us to live. “I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” What does Jesus think of my entering into an enclosed monastery? I feel drawn to the Poor Clares, but I feel conflicted. I am thinking of making an appointment with my priest to express my concerns, but I thought I would make this topic first to see what other people thought of the matter.

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It’s hard to say whether your conflict is becoming a religious or the reason for the existence of contemplative orders or becoming a contemplative religious.

Perhaps I can briefly address the second question. A contemplative religious may not feed the hungry or clothe the naked in the world, but she will beg food and clothing and then will cook and sew for her sisters in the convent. Which might also address your last question, since contemplative life would still require you to practice the corporal works of mercy in the community.

Christus resurrexit!

Live your faith for a while. There’s no problem with working in the apostolate through volunteering. That way you can see what to pray for if/when you enter the cloister.

Start with the cloister of the heart – practicing detachment from ‘the world.’

You’ve named three of four of the major Western religious rules. The one you didn’t mention is that of St. Augustine.

There’s a little bit of Benedictine in the Poor Clare rule. St. Francis asked the Benedictine nuns to take Clare in and give her training in the religious life when she first renounced the world.

Teresa & John’s writings on prayer are for everyone.

Yes, do make the appt w/the priest. He should be delighted to hear of your attraction. Ask God to purify your desires, and don’t work from a list. If that list happens to correspond with where you end up, so be it. Just respond to grace; do research; follow your attractions; and knock on the door where you feel at home. You’re young, so it shouldn’t be as much of a problem for you.

The Visitation permits cloistered retreats. You could go on retreat there to see if you can stand being behind the wall.

Here is our site: cloisters.tripod.com/

And another: cloisteredlife.com/



Some technical points.

Not all cloistered orders are enclosed or for that matter, necessarily monastic. Monasticism involves follow a particular Rule governing the way of life observed by members of the order, usually with a contemplative charism (as opposed to apostolic or charitable works). It’s also not always easy to separate Order neatly into either of the contemplative or apostolic categories - I know a religious who when asked which one her community fitted into replied “both”! Only those orders which are wholly devoted to the contemplative life are enclosed. An order may have a contemplative aspect to their charism and a strict way of life but still not be enclosed.

An enclosed order in one where the members are physically separated from the rest of the world and do not (as a general rule with few exceptions) leave the place where they live, nor (again with few exceptions) are others allowed in. In contrast, claustration (or being cloistered) simply means becoming part of an Order - that is, set apart from ordinary life.

Take your time, keep going to Mass and using the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. The vast majority of religious orders, if not all of them, will tell you to wait before discerning a religious vocation. Some (particularly cloistered monasteries) will not even consider a person, whether they are a convert or a revert, until they have been practicing their faith for at least three years.

So live a strong healthy faith, find a priest who is loyal to the Magisterium who is willing to be your spiritual director (vocations director for your diocese can help you with this if you don’t know any faithful priests), volunteer in your parish or other Catholic charities that are involved in apostolates that interest you.

As for your question. What is the use of a cloistered religious, someone who is not feeding the hungry or clothing the naked? Read St Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography Story of a Soul. In it she explains her vocation, which is to be at the heart of the Church.

Benedictines practice radical hospitality: everyone who enters the monastery is greeted as if Christ Himself was walking through the door; this is codified in the Rule of Saint Benedict, and not doing this isn’t an option for Benedictines (or both flavours of Cistercians which follow the same Rule). This is regardless of the state of that person’s spiritual or material circumstances; which is what makes it radical: it isn’t just the happy, the beautiful or the persons for which we hold affinities, it applies to anyone without exception: addicts, ex-convicts, homeless, etc. In addition to the special mission to pray for the world and its afflictions through the liturgy, Benedictines also engage the public when they greet them in their monasteries, and have helped evangelize countless people on a spiritual search; they have also helped countless people experiencing tragedy or trauma in their lives, such as addiction, family strife, etc.

Taking the verse about clothing the naked etc. in its wider sense, Jesus of course meant these to represent all forms of assistance given to those in need, as being assistance offered to Jesus Himself. Radical hospitality is much the same as visiting; in reality the monk or nun “visits” the guest at his or her most intimate self, the spiritual level. The monk or nun visits them on their grounds and their terms, at the point they are in their lives. An atheist who is in trouble and is just seeking a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to them, will get just that, not a treatise on Thomistic morality or somesuch.

I have direct experience of this. I am a Benedictine oblate; when my marriage hit a rough spot some years ago, my spiritual director played a direct and very effective role in our healing and reconciliation.

Benedictines do this every single day. They are discreet about it, which is why few people understand that the contemplative life really is about radically living the Gospel to its fullest, from dropping everything to follow God, to living Matthew 25.

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Small point OP… most orders will not accept until at least 2 years a Catholic., I think your post shows why this is! You need time to settle and ponder and search.

I believe you are definitely on the right track to seek answers to all of your questions concerning orders and their orientation. I encourage you to visit different ones, and open a dialogue.

Having a purposeful life, and mission is a very powerful and rewarding way to live. If I was a younger age, I would investigate joining a community. They have values, an ethos, a sense of teamwork, and commitment that is unparalleled in the secular world.

And they believe in working and praying in harmony.

May God bless you. I am saying a prayer that you find the right answer. Peace be with you.

I’d highly recommend reading A Right to Be Merry by Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare nun. It’s a lively and cheerful guide to the contemplative life. Best wishes with your discernment!

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