Friday, October 16, 2015

My Monastic Retreat

Chapel exterior
Last week and over the weekend, I took a private silent retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus in Denmark, Wisconsin. I haven't had a silent retreat in nearly a year and a half, so it was well overdue. Holy Name Carmel has thirteen nuns in it, most of whom are younger, and their charism is just to pray for priests. To that end, they've purchased a farmhouse near their monastery for priests to take private retreats at. I spent several nights there with my phone turned blessedly off, I got to rest and do a lot of reading. I reread St. Therese's Story of a Soul. And I joined the nuns every day for Mass.

Sanctuary and the grille of the cloister
These nuns preserve a strict cloister, even their chapel is designed such that the laity who attended Mass there couldn't see the nuns, and the nuns couldn't see the laity. Any place where they might interact with the world, specifically the chapel and the parlor, there's a metal grille separating them from the world. They leave for necessary things like doctor and dentist visits, but I don't think they even leave for vacation. In order to see their families, the family comes to them rather than them leaving the monastery to go visit their families. They have dedicated themselves completely to a life of prayer and sacrifice, holding absolutely nothing back.

The Parlor with the grille
I think sometimes we mischaracterize cloistered religious life. These nuns have very intentionally withdrawn from the world, but not because they're naive about the world or because is a big scary place that they couldn't handle. These nuns have seen the world for what it is, they've probably seen it better and more honestly than most of us have because they recognized that nothing the world has to offer will satisfy them. They recognized that their hearts are satisfied only by Jesus, and so they're spending their lives in pursuit of the one who loves them.

On my last day there, I had a chance to talk with their Mother Superior for a little bit; we used the parlor with the grille in it. I asked her what she would tell the world, based on her unique perspective, if she were given the opportunity or the platform. She said, "Jesus." After being a professed nun for nearly thirty years, she's learned that everything revolves around that very powerful name. Whatever is good in your life, whatever is bad in your life, it all comes back to Him. There is nothing in your life he doesn't want to be involved in. Every knee in heaven and on earth bends at the most holy name of Jesus. Trust in the name of Jesus. Live in the name of Jesus.

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