Thursday, June 24, 2010
The Happiest Day
Ever since I was a child I have heard stories of the brides of Christ, living in a garden of flowers. My romantic heart longed to cross oceans, to give all, just to be among those in that blessed place. Young though I was, the mystery that draws a woman to a man, a virgin to Christ, was well known to me. I learned of St. Catherine of Siena, who received a ring from Jesus Himself, and the possibility of a marriage to God became very real to me. I learned of St. Benedict, with his monasteries fostering peace, protection, prayer, work, virtue, silence, and intimate concentration on Christ. And finally, I learned of St. Clare... and her poor brown habit and bare feet, her life of utter poverty and discipline, and the smile... that joyful smile that lingered perpetually on her face.
The happiest day of my life will be the day that I vow to forever more live in the House of Christ. The moment that my bond with Christ is made unbreakable, the moment that my sacrifice is irreversible, will be the moment that I have lived my whole life to have.
During a visit to the monastery, I clearly recall sitting in adoration in peaceful prayer. I was dressed in a very beautiful blue skirt, with decorations and embroidery on it, which I liked very much. I sat up straight and smoothed it out, hoping to look pretty for Jesus... you might say this was the moment He asked for my hand, and gave me a promise, if not a ring, of engagement. If it were anywhere else in the world, His voice would quickly be silenced by my thought, but in this place I heard Him clearly. He expressed that I was beautiful, and that He loved me. I looked at my dress, and the bare feet I had slipped out of my sandals, then I looked at the alter where a Poor Clare was walking gracefully performing her duties. At that moment I realized that the most beautiful gown in the world was the old brown habit she wore, and the most precious and lovely complexion was her face, adorned in smiles in the midst of poverty.
I have mentioned often the sacrifice of the Poor Clares, the poverty and loneliness that they suffer. Indeed the monastery is a place of sacrifice, and spiritual and physical trials await all who enter. Yet, it is a place of love. There may be sorrow and heartbreak, but what sorrow, and what heartbreak! Sorrow for sin, sorrow for suffering in the world... the heartbreak of compassion for others, and the ever increasing longing to console Christ. The Divine Bridegroom protects His brides jealously, instructing the Church to care for them and keep them from sin and distraction. The consolers of His heart, those chosen to serve Him in Himself, those who share Mary's place at His feet must be ever attentive to His voice. They fast from food and pleasure, they come away from the noise of music and tv's and chatter, they put aside hobbies and activities, and they listen to Him, they think of Him, they concentrate on Him. They observe the strict monastic rule so that their work may revolve around their prayer, and so that they will never become too busy to give Him their everything. Yes, they give up much, but they give it up that their lives may be fully holy, that they may receive the King of Kings in readiness at every moment of the day.
In receiving my vocation, it is as if I have been granted a special understanding of the secret convenience of the cloisters. The simplicity of the rigid rule gives the sisters the ability to be as the birds of the air, and the flowers of the field, without worry or fear as to whether they shall eat or prosper. Rather than working tiredly through the day, without respite or nourishment, they eat at regular hours and their days are broken by prayer seven times. The Mass, prayer, spiritual reading, and Adoration make each of their days another special day alone with Christ. Even their work, and diligence, is another way of telling Him "I love you". To me who, living even in my small and comfortable life, the world is loud and obnoxious... so many distractions break my prayer, so many luxuries hinder my discipline, so many worries disturb my peace, so many unpredictable changes distort my life... the convent looks to me like an oasis. For it is there that I shall find Jesus, the one who will not change, who will not disappoint. I shall find Jesus and He will direct my heart, showing me what to do and where to go, while I simply love Him and accept all pain freely. I shall smile not just because I am surrounded by joy, but because the one whom I love, the one who lives within me, the one who will bring me to eternity is perfect love, perfect joy, and worthy of all my trust.
The vocation of a cloistered religious is rare, but what joy to those who receive it! The world may look and see all they have given up... family, friends, careers, luxury, "fun"... but to she who lives this life the overpowering reality of what she has received fills her with thankfulness. The beauty, the simplicity, the love, the joy of the cloister are truly precious. The enclosure itself.. the walls, the grates, the curtains... they are only signs of the enclosure with Christ that is within her heart. The rule is her protection, she clings to it for it keeps her with Christ. Her love, a love extending to all mankind, is her undying purpose which is ever fulfilled in the heart of Christ. Yes, the happiest day of my life will be the day that this promise of Christ, and my promise to Him, is eternally unbreakable.