As my entrance date gets closer I find myself being asked more and more frequently, “Are you SURE?” …which is usually followed immediately by a list of reasons it would be better for me to stay in the world. I often speak/write of being “in the world,” so I suppose one might consider the opposite of that as… not being in the world? Being out of the world? Leaving the world? I’m not quite sure. But allow me to clarify something, brothers and sisters: not for a single moment have I experienced any sort of delusion where I think I will actually be stepping into some other state of existence separate from the world in which I currently live. I don’t at all think that my worldly responsibilities will cease to exist once I enter the cloister. Quite the opposite in fact – those called to contemplative life recognize their responsibility to respond to the Lord’s command for us to evangelize the nations, magnified to a higher degree than that with which even the most impassioned and active disciples may be comfortable. It this arrogance? Perhaps. But there is no denying how clearly Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part.
Stepping into the cloister does not cut us off from the world, but rather allows us to experience and penetrate the world in ways that, due to the many distractions and temptations of everyday life, simply are not possible until we are able to truly commit our every waking moment to doing the will of God. You see, my brothers and sisters, I know that I am called to the cloister because here, in the world outside its walls, even my greatest and most sincere attempts to give Him glory in all things become occasions for a sin – from which I cannot but surrender that I am a lost and desperate child in need of protection which can only be provided by those older, wiser women who have spent years seeking nothing by unity with God – the sin of pride. Allow me to give you an example.
Yesterday evening, I had every intention of spending a quiet Sunday night at home, with a book that has been giving me the evil eye from the corner of my bookshelf for some time. However it was the final evening of my home parish’s annual summer festival, and I figured it would be good to go and spend the evening with the community instead. I ended up sitting under a canopy with various young adults and, for about two hours, talking with a handful of different people about our call to holiness, Pope Francis’ encouragement of missionary zeal, and our responsibility as young people to educate children, so that they grow up with hearts on fire for the Lord! Most of these were people who have never really left home or seen much of the world like I have been blessed to do. They had questions when I would start to speak about holiness and our common vocation to become saints. Mostly they just seemed delighted to have someone to whom they could pour their hearts out about their desire to please God, and to live as true Christians! It was wonderful and exciting to discover that there are more vocations soon to come out of my home parish – while it has been dry for at least 20 years to the best of my knowledge…
It was an extraordinarily action-packed evening of holy conversations, and I was happy for the opportunity to share with other young people and support their desire to grow in virtue, in the service of our Lord. There is a hope that as been building in our generation. It’s exciting and reassuring to know that while I will be doing my part in evangelization through prayer from inside the cloister, there are others who will be at the frontlines of the battlefield out here “in the world” who are becoming awesome missionaries, catechists, active sisters, priests, husbands, wives, teachers, doctors, gardeners, janitors… everything and anything for the greater glory of God! But you see the problem with these wonderful and holy conversations was that, even for very brief moments, I experienced temptation (which is actually a good thing to experience since it gives us opportunities to grow in virtue... but if one can avoid temptation, one should). Through recognizing the gifts God has given me to communicate with people, it is easy to slip into wondering what kind of great things I could do to further the New Evangelization outside the cloister. To wonder what a great good I could do to help young people grow in fellowship and discipleship. To think about my experience as a teacher and a speaker and flatter myself, that I have been given the ability to gain attention. And then so quickly to slip into thinking that these people need me. That if I leave – who will there be left to listen to their desires for holiness and give them moral support, and encourage them to keep responding to God’s call?
But there you see… how easily it becomes about me. How even through a noble cause – the desire to further the kingdom of God – so quickly I fall into pride. Because the truth is that yes, at that precise moment in time (last night) those people did need me to be there to listen and encourage them. But when the time comes for me to leave, if it is God’s will, then they will not need me any more after that. Not to sit there and listen to them anyway. If they need someone to encourage them, God will provide someone else. If there is a young man discerning the missionary life and needs to hear from an experienced missionary, God will provide it – he won’t need me (not that I know much about missionary work to begin with). If there is a young woman discerning religious life who needs advice, God will show her where to go – she won’t need me. If there is a whole group of young adults who need fellowship and truly want it for the Glory of God – God will move their hearts to make it happen, they won’t need me to show them how. If there is a person who is newly interested in learning about TOTB, God will provide them with the right resources – they won’t need me. There will always be someone better and more fully equipped to evangelize the culture more effectively. For God orders all things perfectly according to His will.
It is in recognizing my tendency toward pride that I acknowledge, more and more everyday, how the Lord is asking me to sacrifice even the joys that I experience in seeing the fruits of my labor for Him – and to instead seek higher counsel from those noble and learned women who have come to know Him in the way that He is calling me to know Him. He asks me to surrender even all of the potential I have to do good works for him in the culture – so that He can fulfill His purpose for me from inside the cloister. What that purpose it... I have no clue. What I know is that I cannot go around pretending that I think my good works are more fruitful than God's answers to my prayers. He has made it clear that my best work is done in meditation, and so I cannot but continue further down this road.
What I do know about “leaving the world” is that it usually involves dying. Most people will be blessed to carry out His will for them on earth and then begin their new life once their hearts stop beating and their minds go dark. But some of us are called to begin our new lives while our bodies are still very much functioning! And so He requires us to die to the world, and to ourselves, through leaving all things familiar, in pursuit of holiness and true unity with Him. Only when we are able to sacrifice the joys of the world can we be free to let Him stop our hearts, which beat with love for the vanities of life, and replace them with new hearts which beat with love for nothing but Him. Only when we allow Him to remove us from all distractions can we be free to let Him darken our minds to every idea not directed toward Him, and to fill our brains with such brilliance that every thought is founded on the splendor or Divinity.
For my part, He has called me to this greatest role in all of it. Am I sure? Well… I am sure that He is offering me the chance to be reconciled in a way that not all are privileged to be offered. How can I refuse?
Ecclesiastes 1: 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.