REGULAR LIFE IN THE MONASTERY
The Dominican vision of contemplation is not an isolated activity but something exercised in community, for as God said to St Catherine of Siena, “I preferred to give different gifts to different people, so that they would all need each other.”
As Dominicans we see our fraternal life as God’s gift to us, for in it we learn to love and to grow in friendship. Therefore, the Constitutions direct that “so that each monastery be a center of true communion, let all accept and cherish one another as members of the same body, different in native qualities and functions but equal in the common bond of charity and profession” (LCM 4: I). In this way, our Dominican life mirrors, however dimly and imperfectly, the very life of the God whom we contemplate and preach to all nations.
By our way of life, we press forward, to that perfect love of God and neighbor. Following our Lord and Savior of all, Jesus; who offered himself completely for our salvation. By our cloistered life, we spend ourselves totally for the salvation of souls.
As St. Paul says “there are different but the same Lord” our Order consists of priests, brothers, contemplative nuns, active sisters, laity and even youths. Though we share the same charism we carry it out in manner proper to each branch. We, nuns, participate in this charism by our silent seeking, pondering and calling upon God in solitude so that the Word proclaimed by our brethren may not return empty. We are called by God, like Mary, to sit at the feet of the Lord.
To live our Dominican contemplative vocation fully, we observe some elements which are fundamental to us. Most of them were drawn from monastic tradition while others were engineered by St. Dominic to the first nuns in prouilhe. Among them are; prayer, study, common life, evangelical counsels, work, silence, cell among others.
Common life and evangelical counsels
The three evangelical counsels or counsels of perfection in Christianity are chastity, poverty, and obedience. As Jesus of Nazareth stated in the Canonical gospels, they are counsels for those who desire to become “perfect”. The Catholic Church interprets this to mean that they are not binding upon all and hence not necessary conditions to attain eternal life. Rather they are “acts of supererogation” that exceed the minimum stipulated in the Commandments in the Bible. We Dominican nuns have felt this call and have answered by taking these public vows. Our vowed life is lived in the monastery, witnessing to the world that in God alone is true peace to be found.
Our constitutions explain that “Obedience is pre-eminent among the evangelical counsels. By obedience we dedicate ourselves totally to God and our actions come closer to the goal of profession, which is the perfection of charity” (LCM, 19: I) It is the mark of our freedom as baptized children of God that we can give ourselves in this way and take a vow of obedience.
Following the first community of believers, Acts 4: 32, we live a common life in one mind and heart; where no one claims any possession but distributions are made according to each once need. This helps to live out the oneness which Christ prayed for vehemently in Jh.17: 20 -23.” Therefore, loving, freely chosen obedience schools all the nuns in the virtue of charity. This virtue, in return, fosters “willing service rather than servile subjection” (LCM 20: III).
Chastity also frees us to seek God with our entire being. Chastity is a special gift of grace, by which we unite ourselves more readily to God with an undivided heart. “The nuns will cultivate close communion with God through intimate friendship with Christ in all the circumstances of life.” (LCM 26: I).
Poverty In our profession we promise God to own nothing by right of personal ownership but to hold all things in common and to use them under the direction of superiors for the common good of the Order and of the Church (LCM 29). Following the example of the apostles, we are given “in proportion to each one’s need” (Acts 4:35) from our common possessions.
Personal prayer lies at the heart of monastic life: “‘We set forth our petitions before God, not in order to make known to Him our needs and desires, but rather so that we ourselves may realize that in these things it is necessary to turn to God for help.’ St. Thomas Aquinas. Again, Jesus himself urged us: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” Mt 6, 6.
We normally make our personal prays in the cell (cellula, small room) or in church, in the solitude of our compound or before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.
But prayer always remains “a surge of the heart, it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of thanksgiving and love from the depths of suffering or joy” St Therese of Lisieux
“All with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” Ac 1, 14.
From the dusk to the setting of the sun, and also during the night on Friday’s throughout the year, we celebrate the liturgical prayer, which gives rhythm to our monastic life by celebrating the important moments of the day : Matins, Lauds, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, sung in Gregorian melodies or simply English tunes or recited.
Colossians 3:16 “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
“He Who Sings Well, Prays Twice:” St Augustine. Chanting the psalms in particular expresses in a fresh and vital way the perpetual praise to God along with the cries of the human heart.
A silence to listen
“Christ is the Word of God. It is He whom we hear in the Sacred Scriptures… He whom we hear in the voice of the Church… He whom we hear when the world and our brothers call upon our charity” LCM 97: II. Thus, all human sufferings and contemporary reality knock upon the door of our heart.
Alone but not isolated.
What is the purpose of this retreat, this fertile setting oneself apart from the world? It is to plunge into the heart of the Church so as to live out a more authentic apostolic zeal, St Dominic cried: “My God, my redeemer, what shall become of sinners?”, and St Francis of Assisi: “Love itself is not loved”. And St Therese of Lisieux would have wanted “to proclaim the Gospel to the four corners of the world… from the creation of the world to the consummation of time… In the heart of the Church… I will be Love”.
The fraternal life of nuns is a God’s gift, a frail gift that is not granted forever but has to be received, “to day”, and every day. It is a space of calm but not of rest, a space of love but not of effective comfort, a space of freedom, but not necessarily of well being… It is a way to grow in humility and truth, a way to receive forgiveness both from God and from one’s sisters, it is a way to learn how to love and to endure, and to live according to the gospel in all manners of ways. Is a place both of struggle and joy that allows to test in ordinary daily life a true l god-centered life? It is a common sharing of everything: wealth, gifts, limits and weakness of each other, and labor and homework. “… Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” Acts 4, 32.
The old adage “Ora et labora” brings out the importance nuns attach to manual work, whether it is done (carried out) in solitude or in a common workroom, in the garden or in the candle room, or whether they are sewing.
A nun’s work means taking part in spiritual activities in a fraternal way but it is also a means of sharing the human condition of all mankind. It is self-sacrifice and participation in the divine work of creation while providing for the community with some work meant to be beautiful, done with care and generous self-forgetfulness until it is completed.