Monastic Motherhood

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It’s Holy Week, ladies! I just received the most incredible mediation that my dear friend Maura e-mailed me. It’s about how contemplative motherhood truly is. It was the most uplifting and beautiful piece I have ever read on the vocation of motherhood, and now I wish to share it with all of you! Have a blessed Holy Week and a very Happy Easter!

Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers
of the past half century, lived for more than a dozen
years as a hermit in the Sahara Desert, alone with the
Blessed Sacrament for company, milking a goat for his
food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin
language. He prayed for long hours by himself.
Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he
came to a startling realization. His mother, who for
more than 30 years of her life had been so busy
raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private
minute for herself, was more contemplative than he
was.
Carretto though was careful to draw the right lesson
from this. What this taught was not that there was
anything wrong with what he had been doing living as a
hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something
wonderfully right about what his mother was doing all
these years as she lived the interrupted life amid the
noise and incessant demands of small children. He had
been in a monastery, but so had she.
What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a
place set apart for monks and nuns, as it is a place
set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the
value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time
is not ours, but God’s.
Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery,
teach us those things. For example, the mother who
stays home with small children experiences a very real
withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely
monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from
the centers of power and social importance. And she
feels it.
Moreover, the demands of young children also provide
her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects
of monasticism, called the “monastic bell”. All
monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules
for monasticism told his monks that whenever the
monastic bell rang they were to d rop whatever they
were doing, and go immediately to the particular
activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which
the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they
respond immediately, stating that if they were writing
a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the
bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell
called, it called you to the next task and you were to
respond immediately, not because you want to, but
because it’s time, it’s God’s time. For him, the
monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch
the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda
to God’s agenda.
Hence, a mother rearing children, perhaps in a more
privileged way even than a professional contemplative
is forced, almost against her will, to constantly
stretch her heart. For years, while rearing children,
her time is never her own, her own needs have to be
kept in second place and every time she turns around a
hand is reaching out and demanding something. She
hears the monastic bell many times during the day and
she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond,
not because she wants to, but because it’s time for
that activity and time isn’t her time, but God’s time.
The rest of us experience the monastic bell each
morning when our alarm clock rings and we get out of
bed and ready ourselves for the day, not because we
want to, but because it’s time. Response to duty can
be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic
bell, and working without status and power can
constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can
meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.
By Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, Seattle, WA

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