By Father Bill Kraus, Assistant of the Federation of our Lady of the Angels
Psalm 23 is the world´s most-loved psalm not only because of its attractive imagery but also because of the truth of its message: Jesus has been a life-giving Shepherd for 2,000 years for those who have followed Him. One essential task of the shepherd is to enclose the flock and protect their “repose” (Psalm 23:2) – an image of the grace of contemplation – which has been in the history of the Church and Order the constant care of popes and bishops, provincials and friars, abbesses and the sisters themselves in the contemplative life.
For us who have been given the grace of a contemplative vocation, the enclosure is an opening, a widening, and enlarging of the space in which we have chosen to dwell with God and our sisters. Walls and grills and keys, restrictions and limitations and a closing out, rhythm and silence and beautiful spaces, are all at the service of the freedom necessary to live deep relationships with the Love: the Spouse and the sisters who seek Him together. Wise and prudent control of exterior space opens interior space; careful choices and limitations of social interactions and outside friendships nurture deeper friendships in the fraternity; deliberate monitoring and control of words and images that electronically enter our minds and hearts keep our inner space free and open for prayer and for a generous service to our sisters.
In this anniversary year, we are invited to ask ourselves what needs to improve in our observance of the enclosure. In some monasteries, too many sisters leave the enclosure for unnecessary activities, that is, beyond the reasonable and prudent trips for medical and business needs, for ongoing formation, for ecclesial and Franciscan-Clarian events outside the monastery. In other monasteries – and perhaps this is the more important examination – too much noise, too many visits to the door, too many phone calls, too much time spent with the television or on the computer, invade the sacred space of our convents and above all our hearts.
But a caution is necessary: we are not to confuse rudeness (grosería, descortesía) at the door or on the phone with the enclosure. Courtesy and hospitality are essential Christian and Clarian virtues, while we prudently decide how to respond within the enclosure to the phone call or visit.
Br. Giacomo Bini, OFM, former general minister, wrote in his letter Saint Clare of Assisi: A Song of Praise (Rome, 2002) some inspiring words about the spaces of the Clarian contemplative life:
How can we ensure that our life today becomes beautiful? By appreciating our spaces: the narrow spaces of our enclosure can become places of festivity and not of penance if they are illuminated and warmed by a Presence. How important it is in the enclosed contemplative life to enhance our various spaces! There is stupendous beauty in Franciscan simplicity which can form and promote relationships. There is a contemplative harmony in order, cleanliness and adornment of the areas of a monastery. At the same time, when we are living in communion we become more creative in preparing spaces and rooms in which to encounter the Beloved and each other….
The beauty of our vocation derives from the harmony of our spiritual makeup, in which everything finds its peace because everything recalls and is linked to the spousal relationship with the Lord: time, space, work, rest, silence, speech… Contemplation is precisely that harmony which is constantly being created day by day within us, where the One who indwells us awaits us. Saint Augustine used to say: “noli foras ire”:do not go outside, you will encounter God within yourself. You can go to meet others and to encounter the world only with your entire self – that self which is reconciled and accompanied by God. Then even the tensions (for tensions will never entirely disappear) between the “inner” and the “outer”, charism and structure, soul and body, cloister and world, personal life and fraternity life, will not upset the harmony and deep serenity of your life, because a contemplative will always find the path which leads to the Absolute, a path of peace and not of disturbance, anxiety or worry.
Brother Giacomo also leaves us in his article some questions for reflection, two of which seem appropriate to end this monthly message:
- 1. Hail, his palace, Hail, his tabernacle, Hail, his dwelling! Hail, his garment, Hail, his handmaid, Hail, his mother!”(SalBVM 4-5). We too are his “palace, tabernacle, house, garment, handmaid, mother”. How do we live out this reality? In what way do we bring our structures (timetables, places, times) into harmony so that they converge on the “contemplative passion” that is in us?
- 2. Internal and external silence protect and promote our interior life. How do we harmonize these values with “external” communications (telephone, internet, newspapers, television, parlor)? Do we succeed in making use of these instruments in such a way that our personal and community contemplation are not compromised?