Friday, February 22, 2008

Rise in Contemplative, Monastic, Cloistered Vocations?

I made a post the other day on the statement by Cardinal Franc Rode of the Vatican's Congregation for Religious in which he said many priests have become too worldly.

A regular visitor to this blog is a member of a cloistered Dominican community in Summit New Jersey who goes by the name, Moniales. The community's blog - Moniales OP - is in my sidebar of blogging priests, religious and deacons. She leaves a comment in that post I mention above, which I am repeating here because it definitely warrants some discussion... and, it's one of my favorite topics.

I was happy to see you posted this.

I'm wondering though, why in your comments when he mentions that young people are attracted to contemplative life because of the more radical way of life that you instead pointed to active communities.

I mention this because we (and the media has noticed this, too) have noticed a huge interest in the contemplative vocation, not just among ourselves but other Orders. Why? Many of these young women have had NO contact with contemplative life and yet find this deep longing that only this way of life can fill...well, ONLY JESUS can fill this longing.

It's something that needs to be reflected on more seriously. Is there a special reason why the Lord is calling these fine, young women to the cloister? It's not just about what they are attracted to but the Lord calling them.

Cloisters have a particular mission in the Church and in space and time. Perhaps the state of the world today is "necessitating" the strengthening and increasing of contemplative/cloistered/monastic vocations???

This week a young journalist is coming to interview our community because she is doing an article on this topic.

I was in a big hurry that morning and looked at the article probably too quickly to pick up the fact that His Eminence was speaking about contemplative life.

It is a favorite topic of mine because, like Moniales & sisters, I too have noticed that there is an increase in vocations in specific areas of the Church.

Where do we see increased vocations?

First and foremost, as Sister pointed out, we see it in contemplative orders - the cloisters and monasteries (and probably elsewhere, such as hermitages). Consecrated Virgins living in the world are on the rise, as well (Canon 604), and they too are contemplative.

Sister asks, "why" and puts out this comment, which I repeat here:

Perhaps the state of the world today is "necessitating" the strengthening and increasing of contemplative/cloistered/monastic vocations???


I have had my own theory on "why" and I'm pretty sure I've voiced it in previous post. However, it's a good time to put it back out for discussion. I like to use analogies. War is far from glorious and I don't like using military analogies, yet there is one that is very fitting for what I believe is taking place. The Church has been fighting a series of battles from day one and today, more than ever, there is a war for souls.

For the last forty years, we have seen a decline in Mass attendance, in the sacraments - most especially confession. In some quarters, baptized Catholics are electing not to have their babies baptized and do not encourage confirmation. Within the Church there are disoriented theologians who are constantly trying to get the Church to follow the world. Catholic Universities have lost their Catholic identity and sending your children to all but a few, could cost them dearly as dissident professors teach them to challenge Church teachings rather than follow them.


As long as man has had the ability to launch something, battles have often started out with a "softening of the target". In the battle of Gettysburg during the US civil war, artillery pounded the position of enemy soldiers for some time before troops marched across the field. To put soldiers on the field before the target was softened, would put them at far greater risk, and reduce their overall effectiveness. In medievil times, anything that could go into a trebuchet would be hurled against a castle before men would try to scale the walls. Even tallships would come up along side each other and let their canons blast away at each other from a very close range before men would go across in hand-to-hand battle on the deck. In modern times, targets have been softened by air and by sea.

Unfortunately, man has not always focused these pre-invasion tactics strictly on military targets, often harming innocent civilians. But, here - we are talking about God's use of the strategy so fundamental to military operations. Since God is perfect, He does not miss or take out the innocent in the process of conducting His work.

At various times in the Church's history, there have been times of great growth in the faith, and other times when heresies and other things contributed to a decrease in the faith. More and more people are beginning to see the damage brought about by moral relativism, consequentialism, modernism, consumerism, materialism, and probably a dozen more "ism's".

My strongest belief is that the attraction of so many young people into contemplative, monastic, cloistered communities, is that they are being called up to participate in "softening the target" with the artillery of their prayers and sacrifices. The modern world could not possibly comprehend this because it is not only counter-cultural, but requires faith to grasp. It cannot be measured, nor can it be purchased. Hence, to the world, things such as prayer and sacrifice have no value.

Why did I focus on active communities?

Probably because for me, growth in active communities signals the earliest stages of phase 2: The soldiers landing on the beach. Success in the field where direct contact with others is dependent on continued "artillery" support.

Active communities are also softening the target with their prayers and sacrifices. But, they are on the front line dealing with souls up front and personal. The cloisters and monasteries contribute to the success of active communities through continued support from places unseen.

Prudent bishops will do everything they can to get a prayer powerhouse in their backyard in the form of a monastery or cloister. Bishop Olmstead exhibited this when he invited sisters from Mother Angelica's order to come to the diocese of Phoenix. He's got his prayer powerhouse, and then he went after some ground troops. He was successful in getting some sisters from the Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Dominicans out of nearby Ann Arbor, here in Michigan. I can tell you that there are bishops who are trying very hard to get communities within their dioceses, but there are still not enough to go around. I've heard Mother Assumpta Long talk about the many requests she gets, but they simply cannot fill all of them. The bishops aren't looking for communities with new-age ideals. Reiki and Enneagrams don't bring a diocese graces. Rather, these bishops are looking for communities that understand Eucharistic and Marian devotion.


Which Catholic communities are flourishing and expanding for both active and contemplative?

What do they have in common?

Statistical analyses could probably be done in various ways to validate or negate my view, based on observations below.

I would like to suggest that the following will be found:

  • distinctly and visibly Catholic in every respect
  • a prayer life rich in Eucharistic and Marian devotion (sisters I grew up with, in secular clothing were either indifferent to or even hostile to Our Lady). Following the lead of Our Lady, they embrace humility, silence and obedience.
  • obedience is not a symbol, but is a reality, following the model of the BVM. Obedience is not something that someone "who can't think for themself" does. Rather it requires the freedom to choose to give up one's will to do the will of another, which is ultimately accepted as the will of God. Only the free can choose obedience!
  • willing to make use of certain vocal prayers, such as the Angelus, the prayer to St. Michael, and other devotions.
  • Prayer time is not seen as wasted time, but the very thing which brings the graces necessary to pull off that which is extraordinary and seemingly impossible. It is concerned first and foremost with the salvation of souls moreso than with temporal comfort issues.
  • fond of Pope Benedict XVI interiorly and exteriorly, and willing to listen and learn.
  • interested in learning Church teachings in order to follow them, rather than to challenge them (fiat mihi....)
  • frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession (measure percentages and frequency of confession seen in blossoming communities versus that in stagnating communities)
  • embraces mortification and sacrifice for the sake of building grace, and building of authentic virtue .
  • pro-life in every aspect, to the core.
  • wears some kind of habit, more than likely, traditional in many ways.
  • traditional community life (sisters aren't responsible individually for their own finances and live in common as opposed to purchasing a house with several others as I have seen throughout my youth).
  • the classics of the Catholic Church (especially patristics and writings of the saints) will dominate reading.
  • Understanding of Sacred Scripture follows an exegesis that is in harmony with Catholic teaching (some would suggest Adam and Eve were not real, but ficticious characters which contradicts the teaching on Original Sin, which could not be real if Adam and Eve were not real).
  • average age of blossoming communities is younger than that of stagnating communities.
  • countercultural in every respect where morality and virtue are concerned without hesitation
  • like EWTN.
Perhaps it might be good to make a list of what else will NOT be found in these flourishing communities - both contemplative and active not mentioned above:

  • Anything remotely new age or paganistic (reiki, enneagrams, labryinths, non-traditional use of "holy oils" and incense)
  • Contemporary self-help books; works by Richard McBrien and Sr. Joan Chittester et al.
  • Concern over "hair-do's"; wearing of jewelry
  • Concern over "democracy" in the Church
  • Endless creativity with regards to prayer.
  • Focus on self-esteem and pop-psychology.
  • Ambiguous or paganistic religious art in the church, convent, cloister, monastery
  • Ambiguous or heretical church music
  • Hippy-era, distorted views of "freedom" (your will Lord, as long as it is aligned with my will)
  • hatred for EWTN

I'm sure there are more. Feel free to add your observations to the combox. Do you agree, or disagree?

What say you?

Te Deum Laudamus! Home


Adrienne said...

Excellent, as usual:)

Adrienne said...

I linked to this post. It was just so good I wanted to pass it on.

Moniales said...

Thanks for the beautiful posting. A favorite quote if ours is: "The contemplative nun is rather like Moses on the hilltop, arms raised in prayer while the battle rages below. She may be in one sense, as he was,above the struggle on the plains, but it is her prayer, as it was his, that turns the tide of the battle.

I don't know where this is from, I'm sorry to say.

Anonymous said...

"like Moses on the hilltop, arms raised in prayer while the battle rages below".

Beautifully said, and the battle is for the salvation of the world.

Oswald Sobrino said...

I would also add that several of these vibrant communities are open to the Catholic charismatic renewal. Examples include the Emmanuel community in France, Community of the Beatitudes in Denver, the Companions of Christ in Canada, and Servants of God's Love in Ann Arbor. I attend Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor which has 23 current seminarians (2 were recently ordained, so I have to subtract 2 from the total, leaving 21 seminarians). This parish has about 800 registered families. It is a personal parish of the Diocese of Lansing focused on the charismatic renewal. That's one parish that in the fall of 2007 had 23 seminarians simultaneously studying for the priesthood. There are also a number of female religious vocations [some of whom are in the Mary Mother of the Eucharist (Dominican) community in Ann Arbor] and an abundance of permanent diaconate vocations.

Diane K said...


I am not completely familiar with your parish, though I have heard of it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I suspect that Christ the King and other parishes you list probably have a deep Eucharistic and Marian devotion, do they not?

Many of the early charismatics I knew (we're going back to the 70's now) were actually anti-Marian for example and appreciation for the Eucharist was simply not there. Charismatics that I have met today are far more Eucharistic and Marian, a trait shared with traditional Catholics, even though the approach to worship during the Mass is different.

If we study the surge in vocations I think, whether it is traditional or charismatic, there are some things shared in common.

Oswald Sobrino said...

I do not doubt your own personal experience at all, but my personal experience is that I have never met a Catholic charismatic who was either anti-Marian or distant from the Eucharist. But, then again, I am apparently from another generation--I was in grade school in the early seventies.

At Christ the King, Ann Arbor, we have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration and very strong Marian devotion. Our experience is that the fuller release of the Holy Spirit leads us to greater love for Mary and for the Eucharistic Lord (and also for the Scriptures and for the Pope). God bless your work, and please consider yourself invited to visit our parish if you are ever in the Ann Arbor area (maybe, once the weather is better!). Of course, the Eucharistic chapel is open all the time with its own separate entrance. (Also, the community I named "Companions of Christ" in my earlier comment is really called "Companions of the Cross." Sorry for the error.)

Diane K said...


Thanks for confirming what I thought. Hearing your experience is good. I am always glad to hear about people who share a love for the Eucharist and Mary.

You are also right about a great love for the Holy Father. That is another great sign for any community.

I think yet another shared interest is in proper understanding of the CCC. I have seen in recent years how traditional Catholics and charismatic Catholics will often appreciate many of the same speakers at events.

If I go back to the examples of "new-ageism", that is where we see a fracture. It is simply not compatible with Catholicism and those religious orders and dioceses that are heavily influenced by a new age approach to Catholicism, are where the contrived shortages are.

Those same places often are ripe with a kind of radical feminism that is not compatible with Catholic thought and even doctrine. Yet, there are certain nuns in charge of certain vocations programs for priests who are filtering out anyone with a hint of Marian and Eucharistic devotion.

That is what I call the hippy-era influence and they are all graying and, retiring and dying out.

Thanks for the invite. It's hard to pass up any Eucharistic Adoration chapel should I be passing through or visiting Ann Arbor.

Diane K said...

As a sidenote, I will say that it is possible that the charismatics I encountered in the 70's (I was born in '62), could have made up an unusual pocket in their anti-Marian attitudes. Let's just say that they were very unfavorable towards the Rosary and other such devotions. I don't know if this was common across the board, or if this was an isolated pocket. But, it left some impressions - negative impressions back then about the charismatic renewal.

I have had many more favorable experiences in recent years, while holding a to a more contemplative style of worship.

Poverello said...

Young people, probably now more than ever, are in search of the Truth! Were not looking to live a life of mediocrity, but we want to be challenged in a radical way! No one has related so much and understood us as much as our Beloved Pope John Paul II.  He understood our dreams and aspirations, our desires and struggles.  And he was always ready to challenge us, to encourage us and to be there by us, helping us tred along this dark valley of tears, called earth.  

Anyone can join a secular order, but no, the young people today are searching for Greatness! were searching for the Great One and we see, that is in silence, in obedience, in denying ourselves and completely dying to ourselves that we will find Him and He will make His abode in us and He ALONE will satisfy the desires of our heart.

Many young people, including myself say that if were gonna give to the Lord, were gonna give all we've got and if were gonna join an Order, it's going to be one of strict obedience, from which the Order has not grown lax in it's prayer/work life. There's something intriguing about the Contemplative life. The soul not only lives in silence and solitude, but the soul becomes detached of all things, including ones own will, and clings to God alone. 

Young people arent satisfied with the easy life, for it just leaves us empty and void. We want to be challenged, we want to stand behind the Pope and to defend our Beautiful Carholic Faith, were desiring not only to become Saints, but to become GREAT Saints - Quickly; Saints who are in love with Christ and His Church.  If it means closing ourselves in a monastery for 50, 70, 90 years, then so be it, it'll all be worth it in the end.

Many young people are not seeking after worldly riches and fame, for this only leaves us empty and dry, void of all good things. Rather, we seek to be hidden in the cloak of our Lord and to be holy...what profit will we gain if the whole world were at our feet? None whatsoever! Oh but what profit will it be for us to remain at the feet of our Divine Master!

Xristoforos McAvoy said...

Also remember the power of Gregorian drive demons away.

The sacred music of the church is most present and popular in the traditional communties.

Really active communties are a later development in the Church. They are not the backbone of the Church.

The Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have no active orders per se. SOme comtemplatives may work in parishes, but nothing of this sort ever arose. It is a Latin western idea from the later middle ages.

So it's also a return to pure early christianity as well. The church going back to it's roots. The roots which nourished it and made it strong vibrant and soul saving.

(I pray the traditional benedictine office by the way.)

Your blog is one of the best online for Catholics, keep up the erudite yet accessible commentary on these important matters.

Glory be to Jesus Christ - now and forever.