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AbigailGermaine

Active vs Contemplative

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AbigailGermaine

Ok, here's a fun question...

How many of you started discerning only active orders and then became open to cloistered life, or vice versa.

Why did your discernment change/develop?

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shieldmaiden19

I began by discerning only active orders mostly because I wasn't familiar with cloistered life. Active religious life was all I had encountered. But the idea of cloisered life was always nagging in the back of my mind, even when I barely knew what it was. Later in my discernment I was given to understand that my vocation is to the cloiser, as I continued to develop my understanding of that vocation. In light of the Mystical Body of Christ, I understand the cloisters to be the heart of Holy Mother Church: hidden in Her inmost being, yet essential to the vitality of Her utmost extremities. I am currently in the process of applying for entrance to a certain cloistered community with which I have been discerning for some years. Pray for me!

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gabrielofsorrows

 At first I was thinking of the active order more than the cloistered. I figured if I helped people like feeding the hungry I would be doing God's work. Good thing some people are called to the active order and some to the cloister. As I spend the quietness in the mornings with my morning coffee. I am in wonder of the unity I long for Jesus in the Eucharist in silence. There is something about quiet time with Jesus especially for me at sunrise and sunset. I like the stillness and the Peacefulness. If im called and I had to choose. Now I would choose the cloister. There was a Dominican order of monks where one of friends is and the superior mentioned even though they were cloistered they had a person visit who had such a conversion even there prayer life wasn't enough for the person. He wanted I guess to invest time within a cistern monk order which may be stricter in silence and prayer than the Dominicans. It all depends on the order also. If I had a choice in my vocation. I changed my mind from active to cloistered. I applaud all the brothers who help feed the hungry. I applaud the monks who spend hours in front of the Eucharist praying for our souls. I can't thank the religious men and women enough who gave up their lives for Christ. A very admirable vocation indeed.

I may add my discernment changed as I felt more drawn to the cloister in time. Initially all I thought was about an active order. But when I pray and discern. If I have a vocation I want to be in the cloister with Eucharistic adoration and the rosary and devotion to the stations of the Cross.  The silence wouldn't bother me. It's not for everyone though. Catherine of sienna. St Dominic. St Thomas Aquinas. St Gabriel of our lady of sorrows are among my favorites. St Louis demontfort. I could go on and on.

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Sponsa-Christi

I seriously considered contemplative life for a while before discerning more clearly that I was called to be a consecrated virgin living in the world. But even though my life of service is very "active," (I'm a practicing canon lawyer who works in a diocesan office) in many ways I think the spirituality of consecrated virgins is actually closest to that of cloistered nuns.

It's surprisingly common for consecrated virgins to have started their discernment by visiting cloistered contemplative religious communities. And a lot of us have a real craving for silence and solitude that--in my experience, anyway--active Sisters don't always seem to quite "get."

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TheresaThoma

I also started discerning with active orders but I had always been curious about contemplative communities.. Part of it was a desire to use my gifts for God but hidden in that was the desire to use them the way I felt was best rather than surrendering them to God. I think another part of why I started with active communities is I wasn't spiritually mature enough to understand the contemplative vocation. After several years of discernment I was finally ready to listen. I was a bit skeptical when it came up in prayer and I decided to just visit a couple of contemplative communities. I quickly felt at home there in a way that I hadn't been with any of the active communities. I am now in serious discernment with a Benedictine community and hoping to be able to ask to enter in the next couple of months.

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sr.christinaosf

I guess I was open to either option at first but somehow started leaning toward more active communities.

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AbigailGermaine

Loving everyone's answers......

I'll try not to ramble too long... ;)

When I first started discernment, I thought it was very important that the order be active, because I wanted to "make a difference in the world." I thought that cloistered life was important, but active life was better. Plus, as shieldmaiden19 noted, I just plain didn't understand what cloistered life was.

I've since, because of a lot of Adoration, rosaries and Lectio Divina realized that my attitude towards cloistered communities was both wrong and a hang over from my protestant upbringing. (Many of my friends growing up were either Anabaptist or fundamentalist Baptist, so the emphasis on work was huge.)

I'm also officially blaming this on the various biographies of cloistered saints that I've read recently. (St Therese, St Clare, St Edith Stein, Saint Scholastica, Ven. Maria Crocifissa Constantini etc)

Now I'm open to both, and I'm planning to visit both...

(although I will admit that my time spent on the website for the Whitesville Passionists has started to make me biased.)

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Sister Leticia
On 6/15/2018 at 4:17 AM, Sponsa-Christi said:

And a lot of us have a real craving for silence and solitude that--in my experience, anyway--active Sisters don't always seem to quite "get."

Sponsa - do you mean you believe apostolic religious don't always "get" the craving for silence, or that they don't "get", ie understand why a CV might crave silence and solitude?

My experience of sisters in my congregation is that many of us have that craving, and a compelling desire for prolonged times of prayer, desert days and so on. But we are called to be contemplatives very much in the world and at the heart of the world.

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Sponsa-Christi
1 hour ago, Sister Leticia said:

Sponsa - do you mean you believe apostolic religious don't always "get" the craving for silence, or that they don't "get", ie understand why a CV might crave silence and solitude?

My experience of sisters in my congregation is that many of us have that craving, and a compelling desire for prolonged times of prayer, desert days and so on. But we are called to be contemplatives very much in the world and at the heart of the world.

I did mean that, in my experience, in general to me it seems like apostolic religious don't tend to feel the same need for silence and solitude that CVs or Sisters from more contemplative institutes seem to. But I don't mean this as a criticism, but rather just as a simple reflection on how the vocations seem to be different. 

To explain the personal experience bit, when I was studying in Rome I lived in a house of studies for student-Sisters from different apostolic communities (I was the only CV, who was allowed to live there as an exception). It was a good experience overall, but one of the most challenging things for me was the lack of real silence, which I did NOT expect to be a salient feature of my time living in a convent! It was like, you had to make small talk at breakfast, if you were home for lunch you had to make more small talk, you had to make small talk over dinner and during dinner clean-up. You also were expected to be pleasant and chatty if you just bumped into someone in the hallway in the middle of the day.

We had a day of recollection one Sunday a month where we kept silence until supper (where we talked), and I loved it and always felt like it was never "enough." I used to fervently wish that every Sunday at least was silent all day. But, from as far as I can tell, I was the only one in the house who felt that way. Some of the other Sisters used to talk about those limited times of silence as if they were a sort of penance. 

Also, these days I live alone, which I love because again, it's a quiet life with God in all the silence I want! But a lot of times when I meet active Sisters from different communities, they hear I live alone and comment on how hard it must be to be all by myself. So my sense is that this craving for silence and solitude isn't a universal thing among all women religious. 

But of course, I know there are some apostolic communities have a more pronounced contemplative dimension and do have some practices meant to foster silence. So I was really just speaking in general. 

Edited by Sponsa-Christi

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andibc

One of my daughters is in an active order.  She totally "gets" it.  She craves silence and solitude, but recognized during discernment that her calling was to an active order.  They do keep silence during different parts of the day, but their apostolate requires frequent interaction with those in the world and with other sisters. She is very upbeat and outgoing--you would never guess that she loves silent prayer and I could imagine someone saying she doesn't crave it, but she does....very much so.  She's a bride of Christ, how could it be otherwise!

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Sister Leticia

To second what andibc has said - it is very possible to be outgoing, extrovert, chatty and humorous AND deeply contemplative. Maybe an extrovert's interiority isn't as obvious to observers as that of a high introvert, but it's there, it has to be. After all, we enter religious life in response to a growing personal, intimate relationship with God which was nurtured (before entering) by prayer - and continues to be thus nurtured, and deepened after entering. 

I'll add too that a friend of mine represents her monastery at meetings and study sessions with other monastics/cloistered contemplatives. I asked her once whether they eat their meals in silence at these sessions (which don't take place in a monastery) and she said no, they chat and laugh, exchange news, discuss the input, just like an apostolic meeting would do. But their meetings are deeply prayerful and reflective, with unspoken (!!) rules about when and where to keep silence.

Also, Sponsa - I don't know the sisters who comment on your living alone or what exactly they say. But it's possible they're implicitly expressing the value they/their congregations place on living as part of a residential community. They might be thinking it's hard to always say Office alone, or not to have people around to provide support and perspective after a hard day. At its best, community is a great place for supporting each other in our personal and communal growth and mission, for sharing prayer and much more - and for growing in patience and holiness as we cope with each others' foibles and limitations! And I say all this as someone who has lived alone - for reasons connected with my ministry - and who enjoyed the experience, but for whom it was also important, when my work ended, to move back into community.

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Sponsa-Christi
7 hours ago, Sister Leticia said:

Also, Sponsa - I don't know the sisters who comment on your living alone or what exactly they say. But it's possible they're implicitly expressing the value they/their congregations place on living as part of a residential community. They might be thinking it's hard to always say Office alone, or not to have people around to provide support and perspective after a hard day. At its best, community is a great place for supporting each other in our personal and communal growth and mission, for sharing prayer and much more - and for growing in patience and holiness as we cope with each others' foibles and limitations! And I say all this as someone who has lived alone - for reasons connected with my ministry - and who enjoyed the experience, but for whom it was also important, when my work ended, to move back into community.

You're actually kind of proving my point here!

In my life, it's relating to God in extended periods of silence and solitude (which isn't even always necessarily just silence in times of formal prayer--I mean also the silence involved in, say, going about one's daily work or chores in solitude) which "provides support and perspective after a hard day," and which "supports me in personal growth and mission."

The community life typical of many apostolic religious is a beautiful vocation, but it's not my vocation. In my life as a CV, I would actually find this somewhat of a distraction in my spiritual life. 

This doesn't mean that either vocation is holier than the other, it just means that the vocations are different. 

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Egeria

I do think that Sponsa has a point here. A couple of decades ago I had quite a bit of contact with hermits and with those involved in eremitical formation (Roman Catholic and Angican). And more than one person told me that they had found that apostolic sisters generally found it more difficult to adapt to eremitical life than both monastics and lay people. There are clearly differences within all those groups (I can think of several monastics who would find it difficult to live on their own!), but there does seem to be a general trend.

And Sponsa is absolutely right that solitude and silence is about more than specific times of prayer.

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BarbaraTherese

When I entered monastic life in my early forties, I had lived alone for years.  What I noticed very quickly was the silence of the cloister was a totally different sort of silence to that of living alone.

Having now at 72years found my place in the scheme of things and confidence in my call and vocation from God, I think very much that The Lord qualifies the called.  If one is called by God to a certain vocation, role, way of living - whatever, He Gifts all that is necessary to live that life.  In a life lived alone, I am never lonely - for me nowadays, there is the always, The Silence that is Divine Presence  - more so as I go about my day than at formal prayer which can be very dry.  That can change and fluctuate.  It is very true however that in living alone one needs a different sort of courage and motivation at times to maintain formal prayer times.  In a cloister, the community can be a very real support, one goes to prayer times at times simply because that is where everyone else in the community is going.  After I returned to living alone after my monastic experience, for quite a while I found it difficult to make the transition from community presence and support to living alone - to adjust from monastic silence to living alone silence.  Of course, community life can also be quite difficult at times, not always supportive.

I do not think that any of the above is confined to a certain way of life or vocational state.  The Good Lord gifts as He may and wherever He may to whomsoever He may.  We are all absolutely unique and everyone probably is going to have different experiences and all are valid.  In talking with monastics and others, I quite deliberately never say that I cannot live that way - rather that I do not have a monastic vocation or whatever.

Edited by BarbaraTherese

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