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AbigailGermaine

Active vs Contemplative

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Laurie

I myself wouldn’t draw conclusions about active religious sisters from living with some of them in a boarding house/communal living type situation. In that scenario, there is no cohesion of the type they have when living in their own communities & sharing a charism, apostolate, and structure with their own sisters.

Taking a bunch of active religious and having them live together for the purpose of studies is a very different thing than how their lives would normally be lived out in their communities. I’m going to bet a good number of them were themselves exhausted by the scenario you describe, whether or not they showed it or confided as much to you. In such situations, it can be a great time to grow in holiness because almost nothing about daily life is to your own preference or your own choosing.

I lived in a boarding house run by sisters in Rome. They had an apostolate to college women, to provide a home for us. There were about 15 of them and 50 or so of use. As for myself, it was exhausting. The constant need to chit chat, in order to be polite (in Italian, no less) during meals, in the hallways & breakroom, was a real act of love on my part. It was something I had to focus on every day & draw strength from the Eucharist for – to be kind & patient & listen, to be cheerful and interested in the minutiae of conversations, when what I craved was silence and solitude after a long day of classes & hearing lectures.

I think there are a lot of women who would have a similar struggle in a similar situation – whether they were consecrated or lay, or consecrated virgins, or active sisters, or a contemplative sister on leave to study & live elsewhere for a period of time.

In the collegio where I lived, the sisters themselves had a deep structure. They ran the home in shifts, giving a chunk of them at any given time space for solitude & prayer. They had their own quiet weekends once a month where all except a handful disappeared (no doubt a sacrifice, in that while they were in their segregated quarters, the girls had no obligation to be quiet – and so while the sisters’ “quiet time” exonerated them from speaking & work, due to their very apostolate of providing a home for us, they didn’t have the luxury of pristine silence. That doesn’t mean they didn’t crave it. It’s quite possible some of them did but made a sacrifice of that desire for the sake of caring for us.)

I know some mothers of many who innately crave solitude and quiet but it is not, in the years of raising children at least, what the Lord is asking of them. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Missionaries of Charity & know the amount of time they spend serving others can be taxing, despite the chunks of time in their day for silence & prayer. I also know a few Carmelites who get itching with all that solitude and crave a little less of it.

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Sponsa-Christi
23 hours ago, Laurie said:

I myself wouldn’t draw conclusions about active religious sisters from living with some of them in a boarding house/communal living type situation. In that scenario, there is no cohesion of the type they have when living in their own communities & sharing a charism, apostolate, and structure with their own sisters.

The house I lived in wasn't exactly a boarding house-type of situation. Of course everyone there had a different charism and their own respective community prayer practices and other customs, but the house itself was founded primarily for the purpose of giving student-Sisters as much of a "normal" convent living situation as possible. We prayed in common twice a day, observed particular house rules, celebrated special events together, and had times of recreation that were for the express purpose of fostering a sense of community. It was also a relatively small group of Sisters living there full-time, so we did all get to know each other pretty well.

(And by the way...I'm not saying exactly where I lived here in public, so as to respect everyone's privacy. )

Over all, my time living there was a good experience! But somewhat to my surprise, it really did confirm for me that I was called to be a consecrated virgin and not an apostolic Sister. Living in community actually helped me realize that an independent living situation doesn't have to be less radical than a life in common. That is, a non-communal consecrated life should be just as radical, only in other ways; namely, radical in terms of a greater focus on relating to God in silence. 

On 6/20/2018 at 7:25 PM, Laurie said:

In such situations, it can be a great time to grow in holiness because almost nothing about daily life is to your own preference or your own choosing.

In my personal experience, anyway, I didn't see my craving for silence as being simply about my own preferences.

I mean, don't get me wrong, of course there were times when I did want peace and quiet for entirely human reasons! ;)

But ultimately, I came to an understanding that I needed a greater degree of silence and solitude just to be spiritually healthy in my vocation on a basic level. I imagine this is probably a pretty close parallel to the experience of many religious who need a vibrant community life to sustain them in their vocation. 

So I think it's a matter of different vocations = different gifts = different specific spiritual needs. 

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Sponsa-Christi
On 6/20/2018 at 7:25 PM, Laurie said:

I know some mothers of many who innately crave solitude and quiet but it is not, in the years of raising children at least, what the Lord is asking of them. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Missionaries of Charity & know the amount of time they spend serving others can be taxing, despite the chunks of time in their day for silence & prayer. I also know a few Carmelites who get itching with all that solitude and crave a little less of it.

Acts of self-denial, large and small, are going to be a part of any vocation. But I don't think God would call anyone to a vocation where the fundamental duties of that state in life were experienced as white-knuckled sacrifices all the time, or even most of the time.

I think when we're doing God's will for our lives, the sacrifices we have to make, even when they are difficult, are deep-down undergirded by a sense of peace and even joy. As in, there's a fundamental sense of "rightness" to them. (I'm thinking also of St. Ignatius' image of water falling on a sponge vs. water falling on a rock.)

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Laurie
1 minute ago, Sponsa-Christi said:

Acts of self-denial, large and small, are going to be a part of any vocation. But I don't think God would call anyone to a vocation where the fundamental duties of that state in life were experienced as white-knuckled sacrifices all the time, or even most of the time.

Of course not! My only point was that we can't conclude that *what I crave* is *what God wants from me* in any given moment, or even in a vocation as a whole.

All I'm trying to point out is *in my experience* I know many holy women -- mothers, active religious sisters, consecrated virgins -- who *do crave silence* and for whatever reason, which is really His Business more than ours, the Good God has called them to something else.

I think a few things, fundamentally: 1) The Lord works with our own temperaments & characters & our own talents, regarding our vocations; 2) He alone knows *who He has called us to be* and so He simultaneously doesn't spend all that much effort deferring to our temperaments & characters -- because those things are not perfected until we are united to Him in the Beatific Vision, and until then, it is His discretion regarding how and when we need to go in this direction instead of that. That is not to say that He hasn't also gifted us with certain personalities.

I'm trying to steer away from an attitude of *my preference is this* so *I'll conclude my vocation is X.*

I realize in your experience the CVs you know felt called to contemplative life prior to becoming CVs. That's not my experience.  Here's my baseline: I think we should be careful about universalizing our own experiences. Your experience is one thing. Mine is another. Unless we've got a far larger data set than you & me, I wouldn't at all say, a woman who is drawn to solitude is more likely to be a CV or a contemplative religious sister than an active religious. It's just too far of a sweeping statement that isn't founded & might discourage discerners who aren't, in fact, drawn to contemplative life.

(I myself was drawn, equally, to the Carmelites and the Missionaries of Charity, but not because one was contemplative & one was active. Rather, it was because both lay their lives down -- via different theological charisms -- for the poorest of the poor -- spiritually, in the former, and both, in the latter. But I was also drawn to being a mother. I had a great desire from a young age to adopt unwanted children, especially aids babies. Which is another variation of loving Christ's poor ones. Neither of those 3 things are, in fact, what the Lord was asking of me. But He worked out that spirituality of laying down my life for the spiritually poorest of the poor in being a CV. I am a massive introvert. What I can say is that if I *spent time in solitude* *as much as I wanted* I would be neglecting the work He has asked me to do with prisoners.)

At any rate, I don't at all mean to diminish your thoughts & experience. I'm simply putting forth my own alongside them. FWIW.

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Laurie
1 hour ago, Sponsa-Christi said:

Over all, my time living there was a good experience! But somewhat to my surprise, it really did confirm for me that I was called to be a consecrated virgin and not an apostolic Sister. Living in community actually helped me realize that an independent living situation doesn't have to be less radical than a life in common. That is, a non-communal consecrated life should be just as radical, only in other ways; namely, radical in terms of a greater focus on relating to God in silence. 

In my personal experience, anyway, I didn't see my craving for silence as being simply about my own preferences.

I mean, don't get me wrong, of course there were times when I did want peace and quiet for entirely human reasons! ;)

But ultimately, I came to an understanding that I needed a greater degree of silence and solitude just to be spiritually healthy in my vocation on a basic level. I imagine this is probably a pretty close parallel to the experience of many religious who need a vibrant community life to sustain them in their vocation. 

So I think it's a matter of different vocations = different gifts = different specific spiritual needs. 

 

I believe you! And I 100% respect *your discernment*. What I don't support is the leap that because it was *right for you* it is indicative *of the CV vocation at large*.

The vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world exists on a spectrum. There are CVs who live very quiet, very contemplative lives. They live by themselves, don't necessarily have to work to support themselves (some eek by on social security due to serious illnesses), and spend a LOT of time in silence & prayer. This is absolutely legitimate and in conformity with the vocation.

There are *also* CVs who have a strong baseline prayer structure, and solitude, and who, beyond that, are VERY active. I know one who is blessed financially. Instead of spending her time in silence and prayer, alone in her home, she opens up her (large) home to all kinds of young women (not just Catholics) who need a safe & loving place to say. That CV lives a life that is a whole lot more like an active religious. Her vocation & calling is as legitimate as a CV who lives a more contemplative life.

I think if *you  yourself * discerned you needed a greater degree of silence & solitude to be spiritually healthy in your vocation on a baseline level, then that was very prudent & wise of you to discern & follow. What I caution against is taking the concrete ways in which the Lord has called *you* (and X number of women you happen to know) to serve Him, and reading into that expectations for what the vocation to consecrated virginity in the world is as a whole.

Anyhow, as I always say between us here, I don't think going around & around is that fruitful. I've offered my thoughts for what they are worth, mostly for discerners who pop by here & don't always know what to conclude. I'd hate for any of them to conclude, "I've never been drawn to a contemplative order, therefore I'm probably not called to be a CV in the world." Or, "I've been drawn to this or that active religious order; therefore, I guess I'm not called to be a CV in the world." Because, both of those conclusions would be absolutely unfounded. Hope that makes sense.

Take care!

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BarbaraTherese

In the first few posts into this thread, there were a variety of contributors - but no longer.  I am hoping that that might mean that interested members are quite happy to read only and arrive at their own conclusions.

Prayer for all discerners

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Sponsa-Christi

From outward appearances, I do have a fairly "active" life. I have a demanding full-time job that can involve a lot of pastoral interaction with the people I serve. And I try to make myself available to be of service to the diocese in other ways even outside the parameters of my day job. But, I go home to solitude, which does provide a lot of very helpful silence that I likely wouldn't have if I was a member of an apostolic religious community. 

So I'm not saying all CVs need a literal certain number of solitary hours per day. I was trying to compare and contrast the general character of my life vs. a life where "community" was a major emphasis.

Maybe my experiences won't resonate with absolutely everyone, but I'd guess there are probably some common threads with CVs in general. 

And honestly, I would strongly discourage a woman who wasn't spiritually drawn to solitude on at least some level from discerning a vocation to consecrated virginity. This is for a couple of reasons: 1. a CV is going to de facto have a lot of solitude in her life almost basically no matter what, so you need to know how use it fruitfully and have it not be a routinely terrible experience; but more importantly: 2. the core of a vocation to consecrated virginity is a call to a distinctively spousal relationship with Christ, and you need a lot of quiet time with God to nurture this. 

Being a CV can be really, really hard! And having your prayer life in order is what will make or break a CV's vocation. It's the difference between being a fruitful spiritual mother or winding up as a lonely spinster. If a woman for whatever reason was chronically unable to find time or space in her life for a great deal of prayer and a sufficient amount of silence (however much "sufficient" truly means for her), for her own well-being it really is best she not become a CV. 

Like Laurie, I'm also writing these things out of sincere concern for potential future CVs--a lot of this is what I wish someone would have told me ten years ago when I was preparing for my own consecration. 

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Laurie
On 6/21/2018 at 10:10 PM, Sponsa-Christi said:

[#1]....But, I go home to solitude, which does provide a lot of very helpful silence that I likely wouldn't have if I was a member of an apostolic religious community. 

So I'm not saying all CVs need a literal certain number of solitary hours per day. I was trying to compare and contrast the general character of my life vs. a life where "community" was a major emphasis.

[#2] And honestly, I would strongly discourage a woman who wasn't spiritually drawn to solitude on at least some level from discerning a vocation to consecrated virginity. This is for a couple of reasons: 1. a CV is going to de facto have a lot of solitude in her life almost basically no matter what, so you need to know how use it fruitfully and have it not be a routinely terrible experience; but more importantly: 2. the core of a vocation to consecrated virginity is a call to a distinctively spousal relationship with Christ, and you need a lot of quiet time with God to nurture this.

I took the liberty of putting numbers & brackets above to make my responses clear.

For [#1] -- - Thank you, your clarification regarding not going home to a community, and not having a community as resonating with you in your discernment, makes sense. I think some are fed, in a crucial way, by communal life. Others are not. I see now that you are using the word "solitude" in some sense as "not having a community & communal obligations." In that sense, I now understand what you are saying, and I think I get what you mean.

For [#2] --- I think we might both agree that solitude can be defined a few different ways. I was coming much more from a sense of internal & prayerful solitude, knowing that any person of holiness must crave, cultivate, and have this. Mother Theresa & Pope John Paul II jump out as beautiful examples of this kind of solitude & centeredness in Christ, deep in the midst of themselves, no matter whom they were with or what they were doing. I think this kind of solitude is essential to anyone who desires to be a consecrated virgin, but it is also crucial to anyone in any vocation who desires to be holy. (This gets back to my example of the apostolic sisters with whom I lived in Rome. They had days of "solitude" where they took themselves apart, but because they ran a home for female students, they had to rely on inner solitude more than external silence to feed their souls.)

What I was trying to emphasize earlier is that any true vocation must have this type of solitude. The degree to which the person interacts with others is another kind of solitude (in that hermits have little interaction and active religious sisters have a lot). Whereas if we are talking about solitude in regards to communal life or the lack of it, what I was trying to say is that a woman might or might not be drawn to a community, but at the end of the day, that would just be one piece of her discernment. Being a woman who could be happy & fulfilled in communal life does not mean she isn't in fact called to be a consecrated virgin in the world.

I know a number of CVs who could be quite happy in community. They don't actually have the same need for the same degree of solitude that you & I both seem to have. That adaptability to potential communal life, though, doesn't mean they don't have a vocation to be a CV. Quite differently from you, most of the CVs I know discerned first with active religious orders, not contemplative ones. I think what is more crucial to the vocation is solitude in the sense of #2. In the sense of #1, a CV might fall on the spectrum closer to a contemplative nun or hermit or closer to the apostolic religious. But just because could be happy in communal life doesn't mean she wouldn't make a good consecrated virgin in the world.

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MaryBethany

I was drawn to the active life at first because I wanted to be able to see the difference I was making in people's lives, if that makes any sense. Now I'm much more open to the contemplative life, because I see the value of prayer and being in a community that prays for the world. It's like being in the beating heart of the world, hidden but vital. 

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