Spirituality for Today – Winter 2017/2018 – Volume 22, Issue 2

Cloistered Dominican Nuns: Who We Are

Sister Mary Dominic, OP

When most people think about cloistered religious the picture that usually comes to mind is a nun kneeling before our Eucharistic Lord in quiet prayer. While each of our sisters does this and prayer takes up a significant amount of the monastic day, it is not the only way we can touch our wounded world. And in order to that, we have daily balance of work and study as well as scheduled recreation with one another.

The early pioneers of the monastic life which included both men and women such as St. Anthony the Great and Amma (mother) Theodora who heard the call of the gospel to the rich young man, "Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21)." They lived in small caves on the desert hillsides of northern Africa and Palestine in the 3rd and 4th centuries and busied themselves with the making of palm frond mats and other handwork as their minds were occupied with the scripture verses they memorized over the years. They sought to follow intently St. Paul's ideal practice of "unceasing prayer" (1 Thess. 5:17) yet they also put into use his practical maxims—such as "he who would not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10)."

As Dominican nuns, we have inherited the spirit of these early monastic founders. We like many communities developed what is called a charism—or form of religious life in response to the needs of the church at the time. Founded in 1206, we were given the mission through the life and teachings of our founder St. Dominic, to preach the Word of God, thus we are called the Order of Preachers. The nuns were and are called to preach by the example of our lives. Thus we give witness to the gospel ideals which the Dominican Friars, Sisters and Laity preach in their active apostolates.

Preaching also implies study and preparedness. St. Peter remarks in his first letter, "but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) We sisters fulfill our observance of study with an hour of daily reading, listening to lectures on CD, or a guest speaker—not merely to become an intellectual, but to greater understand the Lord whom we love and the people who ask our prayers.

Along with chanting the Liturgy of the Hours throughout our day, we also engage in approximately four hours of work. This time is also prayer as we listen intently as possible to the still, small voice of God. (1 Kings 19:12) Here as well as to stand in solidarity with the anawim of the Lord, the "poor and lowly of heart." Some of this work involves gardening which makes its way to the refectory table in the form of simple but good food. As a rule we eat meat only three times a week, following the ancient tradition among all religions that fasting is a way to gain purity of heart and discipline over the physical body.

When I was in discernment as to which order I should enter, the cloistered nuns seemed appealing–yet I believed that they led too penitential a life for me to survive in. At the end of my three–week aspirancy (living in the cloister for a small amount of time) nothing could be farther from the truth. Cloistered sisters can truly call their own Matthew 19:29, " And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." Could you give some example here? St. Dominic, truly devoted to the Holy Spirit as he was, radiated joy throughout his apostolate. This joy found its source in his night prayers when he often mirrored the patriarch Abraham in begging the Lord for the salvation of souls.

Contrary to the little child who asked once if the nuns could float because their feet were not visible—we are indeed human beings in solidarity with all those with whom we share this planet—seeking to understand the needs of our times and fulfilling the will of God wherever and whenever he asks of us. The cloister is not an escape from the world, but, in fact, have more readily embraced it. We pray for the souls of those who, according to St. Augustine, are "restless until they rest in thee (Confessions, Book I)."

People from all walks of life either through e–mail or telephone ask for our prayers. Some are truly tragic—we cannot but share in the pain of those who seeks the comfort and consolation that the Lord promised to those who were enduring trial. For those, like these, there are no words, but the release of pouring out one's heart is truly a form of healing. Others have even sought the love of God by merely crossing our bridge and sitting quietly in their cars in the convent parking lot. So many have said they feel a mysterious peace each time they come. The Apostolic Constitution on the enclosure of nuns Verbi Sponsa describes the monastery as the "dwelling place of God's unique presence [in the world], somewhat akin to the Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament, (Verbi Sponsa, Section 8) where Moses interceded for the people of God in a most intimate way and where the Lord is truly among us—met day after day."

Please pray for us as well so that we may faithfully fulfill our vocation in the Church. We are all members of the vine–all of us who are so dependent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Send your intention to: Dominican Nuns, Monastery of the Infant Jesus, 1501 Lotus Lane, Lufkin, Texas 75904.