A question on the lives of contemplatives

Discussion in 'On prayer itself' started by darrell, May 28, 2008.

  1. darrell

    darrell New Member

    I was walking and praying this morning, and thinking of contemplative prayer, and I began to consider the differences between the lives of contemplatives (cloistered monks and nuns) and the rest of us who live in the world. I’ve come to learn that anyone can have a contemplative prayer life – it’s simply a matter of desiring God in our hearts and making the time to find quiet and listen to what the Lord has to say to us. However, I don’t know what it’s like to live as a contemplative in the sense of having experienced it because I’ve never been a monk living in a monastery. Now I have an idea from what I’ve read and from becoming friends with Padraig. I imagine there’s a certain freedom in cutting oneself off from friends and family and choosing a life of poverty and obedience (although all of us lay people too should be obedient and choose poverty to a degree). On one hand, a life spent contemplating God and praying for others seems very attractive. I suspect that the strict schedule of praying the Hours, while at once very beautiful and profound, at the same time, I imagine could become tedious. I’ve learned from some nuns I know, that in the convents, there is often competition, and people can get on each other’s nerves. I wonder if it is different for the monks than the nuns? I also know from my friend St. Therese that it’s not all beautiful thoughts and graces: “Do not believe I am swimming in consolations; oh, no, my consolation is to have none on earth.”

    Anyway, Padraig, I wonder if you could share a little about what it’s like?

  2. padraig

    padraig New Member

    I am sorry I missed this question. There isn't really any easy answer to it. I suppose if you were to ask several different people who worked in hospitals what it is like I suppose they would all have different answers.

    Still, I suppose some things are in common. I'll take several posts to answer this, Darrell as there's a lot to say.

    The origins of monasteries sprung up after the ending of the great martyrdoms under the Roman Emperors. It was a new kind of martyrdom or giving your all to God.

    In many respects it does look like a little martyrdon, for instance in the Cistercians, no meat, no TV no entertainment, no smoking , no sex ect, ect. I guess thats why outsiders kinda say , 'wow they must be all saints!!'' But human nature being what it is folks are inclined often to pad things out. For instance I visited a monastery Called Krikos in the Troodos Mountains in the island of Cyprus (Greek Orthodox} and got an eyeball of the cells and they seemed as well supplied as a ten star hotel.

    I guess monasteries should provide an ideal atmospere for prayer, but a workman may be handed the tools, but if he or she doesn't want to do the praying, well they won't.

    However I must say I was very,very impressed by the quality of the monks I was with, several of the were outright saints, plain and simple, most of the really very good and holy people.

    The fact that a person lives in a monastery does not necessarily mean they are given the gift of contemplative prayer. In the end this is God's gift.

    I'll write some more about this later...its such a big subject.
  3. Mario

    Mario Powers

    A question.


    I understand that monks and nuns living monastic lives are as human as the rest of us, with plenty of weaknesses and foibles. One advantage individuals in monastic communities have, I think, is a simplier lifestyle with fewer external distractions. We who are in the world deal with the noise, demands, and temptations of modern society. We have cars to repair, highways to navigate, job pressures, and the bombardment from TVs, computers, ipods, cell phones, and the like. Am I wrong to think that a more agricultural setting with less external input would have a greater advantage? Of course, no matter how ideal the lifestyle, one still has to deal with internal distractions and temptations: pride, vanity, overactive imaginations, relational struggles, etc... :?

    Safe in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary!
  4. padraig

    padraig New Member

    There have of course been great saints living full married lives Maria Tiagi from Rome I think had something like twelve kids and the most shocking mother in law since the creation of the world and cardinals and bishops came to ask her advice.

    However yes, I would say that the Monastery is the ideal place for praying On the other hand from those to whom much has been given much shall be asked.When all this is laid on at your fingertips, God is bound to ask at judgement day; well what did you do with all these gifts.

    My novice mster asked me after I entered the monastery how often I prayed. I replied , 'All the time' He told me that this was impossible, I was too young, I would have to have been in a monastery for forty or fifty years; all my life to pray like that. But I told him he did not understand, suffering is the great teacher and I told him I had been through a bad time outside.

    This it seems to me is the great secret of prayer, the monastery is always around us. Consider a mother, for instance, whose child has just died or is seriously ill and openly accepts the childs death as God's will and forgives anyone who has hurt the child.

    I magine the mothers suffering and imagine the great floodgates of grace that flood her soul as she opens her heart.
    Her heart is the greatest monastery in the world. her child's death or illness has placed her in the greatest monastery ever built. In just a few seconds she may accomplish what a hundred monks could not acheive in many, many years.
    So it is for us all, we all walk on holy ground, God has given and shall give us a thousand monasteries in which to dwell.

    I remember when the Abbot showed me my cell I told him how delighted I was, my cell reminded me very much of my cell in prison.

    He was shocked, but it was in prison I learned most how to pray. In solitude, with people beating me and trying to kill me.

    As I say our monastery is all around us. God never fails to give us all we require to be saints and people of prayer, whatever our vocation.

    Our monastery surrounds us.
  5. padraig

    padraig New Member

    I was walking round the park there thinking about how to explain the spirituality of the monk.

    In Saint John' Jesus says, ' I stand at the door knocking...'

    Revelation 3:2

    Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.

    So in our busy lives we hear the knocking as a small delicate tapping. The monk, however, free of distractions here's Jesus kicking at the door with size twelve hob nailed boots!!

    Just as the person who lives in the city hears so much noise , he no longer hears noise at all. The person in the desert, however, hears the singing of a tiny bird like a large orchestra.

    Whatever the case , in the busy world or the silence of the monastery, the soul must open the door to the Beloved. Maybe just a little, so that Jesus can squeeze His toes in; maybe half open so the Lord can, scratched and bruised half get in; or maybe the monk, or the person in the city will throw the door open, laugh with joy and embracing the beloved become one with Him forever!!

    Now take Joe Brown. A prosperous buisnesman with many responsibilities and claims on his time. He plans to expand his buisness, they are buying a new house and car, holiday times are coming, his kids are getting ready for college. his golf game is improving, yes he even has a million things to do at his local church...a million things,,so little time.

    But less time than he knows, his doctor calls him in , Joe has only three months to live!!

    Now suddenly all the business flees. No more distractions; for now Joe realises that in light of his death very,very little of what once was so very,very,very important matters anymore. In fact nothing really matters at all.

    In a way I think Joe has just made an urgent and final visit to a kinda monastery. Now Joe can wake up and smell the coffee, the knocking at the door has become a huge thundering hammering.

    So I suppose thats what being in a monastery is all about, time to wake up and smell the coffee. :lol: :lol:

    I'm sorry, Im maybe not explaining this all too well. Its difficult. :shock:

    But I will say this; God has no favourites, we are all His very favourite child, what He accomplished in the soul of the hand maid of the Lord, the Queen of Heaven He will accomplish in the heart of each of us , if only we will let Him...He stands at the door knocking......

    “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.

    Saint Benedict


    Attached Files:

  6. Mario

    Mario Powers

    Thank you.

    Great insight, Padraig.
  7. maryrose

    maryrose Powers

    I like the image of the suffering mother for her children. This is really the image of Our Lady at the foot of the cross. I think the greatest suffering for any mother is watching the suffering of her children. A mother would much prefer to carry that suffering herself and so it was with Our Lady. I think the most difficult thing for nuns and monks is how to develop unselfish love and have that wish to suffer in the place of the beloved. That is the relationship they are called to with Jesus. A mother is given that gift with her child and it does help expand the heart of even the most selfish woman.
    Thinking back on the many Nuns who I knew at school, the ones who failed to develop in this way were difficult and cranky and ultimately they did'nt have the vocation. The ones who lived their vocations were really a light shining in the darkness.

  8. padraig

    padraig New Member

    I think, Mary that priests nuns and religious are in a priveledged position but that there is a great risk with this. For if they turn sour, they really turn sour. As Jesus said , 'From those to whom much has been given , much will be expected'.

    There are, I think many reasons for this. One of the biggest , I think is hypocricy. If Joe Blogs down the street decides to get drunk all the time he can do so with little enough criticism. If a priest drinks heavily he has to cover it up a lot and may deny it even to himself. If Joe Blogs decides to take a mistress he can do so openly with little enough deceit {unless he happens to be married].

    Few lay people in the ordinary course of events will attend mass every day and it must be very hard for ones who are in an habitual state of severe mortal sin to perform mass day without terrible consequences.

    Most of the saints were terrible persecuted by their fellow religious, the worst offenders being priests and nuns.

    Judas the apostate apostle is often thought of as being the lowest down in hell, right down there alongside Satan.

    Its the smae thing I think for us Catholic laypeople. We have a very, very great honour and destiny in belonging to the One, Tru Church. But we too have being given great graces. I can't help noticing how it is that it is apostate CATHOLICS who in our own times are leading the blasphemous charge against Catholicism. Even during the so called Reformation it was a Catholic monk like Martin Luther who heped rip the Church assunder, little wonder the man had nightmares from which he woke up screaming and had a very terrible death bed.

    Its the same with prayer, those who are granted great graces in prayer and turn back again invoke a terrible judgement against themselves. Imagine for instance Saint Francis of Assissi, after all the huge graces he had been given, turned back to doing evil, what a judgement he would have had.

    Sometimes I wonder if truly evil people like Adolph Hitler might not have been great saints if they had followed Christ??

    I am rambling........................
  9. darrell

    darrell New Member


    Thanks for taking the time to respond to this and share you thoughts and experience. I have several more questions on this subject, but for now, a couple observations and one question:

    I purchased a copy of Into Great Silence, and I highly recommend it. Here’s a trailer for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
    http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/displaytr ... ension=mov

    Before God created time and space and light, before He created the physical universe, before even He created the Angels, there was only the great, silent void, and everywhere in this void was The Spirit.

    It occurred to me the other night, that when we enter into the great silence, we encounter the sheer immensity of it, and that’s why God speaks to us there. Imagine we’re sitting by a still pool of water, and it’s perfectly quiet. A drop of dew falls from a leaf over the pool, and it makes a tiny dripping sound; little ripples spread out in ever widening circles, and the sound that little drop makes travels out in every direction and keeps right on going until the wave is reflected or overcome by noise so that the sound can’t be heard. That’s why we listen for God to speak to us in the silence.

    Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
    --1 Kings 19: 11-12

    The sound our little drop of water made travels out into space, and a thousand years after we’ve all died, the wave created by that tiny drop of water is still travelling out into the great void.

    There was a scene in the film where one of the monks goes to feed a bunch of cats. This monk starts chatting away to these cats (in French, and I don’t speak a lick of French). I don’t know if they’ve caught him breaking his vows of silence, or if he’s allowed to talk to the cats when he’s feeding them. (Maybe he was preaching to them, like St. Francis?)

    I wonder: for a monk in a monastery who is not given the gift of contemplative prayer, does life in the monastery become a burden?
  10. padraig

    padraig New Member

    I think that there is a silence, that is not a true silence. Silence , in itself is only an enabler, a means to an end. The fact that folk stop noise assists in hearing God speak....but only if we want it too. There can be no human voices, no TV, nothing but the emptiness of the cell and yet the inner cell would be screeching with huge noise.

    A good way of seeing this inner noise, I think is to study what we day dream about. For I think it points a huge finger at who we are and what we endeavouring to let God transform us into; how open we are to God's grace working in the silence.

    If for instance I am constantly dreaming about winning the lottery, or becoming a movie star or hordes of people admiring me. This is a huge noise disturbing silence.

    Of course we all day drea; or at least I find it difficult to imagine anyone who does not, nor do I say day dreaming is a bad thing. Not all. But the day dreams, or if you like the distractions; the inner noise points to how open we are to the silence within. Some people think silence is easy, but it is not, we hear good things in the silence , but in the silence of the desert we can encounter great evil, too. We cover ourselves in tissues of lies and the silence rips this tissue.

    Listening, real listing is very, very uncommon. Sometimes, occasionally we meet a person who is a good listener. It is a very,very remarkable thing.; to have someone truly listen to us!! It is very flattering, for a start. It makes us feel very special and loved, appreciated. But how very,very rare this is.

    But what the monk , or anyone who prays is doing is really, really listening. Past the distractions, past the day dreams, past thoughts of the day, to the true desert, the desert that is completely empty...then suddenly filled with the presense of God...nor indeed is the presence of God altogether easy to take in itself!!!

    I sometimes think reading the accounts of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelations how filled with light and community and rushing singing they are!! How full of noise !! These are very beautiful. But in my own life I have loved personal prayer. If I had a choice, when I am in heaven, if the door is opened for me, to wonder on my own about the mountains of paradise with my dogs....which maybe sounds terrible, but always having found God in silence and being alone I find it hard to imagine the great, the wonderful community, the family , the eternal Church of heaven!!

    But I am rambling again.

    Darrell you mentioned monks who are not in contemplative prayer. This can be a touchy subject, for it can imply that monks are folks generally who are into contemplative prayer are better or an elite.

    But I think the vast majority of people who experience contemplative prayer simply do not know they are experiencing it. For instance the vast majority of Catholics do not have a Spiritual Director nor have read any books on the subject; so they have no means of guauging it.

    St Teresa says there are three great graces connected with contemplative Prayer, the grace of prayer itself, the grace of undrestanding such prayer and thridly the grace of explaining it to others.

    Priests often find in confession older people coming to them and saying, 'Father I cannot say the rosary anymore, for as soon as I say 'Hail Mary', I get lost..'

    Without realising that this 'getting lost' is entering into the depths of contemplative prayer!! :D

    The English Carmelite Prioress Ruth Burroughs in her book, 'Guidelines to Mystical Prayer' mentions that at one stage some of Saint Teresa's nuns came to her to complain. How come they asked that all the wonderful contemplative gifts she talked about ?/ Ruth says that Saint Teresa was confused by this and didn't really know how to answer. Well, I doubt that Saint Teresa was ever short of an answer about anything. Still its true that its not always easy to put things or people into boxs and say this and this and this and that and that and that.

    For instance I one time knew a very,very holy, indeed saintly old priest whom I admired very,very much. I was talking to him about contemplative prayer and he sighed and said to me that he had never experienced the things I was talking about. This amazed me . But , well its only a theory , but I think sometimes prayer can be like an underground river running deep within the soul very,very deep and strong, giving no signs without....prayer in great darkness. But the fact that such prayer is underground does not mean that this huge river is not far , far more vital than a little stream that runs on the surface and anyone can see with a glance.

    There are great mysteries with the soul.

    I think one of the great mistakes even very saintly souls can make is to judge other souls by their own paths in prayer All souls are different, how boring heaven would be if it were otherwise!!
  11. padraig

    padraig New Member

  12. darrell

    darrell New Member

  13. padraig

    padraig New Member

    Theres a great book written on the Dark Night by an American priest, I think a Jesuit, called if I recall right Father Greene...its called, 'When the Well runs dry'...its good for anyone going through sticky patches in general.

    http://www.amazon.com/When-Well-Runs-Dr ... 0877936412

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