“They don’t watch reality shows or spend hours online. Nor do they constantly text, raise productive families, or spend their holidays in Thailand.” I would also add that they don’t dye their hair red and paint their nails with ridiculous colours. I read this sentence in the Sunday Times column of Mark Anthony Falzon of the 4th of December 2011.
It is not difficult to decipher that Falzon was writing about the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Cospicua, a group I tend to have quite an interest in due to their charism. Firstly from a sociological viewpoint, their foundress St. Teresa of Avila proves to be quite an inspiring woman. Well, one can only enter St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and glance upwards at the eldest founders of the Church’s religious orders to see that among the army of men, one can observe a lonely woman. It’s her! It’s Teresa, a true feminist by my standards. One who defied the social pressures on women in the 17th century and led a revolution within the Church especially with the whole idea of a monastery.
Not from a religious viewpoint, Falzon has truly summed up the idea of religious life in the cloister, a life of prayer and silence, an idyllic environment for thought and reflection on various matters, but also a good scene for confronting the most difficult person in the world; oneself. As Falzon points out, many people fail to see the real objective of the cloister. They might think that those nuns are wasting their time and that their lives are irrelevant. “I’m sure my dead-quiet and low-profile neighbours would agree that their lives are far from irrelevant.” Who are we to judge others’ life as irrelevant? These nuns may wear long habits, pray for many hours, not have a biological family and a career, but although their life does have its difficulties, they are able to surround themselves with peace. Everyone who steps inside can easily feel it.
May it be however that the Church has lost some of the importance it used to give to contemplative life? Is the Church so much focused on missionary action and apostolate that it has forgotten about that life behind the iron bars? Undoubtedly the Church still holds this type of life in high esteem. In fact contemplative life has almost been equalled to the heavenly one. So much effort has been done to emulate the peace-giving life in a monastery. The institution of canonical chapters like the one in Birkirkara and the Cottonera ones are a clear example. The canons [actually just priests with an extra title] come together to pray the liturgy of hours, something considered as daily life for the religious.
It may seem though that Catholics are not being trained to appreciate this lifestyle. There is a curious kind of respect towards friars since most people tend to feel more comfortable in confession with a religious rather than a diocesan priest. Some lack of enthusiasm may even be coming from the orders themselves. Why are some monasteries in Malta experiencing a far more decline in vocations than others? I am not referring to the ‘appeal’ of their lifestyle since a person called by God will only find happiness in fulfilling his calling no matter how difficult it is. Children from an early age need to come to appreciate the beauty of religious life since without this charism the Church would not have achieved its current development.
In our consumer culture, there are still people living a life where “God alone is enough” as St. Teresa said. The life of the cloistered nuns features this idea with a radical difference from the type of life that most of us lead. It is good sometimes to visit monasteries and reflect on the lifestyle within them, a life where God is the centre and people are truly living as his creatures, his lovers.