Contemplative Life

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Father, How would we know if we are called to contemplative life? Is their any signs?

Dear Joann,

We have asked a contemplative sister to respond to your question. Here is her response

In answering your query about the signs/suitability of one called to the contemplative life, I have summarised what St. Teresa of Avila has said on this topic in her Way of Perfection.

Joann, my prayers for you will accompany this response.
Wishing you every grace and blessing. Sr Mary ocd

From St Teresa of Avila

At the core of a call from God to be a contemplative is a continuing conversion of the human heart away from following its false gods, to a definitive choice of the one transcendent loving God, renewed an infinite number of times. DETERMINED DETERMINATION must become the seeker's leit motif, because the human heart is a natural idol-making machine.

Another necessary quality is Intelligence –not great reasoning powers, or a brilliant mind or a sharp intellect, rather the intelligence of a Heart which passionately desires that the living, true God be the one and only centre of the heart and its affections.

If one seeks to be a contemplative, but is unwilling, or resists daily challenges to conversion of heart, he/she will not only end up as an unhappy, unfulfilled individual.

On entering religion, the aspirant is not just entering a building, joining a community or taking on a life of prayer. Her life-long commitment will be to build on her foundational desire a framework of conversions, which will change a self-centred heart gradually into a loving, listening, liberated and pure undivided heart ready to be transformed, enlivened and re-orientated by the Divine Lover. As well, her "intention" for engaging in this journey must be for the good of Christ's Church and the glory of the Blessed Trinity.

To complete all the above, normal health, a sense of humour, common sense and affability will go a long way to ensure that the one called to a contemplative life will be a joy to her community, and live happily not only in this life but for all eternity.

What is contemplative life actually?

Dear Qhiara,

Thank you for your question about the contemplative life. In the Church there are several forms of Consecrated or Religious Life and one of these is the Contemplative Life. Perhaps if I describe one of the other forms first it will help point out the differences.

One of the other forms is the apostolic religious orders. Sisters, priests or brothers who belong to these orders would generally live in a community. Normally they would spend some time in prayer together but would also go out to work in various kinds of ministries. For example, as teachers, nurses, chaplains in prisons or hospitals, in parishes and in many other kind of areas of need. At times they may also be asked to move to other communities or perhaps overseas if they belong to an international or missionary order.

In comparison, a Contemplative community is made up of nuns, brothers or priests who live together in a monastery and normally they would stay in that same community for life. Although the community must support themselves with some kind of work their lives are very much centred around communal and personal prayer. The work they are involved in is usually carried out within the monastery, and helps to financially support the community - for example some contemplative communities make and sell altar breads, and e others may be involved in making the vestments that priests wear during Mass.

Generally those in contemplative orders have minimal contact with people outside the monastery so that they can nurture a quiet, prayerful atmosphere in the community. These communities carry out a wonderful ministry in that they offer prayers for the world and people around them - so in many ways they are often quite 'in touch' with what is happening in the world around them. There are different types and traditions of contemplative orders - some of these are the Benedictines, the Carmelites and the Franciscan Poor Clares. I am sure you could find out more about these groups on our OzVocations website, and through the links that are there.

I hope this has been of some help Qhiara. All the best and God Bless.

Sister Monica.

What is the definition of a catholic monk? How does one become a monk? What kind of people become one?

Dear Luke,

Lots of people use the term monk loosely but strictly speaking a monk is a man who lives an enclosed contemplative religious life.

This means that he lives inside a monastery that is largely self-sufficient, much of his day is given to manual labour and to prayer and he would live virtually all his life in that monastery, not coming out. In the western church, monks almost always follow a pattern of life established by St.Benedict and set out in his Rule.

The life of a monk requires discipline, a love of God and a real desire to put nothing before a chance to deepen one's relationship with God. The life of a monk is specially designed to enable him to become a better person and to know God in an ever deeper and ever closer fashion. Other than that, a monastery is home to all sorts of people you might be surprised about the wide sort of people who take up the life of a monk. There is certainly no standard pattern to it.

To become a monk, normally a young man should make himself known to the monastery and allow both sides to get to know one another. At some point it is common for him to be allowed to live-in for a period so he can see first hand if this way of life might be right for him. If he and the monastery agree, he joins the community as a student. He would normally start as a novice which prepares him for the life teaches him about prayer, the spirituality of a monk and the way in which monks live. After that he makes the usual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but only for a temporary period so that, if he changes his mind, he is free to leave. He would continue making these temporary vows until he is ready - and his monastery thinks he is ready - to take vows that last for life. He would be considered a fully trained monk at that point.

Br Matthew  

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