I entered St. Joseph Passionist monastery in July 2014. The Passionist Nuns are cloistered contemplatives, dedicated in a special way to keeping alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus. Like all contemplative religious, our main work in the Church is prayer. Each day follows a rhythm of prayer, work and study, with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the focal point and the Hours of the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, celebrated at set times throughout the day. In the monastery we strive to maintain silence both of speech and action, though we do have times each day when we can talk and hang out with our sisters in the community. We only leave the monastery and the 170 acres of our enclosure in cases of necessity and with the permission of Mother Superior.
What a beautiful life, don’t you think? After five years in the monastery, I can attest that I have found deep joy and incredible peace in this life. But I must admit that when I first began discerning a religious vocation as a freshman in high school, “beautiful” wouldn’t have been the first word I would use to describe my idea of contemplative life. Maybe “boring” would be more like it. Seriously, you have the same people doing the same thing in the same place, day in and day out? It must be by a sheer will to sacrifice that those ladies endure their vocation! I could admire that spirit of sacrifice, but I could hardly consider making a commitment to that kind of life myself.
There was something that intrigued me, though, about the cloister. As a young teen, I had a chance to attend Mass at a monastery of cloistered nuns, and I had a deep sense of the sacredness of the vocation: These cloistered women were totally God’s. The desire and call I felt within my heart to be totally God’s like the nuns I had encountered started me on a journey of discernment that would eventually lead me, of all places, to a cloister.
Through my years of discernment, I definitely grew in understanding and appreciation of the contemplative vocation. Still, I would not know until I began to live the life how mistaken my first notions about the cloister were. I have discovered that it is precisely the simplicity, sameness, structure and enclosure of the life that make it possible for those in the monastery to attend whole-heartedly to an awesome adventure: seeking the face of God and entering ever more deeply into his inexhaustible mystery.
This quest of love is the furthest thing from boring. But it’s also hard work! Entering the monastery, I left behind so many things that can be an obstacle to prayer and union with God, only to find myself face to face with the main thing that keeps me from being totally God’s: myself! The monastery is an enclosed garden where I seek and abide with the Divine Lover, but it is also a battle ground where I have to face those desires, attachments and self-centered ways of thinking that draw me away from God. I would say that from Day 1, this battle with myself is the most challenging part of my cloistered vocation. But it is a joyful battle, because it is a battle of love, through which God forms in me that perfect love that unites me to him and enables me to love as he does. Life in the monastery, a simple life of prayer and work, is above all a life of radical love, and this is absolutely beautiful!
Sister Frances Marie is a Passionist Sister of St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, Kentucky.