Thursday, May 5, 2016

Semi-contemplative Snowzilla.

When I first started learning about religious communities I thought they only came in two flavors: active or contemplative. The contemplative communities are fully cloistered and often only leave their enclosure in times of emergency (e.g. for medical treatment or the death of a parent). Active communities often spend enough time in outside ministries that they have full time jobs (e.g. teaching or nursing). I didn't really feel called to either of these lifestyles. Later I learned about active-contemplative combo communities like the Sisters of Life.

At some point during my search, I remembered a friend telling me about a revival of the hermetic life. In other words, one could become a diocesan hermit. This is something like a cloistered "community" of one. Although I didn't necessarily feel called to this life either, I was curious to know more. During my search, I came across a new religious community called Children of Mary, founded by a woman who was originally discerning a vocation to the hermetic life. She had already unofficially lived the life of a hermit for about ten years and came to a point that she desired to make official vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. She received the permission of her Bishop to write up a rule of life and move toward an eventual profession. However, not long afterward the Bishop contacted her and asked if she would consider founding a new religious community, accepting other women to live the contemplative life with her too. And so the Children of Mary came to be.

This is a lovely semi-contemplative community in Ohio that spends most of their time in prayer and manual labor, in other words a largely monastic lifestyle, and a small amount of time in active ministries. I was highly impressed when I read about the Sisters' homeless ministry. When asked to volunteer at a local soup kitchen they agreed only on the condition that they could set up a temporary chapel for Eucharistic Adoration every time they visit. I remembered how our homeless winter relief shelter always seemed to be fighting an inevitable fall from spiritual ministry into mere social work. The Children of Mary Sisters have a fabulous solution to that problem. Their main focus is making Jesus known, loved and adored in the Blessed Sacrament.

A couple of months after visiting the Sisters of Life, I contacted the foundress of the Children of Mary and asked if I could meet the community. The timing was providential, as five of the Sisters were on their way to the March for Life in DC. I set up to meet the Sisters for Mass and adoration at a church in Bethesda, have some breakfast and then take the Metro into the city with them for the March.

The March was on Friday this year so I took the day off and stayed with mom in Alexandria on Thursday night so that I could Metro to Bethesda the next morning. We knew that a monster storm was expected to start on Friday afternoon and I wanted to stay with mom over the weekend. I got to the church before the Sisters and stayed in my pew when they arrived because I didn't want to distract them from their prayers in preparation for the Mass. Since I was the only one to hang around after Mass, they knew that I must be Sarah and one of the Sisters came over to introduce herself and tell me the plan. We would stay in the church for a little over an hour and then move to the school cafeteria to eat our breakfasts.

On the way to the cafeteria I was introduced to each Sister, with a hug! The Sisters were quiet during breakfast, I think they're used to eating in silence. Overall I would describe the Sisters as peaceful and radiant in a way that drew people like moths to flame! So many people of all types came over to talk with the Sisters. On the Metro they each ended up in conversation with a brand new friend and they passed out prayer cards and DVDs wherever we went. I ended up spending about half of the day with the Sisters, leaving the March early because the snow had started and was falling fast. I hugged each of the Sisters and lamented the fact that I had to leave so soon, but I think it was the right decision. I managed to get back to mom's apartment and was snowed in there until Tuesday!

I've heard a lot of religious vocation stories of love at first sight, but I've also heard stories of women visiting many communities before settling on the right one. In the beginning I think searching for a religious community is like looking for a husband. In most cases, you set up your first date based on a vague feeling of attraction and generally decide whether or not to make a second date based on a slightly less vague feeling of attraction. Of course, all of this searching takes place in the midst of intense prayer and is not something that can be reasoned out completely.

I had some really nice casual conversations with a few of the Sisters and got a better idea of their daily life. After visiting the Sisters of Life I had wondered if I might be called to a more contemplative lifestyle, e.g. semi-contemplative. But after meeting the Children of Mary I just wasn't sure. Again I didn't feel any certainty that "Yes! This is the one!" so I decided to keep searching. In the meantime, it has been a huge blessing to spend time with these ladies.

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