There is one thing I ask of the Lord
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold His temple. Psalm 26
Praise the Lord for He is good.
Sing to our God for He is loving.
To Him our praise is due. Psalm 146
Let me speak the praise of the Lord.
Let all mankind bless His Holy Name
for ever, for ages unending. Psalm 144
These few verses from the psalms capture and express so beautifully the spirit of our life. We are Benedictine contemplative nuns but there is always a certain mystery about it all isn't there? So, I would like to use this opportunity to share with you the true meaning of our life.
St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that we are all parts of the one body and that the body is not to be identified with any one of its many parts each of which is distinct from the others as an eye is from an ear or a hand from a foot. He then goes on to speak of all the different spiritual gifts that are given to us.
First of all, we have our Bishops who live the chosen vocation of chief shepherd of us all and who witness strongly and clearly to Christ's care, compassion and love for each of us. Then we have our priests, whose vocation it is to minister to the people, together with our bishop, making Christ present especially in the Mass and sacraments and in the many ways in which they serve us the People of God. We also have here many who have been given the glorious vocation of matrimony whereby you witness to God's love manifest in creation and to his creative power as you share in His very act of creation through your children. Others amongst us may have the beautiful call to a professional service of dedication in the single life as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers and so on. Others, again, have the strong and challenging call to be apostolic sisters and brothers, vowed to God and service of us, the People of God, in parishes, mission lands, social services, hospitals, schools, in those who are most rejected in society and in so many other areas. Each of these are wonderful calls or vocations - they are gifts of God and each one is as distinct from the other as an eye is from an ear, as a hand from a foot. We are all parts of the one body of Christ but we all have our distinct and separate vocation within that body.
And so, finally, I come to Benedictine contemplative nuns who live within the monastic cloister. Our vocation also is distinct. It is a call to a LIFE OF PRAYER. Naturally, prayer is an integral part of all our lives and of every vocation but prayer is the WHOLE meaning of our lives. I do not mean just saying prayers (though that does form a very significant part of each day) but rather I mean that we are called to LIVE prayer. We become Benedictine nuns in order to give our lives to SEEKING GOD, seeking to please Him "that in all things He may be glorified."
As Pope Paul VI said when speaking to Benedictines in 1977:
Be what you are.
Yours it is to praise God
and for the sake of the whole human family
to pour out your prayers to the Lord.
Pope Paul VI expected no less and nothing else from monks and nuns in the Church.
Sometimes we hear people say: "What a waste! What a waste of a woman's life!" Or, "She would make a lovely wife or mother!" Could we, for a moment, consider the great cathedrals of the world such as St Peter's in Rome, Chartres, St Paul's, Westminster in London, Cologne, Notre Dame and so many others and ask ourselves how much time, work, money, artistry and labour went into the building of those glorious places? And how poor we would be without them! When we enter there our spirits are touched, we are moved to prayer, to a profound awareness of the transcendence of God Himself and we are lifted beyond the everyday into the world of faith. I repeat, how poor we (the human family) would be without them! In a similar way, Judas reproached Mary because she lavishly poured ointment on to the feet of Jesus. Again, we could say with Judas, "What a waste!" But Jesus did not reproach her. He accepted it because HE IS GOD.
And so, in our vocation, our lives cannot be understood in purely rational terms but from the standpoint of faith.
Just as the great cathedrals witness to God and to the faith of those who built them, just as they call us to prayer and to faith, so too the life of Benedictine contemplative nuns witness
to the existence of God
to the presence of God
to the reality of God who draws the human spirit
to adore Him absolutely and simply becauseHE IS GOD and for no other reason.
You see, there is no meaning to our lives and no meaning to the great cathedrals and no meaning to Mary's gesture unless God exists and He is worthy of total worship, honour and praise. I quote Pope Paul VI again:
In the body which is the church,
there are many members and functions.
Of all these functions
it is that of the contemplatives
to think on the Lord,
to be silent before Him,
to enjoy Him in renunciation and penitence.
There are those who do not understand the meaning of this choice.
But if the Church ever had a function to carry out
it would consist in this:
to join humanity to God.
The prayer that takes place in the cloister
serves nothing else than to
nourish the connecting cord of the converse with God.
Thomas Merton, an American Cistercian monk, whom some of you may have heard of, said that if you want to go to sleep you do not lie down in the middle of a busy city street, you go home and find a quiet room with a bed and sleep there. In the same way, women or men, who are called to the cloistered monastic contemplative life, join a community which is placed in a setting conducive to prayer, a community whose lifestyle also enables them to be free for prayer.
The Church, herself, in her words, documents and guidelines provides the framework which enables us to respond totally to God's call to live a life of prayer.
Therefore, according to our Rule and the gentle instruction of the Church,
we do not go out very often
nor do we take part in gatherings
nor do we teach,
or work in the parish,
because our distinct and separate vocation
in the body of Christ
is to a life of prayer.
One cannot understand or believe in our life unless one believes profoundly in God and prayer. Once you understand that our call is to prayer - prayer of faith, praise, love, repentance and petition, then you will understand why we live the way we live. You will understand why we do not nurse or teach - others in the Body of Christ do this. You will understand why there is much silence in our abbey - because it helps prayer. Why we rise very early in the morning at 4.00 a.m. - because we are called to praise and prayer and this is an excellent time for it. (We retire early in the evening so we do not miss out on sleep.) Our whole life is centered on prayer. By prayer, as I said before, we do not mean just praying prayers but rather living every moment totally attentive to God and to His Will in the spirit of Samuel who prayed: "Here I am Lord, for you called me." And in the spirit of Our Lord himself who said: "I do always the things that please the Father."
This is our vocation:
to be Christ
praying on the mountain
totally attentive to seeking God.
It is very important that you understand that this prayer is for and on behalf of the whole people of God - all of you here, all throughout Australia, New Zealand and the whole world.
As Paul VI says:
Your prayer is for the entire world
and every segment of society.
It is not a selfish and self-centered prayer, far from it...
it is a vital and important apostolate within the whole Church.
The apostolic role that is uniquely and especially yours, as contemplatives,
is the very dedication of your lives to prayer and asceticism.
The Benedictine contemplative vocation is a vital and important apostolate within the whole Church. We sing the Divine Office seven times a day, praising on behalf of all Australians and pleading for God's mercy, returning thanks for all His blessings and glorifying His Holy Name. We also set aside three hours a day for private personal prayer and reading of the scriptures which we call Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina means literally - reading of Divine Things. It means reading Sacred Scripture and praying around it, meditating upon it, contemplating it and praising God.
Within this whole life of prayer, of course, there are practical issues so, we earn our own living very simply by craft work: making candles, leather covers, cards, pottery, icons and so on. We also sell a large variety of books and religious goods which we purchase from around the world. We do this quietly so that we create an atmosphere of prayer because as I said we are called to continuous unceasing prayer.
In short, we are very ordinary, normal women and we fail in our ideals and fall but we keep trying and we rely on God's goodness and forgiveness.
We also have times each day when we do talk together and go walking on the property and we have warm, friendly relationships with one another.
It was to further enable us to live our life of prayer that we moved from Rydalmere in 1957, where we had been established since 1849, and from Pennant Hills, where we had established a monastery since leaving Rydalmere. We left these places because they were no longer conducive to our life of prayer. Rydalmere because it became built out with industry and Pennant Hills with a housing development. We thank God for leading us to this deeply beautiful property, which, as you all experience today, speaks constantly of the wonder and glory of God.
We are eager to share this beautiful gift with all who come here truly seeking God.
On the first paddock, of our property, you will see four timber cottages and two hermitages. These cottages will be open to all who would like to spend a few days in quiet and prayer. We do not offer a holiday setting but a place to pray and rest with God.
Some of our sisters will be there to help or guide anyone who may desire this.
We teach Christian meditation and prayer or we will simply be there to listen, support, guide or serve in any way we can.
You will all be most welcome to share our life of prayer.
You will now understand that our distinct vocation of prayer, in the Body of Christ, necessitates that we do not go out at all except, of course, in an emergency or to doctors, dentists or serious business matters. We only go home to our families in cases of very serious illness or death. I repeat that all of this is because our distinct vocation in the whole Body of Christ is to a LIFE OF PRAYER. We must be faithful to our vocation just as you are to yours. It would be wrong if you neglected your family, your work or your ministry in order to have hours for prayer wouldn't it? So, likewise, it would be wrong for us to neglect our life of prayer in order to take on charitable works or visit our family and friends. We are called to be TOTALLY given to prayer seven times daily and all day long every day! it is our distinct vocation in the Body of Christ.
We are called as the psalmist says:
To live in the house of the Lord
all the days of our lives,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold His temple. Psalm 26
We are called:
To praise God in His holy place,
praise Him in His mighty heavens,
praise Him for His powerful deeds,
praise His surpassing greatness. Psalm 150
Everything that lives and that breathes,
give praise to the Lord.