There are two parts to this post, connected by separate. I place these back to back.
As a child, I had the privilege of being taught by nuns all through primary and secondary school. I also had nuns for some of my classes in college.
Most of these nuns were not only highly educated, some with Master’s and Doctorates, but were good women, full of charity and mercy. A few were the typical, Blues Brothers type of harridans, who obviously were not happy women. However, only a few—
In my adult life, I have been close to many nuns and sisters. Sisters, by the way, is the technical name for women in active orders, while nuns is the technical name for cloistered religious women. Religious in this context means women under vows.
I am a “religious” as I have made vows. However, as a consecrated woman, I live in the world, rather than in a convent or monastery. Again, technically, a convent is a place where religious women in active orders live, whereas cloistered religious women live in monasteries.
Benedictines, for example, live in monasteries. However, the terms have become interchangeable in modern times, confusing the reality of the life these women live.
As a consecrated woman, I am a bit like a duck out of water in the world. However, this is part of the penance of the lifestyle, as all the consecrated women to whom I have spoken in the past several years, would love to live with other consecrated women and have community of some sort not only for companionship, but for support.
It is hard to live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Holy Mother Church in the world…almost impossible except for grace. Grace is a necessity is one is living alone and trying to live out one’s religious vocation.
I like living with nuns, or sisters, and have quite a bit in the past several years. For while, I was in a contemplative order trying out a vocation therein. I could not manage the physical hardships of the order, and I had to leave. It was my decision, but I knew I could not keep up with the long hours of physical work, as well as the strenuous prayer times. I loved being in this order and cried when I said I was leaving, but I had to admit my own lack of physical strength.
I lived with an active order for half a year, and that was another wonderful experience. In both cases, these nuns and sisters knew how to love one another—they had communities of true charity.
Under the schedules of the day, I thrived. It was wonderful to be living with other scheduled women, obedient to the bells and times of prayer, work, eating, recreation, being alone.
However, I think I can say that the most important reason for being in a convent or monastery is the mutual support, usually unspoken, of just living the life together, seeking holiness though a rule, and putting God first in one’s life constantly.
Imagine living with people who want to be saints.
I miss this support dearly, and struggle on my own as a consecrated woman, not even having a group of such to meet with now and then. I only know one consecrated women in all of Great Britain, and she is a hermit. I know more in the States, where this vocation seems to be more accepted.
One of the best things about living with nuns, sisters, or consecrated women is the keeping of the custodies. Custody of the mind, the heart, the eyes, the imagination, custody of the ears…
One day in the convent, at the mother house to be exact, I was running to the shower down the hall when I passed two of the sisters. I did not have my slippers on. The next day, I said to one of the sisters, “I am sorry I did not have my slippers on in the hallway.”
She replied, “My dear, we do not notice things like that, as we keep custody over our eyes.” I smiled and was grateful that these sisters had learned not to look or pay attention to things or people which were not their business. It would have been the business of the novice mistress only to point out to me that I should be wearing my slippers when outside my room (cell).
A young friend of mine had never heard the term which I learned in primary school from the good nuns, “custody of the eyes.” This means that one never looks at anyone or anything which may cause sin.
It means, as the good sisters told us students, lowering your eyes and not looking at a beautiful woman or handsome man, an expensive sports car, or a mansion, if these things or people could cause sin.
Of course, custody would cover wasting time with useless news, gossip—custody of the ears— and trivia.
What would have happened if, instead of listening to the serpent in the Garden of Eden and instead of looking at the apple, Eve would have rushed over to Adam and asked his help not to be concerned about that apple? My guess is she and Adam would not have sinned.
From the Book of Job, Chapter 31:1
I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
Custody of the eyes means not staring and letting one’s self fall into sins of lust or envy. It means focusing on God and His Love.
Custody of the eyes means not going to movies which will increase lust or ruin your imagination. It means not reading gossip or indulging in porn. Custody of the eyes is a discipline a child can learn.
It means minding one’s own business. It means paying attention to goodness.
Now, the greater discipline is in the head or the mind. Custody of the mind means not dwelling on trivial thoughts, or daydreaming, or letting the tape of negativity or criticism play in one’s head.
The custodies demand two things—one, grace and two, discipline. We must learn these if we want to become saints.
I am working on custody of the mind and imagination. The internet does not help…And, because of years of bad habits, I asked God for the grace of custody of the mind.
I know He will answer this prayer.
Living with nuns and sisters makes all of this battle for purity easier. How wonderful it is if one can live with those who desire nothing but to love Christ, and become more Christlike.
I cannot thank those nuns and sisters enough for what I learned from them, not merely by words, but by example.
The same goal should be that of a married couple—to lead each other to holiness, to help each other become saints.
When one is alone, like myself, the fight is much harder, which is one reason I am vowed, as the grace of the vows helps one. Still each one of us should ask for the graces to have the custodies.
I miss my fellow women travellers on the way to heaven. Until God decides another path, I have to struggle on my own, like so many consecrated women in the Church.
JMJ, pray for us!
God is good,