Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Domestic Monastery

I came across this at another blog, which by the way – is humbling and inspiring. It was born out of a truly tragic and horrific story and shows the marks of a woman who truly know Christ through suffering. I do not know her but I wish I did. She did not write the article but shared it and maybe you have already seen it but I hadn’t so I thought I’d put it here.
This reflection is wonderful and it’s something that all mom’s – especially the variety of mom that is home all day, every day with children – should think about.

Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-
century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara
Desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking
a goat for his food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin
language, he prayed for long hours by himself.
Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a
startling realization. His mother, who for more than 30 years of her
life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a
private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.
Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this.
What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he
had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that
there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been
doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amid the
noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a
monastery, but so had she.
What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart
for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a
place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that
time is not ours, but God's.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery, teach us those
things. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of
monasticism in these words: "But they, O my God and my life, will
see and experience Your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and
become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus
enabling themselves to experience and enjoy You." What John
suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery - withdrawal
from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.
Although he was speaking about the vocation of monastic monks and
nuns, who physically withdraw from the world, the principle is
equally valid for those of us who cannot go off to monasteries and
become monks and nuns. Certain vocations offer the same kind of
opportunity for contemplation. They, too, provide a desert for
For example, the mother who stays home with small children
experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is
definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from
the centers of power and social importance. And she feels it.
Moreover, her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of
the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with
the mild that is, to attune herself to the powerless rather
than tothe powerful.
Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what
St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called
the "monastic bell." All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in
writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the
monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go
immediately to the particular activity (Prayer, meals, work, study,
sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that
they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter
they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang.
The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to
the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you
want to, but because it's time, it's God's time. For
him, the
monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by
always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda.
Hence, a mother rearing children, perhaps in a more privileged way
even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her
will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while rearing
children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in
second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out
and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times
during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and
respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that
activity and time isn't her time, but God's time.

The rest of us experience the monastic bell each morning when our
alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the
day, not because we want to, but because it's time.
The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and
altogether trustworthy. But there are different kinds of
monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with
the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty
can be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and
working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a
monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

By Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in the Seattle, WA, The Catholic Northwest
Progress, Jan. 18, 2001.

My only thought to add to it is that we must not spoil our children in our own attempt at self-denial. Sometimes the best thing for them is to see that Mom/Dad/Brother/Sister is a person too and they have to wait to have their need met. Frequently though telling them to wait and then living with the fallout can be much more difficult then giving in to them. So it probably comes out in the wash. It’s a wonderful reflection to keep in mind during these difficult and demanding years.


  1. Such a great article after our BS discussion. Thanks for posting.

  2. Food for thought! Thanks for sharing that :)

  3. The author of this who refers to young children as "the mildest of the mild" has clearly not met my daughter, who having just learned to walk proved that she is a toddler today at mass. Lovely article nonetheless.

  4. Love it. I was just thinking about how many times a day I stop in midstream because I hear baby sounds. Or don't hear them, which is equally alarming. My daughter definitely kicks the self-will outta me.
    (Steph 'Byrne')