Our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI proclaimed today’s feast (Our Lady’s Presentation) as “Pro Orantibus Day”. “Pro orantibus” is Latin for “for those who pray”. His Holiness instituted this day of remembrance for all the cloistered nuns and monks in Christendom, a day wholly dedicated for praying for those who pray.
The monastic life has always interested me. Early on, Hollywood films portraying monks in hoods singing Gregorian chant while walking around a cloister or of nuns singing behind grills (Sound of Music, hello!) had always piqued my interest. Fast forward to 2013, I have encountered these cloistered nuns and monks first hand either by attending Mass and Liturgies at their monasteries or by conversing with them at their locutorios or parlors.
Indeed, the former Pontiff was wise and charitable for instituting this day as the monastic life is under grave threat.
Western civilization was preserved, and actually blossomed, thanks to the works of these monks and nuns. Latin, the beautiful, ancient and sacred language of the Church, survived the barbarian invasions of Europe because manuscripts, grammar books and ancient texts were preserved by these men and women. Ancient crafts were perfected by these monks and nuns too such as the production of illuminated texts, liquor (wine, beer, etc), pastries, embroidery, candle making, etc.
Unfortunately, due to Europe becoming more and more atheistic and highly-secularized, attraction the religious life has been on a terrible low. Many great and important monasteries that used to be, for centuries, humanitarian,cultural, religious and academic hubs are now being closed down, sold and transformed into hotels, hospitals, orphanages and even clubs, restaurants and God knows what!
However, after my dialogues with these nuns and monks here in Manila, I realized the great wealth they offer to humanity. Their spiritual depth, their deep faith in the Lord, their broad knowledge in the humanities and most importantly, their genuine relationship to their own humanity are wellsprings of hope, wisdom and yes, charity.
I will never forget my conversation with the Vocation Directress of the Pink Sisters in New Manila. She told me that even if they live within the clausura, even if they are seen behind the grills, they are actually freer! And true! They may not have access to Facebook or Twitter. They may be physically separated from the world. But their deep connection and solidarity with humanity through prayer is immense.
People come to them to share their pains, their sorrows, their troubles and anxieties. People write to them to express their doubts and fears. Random men and women call them and ask for sound advice and even their blessing. Through these engagements, they are more and more immersed into the problems of their fellow human beings. Stories of families being torn apart, of unfaithful husbands, of mothers working abroad, of children being addicted to drugs or of families starving are just some of the many stories they hear from people who flock to their convents. But there are also those stories of hope – of children leaving their jobs to take care of their ailing parents, of teachers who continue teaching even if they haven’t received 6 months of their salary, or of people finding work.
They enjoy greater freedom in the confines of the walls of their monasteries and abbeys. They are not enslaved by the trends of the world and the materialistic mindset of the rest of humanity. They are not driven mad by new models of phones, of new cars and fashions.
But alas, they need all our prayers and even our material help. Some are struggling to maintain their communities because some convents can’t generate enough profit through the sales of their products. Some communities live entirely on donations.
I am very, very fortunate that I live in close proximity to these communities.
The liturgies and the over-all aura in these chapels and convents are amazing. Solemn and bereft of stupid, clown innovations of other priests, Masses and liturgies optimize the great wealth of Catholic tradition. Hymns in some of these communities continue to be in Latin while silence pervades greatly. None of the senseless improvisations and dancing nor the use of the guitar and drums. Here, in these sanctuaries, the Mother of all Church Instruments, the Pipe Organ, continues to dominate.
I hope and pray that more and more young men and women consider the monastic life. It is a source of great meaning and purpose, and perhaps, joy.