They live their lives in a building with very limited access to the outside world. They dress in a simple habit and crucifix. They wear sandals, plain leather shoes, or they go barefoot. They only go outside to receive medical care. They vote by absentee ballot. Their families can visit them twice a year and then only through a metal grate which separates them. Their groceries and other supplies are brought to them by volunteers who place the items in a turntable in the wall so that they can be retrieved without direct contact. Daily life inside is a rhythm of prayer and work in community and in private. There is very little talking, but a frequent sound heard is the ringing of a bell which signifies time for prayer, work, meals, sleeping and waking up. There are no radios or televisions, no computers or tablets, only the sound of footsteps on tile floors. All in all, it’s an atmosphere of peace and quiet.
This is a very general description of what you might find in any one of the thousands of religious houses throughout the world. Catholic women enter different orders of sisters whose lives are dedicated to prayer. There are differences among the orders, but in general each sister lives in a very small and simple room, called a “cell.” It’s usually furnished with a bed, desk, chair and crucifix. The day begins at 12:30 a.m. when the bell rings for matins, or morning prayer. It will ring again for the six other times of prayer which comprise the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. After about an hour of prayer, the sisters return to sleep until 5 a.m. when they begin their day. They attend morning Mass and then eat a simple breakfast, like toast and coffee. This meal is usually eaten in silence, and while standing. After more prayer, the sisters begin their work day. Some orders may sew vestments while others bake communion waferss to bring in money for their support. Others have no regular labor other than to pray. Of course every house has to provide for its own household needs such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, and sewing, etc. For all these sisters, their work is also prayer.
Lunch is usually the largest meal, with homemade breads and soups and perhaps fruit for dessert. Meat is rarely if ever eaten. Then it’s back to work and prayer until vespers which is usually at 4 p.m. A light meal might be eaten afterwards while someone reads aloud from a selection of poems, news articles or books. Recreation follows where the sisters can play games, practice musical instruments and talk. Then they gather again in the chapel for Compline, which is the final prayer of the Church’s day. They retire to their cell where they might read and pray until lights out at 8:45.
This way of life may seem extreme, but for the women who are called to live this vocation, it is a foretaste of what they imagine heaven will be. They care for one another, work together for the common good and offer every waking moment to the Lord. They pray for our world and for all our needs and requests. They pray for peace and for the Church. In their enclosed gardens, the fruit of prayer is a gift to the outside world. I believe these cloisters are like precious gems whose value is beyond our knowing. What a treasure we have in them and in their vocation of love.
“And He said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many ties more in this time, and in the one to come eternal life.”