Yesterday I wrote a blistering piece about the role of women in Church and society but decided to sleep on it before publishing it in iBenedictines. I’m under no illusions about the reach of this blog, so it wasn’t exactly an exercise in ‘damage limitation’, more a ‘do I want a permanent record of my anger?’ self-questioning. Anger is a fleeting emotion (for me, at any rate) but can be destructive, especially when it achieves a kind of permanence in the written word. Self-questioning in such contexts is good and valuable, and I often wish some bloggers would think more and write less. (That applies to me, too, but I do try to be constructive and polite, wimper, wimper.)

There is a point, however, where self-questioning passes into self-doubt and I’m not so sure about the wisdom or advisability of that. When one feels entirely alone in perceiving an injustice, self-doubt can cripple one’s ability to act. One is not going to change the way in which the institutional Church overlooks or undervalues the contribution of women (despite many fine statements to the contrary) but perhaps quietly upsetting a few ‘apostolic apple-carts’ will ultimately achieve more.

So, I leave you with the question that prompted my anger yesterday, though I won’t tell you why the question arose. Would anyone really care (and I do mean really) if contemplative communities like ours no longer existed? And before anyone gives the stock answers about ‘hidden witness’ and all that, please ask yourselves the even bigger question: what do I really believe? The answer might surprise you.


22 thoughts on “Self-Doubt”

  1. My personal response is that I would care hugely…….that the knowledge of communities whose JOB is prayer is one of the greatest supports for me as a parish priest whose own prayer time and commitment is often squeezed by urgent trivia, though I don’t have a direct link with any, nor do I ever actually get around to asking for prayer for particular people or situations…I just feel that the church and her ministry is richer for your presence.
    Thinking more widely – I hope and believe that most of the CHURCH would share this view…but beyond? who knows….

  2. What you do is important.
    I was a frustrated Christian prior to becoming involved with Queen of Angels here in the US. I was raised with the knowledge of stability, but, could I follow through with it?…no.

    There comes a time in life when God calls us to a newer and more refreshed approach to approaching the throne. There are times to think and contemplate rather than waiting to the end of life or a crises and ponder how one got there?

    We are raised to be people of action. We aren’t encouraged to think enough, examine scriptures, etc. I am thankful there are those who spend their lives doing that as a career. It challenges me to see things differently. To understand where I fall short. I need that humbling.

    If all the world practiced Benedictine, the world wouldn’t have to suffer so much.

  3. My sister is a benedictine nun. My prayer life is shallow but my life is so full of grace and I know it is due to her prayers. It gives me such comfort to know that she prayers for me and my family before the blessed sacrament as it fills me with such hope. Please pray that at least one of my sons will become a priest then I will be truly blessed. ( and also for a religious amoung either my sons or daughters). God Bless you, You are the power house of the church and a sign of contradiction.

  4. Well, I would care if contemplative communities like yours no longer existed. When my wife was in hospital, I was blessed to find your prayer help line. I also asked the Poor Clares of Arundel and the Carthusians at Parkminster to pray for her, and knowing that so many good and holy people were praying for her was an unbelievable comfort for me, and her recovery was certainly helped, too.
    I think we tend to take for granted contemplative communites, just like we do our priests and nuns. It would be good if people showed their appreciation more often, as religious folk are just as human as we are, and recognition of the contribution they make, eventhough it’s hidden most of the time, does make it all seem worthwhile. And let me assure you, your work is worthwhile indeed. I, for one, am most grateful and thankful!

  5. One of the prayers in the mass — Pax — that strikes me each time, if I understand it properly, is “look not on our sins [as individuals] but on the faith of your church [as a whole, your Body]”. Contemplative communities bear a special witness to that faith for all of us. It’s not the only way, but it’s a long-time-tested way. It focuses for all of us, even though our lives are differently configured, some of what’s realistic and possible (as well, therefore, as what can be vulnerable), in terms of community life, and the interaction between prayer and work — trying to find God in all things.

  6. I agree with the other commenters that I personally WOULD care if these communities were no more.

    However, I think in the world at large, there would not be much of a reaction. (I mean in the wider world, not just that of the Catholic Church.)

    There may be dismay at orders leaving and beautiful convents/monasteries being converted to some other use – a wistful nostalgia at what had been lost.

    But in reality, I think few people in the wider world understand what contemplative orders actually do or if they do learn about it, what value it serves.

    Imagine for a moment what an atheist might think about someone whose whole life is dedicated solely to prayer….!

    However, to be honest, I think even within the Catholic Church, many people do not know much about or understand contemplative orders. There may even be resistance to it by some people who feel these communities were in the (distant) past a convenient place to ‘dump’ inconvenient unmarried daughters or ‘fallen women’.

    Myself, I don’t remember ever having contemplative orders discussed during my many years of religious education at convent (!) schools. My own knowledge was all gained from my own private reading of material on or by people like Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux and understanding from that what their lives were like.

    I continue to find it fascinating and greatly enjoyed the films ‘Into Greater Silence’ about a Carthusian monastery in the Alps and ‘No Greater Love’ about the Carmelite community in Notting Hill in London.

    To be honest, I think many people would struggle to understand what the contemplatives’ place is in the modern (secular) world, even some Catholics.

    I am sorry if my answer is a downer but it’s a topic I have often thought about myself, worrying about how so many convents/monasteries are populated by ‘dwindling’ numbers of mainly older people with their numbers not being replenished fast enough to maintain these places as going concerns and the remaining religious having to make the decision to sell off their convent/monastery and move to smaller modern premises……..

    On the other hand, this experience is perhaps more anecdotal than universal – the Oprah Winfrey Show recently featured material about a convent in the USA where there is an amazing influx of young women. I was really quite astonished as it is so opposite to my experience/view of convent admissions in the UK / Ireland.

  7. Thank you for these thoughtful responses. The Nashville Dominicans to which Golder referred are indeed bucking the trend, and as readers of our web site know, we ourselves are very keen to get larger premises as we have applicants but nowhere to give them a proper novitiate. However, in the general scheme of things, I think contemplative communities come very low down. Part of me is quite happy with that; part of me definitely isn’t. Maybe I’ll devote another post to explaining why, but not today!

  8. As someone diserning a contemplative vocation it would matter to me enormously if such communities failed to exist. As to your hanging – bigger – question – we are surely called to align ourselves with the will of God as far as our openess to the Holy Spirt enables us to do so. This is true for everyone and we all fail to a greater or lesser extent because we are sinners. The contemplative life is just one of many ways of responding to God’s individual summons to our hearts. If the Lord wants contemplatives to exist and to continue to exist they will if we listen to that still small voice. In comparison to the will of God, the relevance of the contemplative life to current, transient cultural norms seems small beer to me.

  9. Sisters,

    If one part of the Benedictine body suffers from blisters, all the other parts share its suffering. But I’d sense that the act of compostion was valuable of itself, even without publication.

    “Would anyone really care?” Simples. Yes.


    1) The prayer and hidden witness that others have commented on above;

    2) The public witness of the life that “keeps God always before the eyes”: a model for all of us who try to live according to the spirit of the Rule.

    Thank you for allowing us to share something of your life, received as cyber-visitors to the monastery.

  10. Well I have never had a Nun friend before and you are my first one!

    I think the contribution you and others like you make to the church and the world is enormous and significant.

    Being consecrated to God (forgoing many everyday things we all take for granted) and devoted to regular prayer, yet still being so normal and real with such wise things to say helps others immensely.
    I have discovered the monastic tradition only recently and have benefited so much already.
    My faith has developed into a far more contemplative spirituality and as such I feel drawn closer to God.

    So I would care … hugely

  11. I am so glad you are here and I am so glad I found you. I don’t expect ever to be a Benedictine nun, being a wife, mother and grandmother, but I do thirst and long for a rhythm of prayer and work and love and study. I do my best to discern at the moment how to bring all this in my life. Knowing that you pray for all of us gives me courage to pursue my dream.
    Thank you.

  12. There are heartbreaking losses of significant and beloved institutions, architecture, of links to our past and our catholic heritage. An ongoing secular cultural tsunami it seems erodes so much of what is of real value of our cultural and religious treasures.

    I don’t exactly understand what is at issue here, what underlies the self-questioning/doubt, but I do understand the great value of contemplative communities, from a personal standpoint and would wish the world did as well.

    I myself believe monastic contemplative communities act as a beacon of exemplary spiritual practice, are as a spiritual oasis for those who seek respite from their inner desert. They are the beloved custodians of catholic christian culture. I’m sure they represent much more than I know.

    When everything else seems to be falling apart in the world it does the heart and soul good to know that the love of God is kept burning at the heart of contemplative communities, that love and goodness still have a place and are the way forward.

    I would say that if only one person in the world remained who truly believed in and practiced the contemplative life, however diminished in the view of the world, however difficult is made his or her path, that that person should not despair but continue living in the ideal way of putting Christ above all else. It is what God calls each of us to do that matters, not what the world or the hierarchy says and does.

    ~ “Would anyone really care (and I do mean really) if contemplative communities like ours no longer existed?” ~ I think the question is intended of a more specific ‘some’ one(s) rather than anyone.

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  14. Would anyone care? Yes, of course, there are many individuals throughout the world who would grieve should the contemplative establishments disappear.

    Perhaps the question actually being asked is, would the world at large care? My inclination is to say that most people would not explicitly notice their disappearance; but we would notice, over time, that something had gone out of the world: something important, something vital. Even to those who do not believe in God, contemplative, meditative silence – the opening of one’s mind to a state of active, receptive engagement with what is around one’s self – call it “reality” or “the universe” or what you will – is a vital part of human life. With the incessant din of modern life, such contemplative silence is found less and less in our lives; yet is something we must have, whether we know it or not, if we are to be fully human.

    The closest I’ve ever come in my own life to experiencing a contemplative silence was the time, many years ago, when I attended a recital by Andres Segovia at Massey Hall, in Toronto. The hall is acoustically superb, but very large, and was filled to the rafters. Segovia played his acoustic guitar without amplification. The music was beautiful, but very faint; and all the attendees had to listen with the utmost attention to hear it. I’ve never before or since experienced such a powerful, active, engaged silence, as together we listened to Segovia so beautifully play Handel and Scarlatti. To have been myself part of such a shared, engaged silence was a deeply moving experience.

    So, would the world miss the contemplative establishments? Perhaps explicitly, no. Some people, I’m sure, would even rejoice: there’s always someone, somewhere, who will celebrate the diminution of humankind. But implicitly, would humanity miss them? Yes, absolutely, even if it couldn’t find the words: because the loss would be real, and significant. I, even at my most doubting moments, treasure the fact that there are places and people who practice the silence I experienced briefly that afternoon in Toronto.

  15. Most thoughts and words have been used but perhaps the heritage of women in the Church has not been given the pre eminence it deserves. The bravest of all Christs followers were women, the first to see and believe in the resurrection, the martrydom and torture of so many caused their early persecutors astonishment.
    I believe the Church is scared of women and their fortitude and bravery. Why are we so afraid of women priests? The argument about authority doesnt bare scutiny.

  16. I would really care as well–especially in terms of Holy Trinity Monastery in East Hendred. Thanks for raising the question and thank you for who you are as a community and for all you do.

  17. You are ‘watchmen on the walls’ too. All contemplatives are intercessors for the world as well as yourselves. The choir is for you what the altar is for the priest and you join in the angelic chorus daily in His praise, and I believe that God has called you to this because He thinks and deems it important that there are some whose vocation is to fulfil this task.
    Who are those that question the neccessity of this work? Truly whoever they are whether they care or not is irrelevant, what is important is that you have and continue to do, and to be, what God has asked you to do. God cares too.
    Of those who doubt your relevance – it really says more about them and their understanding of vocation and of the Faith. For example those who advocate a female priest hood talk abou the fact that they don’t feel they are considered capable…they might indeed have (humanly speaking) excellent attributes, but God has not called them to the presbyterate… a point which many signally fail to register.

  18. I completely believe that God calls specific people to be given to Him fully on Earth. So, this is what I have to say…Would anyone care? God would care because he called you and all the other religious to live a life totally focused on him. The world would care because without the convents & monasteries full of individuals called to pray, there would be an umimaginable loss of peace and hope that many people don’t even notice is there. They would notice if it were gone. I would care because I feel that sense of peace knowing that there are those whose faith is strong enough to give up everything to live a consecrated life to God in obedience.

    That said, the church does not give the respect and honor to you that you all deserve. The religious communities keep the church running through their constant prayer…where would we all be without you??

  19. I only found you yesterday !
    On caring for your way of life : YES I do.
    My first introduction to the meaning of contemplative life came via reading Thomas Merton when I was in my teens. Wow! I hoped that someday a female version of Merton would “appear”. There are some but I don’t think they always get credit, not that they would seek it. Sister Wendy Becket’s book on Prayer is wonderful. St Francis of Assisi and his relationship with Clare are pointers to the sacrifices love makes for God and the rewards ! I am in awe of your way of life and immensely respectful of what you do. I think that social networking has revolutionised your mission and that this is the way forward for your communities talents. If some would argue that this saints the singularity aspects of contemplative living then we have Merton as an example – he did communicate to the wider world and we are all the better for that. I often wonder whether his impact would have been greater or smaller if he had access to the internet. As a woman I applaud your way of life and yes, I get angry too with the way communities like yours are treated patronisingly by male dominated visions of church.
    Hey ho ! God bless you and I look forward to more dialogue !!

  20. Thank you, everyone, for these thoughtful and constructive comments. If I say everything has been said, it’s only a half-truth because there is always the possibility of fresh insight and understanding. I hope, however, that you agree that it is worthwhile to raise these questions and listen to one another’s answers.

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