We’ve always been fascinated by the witness and stories of men and women who live in religious life. They step away from many daily concerns to narrow their focus on prayer and work. Some of those nuns and monks live set apart in monasteries — some of them even in cloistered monasteries.
Now that we’re in an age of social distancing, we’re returning to these stories with a new perspective. What can we learn from religious men and women who have spent their whole lives practicing social distance? If they can thrive in a monastery, and use the space to grow more fully into the people they are created to be, can they teach us how to capitalize on the time we are spending at home?
Sister Mary Catherine Perry is a Dominican nun in Summit, New Jersey, who wrote an opinion piece for her local paper: “I’m a nun and I’ve been social distancing for 29 years. Here are tips for staying home amid coronavirus fears.” The wisdom she shares runs deep and is directly applicable to our lives now that we’re limiting social contact. The whole piece is worth a read, but the three takeaways she offers include establishing structure, being intentional about loving others, and using the time for self-reflection and relaxation.
We’ve been telling these kinds of stories at Grotto for some time now because religious men and women remind us of the lasting and important values in life — that nothing we achieve or earn changes God’s love for us, and that the greatest joy in life is to live in that love. Their lives are testament to the fact that we can strip away everything in a life and if we hold on to that one thing — God’s love — we can find true joy.
Take Brother Paul Quenon, a Trappist monk living in Kentucky, for example. He has written about the monastic life as a reminder that the ordinary is miraculous if we have the eyes to see it. “The daily routine of the monastery eventually levels you to the plateau of your ordinariness,” he says in this video. “Ambition and striving fade into the background, and life lived in God is sufficient.”
Sister Clare Joseph, a Carmelite nun in Indiana, is another good example. She lives in a cloistered monastery with extremely limited contact with the outside world. “We come here and we have nothing,” she says in this video, “but it doesn’t feel like we have nothing. It feels like we have everything.”
So, let’s not be fearful of social distancing. These religious men and women are trailblazers who show us that it’s a great opportunity to deepen our interior lives if we approach it with intentionality. It’s also an opportunity to love one another in new ways — social distancing does not mean social isolation. Inspired by these examples, let’s thoughtfully embrace this new practice so that we can emerge on the other side of it transformed.