I wish you could have seen it.
It was a few minutes before this year’s Chrism Mass. I had stationed myself near the front of the Cathedral, ready to capture the opening procession with my video camera.
Then, to my surprise (and to the surprise of the hundreds in attendance), an unexpected group of visitors made their way down the church’s center aisle.
Heads turned. Eyes widened. Neighbors were nudged. Smiles spread across faces. For the first time, the cloistered Carmelite nuns were in the house.
An extreme calling
It’s been fascinating to watch how the Carmelites have been received in our diocese since their arrival March 19. Most conversations go something like this:
Me: “I took pictures of the bishop locking the Carmelite nuns in their new monastery today.”
Friend: “Locking them in?”
Friend: “For how long?”
Friend: “Wha…? Forever? No.”
Me: “Yeah. It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”
Friend: “What do they do in there?”
Me: “They pray, mostly.”
Friend: “Right. But what do they
Me: “I mean, they do manual labor and stuff, but they mainly pray for the diocese.”
You see, my generation isn’t accustomed to seeing (or knowing) a fully habited nun, let alone a
nun who is fully habited. Disbelief, shock, discomfort and confusion are common responses when someone learns of the Carmelites’ radical lifestyle for the first time.
But instead of recoiling in uneasiness and judgment, perhaps the best way to approach this new, unconventional model of the religious life in our diocese is an attitude of openness and wonderment.
There are many things about the cloistered life that 99 percent of us will never fully understand. The skull on the table? The straw mattress? The wooden clappers in lieu of an alarm clock?
All these secondary things cloud our ability to appreciate the vocation of these women for what it truly is: a unique and extreme call to holiness, humility and obedience. It’s their path to strive to become saints, to get to heaven, as all of us are called to do.
How do the Carmelites affect you and me? The example of their simple lives is meant to inspire us. Their intense prayer is meant to sustain us. Their joyful presence is meant to encourage us.
It’s okay to call their way of life extreme. Because it is extreme—in the true sense of the word. Their life is far from ordinary, yet exceedingly great. But can’t something extreme also be beautiful and attractive?
Honest questions answered
I recently had a conversation with a friend who has been involved in organizing the Carmelites’ arrival in our diocese.
“I was a doubter,” he admitted.
Why invest the time, effort and resources to bring in a group of nuns who never get to physically interact with anybody? They can’t do service projects. Will they become a burden to the local community?
Those who have met the nuns are starting to realize that, regardless of their unique lifestyle, the nuns are
—with personalities, hopes, fears and families…and an intense confidence in God’s love and care.
“They want to do something for you,” he said. “Share your prayer needs with them. Whatever you put in that turn* doesn’t just sit there. It’s dealt with that day.”
He leaned in, a tear streaming down his face.
“I was skeptical. But I was wrong. We are
to have them.”
He was speaking from experience. Now, he’s a believer.
“I’ve been told that God answers the prayers of a Carmelite nun
. It’s true. I’ve seen it.”
I wish you could have seen it.
Kurtz has been director of communications for the Bismarck Diocese and editor of the DCA since 2012. He resides in Bismarck with his wife, Stephanie, and one-year-old son, Elijah. Follow him on Twitter: @CathVideoDad.
*Turn: A device found at the public entrance to a cloistered monastery through which visitors can communicate with and pass items to the nuns.
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