April 10, 2020

Cloistered religious in archdiocese offer wisdom for those ordered to stay at home

Members of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute pray before an outdoor shrine on the grounds of their monastery. The nuns in the cloistered community do not ordinarily go beyond the grounds of its monastery. (Photo courtesy of the Monastery of St. Joseph)

Members of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute pray before an outdoor shrine on the grounds of their monastery. The nuns in the cloistered community do not ordinarily go beyond the grounds of its monastery. (Photo courtesy of the Monastery of St. Joseph)

By Sean Gallagher

Stay at home, except for essential business and activities.

That was the order that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb gave to residents across the state on March 24.

The purpose of the extraordinary executive order was to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which as of April 7 had killed 173 people and infected more than 5,500 others across the state.

But this radical change in daily living is the ordinary way of life for members of cloistered religious communities in the archdiocese.

Carmelite nuns at the Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute and Benedictine monks at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad “stay at home” as part of their vocation.

Members of these two communities—Carmelite Mother Mary Joseph Nguyen and Benedictine Father Guerric DeBona—recently spoke with The Criterion to offer advice for Catholics across central and southern Indiana, who are now living a much more cloistered life than they’ve lived before.

Father Guerric is Saint Meinrad’s subprior (third in leadership) and oversees the formation of its novices and monks in temporary vows.

Mother Mary Joseph was elected the new prioress of the Monastery of St. Joseph on Feb. 11, about a month before major changes began to daily life in Indiana because of the coronavirus.

A native of Vietnam, she knows the human challenges that families may be facing now as they spend more time with each other than they’re used to. She leads a community of sisters of diverse personalities and interests from countries around the world.

“The reason we’re able to live together, love one another and grow together is because we make an effort to love one another and accept one another,” Mother Mary Joseph said. “We’re different, but we have the same goal. We’re journeying together and accept one another.”

Seeing love as a choice and something requiring effort is part of Benedictine Father Guerric DeBona’s view on the trials and blessings of living with people who are different from him, people he might ordinarily choose to stay away from.

“One of the challenges of living together is that you just can’t wish the other person away,” he said. “The other maybe more difficult reality is that, after a certain point, when people get older, they are not going to change. They’re going to stay the way they are. Married couples know this.

“The conversion moment, then, becomes how can I accept my limitations and their limitations and live in peace under the Gospel when it comes to the reality that I have chosen. There should be a certain freedom in living in a community. The task is to discover the freedom.”

Father Guerric sees approaching daily life with people very different from himself as a means of growing in holiness. He reflected that, in a religious community as in a family, people of different and even conflicting personalities have been brought together by God for this purpose.

“There is a certain kind of sanctification that goes on when it comes to living the Christian life with people that you didn’t choose to live with,” he said.

The daily challenge of living at home can become a blessing, both religious said, if it is approached with faith and seen as an opportunity to grow in relationship with God and each other.

“God is with us, no matter how difficult the situation may be,” Mother Mary Joseph said. “He is with us. He suffers in our sufferings. And he hears our cries. … This time is a call for us to trust, to believe that God is infinitely loving and compassionate.

“There are many people out there who are suffering. In a sense, we can embrace the suffering of the world and be comforters for them by praying for them.”

Father Guerric suggested that families, like religious communities, mark different moments of the day by coming together for prayer. This can be especially meaningful, he said, as the Church comes to the end of Lent and looks forward to Easter.

“Our liturgical year is what usually keeps us calibrated. It’s our liturgical compass,” Father Guerric said. “If that becomes compromised in a sense that we can’t even get to Mass, what do we do? We become small communities that are prayer-oriented, that create their own schedules.

“We cannot give up on prayer. We have to find other ways of creating a relationship with one another and with God. What matters the most is that our relationship with Jesus continues.” †

 

Related story: Saint Meinrad monk relies on faith and prayer while in Rome during pandemic

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