The word ‘monastery’ conjures immediate mental images. Among them are notions of stability, solidity and timelessness. In the long view of history, however, these associations are not verified. A tramp through Europe brings the curious tourist from one abandoned monastic ruin after another. A reading of the histories of the major monastic orders reveals dislocation and destruction in abundance; sacking of monasteries in Britain in the 16th century; expulsion of monastics from France in the 17th and again in the 18th centuries; ravages of repeated wars as in the destruction of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Casino, linchpin of the German hold on Italy subjected to incessant Allied bombing in World War II. These are just a few examples. And today we see historical evidence of a cross cultural phenomenon in the Dalai Lama and his community of Buddhist monks made to live in exile from their monasteries in Tibet.
Today our community is beginning the process of giving witness to the universal reality of the impermanence of all things. At this time of year the meaning of the adage, ‘There’s nothin’ certain ‘cept death and taxes’, rings very true with US taxpayers. But that wisdom also speaks about the ever present insecurity of life. Things change all the time. People we love move away or die. Jobs are lost. Marriages end. Relationships suddenly go haywire. Fortunes disappear. What we planned for, what we desired, does not come to pass. The rug can get pulled out from under us in so many varied ways and when we least expect it.
An effort has been made on this blog to present the reality of contemplative monastic life within the context of vocation and the life of faith. So here it is. We have just begun to grapple with the knowledge that we will have to move our community within the next two years. The foundation was made here in Esopus, New York in 1957 by six sisters who came from Canada. Three of those sisters were born in the United States but became Redemptoristines in Canada because there was no monastery of the Order in the US. In 1960 the nuns moved into large monastery built to house over forty. Over the years the community failed to reach that size; the building became more and more difficult to maintain and heat; and an aging community found the lack of handicapped accessibility more and more problematic. In 2001 the original monastery was razed and this coomunity of nuns moved into a new building immediately adjacent which was more suitable to its size and needs. All of this was done by the generosity of our Redemptorists brothers, the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation of priests and brothers. We are endlessly grateful to them.
Through these last ten years we have been blessed in this comfortable house filled with light and open to views of the surrounding hills and the flowing Hudson River. All the while the Redemptorists have been struggling in the effort to maintain this large property and the huge former seminary building now a retreat house. Within the last few years they have had to come to grips with this reality and have been in discernment mode, all the while keeping us aware of their considerations. At the beginning of the year we learned of their Chapter’s decision to lease this property and what that eventuality would mean for us. At this time we have no other news to share.
Contemplative nuns take solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Each baptized person is called to live out these virtues according to their life circumstance. Those in vows make a determined and dedicated effort to do so. Our current situation calls all of these vows, the evangelical counsels, into play. We are living the poverty of not owning our own home; of having to strip ourselves for the second time of all the extraneous things we collect in life; of having to suffer separation from the known and familiar, from the place to which we have become attached and the beauty that is all around us. In chastity, we are being called to underscore our singular relationship to Jesus Christ, to cling to Him and to cling to and support each other in the quality of mutual care that is to mark community life. And we are called to live out of the vow of obedience, to follow the call no matter the cost. At times in this process each of us will be asked to cooperate with decisions that may stand in opposition to our personal desires and opinions. This is obedience for the sake of community. Finally this is obedience to the reality of life.
Please pray for the leadership of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation and for this community of Redemptoristine Nuns at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery as we proceed in trust and hope to negotiate new territory on the way to the future.