The Monastic Heart

queen annes lace and lake

By Sister Stefanie MacDonald, OSB

What distinguishes monastic religious life from apostolic religious life includes some straightforward lifestyle differences. Monastics pray, live, and often work together. Apostolic Sisters usually do not, at least not as a whole group.

More difficult to articulate is something often referred to as the “monastic heart,” a state of being that embraces silence and a listening stance. Whether you are married, single or a Benedictine Sister, having a monastic heart helps engage you in right relationship with all creation.

When I was living and teaching in Chicago years ago, the constant noise and congestion of the place got old fast. I couldn’t wait to get home to Dubuque, Iowa, to hear … nothing. I couldn’t wait to rest my senses.

Looking back on it, my reaction was evidence of a monastic heart.

There were several clues:

The fact that I craved quiet, seeking it especially in nature and my church’s Eucharistic Chapel.

The fact that I loved to read slowly and deeply, pondering what I read.

The fact that I prayed as I lived and worked.

My lifestyle was – as it turned out – already quite Benedictine, as I followed key elements of Benedict’s Rule.

In fact, the first time I visited St. Mary Monastery, it felt like home!

Surrounded by woods and lake, the grounds offer paths and benches for quiet reflection.

The chapel and Eucharistic chapel offer peaceful haven. And the daily practice of Lectio DivinaHoly Reading – promotes the deep listening that is foundational to Benedictine Life.

Although a monastery is a good place to nurture a monastic heart, you can do so in any walk of life, even in the midst of a busy family. Listening is key.

“The first word of the Rule is Listen,” Sister Marlene Miller says.

Listen with the ear of the heart. We listen to the voice of God in Scripture, in others, in ourselves. But you have to be quiet – not only with your mouth but inside yourself – to listen. You won’t hear much otherwise.”

Sister Mary Core agrees.

“You can have a monastic head – that is, you can believe in the importance of listening and silence – but until you allow it to take root in your heart it will remain simply information,” Sr. Mary says.

“It becomes a lived experience as it enters the heart. We begin to embrace and live the notions of simplicity, respect for others, peace and presence. We begin to embrace and live the truth that we are all children – gifts – of God. Finally, we begin to say to ourselves, I have enough ‘stuff.’ And that’s the monastic heart.”

Want to learn more? Contact me at (309) 283-2300 or smacdonald@smmsisters.org.

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