Why Do The Handmaids Have To Be Contemplative and Cloistered?
“Why not help priests directly?”
“Wouldn’t it be better if you had a ministry of helping them concretely?”
“Can’t you assist priest more than by just praying?”
“How does living in papal enclosure make this kind of prayer for priests more efficacious?”
These are natural questions people have about our vocation as Handmaids of the Precious Blood and how we live our mission to strengthen the priesthood. The answers can be found by looking at Jesus Christ during his life on earth as well as his Mother, Mary.
Christ in Prayer in Solitude on the Mountain and in Gethsemane: Union with God the Father
Christ himself, in withdrawing in solitude to the mountain to pray to his Father, demonstrated to his Apostles a unique way of being in union with the Father. He showed that this was an action he desired and, in a sense, needed in order to nourish his active ministry on earth. Since the earliest days of the Church, individuals have felt this call to follow Our Lord in this way of prayer and have been given the grace to do so. It is not an escape from the world but a direct journey to the Father as led by Christ himself.
Christ in His Passion: Death to Self For the Sake of Resurrection
Handmaids, in living the contemplative and cloistered life, purposefully order our lives in such a way that we are dying to self. This is not done for merely penitential purposes, even if reparative for others, but primarily because this is a death to self for the sake of Resurrection. Too often, we tend to think of the Passion of Christ as just his suffering and death and forget that it would have all been meaningless without the victory over sin and death itself in the Resurrection. When we lose our lives, as it were, for the sake of Christ, victorious in his Resurrection, we gain far more than we have given up by worldly standards.
Helping Best In Hiddenness like Mary
By looking at the first Handmaid of the Lord, Mary, we see additional aspects of the contemplative and cloistered life highlighted in a specific way. Our contemplative and cloistered life is intended to stand as a lasting tribute to Mary, Mother of God. United to her spiritual motherhood for priests, we strive to imitate Mary, to be clothed with her virtues and to live by her Divine Spouse, the Holy Spirit.
In our fully contemplative and cloistered life we can easier go ‘straight to the solution’ living a life of impetration before the Blessed Sacrament on behalf of souls everywhere, especially priests. We do so imitating Mary who chose in her humility to remain largely hidden despite her importance in the life and ministry of her Son, Jesus. Our separation from the world allows us to enfold the needs of the entire world in our prayers because we are no longer limited by our physical boundaries of ministries, attending to our mission on the spiritual plain.
Cloistered nuns do not hide to be away from the world but rather to embrace a life lived totally for Christ. When we do that successfully, we are able to bring all the world’s problems before him in petition offering our own trials and sufferings for the sake of others. We do this especially for priests in spiritual need but exclude no one from our prayers. It is our job, so to speak, to bring each soul before our Lord for his healing and help in their lives that only God can truly provide. When we go straight to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we go straight to the source of the solution to every problem presented to us in prayer requests.
Silence, Suffering, and Surrender in Imitation of Mary’s “Fiat!”
It is true that Mary would have been the perfect priest. But Jesus did not choose this for his mother. Instead he asked for her remarkable ‘Fiat!’ to join her ministry to his in such a way that was tellingly marked by silence, suffering, and surrender that led ultimately to the foot of the Cross. How was it that, after initially fleeing in the Garden of Gethsemane with all the rest of the Apostles, the Beloved Disciple John, representative of all priests, was able to stand beneath his dying Master in fidelity to the end? Perhaps, because the strength given to him by the witness of Mary, Mother of Priests? Her role as a spiritual mother to all of us, and of all priests, was played out in a specific way when she walked the earth and our life as Handmaids is structured to emulate her manifestation of that silent, interceding, pleading motherhood. No one helps priests like their Mother, Mary and we are just striving to follow her example. The contemplative and cloistered way we live enables us to do that “par excellence”.
Explore several rich Church documents that reveal the richness and beauty of the cloistered life as well as other websites:
- Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) October 1965
- Venite Seorsum (The Contemplative Dimension of Religious Life) March 1980
- Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) March 1987
- Verbi Sponsa (Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns) May 1999
- Eucharistic Adoration For The Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity 2007
- Vultum Dei quaerere (Apostolic Constitution on women’s contemplative life) 2016
Please visit our Visitation Policy page for a practical explanation of the implications of our life of papal enclosure and how it impacts day to day visitors, guests at daily Mass, those stopping by to pray in our chapel, women wishing to explore a vocation with our community, and those wishing to lend a helping hand about the grounds and buildings.