A vocation to the contemplative life is always a mystery because it is a gift of Divine Love. One asks: how do I know? The first step is to ask God, the Giver of all good gifts, for this pearl of great price. To make your own the deepest desire of the Mother of God: "Let this be done unto me!" The following is the story of one of our sisters. Young women between the ages of 18-33 who are interested may contact Mother Abbess via e-mail.
Why am I here? Because God chose me. Because God knows how to love. Surely that is the root of His call in my life, a most unexpected invitation. Unexpected in that I grew up in a non-religious atmosphere. I never saw my parents attend a church.
But God knows how to love. At the age of nine I found a small booklet in my mother's bureau: a child's lives of saints. Twelve saints, all women, sketched in a few paragraphs any child could read. I stood electrified. Who were these women? Therese of Lisieux, Agnes of Rome, Clare of Assisi: twelve women who had glimpsed the face of Truth and tossed all else aside. As I turned the last faded page, I was convinced of three things: Jesus was God, the Catholic Church was founded by Him, and I wanted to live as these women had lived.
Those shining faces followed me into adolescence, as I plunged into biology, chemistry, and physics, convinced these would provide the key to understanding the confusing world around me. Instead I found myself overwhelmed by the grandeur of the universe, by the utter impossibility of there being no creating intelligence at its center. Questions pressed from all sides as I watched drugs devour more and more of my friends. What were we to live for? Is there a meaning to man's existence? Or is it only a cruel farce? --a brief flicker of anguish before disappearing into an endless night? Those faces engraved deep in my memory called out the answer.
Because God knows how to love. And in loving one, God loves all; in choosing one, He chooses all. The following two turbulent years of long discussions and arguments with my father culminated in the unimaginable day when I knelt beside my father as he, my four brothers and I received our first Holy Communion. In another two years I would kneel before the cloister door asking admittance.
Yes, God chooses each and all of his children anew in every young woman He calls to the cloister. The contemplative sister is a symbol of that Divine Love which squanders all for each. This is the first lesson of the cloister: our lives are for all men. Here all are responsible for all. The cloister is not a flight from reality and responsibility, rather it is an immersion in the Heart of Christ, which constantly cries out to His Father the names of us all.
Clare of Assisi teaches us how to hold to our hearts the miseries and sufferings of an entire world. Yes, "she teaches," for we feel our Mother very much among us here in Eindhoven. A new foundation is always just that: the Order coming to birth again. New wine in new wineskins.
You ask perhaps: "How can you call clinging to an ancient monastic tradition 'new wineskins?" Are you not rising in the middle of the night to pray?" Yes, eagerly, for God is there. "Don't you fast everyday of the year?" With relish! "Aren't you clothed from head to ankle in a traditional Franciscan habit?" Blessedly, the better to tell the world we are Christ's. "And you stay continually inside those walls!" Delightedly, for the All is here.
Only that which is eternal is forever new. And the unchanging language of love is totality. Insofar as monastic tradition speaks that tongue of total self-donation is it forever new. New wine in young hearts made increasingly capacious as tradition tutors them in love's native tongue. Such totality knows no limits of time or place. Unencumbered by the codes of comfortable conformism, it can span entire oceans as well as centuries.
People often ask, "What can we do for you?" little suspecting that they have already done the most possible. They have believed. The worried mother who asks prayers that her son pass his exams or the young woman whose marriage is crumbling: they have understood that the Poor Clare can help them by praising God in the middle of the night. These have witnessed to their faith, and a personal witness to one's own faith is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
Prayer and praise and high spiritual joy mark the hidden life of the cloister. Prayer lifts up the day and it blesses the night. If the daughters of Clare are asked if all this is not too demanding, they are quick to reply that none of it is too much if your heart is large enough.