Sunday, March 2, 2008

Monastic Motherhood

Have you ever felt like you've lost yourself in motherhood? Maybe you looked at the clock one day and saw it was noon when you realized you had changed dirty diapers, bathed children, made breakfast and lunch, cleaned up the messes from breakfast and lunch and dressed the children. But when you looked in the mirror you noticed you hadn't yet brushed your hair or teeth and your own stomach was growling? I've been there too and that's why I found the following so encouraging. It gives new perspective to the Christian Mom. Thanks to my friend Bonnie for sharing it with me.

Be blessed!

Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half
century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara
Desert, alone with the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking a goat
for his food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin
language. He prayed for long hours by himself.

Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a
startling realization. His mother, who for more than 30 years of her
life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a
private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What
this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had
been doing living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was
something wonderfully right about what his mother was doing all these
years as she lived the interrupted life amid the noise and incessant
demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for
monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a
place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that
time is not ours, but God's.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery teach us those
things. For example, the mother who stays home with small children
experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is
definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the
centers of power and social importance. And she feels it.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what
St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called
the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in
writing his rules for monasticism told his monks that whenever the
monastic bell rang they were to drop whatever they were doing and go
immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study,
sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they
respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they
were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind
was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you
were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because
it's time, it'sd God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended
as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your
own agenda to God's agenda.

Hence, a mother rearing children, perhaps in a more privileged way
even than a professional contemplative is forced, almost against her
will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while rearing
children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in
second place and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out
and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times
during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and
respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that
activity and time isn't her time, but God's time.

The rest of us experience the monastic bell each morning when our
alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the
day, not because we want to, but because it's time. Response to duty
can be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and
working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a
monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

By Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, Seattle, WA

The Catholic Northwest
Progress, Jan. 18, 2001.


  1. Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Computador, I hope you enjoy. The address is A hug.



  3. Hi there Jennifer,

    i admire your fine writing.

    As i was reading your fine post, i came upon a point with which i do not agree, and which is one that i find important to point out... in my opinion of things, at least.

    You have said there that monastic life is about a life of powerlessness and "letting go" and "putting your life in Gods hands".
    It seems to me you think there is no real sense in a monastery, and that it is like a vacation to a tropical beach, where you drink a nice cocktail.
    I believe that the monastic life is a lifestyle which is oriented towards union with God. The people that go there, are seekers, who want to go further. There is a clear aim. This may appear like vacation, but it's not, i believe. They also work there 6 days of the week, some from morning to evening, others day and night.
    Many of them believe that this is the summum bonum of all human life. The reason of human existence is an important philosophical topic.
    I disagree with the view of it being about being powerless and uselessness.


    i hope to read a reply of you

    belgische groeten,
    Mark Huijbrechts

  4. Mark,

    Thank you for commenting on my blog entry "Monastic Motherhood."

    Let me first apologize for the possible misunderstanding that I was the writer of the article of which you took interest. I too was impressed with the article and therefore posted it on my blog for others to ponder as I had.

    However, I appreciate your shared thoughts and would like to respond.

    My appreciation of the article stems from the link it makes between that of one in a monastery to that of a stay at home mother.

    The article refers to Carretto, a leading spiritual writer of the past half century who lived as a hermit. It highlights the lesson he learned from looking back on his own Mother's life but makes it clear that he didn't believe he had not done anything wrong by living in solitude. He merely appreciated that his Mother could be more contemplative than he when she had lived in the midst of chaos and he in solitude.

    It's interesting that such extreme environments could produce such similar results when the right perspective was kept in mind..."that our time is not ours but God's."

    Just as I don't view Motherhood as a vacation, I don't consider the Monastery as a vacation either as you implied I had. Perhaps they are two different means to arriving at the same discipline of living a life of surrender and sacrifice that consistently point one back to their Creator.

    You said, "I believe that the monastic life is a lifestyle which is oriented towards union with God." I agree. My perspective is that Motherhood too can be monastic in it's own right.

    PS. Most Stay-At-Home Mother's work seven days a week, 24 hours a day per necessity.


  5. Hi Jennifer,

    thanks for reading my post and replying to it.

    ah yes, i had not read it correctly, i had not noticed the link in the writing. The link is there.

    i agree there is a sense of monasticism in motherhood.

    and i agree, the mothers can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. hats off! :)

    tot ziens,