Contemplative vs Active

At St Cecilia's yesterday, I had the chance to discuss with Sister the similarities between the active and the contemplative vocations in the Church. We agreed that it is a mistake for someone to flee to an enclosed order in the hope of "peace and quiet". The routine of most enclosed orders is quite onerous, sometimes even gruelling, ordered as it is by the bell, and occupied with many hours in chapel chanting the Divine Office. The time for other tasks is quite limited. A project such as a translation or a short book can take up all the spare moments of the life of a monk or nun.

That is not to say that the enclosed life is without peace. St Augustine defined peace as the tranquility of good order. The enclosed life lived according to a rule can certainly provide for that. But it is very different from what a certain Latin teacher in Rome once described as "sitting in the sun with your thumb in your mouth and your mind in neutral."

As a priest working in a parish, it is easy to be ill-disciplined in the use of time and it is vitally necessary to prioritise tasks according to the demands of the apostolate whilst giving first place to the life of prayer. (A good book on the priority of the interior life is Dom Chautard's "The Soul of the Apostolate".) The priest or active religious (and indeed the lay person wishing to live a devout life) can find it very helpful to adopt, with due flexibility, a "rule of life" where times for prayer and work are given their proper place. It can sometimes be helpful to live by the bell in the active life too - even if it is a custom chime on a freeware clock programme!

The challenge for all of us was put simply to me by the Carthusian Novice Master. He said "We're trying to live the Christian life."

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