Please accept our apologies for our silence during the past few weeks!
In the meantime we have had a week’s community’s ‘holidays’ – during which work is reduced a minimum and there is time and space for each sister to relax and take some extra rest, engage in favourite hobbies, watch a video etc.

Last week was given over to a course of lectures on St Thomas and his theology of grace.

On Monday next we begin our annual retreat of 8 days – at the end of which we look forward to welcoming an aspirant for a month’s ‘live-in’ experience. We ask your prayers for the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit for her and for the other young women who are discernimg their vocation to contemplative monastic life in our Dominican Order.

We offer you the following reflection:

Is Religious Life just ‘Hard Work’?

Recently I came across a mention on a blog I follow to the effect that some people felt that his presentation of the spiritual life seemed to be one of working our way toward God, almost an endurance test. That got me thinking, since it seems to be a difficulty many people have with the Religious Life – the idea that it is something hard. I remember when I decided to enter I received a number of comments suggesting that I was doing something very demanding, especially since so few are entering nowadays. This impression of Religious Life as a hard thing fails to take into account the fundamental factor involved in a religious vocation – love.

In the first place, from a purely natural point of view, anyone who is passionate about something, regards as nothing what others would see as difficult. To give an example, I would consider 3 hours music practise a day as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ if I had to do it, but for a gifted pianist it is as vital as breathing, because she loves it and, on good days, she is most fully alive while playing. In the same way, my religious life is where I am most fully alive and, more importantly, most fully open to God and in tune with His plan for me – “the glory of God is man fully alive” (St Irenaeus) In fact, that is what Vocation Discernment is all about, discovering that God is asking me to be here, in this place, for Him.

But it can appear to others as just ‘doing things for God’ or attempting to ‘earn salvation’. This is where love comes in. Everyone needs to give, do things for those they love. Think about it – if you were married to someone could you come home from work everyday and watch TV, totally ignoring your husband/wife and never doing anything with or for him/her, except periodically saying (while engrossed in the TV show) ‘Yes, of course I love you, how can you doubt it’. You couldn’t do it. We need to do things to show our love. And the beauty and wonder of God is that He lets us, even encourages us to, do things for Him. We don’t think we’re earning anything, anymore than a 3 or 4 year old who ‘helps’ with the housework thinks that he’s earning anything.

God doesn’t need us to do things for Him but He knows that, for our own sake, we need to do things for Him. First, because we have no other way to express our love, and also because our outward acts form our inward selves i.e. the surest way to become loving is to act lovingly. So my monastic observance (i.e. Daily Mass, Divine Office, Lectio Divina, Adoration, regular prayer times, spiritual reading, charitable acts etc.) helps me become more and more conformed to God and grow in love of Him. Now, God sees our need to show our love by concrete acts, but he also knows that we’re not much good at this loving action and so He gives us His grace, which enables us to “act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God” (Mic 6:8). And this is the most important factor in any Religious Vocation – God’s grace/love. Each person’s vocation is God’s work, He calls us and He gives us the grace to be able to respond to His call – “He who called you is faithful and He will carry it out” (1Thess 5:24) It is in this grace that I live my monastic life and when I make my vows for life I will do so knowing that I can make this vow because God is faithful and in Him my vow rests secure. I do not rely on my own ability but on the strength of God’s grace upholding my efforts. But, and this is important, I must make the effort. To take an example from my own vocation discernment – initially I just prayed that I would discover my vocation and expected God to do everything else. I was waiting for the right Order to ‘appear’. But it was only by contacting Orders, visiting them and praying about my impressions that I discovered where God wanted me to be.

So Religious Life (or any Christian Life) does involve work and effort but it is work with God rather than work for God and so it is in no way hard work.