Every day of religious life starts out in mercy. God is merciful to me so that I may in turn be merciful to the other Sisters. How do I experience God’s mercy every morning? Silence. Our rule obliges us to be silent until we open our lips for our morning prayers. I have yet to receive the particular grace of being a “morning person,” so God in his merciful kindness, through our holy rule, prohibits my natural inclination to grumblings and surly comments before I’ve had my first cup of coffee, another of God’s mercies. Fortified by God’s mercy (and a little bit by the coffee) I join the other Sisters in our community for our morning recitation of the Divine Office.
Before entering religious life I had never heard of the Divine Office, or as it’s also known, the Liturgy of the Hours. I knew Sisters prayed a lot, but I was under the impression that each community had their own particular set of standard prayers. Learning that the Liturgy of the Hours is as universal as the Mass has given me a deeper sense of communion with the entire Body of Christ. Praying as a community also helps develop and maintain loving relationships with all the other Sisters of our Order. It’s hard to hold on to petty grievances and irritations while praying “If you are angry, let it be without sin. The sun must not go down on your anger.” (Eph 4:26) The Liturgy of the Hours becomes ports of peace in throughout our busy days.
After Morning Prayers, we walk (or run if it’s raining) across the street to St. Alphonsus Catholic Church for daily Mass. Over the years, our Community has been blest with a handful of generous priests that have volunteered to say Mass in our convent chapel, but our steady source of spiritual sustenance has come from the priests at St. Al’s. Having been a regular fixture of the parish for the last 35 years, a majority of the parishioners are very possessive of “their” Sisters. All of us have “done our time” as Lector, Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister, sacristan, committee member, secretary assistant, money counter, Faith Formation teacher, decorator, and in general, overall glue-like substance filling in where needed.
Splitting off like sparks from the fire, each Sister heads to her own area of our apostolate after Mass. For myself, this means preparing for a day of pounding (teaching) catechism/theology (the idea of God’s love) into irrational creatures (high school students). This year sees the completion of my very first year as a high school teacher and it was awesome. Growing up you always have those few teachers who you become attached to and know you will appreciate for the rest of your life, but you’re never really sure if they feel the same. I am here to say: teachers do! There are particular students whose smile brightens my day and I hope to always remember them for it.
And, of course, there are the funny stories they supply. For example, last year I was substitute teaching for our Mother Superior and during one period the students were quietly working on posters. Well, just at a lull in the gentle murmur of conversation, I heard a particularly "unholy" word! I looked up from my desk and in a concerned voice said, “I heard that!” Now, I had not seen who had said this bad word, but was promptly clued in by the fabulously crimson flush of a certain student. I couldn’t help but chuckle along with the rest of the class at the poor student’s blunder. The student, of course, was immediately contrite and thus, promptly forgiven. Of course, when Mother Superior came back to her class, she had to comment on her “experience of a wave of darkness that saddened her soul” at the exact same time as the incident, which incited another round of ribbing. (I do want you to know that this story is the exception when it comes to the students and bad language.)
At the close of the school day, I head for home with our Mother Superior, who also teaches at the high school. Our drive home usually consists of exchanging accounts of our classes; the good, the bad, and the occasional ugly. The path to sanity, I mean sanctity, is not for the faint of heart, but I am so grateful that God has blessed me with the call to teach, especially to teach our Catholic faith.
Peace reigns again as the Sisters come together for our evening prayers of Vespers and the rosary. The rosary has always been one of my favorite prayers. I have been fortunate enough to have held onto my childhood rosary that has seen me through thick and thin. Saying the rosary as a community is even more rewarding because it’s like weaving a garland of flowers together, as a group. We take what each has to offer, strengths and weaknesses, and present them to Our Lady. Some days, I admit, my portion is pretty limp and wilted but that’s where the community come in. We count on each other to help prop a Sister up when she needs it.
As Mother Superior always says, “Sacraments then food!” or in this case “prayer then food.” All of our meals at the convent are communal, though breakfast is the only one that is silent. Communal meals serve the same purpose as family meals; they strengthen and build our relationships with one another. As religious, we are called to be signs of the heavenly kingdom to the rest of the world, but just as important is being a sign to each other. Sisters need the example of other Sisters to persevere in the life of perfection. Living, working, and eating in community are important aspects of maintaining the quality of our “sign-ship” to the world and each other.
Evenings in the convent are usually pretty quiet. Work is not quite over for a few of us, so this is a good chance to get caught up. Dishes and laundry are finished, papers are graded and lesson plans for the next day are finalized (hopefully), and there is usually a chance for a visit to the chapel.
It's been a good day. God is good and makes his grace abundant in every moment even when we don't always perceive it. Our Night Prayer ends our day with thanksgiving for God's graces and hopeful expectation of his grace tomorrow.