By Mother Miriam
I have heard many stories of the good old days, somewhere between the Depression Era and the revolutionary 1960s, when our Sisters were invited to many Episcopal parishes between the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost to speak about the religious life and lead a novena of prayer with the congregation. They would ask God for increase and sanctification of those called to the monastic life.
The Church has a sense of a variety of personal charisms that includes the monastic life as being a gift of God to balance the active ministry of the laity and the pastoral and liturgical leading of the clergy. Not everyone is called to the priesthood, and not everyone is called to lay Christian service in our parishes. Without a fulcrum of monastic prayer in the midst of the Church, the seesaw between works and faith seems to be more of a guilty tug of war between proving our love for God through our active service of his people or as, the Epistle of James rightly challenges us, letting our service in the Church show our faith.
One of the ways of discerning the health of the Church is the balance of human vocation between clerical, monastic, and lay callings. It is misleading to see the three callings as a ranked hierarchy. However, seeing them as a mysterious trinitarian gift encompassing all human action lends depth and richness in understanding humanity made in the image of God.
Today only a handful of Episcopal monastic communities have more than a single-digit number of life professed members. I hear so often, when I visit Episcopal parishes, “I didn’t know we had religious orders in the Episcopal Church.” It is a sad reality of the poverty of our Church and demonstrates the need to ask God to raise up more vocations, even as we monastics work to share the message of our continual sacrifice of prayer and worship on behalf of the whole Church.
I offer here prayers for the Novena, and ask that readers of Covenant would join with me in praying.
First Day: For an Increase in Numbers and Sanctification
O Father and lover of souls, pour upon your Church the spirit of religious vocation and grant the monastic communities of the Anglican Communion an increase in numbers and sanctification of Sisters and Brothers, to your glory and for the benefit of your whole Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Second Day: For the Call to a Life Consecrated to God
Lord Jesus, as you have called men and women in every generation to a consecrated life, we ask you in our day to prompt men and women of your choosing to offer themselves to your service in the monastic orders of the Anglican Communion. May they answer Yes!to your call, after the example of your holy Mother through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Third Day: For an Evangelical Witness to Christ
Heavenly Father, hear us: We ask that you draw women and men to a life of self-emptying holy poverty, chastity, and obedience under a monastic covenant as an evangelical witness to the supremacy and vigor of the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ and to your glory and praise. Amen.
Fourth Day: For the Raising up of Persons dedicated to the Love of God
Lord Jesus, even as we await eagerly the revelation of the whole Church Triumphant as your spotless and holy Bride, so we ask that you call men and women in our age to live the particular vocation of a vowed life, given wholly to the love of God. Prepare the hearts of these persons by trimming and replenishing their interior lamps with the oil of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fifth Day: For Consecration to a Life of Mediating Healing Love to God’s People
Gracious Father, your Son Jesus calls us to heal the broken-hearted, to dry the tears of those who mourn, to give hope to those who despair, to rejoice in your steadfast love. Call forth from among us Sisters and Brothers to mediate the healing love of Jesus Christ poured out through his Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sixth Day: For Monastic Witness and Dedication for Countercultural Witness
Lord Jesus Christ, who called St. Anthony and the first monks to carry ascetic discipline into the desert and to engage in spiritual warfare, call men and women today to take up single-minded discipline as monks and nuns to carry your gospel message of truth, bringing peace into the chaotic moral and spiritual world of our times. Amen.
Seventh Day: For Inquirers, Aspirants, and Their Families
Almighty and everlasting God, guide and strengthen all inquirers and aspirants to the monastic and religious life. Bless their families, friends, and communities at home with understanding and joy in their choice to explore the possibility of religious vocation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Eighth Day: For Wisdom in Discernment by the Monastic Communities of Our Church
Gracious Father, we ask you to pour gifts of wisdom and discernment on all who share the burden of guiding and evaluating those preparing to enter the religious life. Give them welcominghearts and faith in your guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ninth Day: For a New Anointing for all the Religious and Monastic Orders of the Anglican Communion
Heavenly Father: Renew and strengthen the all the Religious and Monastic Orders of the Anglican Communion in the love of your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ, who continues to draw them to offer their lives in union with his perfect Oblation on the Cross. Pour the oil of your anointing upon them, rekindling the light of love in each heart consecrated to Christ. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints, to join with us in all these our intentions.
Kindle also a similar living flame of love in the hearts of the women you call to consecrated life, so that the religious and monastic communities in this generation may shine forth in your Church to your glory and praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Like most of the monastic orders, the Sisters of St. Mary are looking for a few good women who are
committed to giving themselves unreservedly to Jesus as Lord and Savior in the Anglican tradition;
between the ages of 21 and 50 and in good physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual health;
single and unhindered by familial, financial, or other personal obligations;
seeking to know and serve God alone, first in a life of corporate and personal prayer and then by sharing in the ministries and outreach of the Community;
prepared to consider a lifelong commitment to personal conversion, sanctification, and service within stable community life under the monastic vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience;
open to learning responsible obedience, accepting a common Rule and the wisdom and judgment of others in community life.
If this description brings someone to your mind, pray that the Holy Spirit may open her heart to considering religious vocation in the Community of St. Mary and, if appropriate, invite her yourself to explore this possibility.
I’ve long found it interesting that religious communities put age limits on possible vocations. If you are 50, you may have a vocation; if you are 51, don’t bother. This is an artificial and institutional rule. It ignores the possibility of a late vocation by someone who may bring valuable skills and deep spiritual gifts to a community.
I am often asked why our community declines applications from women over the age of 50. We do so now reluctantly because while it is true that God may call all sorts of folks to his service at any time in their life, long experience has shown the diminishing probability of total life commitment to a new lifestyle as personal preferences and habits become engrained. The reasons behind particular ascetical practices are judged beneficial in American culture at an individual level rather than surrendered to as a communal witness to God’s sovereignty. That may seem harsh, but it is not… Read more »