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Giving Birth to Contemplation

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

I'm a little insane. Or a lot. I accept that.

As I write this and reflect on my "life choices", specifically my "open-to-life" choices, I'm interrupted (true story) by my son apologizing because he just broke my favourite mug and the chorus of this is why I can't have nice stuff is running through my head.

I am an introvert. I appreciate silence. I like to have time and space to think. So why would I say heck yeah to filling my house with a verily insane amount of people?

At all times. They never leave.

Monastic life calls for deep humility and parenthood draws us to that state. It is where you can be giving more than you've ever given in your entire life, and yet receive neither recognition nor gratitude.

Well, love can make you do some crazy stuff. And believe it or not, I think this may be my path to becoming a contemplative.

Hear me out.

I once read about a spiritual writer, Carretto, who had been living as a hermit for many years. He had the Blessed Sacrament and a goat (for milk) as his companions. He spent his days translating the Bible into the local tongue, and living a life of sacrifice, fasting, and unceasing prayer. You would think that having embodied an existence of reflection, withdrawal, and silence would have him mastering the state of contemplation, far surpassing anyone caught in the clamour of everyday life.

Yet, he relates how his mother had somehow been brought even further in contemplation through her vocation:"Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty 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." (R. Rolheiser's, The Domestic Monastery)

This was a woman immersed in the chaos, the noise, the cleaning, the cooking, the constant pawing of little hands, the ... well, the everything of motherhood. I'm so comforted by this hermit's findings and reflect on them every time I try to bow my head in prayer only to have chubby toddler hands manually prying my eyes open: "LOOK AT ME, MOMMY!!!"

The writer noted some beautiful similarities between the monastic life and that of the home—the domestic monastic life!

Holiness, in large part, is the idea of being set apart. In a monastery or convent, monks and nuns are set apart from the world. They live in isolation and are called to lay their lives at the foot of the cross, surrendering their time, energy, and will.

Mothers of young children are right there with them, laying it all down at the foot of the cross. They surrender their time, energy, and will and can often feel isolated—removed from the world in many ways. They dramatically lose their sense of freedom. For example, it is really difficult for mothers to get out, and even when they do, that time is often limited and still requires that primary consideration be given to the needs of the family.

The freedom to do what you want and when you want is sacrificed and it is hard, hard, hard, but it is a profound offering of love.

“Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom - it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of another.” (Saint John Paul II, Love and Responsibility)

A father who limits his freedom, spending more time with his family, and readily making himself available to his wife and children exemplifies Christ laying Himself down for the Church. When he sacrifices his own will by missing shows, games, web surfing, and downtime in order to respond to the immediate needs of his family, or to simply be present to them, he has entered the domestic monastery.

In a monastery, when the bell rings the monks are required to stop what they're doing immediately and turn to the task to which they are being called. It is an opportunity to detach, to let go of their will; it stretches their heart and teaches them to choose God's agenda over theirs.

Parents of young children have a monastic bell.

For parents, the bell often resounds in the form of the cries (or full out maniac screaming) of a child. It forces them to drop everything and turn to meet the needs of their little one. The incessant chiming of a child who is begging for attention or assistance compels parents to set aside their own agendas and make a gift of their time and energy.

In Saint Josemaria Escriva's, Furrow, a father shares how he offered the sacrifice of his time to mend a toy for one of his children (986), and the saint affirms him, letting him know that it is with that same love that God mends our souls.

I must add that I think mothers can also experience the monastic bell on a physical level in the form of a "let down" (an involuntary reflex ejecting milk).They stop, drop (what they're doing—not the baby) and feed! Simply put, a mother's time is not her own and it is this practice of doing God's will and patiently letting go of our own that leads us to a greater union with Him.

Monastic life calls for deep humility and parenthood draws us to that state. It is where you can be giving more than you've ever given in your entire life, and yet receive neither recognition nor gratitude. Even basic needs will often take second place to the duty of the moment, as many sleep-deprived parents can attest.

Life with littles, like the monastic life, is often scheduled and ritualistic (most young children thrive on schedules) and silence is highly valued ... because we never get any. We even wear metaphorical haired shirts which are actually quite tangible—vestments saturated with spit-up, poop, and other unidentifiable fluids. It is a vocation that helps us practice the call to detachment (another element of monastic life) because our valuables are smashed, scribbled-on, lost, thrown in the toilet, or devoured ... and then found in the toilet. We learn not to get too attached—this applies to our favourite mugs, too ... Grr! And in the end, it's actually quite freeing!

It is said that monasteries are the "power-houses" of the church. In their faithfulness to their calling, I believe that mothers and fathers who saturate their homes in acts of love and selflessness are seriously packing on the fuel, with the added bonus of intimately uniting their hearts to Christ.

For those parents who are living this out, you can't imagine the blessing you are to your family, to the church, and to the world at large.

To those still wondering if this path is for you, you'll have to ask yourself ...

Am I interested in becoming a contemplative?

Stay with us Lord! 

Mane Nobiscum Domine



Carissa Douglas is a Canadian author and illustrator, known especially for her Little Douglings brand—a series for kids in which a group of children is sent on a mission by God with the assistance of a Saint. Carissa is the mom of 14, and a passionate promoter of the culture of life and all things related to this: our awesome Catholic faith. While her kids are busy with school work and projects, she spends her downtime writing stories and illustrating. To follow the adventures of the Little Douglings, visit them here.

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