Monastic community on a trial basis

March 29, 2012

The
April 4 issue of the Century offers Ruth Burrows's witness to her life as a
contemplative Carmelite; it also includes an homage to a community
of students shaped by their experience with Trappist monks, which in turn shaped Faith Matters writer Stephanie Paulsell in her
faith and thinking.

Yet Carmelite, Benedictine, Trappist and other
monastic communities find themselves in a precarious place these days, with many
of them closed or closing. Must we lose these Catholic (and Protestant) communities before we
realize that they are a profound presence
to those of us out wandering in the world?

In
the midst of declining numbers, Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin,
dares to pursue a vision for growing an
ecumenical Benedictine monastery. Its sisters envision a community that welcomes
Christian women of any denomination who
seek to live a reflective life in community. Accordingly, Holy Wisdom has kept
its affliliation with Benedictine monasteries, but after years of prayerful deliberation, it cut formal ties with the
Roman Catholic Church in 2006.

Now
the monastery is inviting single women with no dependents to "try out" community
life by becoming a Benedictine Sojourner for six months or more. The community provides room, board
and a monthly stipend in exchange for participation in the community's tasks.

Is
there still a place for contemplative communities? That depends on whether all
of us Christians value these places where, as William Skudlarek says, "members
are dedicated to the work of spiritual growth and who together fashion an
environment in which each can engage in that inner work with a minimum of
distractions." As Christians, do enough of us share this vision? Will there be more
or fewer "places set apart"?