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Andrew Fritz, C.S.C., ponders the subtle monastic lessons his mom taught through her example.

Contrary to what you may think, as a contributor for CatholicMom I actually don’t know a whole lot about motherhood. And to be honest, I never thought of my mom as running a monastery when my sisters and I were younger. But recently, I have been thinking about how this summer, families and parents -- either knowingly or unknowingly -- are living monastic lives. 

This year, the summer schedule is slower. The ‘usual’ might have been quite packed: summer swim team practice and early morning swim meets. Club sports games in the evening, tournaments on the weekends, but each week there was built-in time at home every Sunday after Mass sitting down for a late brunch to relax. As if we put on the front door of our house a big sign that read: “Do Not Disturb. This time is family time.”

Yet this summer, there are no swim meets to race off to, no practice to go to, no vacations planned, no club sports to keep busy in the evenings. And Mass at my parents’ home means attending the church online. 

All of this has made me think about the subtle monastic lessons my mom taught us growing up. For my family’s activity was, and still is, predicated not on a singularity of activity, but on a singularity of intentionality and commitment. 

Let me explain. A monastery is full of men, full of women, who profess a vow of stability -- they remain right where they have been placed. This is the community they are called to. Not that one. Not another one. But this place. This community. With these people. 

Forgoing the freedom to create and abide by their own daily rhythm reflects this vow of stability! “This is the rhythm of this house ... and this is how our community will spend each day.” In a monastery, monks wake up early in the morning to pray Bigils (sometimes before 4:00!). The day has begun. Meditation usually follows, with breakfast, time for reading, and prayer. Lauds and Mass at 7:00 am. Then the work day commences. Work until midday. A brief break from work for prayer, lunch, and lectio. Work resumes for the rest of the day until silent dinner, community meditation, Vespers and Compline at 7:00 , and then the day has ended. Great Silence from 7:30 pm until Morning Mass. 

The schedule my family abided by may not on the outside have looked at all like a monastery’s, for there was definitely no such thing as a dinner in silence. However, I can guarantee that Mom set the schedule with the same vow of stability in mind: “This is the rhythm of this house ... and this is what we spend time doing each day, this is how our community will spend each day.” Commitment to this place and this family meant she could not just revoke the obligation and choose that family, or choose a different schedule. For the schedule was based around this intentionality and commitment of doing what this family values, even if at times such a schedule seemed like it was killing her. 

In the end, every vocation is monastic to the extent that it calls forth from us a choice to be stable. To be here, and not there. I look back now and think the greatest impact my mom made in nurturing my vocation to religious life was her powerful daily commitment to that monastic rhythm. My home has always been a monastery, you see, not because the schedule was like a monastery’s, but because of the intentionality and commitment to that schedule that marks the monastery. In the end, what makes a monastery a monastery in the first place is that each day monks only do certain things because each day there are certain things they do, and other things just don’t fit in with their way of life. 

By committing ourselves to exactly where God has placed us, maybe this summer can be as teeming with activity as other summers -- even if the schedule is at a slower pace. I believe that coronavirus hasn’t imposed on us a monastic mentality. Rather, hasn’t it always been monastic -- whether summer, fall, winter, or spring?

The same faithfulness which drove the monks through the mundane routine of prayer, work, study, and rest is the same faithfulness which drove my mom to do the certain things she did. Because the family was her monastery. Her way of saying Vigils? Waking up before we all did to prepare lunches for school. Her Lauds? Driving us to school, or to swim practices and swim meets in the summer. On Sundays she took her time of rest -- after Mass between the hours of 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. In the evening, dinner, with everyone unwinding meditatively from a full day. At the end of the day, Vespers was watching a lacrosse game on a summer evening. At night before bed, Compline sufficed to be spoken in the short form: “Good night, I love you.” Then into the Great Silence, to ponder how God had broken into this family, this schedule, with these people throughout the day.

Every vocation is monastic, to the extent that it calls forth from us a choice to be stable. #catholicmom

Copyright 2020 Andrew Fritz, C.S.C.
Image: Pexels (2020)