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At the heart of the holy preaching

First slide

"Have you ever thought about the monastic life?" The question made me start, and I tried to dodge his gaze: "It’s not a life I understand well," I replied, and the Dominican friar let the matter drop.

Our conversation returned to more familiar ground: the charism of the Order of Preachers, and the desires deep-rooted in my soul. I told him how, the year of my first Communion, my teacher was a religious sister, and I came home declaring I would be a sister, too. With the heart of a child, I believed that Jesus wanted me for his own. No anguished discernment necessary. What could be more beautiful?

Active sisters versus contemplative nuns: the distinction was lost on me (as were the finer points of orthography and worldly wisdom): I scrawled, "When I grow up I want to be a Noun!" in my second grade journal. I came across literature about religious orders, one offering a "Come and See" for ages 17-27. Only 10 more years.

The next decade slowly passed, and I sought to be open to God’s will — today, tomorrow, for the rest of my life. I set off at last, not for the convent but the university, and it was there that I met St. Thomas Aquinas, along with his brethren, the Dominican friars. Throughout this time my early desires started to mature and gradually I realized that I longed to be a Dominican, too.

There was one difficulty: only men can be Friars Preachers; and so, that springtime afternoon, I sat before the desk of one of the friars, not to delve into the "Summa" but to open my soul.

"Have you ever thought about the monastic life?" he asked, and I was caught off guard. Of course, I knew vaguely about the nuns in the order’s history, founded even before the friars themselves. But 800 years had passed since then, and I had never heard of a living monastery of Dominican nuns.

The friar speaking to me agreed that my Dominican attractions seemed authentic: a longing to love God through knowing him and contemplating his truth; a desire to devote myself entirely for the salvation of souls. But how to bring these desires to full flower, to let them bear fruit? I left our conversation not knowing an answer, but certain that I needed to wait, hope and pray.

Again, I went forth to new lands, this time the wilds of Manhattan, where God continued to allure me and speak to my soul. I was happy in my work and the prospect of future studies, but still the question echoed in my mind: If God is inviting me to belong to him, why would I say no?

Another question surfaced too: Why not the monastic life? I began to sense that this vocation, in its essence, lies at the heart of all consecration. Indeed, I perceived that it is central to the very mystery of Christ’s bride the church. For the life of a cloistered nun makes no sense in worldly terms. She exists because God exists, and because he is supremely worthy of our love.

In God’s providence, it was through meeting a cloistered nun in Poland that I finally met my sisters here, and finally discovered that my two desires were really one: to belong to the Dominican Order, participating intimately in its mission, and to live a fruitful yet hidden life at the heart of the church. God was calling me, I realized, to be like those first daughters of St. Dominic, a contemplative nun in the Order of Preachers.

Was that the end of my journey, or was it just the start? Come unto me, the master invites, each day, each hour, of our religious life. What could be more beautiful than hearing his voice and, with the faith of a child, replying always yes? Wherever you go, I will go. Let it be to me according to your word (Ruth 1:16; Lk 1:38).

"Have you ever thought about the monastic life?" Perhaps this is Christ’s question for you.

Sr. Diana Marie of Christ Jesus (Shaw), O.P., is novice mistress for the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. She is a graduate of Seton School in Manassas and former parishioner of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton. 

Note: This article was edited from one that originally appeared in the August/September/October publication Religious Life.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021