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Coming Home from the Monastery

alec vanderboom

My husband is home from a weekend retreat at Holy Cross Abbey.  It's a Carmelite's duty to go on retreat once a year. This was his first time, and really the very first night he's ever spent the night away from home. It was hard to see him off, especially knowing I'd be alone for two nights with Miss Colic, but I was super excited for him.

I told my husband not to have big expectations of himself. Last year, I went off on retreat with big plans to stay up all night at Adoration, etc. Instead, of deep spiritual insights, God really took care of my physical needs. I mostly enjoyed napping and eating real meals for 48 hours after our crazy month long move. I felt a little guilty, until I realized later that same weekend I was newly pregnant with Baby Abigail! God knew I really needed that physical R & R more than deep interior conversations about the purpose of my vocation.

Considering that we are currently on week 11 of colic with Baby Abigail, I told Jon "you might simply really enjoy sleeping through the night at the monastery and eating dinner without stopping to become a human baby swing!"

Jon came home very happy. He said a surprising thing.

"It wasn't that different over there!"

Which was such a cool insight. I've spent so much time longing for a monastery. It seems so beautiful. So silent. So perfect. Who can't rise to heaven with hours of silent, daily prayer? Yet my husband said, it didn't feel that different from our home.

...our home with five, very young, very noisy, boisterous children!

It's the same God--in the monastery and in the Catholic home.

It seemed to me that he got to a very Brother Lawrence place, where pray to God and work for God is very much one and the same. What a beautiful place to be.

We talked about "Silence"--how silence is an interior thing. You can be in a quiet monastery, with nothing but the moo of cows for miles around. Jon said it was so quiet he could hear "the buzzing in his ears." Yet, you can be in a place of exterior silence and still have a whirl of conflict and noise in your own soul. Alternatively, you can be in the midst of a noisy Catholic household with colicky babies crying, doors slamming, and fights over who gets to sit shot gun--and have interior silence.

Silence means listening to God.

And what else do we Catholic parents do all day but constantly plead to God for help in civilizing our unruly and charming children?

(I'm so happy to be in this place where I'm at peace with my vocation. I don't long to be a hermit anymore. Well, only on Sundays and special occasions! Still, I have peace that any spiritual insight the monks gain over in Berrysville is equally attainable right here, in my common Catholic family life. Suddenly, all those annoying things about motherhood--how I never have a chance to finish a thought uninterrupted, how I'm constantly dealing with cleaning human waste products--suddenly seem like a valuable means of breaking my self will. Those Trappist monks work hard at breaking their selfishness, their desire to sleep well, eat well, and get their own way. Meanwhile, I've got a baby--with colic! It's like God freely hands out powerful cleaners to erase all the selfishness in my soul! )

My husband said his weekend was "okay", "comfortable" but not this overwhelming bit of peace like going to a spa or an expensive vacation. He said he wasn't eagerly counting down the minutes until his next retreat. I'm so happy he feels that way. We talked about a yearly retreat being like a "realignment" for your car. After that service, you don't automatically notice a difference while driving your car, but its necessary. Going in for a regular soul "realignment" keeps your vocation on track.

My yearly retreat is in July with the Carmelites. I'm taking Baby Abigail and her all important baby swing to Mount Saint Mary's retreat house. If I set her up in her swing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I'll take a picture.

(PS There seriously is a retreat for every need and for every budget. You can even just make up a retreat yourself with a few hours of Adoration at your local church. Give yourself a "Soul Summer Vacation!" Anyone have any favorite retreat spot?)