Purgatorio Cantos 4 and 5

“Enclosure baffles so many people. Even those who love and admire the contemplative life think the importance of enclosure is exaggerated. That is why it must be understood in the beginning.” –Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. in A Right to be Merry.


Not all of us are called to the contemplative life of a cloistered monk or nun. However, we are all called to be contemplatives, and to keep our eye fixed on our end. We are not all called to that which is called “the state of perfection” by way of the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, yet we are all of us called to “be perfect” as our Father in Heaven is perfect. This is the universal call to holiness that belongs to all mankind.


To do so, we must not let the distractions around us keep us from our objective. “Do we go right or left, or do we still climb” Dante asks Virgil. “Take not one step to either side, but follow yet, and make way up the mountain…” the guide replies. In the following Canto (V) Virgil must turn back to Dante and again speak to him, saying “Why do you lag? What has so turned your mind that you look back?…Follow my steps, though all such whisper of you: be as a tower of stone, its lofty crown unswayed by anything the winds may do. For when a man lets his attention range toward every wisp, he loses true direction, sapping his minds force with continual change.”


Most of us live in the world, although we know that our “Kingdom is not of this world.” We must be, as the saying goes, IN the world, but not OF the world. But as Brother Lawrence makes so plain in his “The Practice of the Presence of God,” we must be as near to God at work in the kitchen as we are when at adoration during a holy hour.


We can take to heart what Mother Mary Francis says a little earlier in the book referred to above. “It is monastic life which signifies a monastery, and the fact has no vice versa. The most ‘correct’ monastic building in the world would not be a monastery if monastic life did not pulse within it.” Here, she is referring to the old farm house that the nuns converted into a new monastery in New Mexico in the late 1940’s. But we also may take it to heart. Though we be not part of a monastery, in each of our hearts and minds it must never be said that “monastic life did not pulse within it.” We must not be those who delay, and think, like the foolish virgins who did not fill their lamp with oil, that we will eventually get around to preparing ourselves for the Kingdom which is not of this world.

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