Poor Clares are cloistered for life inside the walls of their monastery. Even when the current pandemic restrictions are lifted, they will remain inside. Always. We are speaking with the Poor Clares of Montone, Perugia, Italy. We hope to get some advice on how to live during this period of #iorestoacasa [the Italian decree to stay at home].
1) Have you been getting a million calls these days? I imagine people are asking you how to live in seclusion.
“Yes, we are getting a lot of calls. People want to know how we are doing and they want to talk about how their relationships at home are going. Many ask us to pray for them, telling us about their mourning, fears, and bewilderment in the face of so much suffering.
2) The difference between the life of the Poor Clares and the Italian’s #iorestoacasa is that your “confinement” never ends! However, unlike #iorestoacasa, yours is freely chosen.
Really, equating #iorestoacasa with the cloistered life is a bit forced, but we realize that people spontaneously make that comparison. Actually, #iorestoacasa is different, even though it is quite justified. If you experience it as being unable to go out to do what you want, you will feel very impatient and stressed-out. If you decide to stay at home because you care about your health, the health of your loved ones and the whole of society, you will endure it better. However, what is different about our life can be said in one word: vocation. First, with a vocation, the Lord is the leading character. It is he who invites us to a life which is beautiful and full and therefore, fulfilled. We are all sisters first; sisters called by the same Father, although we may come from different cultures and have different origins, ages and sensitivities. We are “Poor Sisters”, that is, we are invited every day to strip away ourselves and our own convictions, beliefs and ideas. We are called to learn how to “lose” ourselves, to deny ourselves and to die so that the other may live. St. Clare of Assisi called this choice “holy unity”, that is, communion. Indeed, we are sisters who are poor, enclosed together and secluded! Yet, we cannot be enclosed without being poor sisters first. How then are we able to accept confinement without end? Only when one enjoys the beautiful life of communion can one respond: let it be forever!
3) Do you remember your first months of enclosure? Was it difficult to get used to the idea that you would be locked in for life?
In reality, one does not enter the monastery all of a sudden. It is always done gradually, step by step. The first step is getting to know one another, being interviewed by the formator, staying at the monastery for short or long periods, etc. At the beginning of the journey, you experience the renunciation of your freedom of movement, your autonomy, work, holidays, etc. One commonly asks: will I be able to remain in seclusion for a lifetime? Every life, if lived seriously, involves renunciation. It is a matter of believing that it is worth it. It is a question of feeling at home, of discovering who you are, of experiencing how God enables you, day by day, to live the vocation to which he has called you. So regarding the question, “Will I make it?” God answers by means of your own life, a life that expands and deepens within the walls of the monastery.
4) Recently, we have heard lots of advice on how to wash our hands, disinfect our houses, even how to bake bread. What about tips on how not to go crazy? When you are confined to forty-five square meters [484 square feet], you begin to feel as though you were living with a “million” people. After four weeks of quarantine, you get the impression your wife has multiplied and is everywhere and that your children have photocopied themselves and now there are sixteen of them and they are everywhere, too.
We don’t have a magic wand! For the sake of truth, I must say that an apartment in an apartment building is not a monastery. Especially in terms of square meters! Many people during the first weeks of their “imprisonment” and social distancing, promised to take up pastimes, improve their interpersonal relationships, contact old friends and relatives and devote more time to reading and praying or whatever. Now, however, we may be accused of being exhausted, feeling suffocated and fearful about tomorrow. Many are alone, mourning for others who are bereaved. We realize that the threshold of depression, or neurosis, is not so difficult to cross. For this reason we think it is essential to cultivate closeness, albeit at a distance, between families, among young people, towards the lonely, the elderly or towards people who are more fragile. A sensitive eye or ear can catch the signs of someone about to collapse and come to the aid of those in the boat who are pulling at the oars. We note that the fraternal call to people, the truth of God’s closeness to his children in tribulation, the exhortation to Christian hope that does not disappoint, all this is a powerful inner fortifier. On the other hand, it is only through God dwelling in us that we can persevere to the bitter end, even when we do not yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.
5) Could you pray for us a little during these days?
You put it nicely: pray for “us”. All of us are in the same boat, now more than ever. Pope Francis stressed this, too. Of course, we may pray for this group of people or that, but we clearly feel, perhaps because of our common suffering, that only by holding on to each other in solidarity, by doing our part, can we look to the future with hope and bear the burden of the drama we are facing now. When we stick together, the weakest among us can “hope by proxy” and lean on those who, having faith, are able to lift their eyes toward heaven, take the others by the hand, whether they are near or far, and raise them up. Sometimes this can be accomplished through the prayers of a Poor Clare, sometimes through the prayers of a mother who does not give up or the prayers of a priest who, despite everything, stays close to his flock. We are all “us”.
Poor Clare Sisters of Montone, Perugia, Italy