Our first day in Austria was spent touring the Melk monastery – an ancient (1000 year old) Benedictine monastery.  It is enormous and beautiful, in many ways more impressive than the imperial palace we saw yesterday in Vienna.  Our visit to Melk fit nicely with the book I am currently reading – They Followed His Call by Adrienne von Speyer.  As the title suggests, the book is about vocation, particularly the calling to priesthood or monasticism. The two experiences together help me better understand how religious orders serve the whole church, and really the whole world.

Benedictine Monastery, Melk, Austria

Benedictine Monastery, Melk, Austria

Monasticism is a visible sign of the total surrender to which every Christian is called.  Practiced well, it is also a witness to the joy and freedom the Lord gives to those who trust Him fully. Not every Christian is called to obey a superior, but all are called to obey scripture and the promptings of the Spirit.  Not all Christians are called to celibacy, but all are called to holiness in their sexuality.  Not every disciple is called to poverty, but all are called to put their treasure in the hands of God.

Von Speyer emphasizes that a call from God is intensely personal, speaking to the deepest longings of a soul.  But it is also bigger than the individual, belonging to the whole Church. I like this paragraph.

One is not called as a private person; rather something in the Church is called up in the person which awakens to a new liveliness…. He has already been integrated before he knows into what.  And when he confesses from now on, he does it as one called.  His errors no longer belong to him alone; they are a sign of a disorder which his new life situation cannot tolerate. His responsibility has become much greater, not on account of what he is, but on account of the surrender of himself about to take place: the seminary, the order, his new vocation cannot use him if he is like that!  Like John the Baptist, he “must decrease.”

I have found everything von Speyer says here about a calling to religious life applies to domestic life, and this makes sense as marriage is a sacrament.  I can no longer be like that because that hurts my children.  My sins are no longer my own because they wound my husband. The truth is that most of the spiritual growth, repentance, and healing I have experienced in the past twenty-five years have come through the pressures of domestic life. 

Thomas and I love the words of a 20th century German Catholic German priest, Fr. Kentenich. He says that marriage is the strictest monastic order.  Practiced well, I believe he may be right.  Thanks be to God for the rigors of our callings!