Christmas is a time that we all live in a special way, but how is it lived in the cloistered world? Is the celebration within the walls very different from the celebration in the streets? How do consecrated persons prepare for the coming of Christ?
The Poor Clares as repairers
The Poor Clare nuns of the convent of San José (Ourense) tell us how they experience these special celebrations.
How do cloistered people prepare for the birth of Christ?
- "We prepare ourselves, first of all, with the Word of God contained in the readings of the Divine Office, Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments... Year after year we focus on deepening our understanding of these very rich texts in order to approach the unfathomable understanding of the mystery of the Nativity of Christ."
In the streets everything is filled with lights, music, flashy shop windows... How can we look back to what is important in this liturgical season?
- All these manifestations of lights, sound, carols, gifts, sweets..., are signs that tell us about an event. From the point of view of faith, the most important. God approaches man by taking our nature in order to save us. The way he does it awakens us tremendously: he is born in a shepherd's cave, he dies (or rather, we kill him) on a cross. Why? "Behold him and you will be radiant".
Do the activities and schedule of the convent change when Advent and Christmas arrive?
- At this time of the year, it is necessary to change our usual schedule to make our work compatible with our contemplative life obligations. It is confectionery, particularly the sweet "panettone", which is very popular at the moment, that requires this adaptation".
What is, from your perspective, the most important aspect of Christmas?
- From our perspective and that of any Christian, faith, the only way to see God, is undoubtedly the most important aspect. Everything makes sense from faith. Of course, we celebrate as in any home that lives with hope, because to this extent God loved man and God does not disappoint."
Do you have any recommendations you can make to prepare us to welcome Christ?
- "Return to the "Word of God" meditate it, pray it, is our suggestion. For example:
a) Read No 3-4 of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum on the divine revelation of the Second Vatican Council.
b) No 48 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church of Vatican Council II
c) Read the book of Wisdom in the Bible.
d) Chapter 12 of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.
e) Finally, "PRAY", pray without ceasing. But how? When it is not possible to do otherwise, with the "desire". "All my desire is in your presence". If you do not want to stop praying, do not interrupt the desire".
Second Visitation Monastery
On the other hand, the Visitation nuns tell us that their "work is to pray for vocations in general, and for the atheistic world we are unfortunately suffering today. Advent for us is a time of greater recollection before the coming of our Savior and Redeemer. The joy that invades our cloisters can in no way be compared to the festivities of bustle and little or nothing that recall these dates".
Mercedarian Sisters of Cantabria
From the Santa María de la Merced monastery in Cantabria, they also wanted to share their experience:
"In a convent of contemplative life, the time of Advent and Christmas, without essentially changing anything, is lived as a dawn, with a new joy and hope. The cradle and the basket of the coming Child are prepared, based on personal acts of virtue, prayers, fraternal services, etc. The liturgy is lived with greater intensity, uniting us to the great expectation of the people of Israel, to the urgent anxiety of our world that, even without realizing it, is longing for a "Savior or Liberator".
All this universal longing comes alive in our personal, community and liturgical prayer. The Gregorian chanting of the "O" antiphons in the immediate expectation of Christmas creates an atmosphere of joyful waiting and expectant silence that permeates our daily fraternal life. Materially, we also decorate our little convent with Advent murals, with prayerful sighs of "Marana tha"Come Lord Jesus", with Christmas music to wake up in the morning, etc.
For us, the most important thing about Christmas is that we live the Birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who takes our human nature to save us and give us an example of life. It is an amazing fact, of an infinite love that reaches such a level of self-abasement out of pure love for fallen man, for each one of us, that it fills us with loving amazement and leads us to an overflowing joy and gratitude that translates into a choral, fraternal atmosphere and also into "extras" of food. For, as the ancient monks used to say, feasts "at Mass and at table".
All this leads us to share spiritually, liturgically and materially with our brothers, with our help to people in need, with attending to visits and phone calls, trying to share our faith, our joy, our gratitude to God Love made Child in Bethlehem.
We are very sorry to see that in many families the faith and Christian Christmas joy is fading away and is being replaced by pagan festivities in which the reason for these celebrations is no longer remembered. Our wish and recommendation to Christian families is that they do not allow themselves to be dragged along by currents that have nothing good and profound to contribute and that family unity is strengthened more around a home table with Christmas carols, the Nativity and the warmth of family, than with so many substitutes offered by today's world that do not lead to the improvement of our society.
To all of you we wish that the Child God be born and grow in your hearts, in your families, in your parishes and in your social environment. MERRY CHRISTMAS TOGETHER WITH THE CHILD JESUS; MARY AND JOSEPH!"
Christmas for all
The cloistered nuns remind us of the importance of fixing our gaze on the essentials during these days of celebration, always remembering that what we are celebrating is the birth of Jesus Christ. The cloistered life can invite us to ask ourselves, together with St. John Paul II: "How was Christ born? How did he come into the world? Why did he come into the world?" (General Audience, December 27, 1978). The Pontiff himself gives us the answer: "He came into the world so that he might be found by those who seek him. Just as the shepherds found him in the grotto of Bethlehem. I will say even more. Jesus came into the world to reveal all the dignity and nobility of the search for God, which is the deepest need of the human soul, and to go out to meet this search".