A recent news article honored the life of Mother Teresa Margaret, foundress of the Carmelite Monastery, primarily for her secular achievements during 83 years hidden behind cloister walls. If you don’t catch the paradox in that sentence, please read it again.
Our secular culture denies the value of many human lives. Mother’s 101 years could be considered “wasted” because her many talents were restricted by her vocational choice. True, she founded a monastery and during her 34 years as superior she touched many lives, but the remaining 49 years were spent in humble tasks largely unnoticed even by her fellow nuns.
When a vivacious young woman enters a cloister, the world cries out, “Why such waste?” This question can haunt the inquirer, inviting him or her to the realization that a cloistered life is not thrown away, but given away — to someone who alone is worthy of such a gift. People today, whether they fully realize it or not, hunger more than ever to believe that such a sacrifice has meaning, and will have its reward, even on this side of the grave.
Mother’s natural qualities alone cannot explain her remarkable influence on others. “I saw her once in the doctor’s office; she lit up the place just sitting in a wheelchair,” a non-Catholic testified after Mother’s death. A recovery room nurse said that Mother’s peaceful eyes drew her even before she learned that this patient was a nun.
At her 100th birthday, people stood in line for over an hour to get a chance to speak with her again, though some had met her only briefly many decades before. These persons saw a woman whose natural talents had been fulfilled, elevated and transformed, not by activity, but by prayer.
Countless people of all faiths have told us that when they drive past the monastery, they are comforted to know that “you sisters are praying for all of us.” For persons who have not yet arrived at faith in God, a monastery remains a beneficial question mark.
More than anything, Mother wanted to live the hidden life of a Carmelite nun to prove her love for Christ. During her last illness, while making end-of-life decisions only one thing was clear: she wanted to come home to the monastery. When the final moment found all of the nuns kneeling around her bed, we didn’t remind her of her accomplishments; we recited together the formula of our vows and the profession of faith, to help Mother renew her consecration one last time.
Had Mother Teresa Margaret managed to remain hidden from the eyes of the world for all of her 83 years in Carmel, it wouldn’t have lessened her spiritual achievement; that so many people actually got to share her long life is almost beside the point. But if her external accomplishments had merited national recognition, and yet she had been unfaithful to the relationship she vowed to have with Jesus — then indeed her life would have been wasted.
About the author: Mother Mary of Jesus, O.C.D. is the current prioress of the Carmelite Monastery.
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