I read a reflection in a daily prayer guide that I subscribe to: Give Us This Day. It features articles about saints’ lives, and one such article this past week talked about Blessed Sibyllina of Pavia. The short version: Orphaned very young, she worked as a maid until she lost her eyesight at age 12. She offered her suffering up to God, and was taken in by a Dominican community. She asked to live there in solitude, enclosed in a cell where she could dedicate her life to prayer. The article said “At the age of fifteen she entered the cell where she would remain alone for the next 65 years. Through a small opening in the wall she could attend to the worship inside the church. ” Another small window allowed her to receive pilgrims and penitents. She died in 1367 and was beatified about 500 years later.
Wow. What kind of person does that? Lives alone from age 15 to age 80, in a single room.
I am as introverted as anybody could be, but I don’t think I would be up to that sort of challenge. I can hardly imagine how Blessed Sibyllina coped. I have days when I’d sure like to give it a try, though.
I watched a movie last night: Into Great Silence. It’s about a community of about 15 Carthusian monks who live in the French Alps. It was beautiful. They maintain silence, and are dedicated to prayer, spending most of their time alone, gathering only to pray and chant the liturgies together–when they spoke, it was to praise God as community. There was such a kindness, a joy, and a freedom about their lives. A simplicity and beauty that the rest of the world seems to have lost. It was wonderful to see, and part of the film was to show each individual monk for a brief time, allowing the viewer to look into their faces, their eyes. And wonder who they were, and what led them to choose this life.
I have a friend who is a cloistered Carmelite nun. Her life isn’t as strict as this order of monks is, but still it is so very disciplined and different from mine.
I thank God that there are these men and women who have chosen a life of prayer for the good of the world. They are shining lights for all of us. Their very lives create a place of spiritual centering for everyone. This year, the Year of the Consecrated Life, let us all lift them up in prayer–and pray for more vocations.