Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The consecrated cloistered religious life

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published December 11, 2014

When high school kids come here to visit, there is a common theme that undergirds some of the questions they ask. The questions seek some understanding as to why we are set apart from normal life, rarely venturing beyond the cloister, refraining from many sources of the mass media, following the same routine day after day, having a limited contact with people. I suppose that from the outside looking in, this life is hard to comprehend. I try to invite the kids to think about the choices they will eventually make in life, very important choices.

Most of them will meet a special someone and embark with that person onto the road of marriage. Others may find a vocation as a single man or woman, and find the need to preserve the fruits of that choice with the dedication necessary for the development of their chosen profession, be that a teacher, a doctor, an artist. We all eventually find that when we make a move to rouse to life our heart’s desire, we take to ourselves one way of life and set aside other lives, other possibilities.

When I tell the kids how much their parents set aside to love them and raise them, they get the point. Whatever is truly good in life is given us through sacrifice. That word is not one commonly heard in families these days. But there can be no family without the daily discipline that is sacrifice.

Recently Pope Francis set aside a day as a day of gratitude for the lives of consecrated, cloistered religious. The note that our nurse Rose posted on our bulletin board, a note in which she expressed her gratitude for our lives, echoes many such sentiments that I have heard over the years. People are grateful for the choice we made. They are glad that we are here, that we followed a hunch and set out on a road that had for us a vague but real sense of purpose. Like all roads of life, it has long stretches that are tedious, arid, times that feel aimless. But there are also times when the horizon is bright and clear, and we can better see each other and what lies ahead. And so we move ahead, more lighthearted and surefooted, secure in the hope that God called us here because this way of cloistered life is the right one for us. It is not a question of this being a better way, a holier way, a harder way. It is a way offered us by God that opens for us a way of loving that may seem hard, perhaps unusual, to some people.

But I think of those high school kids and their questions. They are at an age when many roads lie ahead of them. Each will have to choose one in the hope of walking a life of meaning and love. For these gifts are what those life roads are about. I hope they choose the way that is best for them.

They will know God’s blessings in this life. Blessings that we know and share and for which we are grateful. We set much aside and in doing so found that to which we can give ourselves. And the church has done likewise in setting aside this day to thank us.

A monk sits with God in this church in the quiet of the night. A mother nurses her hungry baby in the stillness of the early morning hours.

Different roads, different intimacies, different gifts given only when others are set aside.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at