Dominican Life

Good Soil for the Word

Photo of cloistered contemplative Dominican nun at lectio divinaRecently one of our chaplains gave a homily on the parable of the sower, in which the good soil receives the seed of the Word of God and produces fruit a hundredfold. “The good soil didn’t become good soil all by itself. Someone had to pull up the vines, root up the thorns, dig out the rocks.” This is an image of the hard work of eradicating vice in the soul, but it could also be an image of the monastic life, which works on the soul to eliminate obstacles, preparing it to be “good soil” for the Word. As our Constitutions say, “The purpose of all regular observance, especially enclosure and silence, is that the word of God may dwell abundantly in the monastery” (LCM 96.II).

Regular observance includes “all the elements that constitute our Dominican life and order it through a common discipline” (LCM 35.II). By enclosure and silence, the soul is guarded against excessive and worldly input, the “busy-ness” and cares of secular life and the distraction of “many things,” so that she can concentrate on the “one thing necessary.” The three vows of religious life, the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, free the soul from things which are good in themselves, yet may pose a hindrance to the full flowering of charity in the soul. The common life helps smooth off the rough corners; the habit, sign of our consecration, frees us from the thousand-and-one cares of the feminine wardrobe; work and penitential practices help plough the soil of the soul with discipline and a participation in the Cross of Christ.

Yet as Father said, “Without the Word, even that good soil is really just dirt.” The practices of the monastic life not only prepare the soul, but also continually sow it with the seed of the Word. The Liturgy, both Holy Mass and the Office, is a continual immersion in Scripture; plus lectio divina and private prayer, spiritual reading and study of sacred truth, reading in the refectory, “lights” shared by the Sisters . . . not to mention the continual rhythm of the Rosary, bringing ever to mind the mysteries of Christ. Our Constitutions even list the needs of the world and the pleas of those who ask our prayers as a way in which we hear Christ, the Word of God, and let Him bear fruit in our hearts: “We hear him in the Sacred Scriptures; everything in them proclaims Christ. We hear him in the voice of the Church, which speaks to us of him in the sacraments of faith, in the teaching of our shepherds, in the example of the saints. We hear him when the world and our brothers and sisters cry out for our love” (LCM 97.II).

By God’s grace, and with the helps of the monastic life, the soul of the nun can become the good soil which does not remain just dirt, but receives the Word and bears fruit a hundredfold for herself and for the world.