When some people hear of cloistered nuns who are “free for God alone,” they imagine that somehow these nuns “turn their back on the rest of us” in order to turn towards the Lord. Not so! Rather than putting the world behind our backs, the cloister and the life dedicated to God enables us to keep the needs of the world in the depths of our hearts, in order to raise all to Him. “In the cloister the nuns devote themselves totally to God and perpetuate that singular gift which the blessed Father [Dominic] had of bearing sinners, the down-trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion.” (LCM 35.I) (Yesterday, for instance, we were united in prayer with those at the March for Life and other pro-life events around the country, interceding for the protection of the unborn.)
While our brethren the Dominican Friars “speak of God to men,” we cloistered Dominican nuns “speak of men to God.” This life of intercessory prayer (or in a wider sense, spiritual motherhood) is essential to our vocation. “In their prayer, the nuns bring before God the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anguish of the people of today” (LCM 45).
Our fourteen-century Dominican brother, Bl. Henry Suso, teaches us one way in which we can bring before God the “sorrows and anguish” of the people of today. As a young religious, Suso converted from a life of mediocrity to a life of great fervor. He fell head-over-heels in love with Our Lord under his title “Eternal Wisdom,” and spent the rest of his days working amid many trials to win others to a life of love for God. In the following prayer from The Life of the Servant (Chapter 31), Suso learns from God how a person should offer up sufferings to God in a praiseworthy manner.
I desire from the boundless abyss of my heart that all the sufferings and grief that I have ever experienced, and, in addition, the painful suffering of all hearts, the pains of all wounds, the groans of all the sick, the sighs of all sad people, the tears of all weeping eyes, the insults suffered by all those oppressed, the needs of all poor indigent widows and orphans, the dire wants of all the thirsty and hungry, the blood spilled by all martyrs, the breaking of their selfish wills by all the joyful and blossoming youth, the painful practices of all the friends of God, and all the hidden and open suffering and sorrow that I or any other afflicted person ever experienced with regard to their bodies, possessions, reputation, friends and relatives, or depression, or whatever any man shall suffer up to the last day—I desire that all this may praise you eternally, heavenly Father, and honor your only-begotten suffering Son from eternity to eternity.
And I, your poor servant, desire to be today the devoted substitute for all suffering people who do not know how to bear their suffering in patient and thankful praise of God, so that I might offer up to you in their place today their sufferings, however they may have suffered. I offer it to you in their staid, just as if I myself alone had suffered it all physically and in my heart as I desired. And I present it today in their place to your only-begotten Son, that he may be praised by it forever and that those suffering may be consoled, whether they are still in this vale of lamentation or in the other world in your power.
Bl. Henry Suso offers this prayer with “the arms of his soul somehow stretched forth to the far ends of the world in heaven and earth.” Our desires too can be extended in prayer to encompass all times and all peoples, especially all those people today who “do not know how to bear their suffering in patient and thankful praise of God,” that even these sufferings may both praise God and win grace and consolation for the afflicted.
Bl. Henry Suso, pray for us, that we may suffer well ourselves, and bear in our hearts to God the sufferings of others!