Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review: A Right to Be Merry

by Mother Mary Francis

I read this book back in December. This is absolutely one of my favorite books, certainly of 2013, but probably ever. Sister Mary Francis (who later became an abbess) writes eloquently and lovingly of the cloistered life, sharing with everyone the great joy that inspired St. Clare to join St. Francis in a life of poverty and complete trust in God all those centuries ago.

Before reading this book, I had only the barest understanding of the cloistered Orders, or of any Orders. I was a child in the Church in a time when the monasteries and convents were not discussed much.
Like the Trappists and Carmelites, the Poor Clares form part of the contemplative vanguard of the Church Militant. Their cloistered Order was not founded to care for the sick or the orphans or the aged, nor to lecture to students, nor to convert aborigines in the African bush. They do not belong to any class of society, but to society. The Order of Poor Clares was instituted for the whole world and every man, woman and child in it.
In a word, the cloistered Orders pray for all the rest of us, including those who are unwilling or unable to pray for themselves, those who are feeling most lost and separated from our Lord.
But where is there a more essentially practical Christian than the girl who rises in the night to pray for those who do not pray, who performs with joy a whole lifetime of penance for those who sin and wish to do no penance, who chooses the obscurity of the first thirty years of the God-Man's life rather than the activity of the final three, who elects to dwell with our Lady in a cloud of silence and at the immediate beck and call of her Lord?..
The unique vocation of the cloistered contemplative is to be entirely dedicated to the service of mankind because she is utterly given to God.
Over and over, Sister Mary Francis shows the joyful and enriched lives of the sisters in the cloister.
In one way or another, all of us find ourselves fulfilled and not thwarted in the enclosure. The little outward ways I have touched upon are merely symbolic of the tremendous spiritual fulfillment begun in the cloister and perfected in eternity.
She dwells on the disadvantages of living in the cloister in order to reveal their true necessity and beauty.
Virginity is not only a giving, but a receiving...A woman who knows herself to be completely cherished is a woman of confidence and poise. This carries over into the spiritual life, and gives a Poor Clare interior confidence and spiritual poise in whatever sorrows and trials may lie ahead. She does penance, she may suffer in multitudinous and soul-searching ways. But she knows she is loved, cherished, chosen.
In talking about St. Clare's rule, she touches on obedience but focuses on how St. Clare has ordered the abbess's responsibilities to draw the nuns together in love.
It is the business of the subject to obey her abbess whether she has any personal love for that dignitary or not. But it is not the business of the abbess to get a good grip on her authority and let love go by the board. St. Clare wants the abbesses of her Order to be leaders in virtue and superior to the other nuns in holy behavior. And when St. Clare sets down these norms, she shows how intensely practical and even shrewd she was. For mere authority as such never takes hold of our hearts, but virtues and holy lovableness do.
Her writing on her vocation, on anyone's vocation, was particularly beautiful. While she wrote of her own vocation to the cloistered community, a vocation is the call of God to anyone for the life He has planned.
A vocation is so mysterious a gift, a thing so locked in the inner court of the soul where alone God speaks His wishes, that no one can properly describe or explain it. What can be said is that a true vocation is a call so compelling that a soul must loosen its hold on the dearest and even the holiest of its loves to rise up and follow the summons.
The author's topics were wide-ranging, touching on every part of the cloistered life.
Education worthy of the name is built on integration and correlation of knowledge. It has nothing at all to do with the ability to spout facts like a geyser. Real education brings to flower the seeds of intelligence in the human mind. Intelligence is quite independent of education, it is true (one of the most intelligent women I ever knew was also one of the most unschooled), but education is a cultivation of the intelligence; and the blossoms it produces are just as fragrant in the cloister as anywhere else, and just as necessary.
The thought of this community of nuns, and of all cloistered communities, praying for the world inspired renewed hope in me, a hope for all the pain and anxiety I see in the news and in our lives out here in the world. I don't understand prayer, and I certainly don't understand how the prayers of a cloistered nun make a difference in my life, but I trust that God does and the power and simplicity of all those prayers warms my heart.
Who knows how many chasms of sin are leaped, how many hatreds wilt, how much anguish is softened and consecrated in the world because some have stepped out of the world to begin the work of eternity beforehand? This is the great mystery of God's love by which no credit accrues to contemplatives, but all glory returns to Him who owns it.
Mother Mary Francis's community is alive and well, even growing. You can visit their home page. There is an informative page on the author of the book, who passed away in 2006. My favorite page is this delightful call for vocations.

Though this book is not available on Amazon (as I write this post), it is in print. It can be found in paperback at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. I requested a copy through inter-library loan, but it is one of the books I've put on my wish list. I have every intention of reading this again with my children, hoping it will inspire them to contemplate deeply the vocation, whatever it is, with which God calls each of them.


  1. Sounds like a good book. Dan's sister is a cloistered Passionist nun in St. Louis. We visit her every 2-3 years and it is always interesting to get a glimpse into the cloistered life. Dan asked her to pray after we'd been trying to get pregnant after Catherine for a few months, then I quickly became pregnant with the twins, so we know about the power of their praying!

  2. Oh, I saw it is on Amazon in Kindle format.

  3. H of B, I thought of your sister-in-law, too, as I read the book, because she's the closest person I know in a cloister.


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