The Domestic Monastery

A while ago I stumbled across this article online, but for the life of me, cannot remember how or when. I think these were words that God intended for me to read in my mothering journey. They’ve certainly been like honey to my soul whenever I get restless and discontented in the midst of this precious season of mothering a little one.

“Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking a goat for his food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin language, he prayed for long hours by himself. Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty years of her life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God’s.”

I absolutely love this. I love thinking of my life, as mommy to my sweet little boy and a darling little girl on her way to meet us this summer, as a spiritual exercise in and of itself. It’s easy to get discouraged as the mother of young children, finding yourself at the end of the day having not spent “enough time” with the Lord, yet again, and falling exhausted onto the couch when he’s finally in bed, wanting to just spend time with your husband and go to bed. Instead of having that guilt trip laid on me by the evil one (who wants me to be unhappy and guilt-ridden), I can choose to use the mundane ins and outs of motherhood as an opportunity to commune with my Savior, and a lesson in relying on him as my guide moment by moment. My time is not my own, but ultimately His.

“The mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the “monastic bell”. All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it’s time for that task and time isn’t your time, it’s God’s time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God’s agenda.”

When Isaac is fussing and insisting on being held, or getting into something I don’t want him in, just as I am making dinner, writing an email, or trying to relax for two seconds, or when he wants to play with the soapy water (bubboos!) I am using to scrub the floor… I can choose to seize the opportunity to die to self and become more Christ-like though selflessness and obedience. After all, it was Christ himself who have himself up to the cross for my sake. How little a sacrifice in comparison is it to drop what I am doing to tend to my children with love and patience. How little a sacrifice it is to meet their needs with compassion and understanding, though they may seem trivial or trite, just as my heavenly Father does for me day by day.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it’s time for that activity and time isn’t her time, but God’s time.”

I pray that the Lord continues to stretch my heart in becoming more like Him. I thank him for the blessing of my family so that I can be “set apart” for Him. The rest of the article can be read by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post. It was so good I quoted a fair bit, but it is well worth reading in its entirety.


Published online at Written by Ronald Rolheiser,  a Roman Catholic priest, is the General Councillor for Canada for his order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He has offices in both Toronto and Rome. For most of the 26 years of his priesthood, he taught theology and philosophy at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta. He remains an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University. He has written many books, (won Catholic Book Award in 1996), is a regular columnist in a number of papers, and has articles published in Louvain Studies, Critic, America, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Spirituality and in various other popular magazines.


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6 Responses to The Domestic Monastery

  1. Craig Carter says:

    This is absolutely beautiful and stunningly true! I linked to it and commented on it on my blog. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

  2. Katrina says:

    I think that it may be one of my favorite ones you’ve ever done!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. naomi says:

    Inspiring and beautiful Beth. I am printing this off to keep if ever my turn comes.

  4. P. W. Dunn says:

    This is an amazing post. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Natalie says:

    Wow, great thoughts! I recently read “Passionate Housewives Desperate for God” (& posted about it here: ) and it touched on some of the same things… especially the idea that you have to have a personal quiet time, all alone, as your “time with God”. Such a false, compartmentalizing notion! All our time is time with God, and should be cherished and treated as such… I especially loved a quote in that book, here it is:

    “What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God.
    We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred
    and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work,
    but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.”
    – Martin Luther

  6. Krista says:

    Oh Beth, this is sooo true! I finally got the chance to read this. Thank you for sharing, I think I will link this post to my blog as well.


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