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Why Holy Cross Needs a Monastery - September 2017

posted Sep 27, 2017, 5:54 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Elinor Reilly '18

As a Catholic and Jesuit school, Holy Cross has certain privileges. We are used to having Jesuits at the school say Mass and hear confessions, as well as teach classes, work in various departments, attend events, and generally act as a positive presence on campus. They participate in a legacy dating back to the school’s founding in 1843, and in one stretching far further into the past. Not all Catholic schools are so lucky; many, particularly those without an affiliation to a religious community, can only occasionally bring in visiting priests and lay missionaries.
The earliest universities were not necessarily Catholic, but there is a long history of affiliations between the Catholic Church and universities. This makes sense; from a practical standpoint during the medieval period when universities first began to appear, the Church had a variety of resources to offer a university, such as the power to grant degrees and legal protection. There is a deeper link, however: the rise of Christianity enabled the growth of science into what we have today. There is a cognitive dissonance in our culture today, where the Church is portrayed by secular entities as the enemy of science and progress. It is remarkable that such critics never question why the Church which is so dedicated to suppressing science has fostered scientific thinkers such as Copernicus, Lemaître, Mendel, Pascal, and Pasteur, as well as running the world-class Vatican Observatory.
We enjoy the inheritance of this religious and scientific collaboration today, usually unconsciously. Even at a small school such as Holy Cross, there is great emphasis placed on the natural sciences, mathematics, and the social sciences. Sometimes it seems that there is too much of this. As a senior about to graduate in the spring, I hear a lot about the importance of a liberal arts degree grounded in both the sciences and the humanities (and less than I would like about the Catholic history thereof). It is always implied that my degree will lead to a fulfilling career making money—after all, we’re regularly reminded that Holy Cross graduates are highly employable and have an above-average starting salary ($50,534 for the class of 2016, if you’re wondering). However, the focus on the material benefits of our education comes at a steep cost.
What is lost with the emphasis on money and success is any mention of what our most important heritage as a Catholic school is: prayer. I hear more about what companies are recruiting on campus than the fact that the body of Christ is present in our chapels day and night, and I get more reminders about meeting with potential employers than I do about going to Mass. It might sound silly, or archaic, but this is the belief of the Catholic Church and the focal point which enables our school’s rich study of science, mathematics, and humanities (and the post-graduate jobs in these fields). By not emphasizing the Eucharist or prayer enough, our school is missing out on a beautiful Catholic legacy, and on a lot of graces needed to lead souls to Christ (the actual mission of all Catholic schools). The solution can only come through prayer. The Jesuits are amazing, but their way of life is not conducive to constant intercession on behalf of the Church through formal prayer, though undoubtedly their prayer for the school benefits us all. What Holy Cross really needs, in addition to the prayer and witness of the Jesuits, is a cloistered monastery of nuns or monks on or around our campus.
The 1999 Church document Verbi Sponsa describes the importance of the contemplative life: “The ancient spiritual tradition of the Church, taken up by the Second Vatican Council, explicitly connects the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus ‘on the mountain’… the cloister is especially well suited to life wholly directed to contemplation. Its totality signals absolute dedication to God...” Cloistered religious life is uniquely oriented toward prayer. It takes only a walk around Dinand, even this early in the academic year, to sense that there is already abundant stress and desperation, and probably not enough prayer (not that there ever can be enough prayer). Even beyond the schoolwork, a college or university cannot be a peaceful place; it is a battleground for the future of our world, whether we like to think about it in such dramatic terms or not. Here too, a monastery would act as a center of prayer for the campus. Verbi Sponsa states regarding this: “A contemplative monastery is a gift also for the local Church to which it belongs. Representing the prayerful face of the Church, a monastery makes the Church's presence more complete and meaningful in the local community. A monastic community may be compared to Moses who, in prayer, determined the fate of Israel's battles (cf. Ex 17:11), or to the guard who keeps the night watch awaiting the dawn.”
As well as praying for our souls and academics, a cloistered monastic community would serve as an inspiration and reminder of what is truly valuable in life, particularly as we grow ever closer to finals/graduation/our departure of this life. “As a reflection and radiation of their contemplative life, nuns offer to the Christian community and to the world of today, more than ever in need of true spiritual values, a silent proclamation of the mystery of God and a humble witness to it, thus keeping prophecy alive in the nuptial heart of the Church” (Verbi Sponsa). Verbi Sponsa speaks of nuns, and there is something to be said particularly for having an increased presence for women religious on campus. The Jesuits serve as spiritual
fathers to many students, faculty, and staff, and having a similar maternal presence could be nothing but beneficial.
The logistics, admittedly, could be difficult. The grass lots at the corner of College Street and Southbridge Street have been sitting vacant since the buildings previously there were demolished. Perhaps it is time for them to receive a new lease on life. Or maybe we can install a new cloistered wing off Ciampi. In the worst-case scenario, there are a lot of floors in Hogan that we don’t really need. As for the new community’s finances, I’d be more than happy to donate the part of my tuition that normally goes to the Spring Concert, and I’m sure many other students would be willing to as well. Many monastic communities sell cheese, beer, candy, or other food items so we could also benefit from having good, locally produced food on campus.
And since there is no contemplative branch of the Jesuits, we will have to invite a religious community of a different tradition. The Benedictines are probably our best option, as St. Benedict, their founder, is a patron saint of students, and St. Ignatius of Loyola had a beautiful experience of prayer and forgiveness at the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat. Holy Cross needs a monastery so that we can return to our Catholic roots. I do not suggest that we abandon altogether our career searching and grad-school applying, only that each of us re-evaluates our priorities. A monastery on campus or just outside the gates is a way to emphasize the importance of prayer and refocus the mission of the school on bringing souls to heaven and not just to Fulbrights. The spiritual and financial investments would be worth every bit.