The cloister courtyard of the Dominican Nuns’ Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park
‘Entering into the desert’: St. Dominic parishioner called to monastic life
September 22nd, 2015
St. Dominic parishioner Lise Faus is entering the Dominican Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, a story parochial vicar Dominican Father Isaiah Mary Molano covered in an interview posted on the St. Dominic blog Aug. 26 at http://blog.stdominics.org/2015/08/26/entering-into-the-desert/. Father Molano asked Faus, who begins a path of consecrated life that could culminate in professing vows as an official member of the Order of Preachers, “what led her to this beautiful revelation.” The edited interview is reprinted with permission of St. Dominic pastor Father Michael Hurley, OP.
Who are the Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery?
From Corpus Christi’s webpage: “We are Dominican Nuns who live a life hidden with Christ in God. We accompany our Dominican Family Friars, Sisters, and Laity in the Order’s preaching mission for the salvation of souls through our silent presence, prayer, contemplation, community life, study, and sacrifice in the heart of the church within the Western Dominican Province of the Order of Preachers.”
In my own words, Corpus Christi is an opportunity to enter into the desert more deeply in order to root out vice and grow closer to God. The daily life is structured around the chanting of the Divine Office. We come together to pray seven times a day. There is also private prayer, work, study and community recreation time. There are regular observances of fasting and a life of poverty lived in solidarity with the poor in the world, and much more.
What intrigues you about monastic life?
Where do I start? Asceticism, simplicity, discipline, silence, solitude, community? The most intriguing aspect of the life for me right now is simplicity. I recently emptied my apartment of furniture, my closets of clothes and my desk from useless stuff I have shoved in there through the years. The purge was exhilarating, like a refreshing bath. To be free of material possessions is true freedom. I surmise in the years ahead the intrigue will change. Of course, the obvious intrigue is Christ and answering His call. I know deep down this is exactly where I am supposed to be. God is rich and life in Christ offers abundance. It is an opportunity to become a spiritual athlete to exercise the beatitude “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
How did your family react when you told them that you wanted to enter a monastic community?
They weren’t surprised. They rather expected it and were very happy for me as they sensed my happiness even though some are not supportive of my religious beliefs.
Could not a person be holy and pray and all of that while outside the cloister?
Absolutely, that’s exactly what the sacraments are for. Mass, frequent reception of the Eucharist and confession are freely given by God for our aid in growing in perfection. Father Xavier used to say show me your check book and calendar and I will tell you what kind of person you are. Spend your time and money with eyes fixed on heaven and you will become holy. However, it is very hard to do in a world wrought with distractions such as technology, Internet and consumerism. It is necessary to withdraw from the world to hear the voice of God above the racket. Frequent retreats such as a few days at the New Camaldoli Hermitage Big Sur can be helpful in refocusing priorities. If not the time or money, then spend more time in adoration; it is like putting Miracle-Gro on your soul.
Do you not think that you will be isolated or confined by living on the same property with the same people for the rest of your life?
The thought has crossed my mind. However, there is a room with a changing view; it is the journey into the heart. Instead of journeying into the world or finding space in the material plane there is space to be found in the broad heart of Christ. It is the paradox of the narrow way. It really isn’t narrow.
What do you think your 20-year-old self would say to you today about this decision?
“Stop in the name of fashion, don’t do it!” I loved clothing and style, shopping, looking good and worldly honors. I would have never in a million years dreamed of giving it up for a life of wearing the same thing every day, which is how I would have summed the monastic life up back then. However, I suspect somewhere deep down my inner 20-year-old would secretly respect my choice.
What is the one thing that you are most looking forward to? What is the one thing you are most dreading?
The one thing I am looking forward to is resting in Christ without the constant worldly distractions and dizzying busyness of money and materialism. I am looking forward to just being rather than doing.
There is nothing I dread, really. The only thing I know will be a challenge, but one I am actually looking forward to for the fruit it produces, is the rising of my appetites and sinful will. The life demands a renouncing of the world. The world creeps into our being in ways we are not aware. The desert exposes these hidden pockets of clings, shadows and desires. The cross is the way out, but it is certainly not easy. There is plenty of time to work out these struggles in the time provided for private prayer and the solitude of our cells.
Can you comment on how and who you can contact from the “outside world”?
The first couple of years of life at the monastery are about entering into the desert. Therefore, our outside communications are limited. We are allowed to write four letters a year and receive monthly visits with immediate family either via Skype or in person at the monastery. We are allowed to receive regular mail from friends and family.
What are the top five books that you are bringing inside and why those five?
We are not really allowed to bring any books into the monastery with us. All books are considered common property. Therefore, I am donating five boxes of books in true Dominican spirit, I’m told. There are some books on my bedside right now that I was hoping to read sometime in the next few months. However, I am sure my Novice Mistress, Sister Joseph Marie, will put a stack of engaging books on my desk leaving me to abandon my current reading list. There are classics I can draw repeated strength and wisdom from such as Jean Pierre de Caussade’s “Abandonment of Divine Providence,” “St. John of the Cross’ “Ascent of Mount Carmel” and St. Catherine of Siena’s “Dialogue,” to name a scant few.
Why should a person discern their call in life?
I’m not sure how to answer this question. I think it should be answered in “Jeopardy” style as in: “What is the Called and Gifted Workshop at St. Dominic’s?” On a serious note, I once heard a Dominican homily about the movie “La Strada” and the pebble. The idea that even a pebble has a purpose in this world and if even a tiny rock has significance, then every life has passionate purpose. To find that purpose is the great drama, the real work we are to undertake. There is a reason you are here; it is the pearl or pebble of great price, find it ….”
From September 24, 2015 issue of Catholic San Francisco.