(LifeSiteNews) — A week-long stay at a Benedictine convent helped a secular millennial find peace in a world of chaos.
28-year-old Elizabeth McCafferty recalled in a May 17 article in The Guardian her experiences during a visit she had made three months prior to the Benedictine Nuns of Minster Abbey in Ramsgate, an English seaside town.
“Among the Benedictine nuns of Minster Abbey, without my phone, or alcohol, or mirrors, a truer path to happiness emerged,” Elizabeth wrote.
The young woman wrote that her life “often revolved around relationships, sex, work, drinking, money, partying and looking good.” Despite indulging her passions, Elizabeth began to wonder, “Could having less, and focusing on simpler things, actually make me feel more satisfied?
With this in mind, Elizabeth set off for her week-long stay at the convent. While she initially found the nuns’ lifestyle demanding – they follow a tight schedule of prayer, work, and meals – Elizabeth was struck with the phrase “Love your enemy,” read by Mother Nikola during prayers on the third day of her visit.
“Not much had resonated with me before that,” Elizabeth recalled. “But loving my enemy is something I’ve often struggled to do. I have a tendency to hang on to the past, which has made me stubborn and sometimes bitter.”
“For the first time, something really clicked; over the next few days, I felt a shift in my learning,” she said, adding “Even the structure started to feel easier.”
A different remark held even more resonance. Elizabeth revealed that another nun, Sister Benedict, told her that a woman’s discernment in whether or not she was called to join the abbey must be founded on a desire to sacrifice herself.
“This was exactly what I needed to hear,” Elizabeth wrote. “I went back to my room and looked at my open suitcase, filled with 11 days’ worth of clothes for a seven-day trip, and my five-step skincare routine laid out on the desk. I realized how much I use things such as films, podcasts, and Instagram as distractions because I don’t particularly like sitting with myself or with my thoughts for too long.”
“As I reflected, I realized that yes, even though I want these things, I don’t actually need them; and quite often I use them to mask deeper problems and insecurities,” she continued.
During her journey home, Elizabeth pondered, “How much do I really give back to the community?” She also reflected on the “difference between wanting and needing something.”
“I realized that I am a master of procrastination and, actually, could do with a little more structure. I rely on tech, money and chatting to friends as tools to escape being on my own – and to mask deeper emotions,” she added.
“As I approach 30, this experience has really helped me to shift my focus and prioritize being more present,” Elizabeth concluded. “My stay at the abbey might just have been the path to contentment I didn’t realize I needed so much.”
Despite her visit having been three months ago, Elizabeth clearly is affected by the impression it made on her life. She discovered something at the convent which is often lost in the busy modern world: silent meditation.
The constant stream of internet has created a world which leaves little room for silence or quiet thought. Even when people decide to take a break from their screens, they can pop in earbuds and busy their minds with music and podcasts.
Modern people seem to be afraid of silence because they do not stop long enough to experience it. Instead, like Elizabeth, they fill their lives with activities to satisfy their passions. However, in doing so, they find themselves unhappy but don’t know why.
In recent years, some have suggested “the Benedict Option,” leaving the modern busy world behind to follow St. Benedict’s Rule of “ora et labora,” pray and work, as a solution to the busy emptiness of the current culture.
The Benedict Option for laypeople was made popular by Rod Dreher‘s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which argues for an emphasis on the formation of virtuous Christian communities as a solution for the current secular culture.
Indeed, this would seem to be the path trodden by the Benedictine Nuns of Minster Abbey, who live together in community, offering their lives though prayer and service to God.
However, others have argued that lay Catholics should remain active in the world, praying and working to restore Catholic culture. Regardless of which vocation each person is called to, everyone must make room in their lives for silent meditation to hear the voice of God.
As Pope Saint John Paul II said, “In this oasis of quiet, before the wonderful spectacle of nature, one easily experiences how profitable silence is, a good that today is ever more rare. (…) In reality, only in silence does man succeed in hearing in the depth of his conscience the voice of God, which really makes him free. And vacations can help to rediscover and cultivate this indispensable interior dimension of human life.”