20 May 2010

The Monks of the Carmelite Monastery in Lipa

I had some business in DasmariƱas this afternoon, and I was pleased to discover that Proceso – a.k.a. Ka Process to a lot of people – was driving me there. He knows how to keep his mouth shut when I am not feeling talkative; but I can also always draw a good story from him when I am not feeling stressed out.

It’s not very well-known even in school that Process grew up with the nuns of the Carmelite convent. I’m not really sure, but I seem to recall him telling me once that he helped the nuns out with the household work or something.

This afternoon, because it was an hour-and-a-half drive to DasmariƱas, we got around to talking about a wide variety of topics. As was bound to happen – I cannot quite recall what triggered it – I got him talking about the monghas of Carmel.

Although there are what Process refers to as the “out-sisters” – the ones we see during Mass or those who keep watch at the souvenir shop – the madritas – as my friend Rogger calls them – of Carmel belong to a contemplative order.

That simply means that they turn their backs completely on the material world and dedicate themselves to God and prayer.

“I seem to recall having heard when I was a young child,” I told Process, “that a mongha was, if she received visiting relatives, allowed to show them only one finger as her only proof of her earthly existence.” Process confirmed this and even added that they covered their faces when they talked to visitors.

Don’t ask me why; who knows with these nuns? I can theorize that some of them were traumatized deeply by something in life that their only recourse was to turn their backs on the rest of us who are still struggling through it.

But what do I know? When God beckons, you just come! Sometimes, that is all there really is to it!

Some of them come from affluent families, Process intimated. Yet, they turn their backs on their wealth and live staidly within the cold confines of the monastery. One of them, Process went on, went in at the tender age of 16 and is now in her nineties na baga…

They wake up… They pray… They wash their clothes and clean the convent… They pray… They cook… They pray… They dine… They pray… They go to sleep… Then they wake up and do the exact same things all over again!

And no television…

Inang… I pray the rosary daily for something like twenty minutes each day; and I regret to admit that I cannot even go through one single decade without unwanted thoughts invading my prayer. To pray for hours on end several times a day, boy… That has got to take a very special person, indeed!

And these are the Carmelite nuns, mind… Everybody asks for good weather in exchange for a tray of eggs. If the rains fall, nonetheless, expect somebody to remonstrate that you should have brought hotdogs as well…

All I am trying to say is that these nuns must have a really intimate relationship with God to be able to remain in unity with Him for hours on end, seven days a week and three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. Yes, even to pray for the utterly selfish things you and I ask for – like sunny skies for the town fiesta.

“It is worse than going to prison,” Process declared. “At least, when you go to prison, you can look forward to the day you are released.” Unless your name is Osama Bin Laden; but I did not tell Process that…

Having once been an insider, Process gave me further insights into the lives these monghas live. Their quarters are bare; and they sleep on hard wooden beds. I forgot to ask if they are allowed mattresses.

Now, what if they fall sick? The doctors came. May perks din naman pala…

If and when the good Lord decides that they have said enough prayers for humankind, they are placed inside the simplest of wooden coffins and buried at a graveyard inside the monastery grounds. Haaaaayyyyyy...

I do not quite know what to make of this, and I told Process that I cannot see how any of the modern young people of today can see this as a life for themselves. Yet, he told me, they actually have young monghas inside the convent.

I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads at how mundane these nuns’ lives are. Yet, when they did get something out of the ordinary, it was the sort of thing naman you and I read about only in publications or hear about in tall tales!

Imagine having the Mother of God making an unexpected call…




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