The Trappists at Mepkin Abbey are known to some as the state’s ace mushroom growers. Catholics also know them as one of the cloistered, contemplative powerhouses of our diocese, a role which they share with the Poor Clares in the upstate. Some of us also are aware that the monks repeatedly offer the gift of hospitality.
On an early autumn Saturday, the Trappists exhibited this hospitality by hosting a day-long retreat for men and women religious. The day included talks, quiet reflection, time for sharing, and, of course, prayer.
There were 50 to 60 religious sisters, brothers, and priests on hand — active and contemplative — from across the diocese. The day was planned by the abbey as a special event to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.
As we arrived, we found a unique feature of the registration. We were asked to identify the day on which we professed our vows as religious and then write down the number of years we have been in vowed life.
As the day progressed, we shared our vocation stories. Later, we recounted some of the challenges as well as the blessings we have encountered along the journey. Our lives as vowed religious is, after all, designated by the Church as a unique form of “sequela Christi”, the following of Christ. Thus, we experience both cross and crown along the way.
After our nutritious and — rare for the Trappists — talkative lunch, we heard an announcement. Among those of us gathered, we had an accumulation of 2,640 years of service to the Church as vowed religious. I have a hunch that, in the course of the day, I spent some time with the ones who were at both ends of the list: a sister (who just happens to be one I live with) who has been a vowed Sister of Saints Cyril and Methodius for 64 years and a monk who has been a member of the Trappist community for seven years.
As late afternoon approached, we gathered for an extended time of prayer, with the climax being our renewal of vows, vows every one of us has made for life. We gathered carnations that had been given to all of us and placed them in a large bowl of water. Father Guerric, guestmaster, along with sisters who were at the abbey for a more extended retreat, promised to pour them into the Cooper River at the edge of the monastery on Sunday morning. They were a sign of how our consecrated lives flow out into the world and reach others far beyond the boundaries of the convents, friaries, and monasteries where we live.
In many ways, the entire day was a dramatization of what the Church has long taught: that our primary apostolate is the witness of our consecrated lives.
The day was a celebration, a renewal, and an accumulation of evidence that our way of life works — for us happy attendees and for the universal Church.
Written by Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM