Last week, then, was a good week to be out in the desert with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. The nuns live six-plus miles down a dirt road, up against the mountains in a hardscrabble town called Tonopah, and here they have somehow managed to build a sort of gigantic church. It's quite stunning, and a bit like a mirage, beautifully appointed with stained glass, splendidly snowy altar cloths, and a remarkable collection of vestments that one of the sisters hand-sews...
The nuns number only four, and they are youngish, and at least some of them started out with Sr. Angelica in Alabama and they somehow all made their way here. They wear the full-on habit, with wimple, veil, and many layers that must be a trial in the 110-plus-degree summer heat.
THE LION IN WINTER
The Poor Clares have a special devotion to St. Francis and one of the highlights of my time there was the service they held the night of the 3rd, called the Transitus, to "ritually remember the passing of Francis from this life to God."
A priest comes in from "town" every day to celebrate Mass, and one came out this evening as well for the Transitus. There were candles, there were the four high sweet voices of the nuns raised in song, there was a relic of St. Francis, borne aloft, incensed, kissed.
Before I left, Sister Fidelis thoughtfully copied out an excerpt from an essay by Edith Stein entitled "Principles of Women's Education":
"Woman succeeds if the other requirements are filled: if the soul is empty of self and is self-contained. Indeed, when the inherent agitated self is completely gone, then there is room and quiet to make oneself perceptible to others. But no one can render himself so by nature alone, neither man nor woman. "O Lord God, take me away from myself and give me completely to you alone," the ancient German prayer says. We can do nothing ourselves; God must do it. To speak to Him thus is easier by nature for woman than for man because a natural desire lives in her to give herself completely to someone. When she has once realized that no one other than God is capable of receiving her completely for Himself and that it is sinful theft toward God to give oneself completely to one other than Him, then the surrender is no longer difficult and she becomes free of herself. Then it is also self- evident to her to enclose herself in her castle, whereas, before, she was given to the storms which penetrated her from without again and again; and previously she had also gone into the world in order to seek something abroad which might be able to still her hunger. Now she has all that she needs; she reaches out when she is sent, and opens up only to that which may find admission to her. She is mistress of this castle as the handmaid of her Lord, and she is ready as handmaid for all whom the Lord desires her to serve."