The Poor Clare nuns offer tips for sheltering-in-place

You might say that Poor Clares have practiced social distancing for 800 years.

The women who follow St. Clare of Assisi see their lifetime “sheltering in place” as a response to a call which unites them more deeply to every person, enabling them to offer their lives and prayers for the needs of the world.

But cloistered nuns also understand the challenges which spring from “close range” living. So, what tips would the Poor Clares in Belleville give those seeking not only to survive these COVID-19 days, but to thrive in them?

MAKE A SCHEDULE: It does not have to be detailed, but monastic experience has long proved that a schedule gives structure and focus to the day.

SIMPLIFY: Sheltering in place is an invitation to simplify the way we live, and learn how to enjoy the simple things of life. Pure, holy Simplicity (as St. Francis called it) helps us discover what really matters and to put first things first.

MAKE PRAYER THE PRIORITY: Many say as Lent begins that they hope to grow in prayer or the spiritual life. “Sheltering in” gives time to do that. There are myriads of resources to help the faithful participate in Holy Mass, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and even Eucharistic Adoration. Set specific prayer times, together and alone, for vocal prayer and silent meditation. Increased prayer helps everyone.

WORK WELL Monastic life rests on the foundation of prayer, work and community (family) life. Sheltering in offers the opportunity to slow down, to work more intentionally, to discover healthy ways of balancing the responsibilities of every day and to appreciate the grace of working.

TAKE YOUR WALK: Our monastic forebears understood the need for physical activity, especially when working, living and praying space is limited. Walk (or, work) outdoors. Enjoy the beauty of creation. Tend your garden, If age or April showers keep you in, sit on the porch. Look out a window. Exercise!

PICK A VIRTUE TO PRACTICE TOGETHER: Work as a family on cultivating virtue. Close range living reveals why St. Paul put “Love is patient” at the top of the list. It also shows that being kind, compassionate, generous, and patient to those nearest us has a ripple effect in our neighborhoods, classrooms and work places.

REACH OUT: One retired priest has put “reach out time” on his schedule, specifically for contacting family and friends. Many options exist to keep in touch, but when elderly relatives or neighbors may feel even more isolated, a phone call and the joy of hearing a “live” voice could be the best gift you can give. Shop for an elderly neighbor or a quarantined friend. Write notes to nursing home residents or hospital patients unable to have visitors. Make a quilt, crochet an afghan or knit a scarf for the poor.

KEEP IT LIGHT: One prerequisite for cloistered living is a good sense of humor. Even in the best community (or family), frictions can arise, simply because we are all weak human beings. A little good humor goes a long way to dispel differences, dissolve tensions and convert frustrations into opportunities for patience and understanding.

THINK “FIRST BEATITUDE”: The poverty which Christ extolled and St. Clare espoused is many-faceted. Sheltering in place is highlighting some of the areas where real poverty of spirit can be achieved. Restrictions in space, travel, supplies, entertainment can (if we choose) make us more generous, thoughtful, sacrificial, more trusting in God’s providence. Be genuinely content with what you have and ever ready to share.

BE CREATIVE: Try a new recipe. Learn a new skill. Spring clean every corner! Rediscover the art of face-to-face conversation. Offer an all-state Rosary for the sick (50 states — 50 Hail Marys). Pray by name for friends, relatives, classmates, neighbors or co-workers. Make a virtual pilgrimage together. Take turns praying for world leaders, medical professionals, missionaries, vocations. Poor Clares go apart not for selfish or anti-social reasons, but to expand the horizons of their prayerful concern. Sheltering in place offers everyone the same opportunity. Accept its limitations in a spirit of faith for the common good, unite your sacrifices to the sufferings of Jesus who saved the world on the little space of the Cross.

VARIETY HELPS: Feast days and penance days, wash days and garden days, retreat and recreation days have a place on every Poor Clare calendar. Sheltering in place days can have the same fullness. On Sunday, wear your best for on-line Mass and at home dinner. During the week, have an all-together work day to clean out the garage or clean up the garden. Schedule an in-house night at the movies. Cook together. Have a family history day with old photos and shared memories. Sing together. Pull out the board games. Use the media wisely to share ideas and look for good news. When you find some, share it!

USE THE “BIG THREE”: Pope Francis said the three most important phrases for good human relationships are “Please,” “Thank you,” and “l am sorry.” Use them often. Courtesy and appreciation make all the difference in close range living. So does a simple apology when one has been thoughtless, impatient or unkind. There is so much uncertainty these days. Give everyone in your “shelter” the certainty of your love.

GIVE THANKS: When saying your night prayers, St. Ignatius suggests thanking God for five specific blessings from the day just past. Counting your blessings prepares the way for a happier, healthier, holier tomorrow.
This suggestion list ends with a Poor Clare expression of gratitude to all who are helping them during this “sheltering in” time. They miss having friends and visitors in their public chapel for Mass, the Rosary and Eucharistic adoration and look forward to when the chapel can be open again. Everyone is close in prayer as the Sisters ask our Lord to bring from this season of the Cross an Eastertide filled with grace and blessings.