In his luminous short novel, “Lying Awake,” Mark Salzman describes the life of a small community of Carmelite nuns who live on the edge of Los Angeles. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of metropolitan LA, the nuns live their communal life of prayer and contemplation, as separate from the externals of modern life as one can be.

I won’t spoil the story at the heart of the plot by going into any further details. Let’s just say it’s profoundly moving and leave it for you to read as you choose.

But there is one small minor character I want to introduce to you. She is one of the older nuns, a sister who has been in the Carmel for years. She has allowed the religious Rule that orders the life of the nuns to become so much a part of her that she is referred to as the “living Rule.” She has written the Rule on her whole being, become so engrained with its directives, that she embodies its interiority and its rhythms in herself.

I want you to consider the “Rule” of the Christian Catholic life, namely the rhythms and the habits and the order of our life in Christ and in His Church. If I were to ask you the simple rules that embody our “order” of life, most of us would respond “to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

We might also add the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would do for yourselves,” the rule that Jesus calls the fulfillment of the “law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12).

As to the way in which these rules are lived out, we understand that these rules are ordered within our day-to-day life and station — lay, religious, clergy, married, single, widowed — within the communal and mystical life of the Church. Nourished by Word and sacrament, especially the Eucharist, we become what it is we receive, the Body of Christ. Just like the nuns in the Carmel in the story of “Lying Awake,” we too have a “Rule” of life, one which I and you both try to embody as disciples in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What would it be like for any of us to so embody this “Rule” that someone could point to us and say he or she is a “living rule?” Seems quite the challenge, doesn’t’ it? Yet in all endeavors of life it begins with one step at a time which is then repeated over time, becoming a habit of life that is then layered with prayer and worship and charity and the love of God and neighbor.

Our life in Christ and His Church becomes not so much what we do or how we act. It becomes who we are. And isn’t that what it means to become a saint?

God bless.

—Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

View All Posts by This Author