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In a Time of Desolation, A Calling for New Beguines?

What if there were a place for women to go who love the Lord, who felt drawn to a life of prayer and intimate union with Him, who desired a life devoted to poverty, chastity and obedience but who, for any number of reasons, could not pursue traditional religious life?

What if there were a house of … let’s say “dedicated” ladies who devoted themselves to a quiet, orderly life of prayer and good works, who voluntarily took upon themselves the task of praying for others, praying for the Church and the world, of living a life of fraternal charity in community, of engaging in mental prayer, and attending daily Mass and reciting the Divine Office in their traditional forms?

What if such a … group … were open to receiving guests for spiritual retreats in a secluded country setting where there is opportunity for spiritual direction and fresh air and outdoor work? Do you think there might be some interest?

I come back again to my thoughts on “Lost Vocations.” What if there were a whole demographic cohort of women who were the right age at decidedly the wrong time, while the religious life as it had been known, was being torn down to its roots? What if they have been turned away because they have health issues? Or because they are too old for formation? Or – and here’s the really sticky one – if they have come to realize they cannot concede any part of the Faith to fit into the New Paradigm of the Novusordoist compromise (even in its “conservative” guise) and go along with the Pope Francis-rebellion against Christ?

What do you do if you think you have a vocation to religious life and all the world is busy groaning to find itself Bergoglian?

It seems a strange time, doesn’t it, to be thinking about starting something? At a moment when in the Church and the world, all Hell seems literally to be loosed. But that is thinking the thoughts of time, and of this world. God tends to have some funny timing, and from the point of view of the supernatural realities, what better time could there possibly be to dedicate one’s self to a life of intense prayer and union with the suffering Christ, than when His Holy Church is being scourged and crowned with thorns and denied by those who profess to love her?

A friend wrote today on Facebook that “a demand” is being made “for people to obey something that is patently morally wrong and against Revelation and Tradition.

It’s a bind – because where is Peter, there is the Church – and for people to choose to leave because of an unworthy successor…?”

As Father David Nix wrote a few weeks back, in a turn of phrase that struck me to my core: the Church is being crucified; will you leave her?

Obviously no. Never. One does not leave the Church; one holds fast to what one knows is true. If one is turned away from the religious life for refusing to stop calling out and denouncing the evil that has infiltrated us and finally almost conquered the Church; if one is kicked out of one’s monastery, one’s rectory, one’s college, one’s religious order, one’s diocese for refusing to go along… one takes it on the chin and keeps praying. One never leaves any of those things voluntarily; one waits to be kicked out. And until that happens, one continues to preach and teach the One True Faith. To denounce the deception and cunning lies and errors. God provides a roof when the need arises.

OK, but everyone wants to know: what, right now, can we do?

I spent 15 years as an “activist,” and increasingly understood through all that time that it was the wrong way. The Francis revolution shows us that this is not a battle over laws or medical ethics. It is a war for souls. One does not fight a war for souls by circulating petitions or organizing rallies.

In the long history of the Church’s many crises, God has shown us how He expects us to answer attacks on the Faith. And, in case we had failed to get the message, Our Lady has come to spell it out plainly: Prayer. Penance. Sacrifice. The spiritual war must be fought with spiritual weapons. The complete “metanoia” – the turning of one’s self back to the Lord, the turning away from the world, the flesh and the devil; the renunciation of self; the stripping away of faults; the single-minded pursuit of holiness.

I know that many people are starting to come to these realizations; the time for activism is closing and the time for sacrifice is upon us. I know that a lot of people are turning not only to a more intensified prayer life, but are starting to think more seriously about the priesthood and the religious life. Ah, but there’s the rub, right? Virtually the entire institution of the Church is now in the hands of our enemies. Christ’s enemies (let’s not mince words.)

If the only way to be accepted in religious life is to at least pay lip service to the Revolutionaries, one is sunk before one is out of dry dock. Even if one finds a religious community that is trying to stay Catholic, they more than anyone must keep their heads well down, and admitting someone like you is out of the question. (Particularly if you’ve been a bit… ah… vocal about it. Ahem…)

But there is a way forward, for those with a bit of a pioneer spirit, a bit of imagination and courage or, perhaps one might say, a counter-revolutionary spirit.

As always in the Church, we may look to the past for guidance. In the late 12th century, for various complex reasons, there was a large population of women who could not enter religious life. Religious houses were full up or dowries were too burdensome for devout but low born families. As the Catholic Encyclopedia put it, “It was the age of the Crusades, and the land teemed with desolate women.”

A movement started in the Catholic Low Countries, modern day Belgium and Netherlands, spreading into Germany and France, in which women would club together and live a form of religious life, sometimes in simple or “private” vows made to a priest, praying, living in community according to a rule of life, wearing a distinctive habit, doing penance and good works among their neighbours.

Beguines lived in the centre of the newly revitalized European towns and cities, rubbing shoulders with their neighbours in ways that cloistered nuns never could. In modern terms (though they are not strictly the same) Beguines were simply an early form of what we would now call “active” or “apostolic” religious life. They cared for the sick and elderly and each other, taught children and did manual labour to earn a living in the same way the nuns did, doing fine needlework and lacemaking and even taking in washing. And in their devotion to this semi-monastic style of life they tended to become mystics and some are canonized saints. The Beguines are credited — along with the Franciscan and Dominican mendicants — with doing more to develop popular devotion to the Faith among ordinary people in the middle ages than the more remote monks and cloistered nuns.

In the Low Countries Beguines survived remarkably robustly through centuries of ups and downs, continuing their version of Catholic contemplative/active religious life even through the Protestant Reformation and the takeover of their countries by Lutherans and Calvinists. The last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn, lived in her Beguinage in Kortrijk until she died in April, 2013.

The middle ages saw an extraordinary growth of the Beguine movement in most western European countries, and it is estimated that at its height there were tens of thousands of them, with a beguinage in even small towns.

Somewhat later, in Spain, a similar situation created a comparable response in the form of a “beata,” a form of life that allowed women without dowries (again) to create a recognized form of devoted life without the legal restrictions – and expense – of formal, vowed religious life.

In her book, “Women in the Inquisition: Spain and the New World,” Mary E. Giles writes, “The path [of a beata] was essentially self-defined; the extent of one’s vows, for example, varied tremendously. Living conditions also varied; a beata might live in a beaterio, almost like a nun in a convent, or in her own home. Like a nun she might live a life of intense spiritual engagement. Unlike the nun, however, the beata enjoyed freedom of movement and might determine the nature of her own work.”

Whatever it is called, this form of life seems to have had the same framework; a commitment that does not involve formal, canonical vows before a bishop; a common rule of life; a contemplative emphasis on prayer, penance and all the elements present in religious life; community life; a limited apostolic activity appropriate to the needs of the surrounding area. This highly adaptable and flexible framework, I suggest, is ideal for our current circumstances, including, at the same time, as a means of accommodating older women or those with health limitations and of avoiding problematic episcopal entanglements in our present uncertain state. (“Teetering on the edge of universal schism and total ecclesiastical chaos,” is how some have described it.)

There is no law anywhere that prevents a group of, say, four or five like-minded ladies sharing a large house, setting aside a part of the house as an oratory, dressing very modestly and similarly, and getting up very early every day to sing their prayers together in the ancient language of the Church. Dedicating themselves privately – before a sympathetic and helpful priest – to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Adopting a rule of life that is based, perhaps, on the ancient and highly adaptable Rule of St. Augustine.

Possibly our own times calls for the adoption of the “five pillars” of the Praemonstratensian life: the praise of God in choir, the zeal for souls, the spirit of penance, devotion to the Holy Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady.

What is to stop them from raising money by making goat cheese and honey, sewing vestments and making other “prodotti monastici” (quite an industry in Italy)? Nothing. And nothing could stop them from helping and serving the people in the neighbourhood, visiting the old folks homes, getting to know their neighbours and helping wherever they are needed in a small, rural town.

What is to stop them from making a (very) long retreat or a series of retreats at a sympathetic “above-ground” monastery before starting, in order to learn more about how to get on in community, how to pray in choro.

What if such ladies were ultimately to go into business together, to start something like what the Italians call an “agritourismo”? A country B&B in a pleasant, rural area, where women could come for a little quiet time, to listen to and participate in the Divine Office, and go to Mass daily in the traditional rites of the Church. Such women could benefit from the fresh air and some light gardening, walks in the countryside and wholesome food from the sist… err… the ladies’ garden. What if conferences of a spiritual nature could be organized from time to time? Would there be any interest in that, do we think?

Nothing, absolutely nothing whatever can stop a group of ladies from doing some or all of these things. And should the day come when sanity and order and decorum of worship is restored in the Church, miraculously or otherwise, perhaps such ladies could approach a bishop to help them “regularize” into something more canonical. And in the meantime, some good works could be done, the Spiritual Works of Mercy, perhaps, that are all but forgotten as a focus of the apostolic life.

The simple fact is that lay people can do pretty much whatever they want, and no bishop anywhere can do anything about it. And no secular government would care either. We perhaps forget sometimes that the Christian is radically free in a way that transcends the limitations of politics, even Church politics. We know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that we are free to make choices about our lives, about the direction we will take either towards or away from God.

Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. – CCC 1731

No pope, no bishop, no conclave, no band of vicious heretics, no matter how powerful, no government or oligarchy can do anything to stop us making the choice for Christ, to live a life of holiness and peace.

St. Douceline of Marseilles, pray for us.

St. Norbert of Xanten, defender of the Holy Eucharist, pray for us.

36 thoughts on “In a Time of Desolation, A Calling for New Beguines?”

  1. “If the only way to be accepted in religious life is to at least pay lip service to the Revolutionaries, one is sunk before one is out of dry dock.”

    When many in the Church, whether those in authority or not, adopted the secular mission to save the world, rather than to save souls, the Church began a descent, on so many levels, from which it has yet to recover.

  2. I gave up on religious life after my last experience, and unfortunately I do not see much hope for decades. Private vows for women I think that should be openly offered. I see no reason why anyone should not be able to vow themselves and live their lives accordingly without the shenanigans of an order. It is between the person and God, dealing with all the other stuff is background noise that gets in the way.

    • Each of us who wishes to be is the new group. Choose the name you want, start living the life (as the first Beguines did, alone), and pray that God will send you people to join you.

      Some Beguines lived in a house together, some in little houses near each other. The important thing is to start. Nobody is coming to rescue you. Start rowing your own lifeboat.

      • Not really the question I asked, but an interesting take-off on the theme. One error on your part – God will come and rescue us. It will take the form of fire falling from the sky (Akita) implemented via meteorites / asteroids and nukes, where a great part of humanity will be wiped out and the living will envy the dead. Second, the sixth seal, commonly called the Warning, will cause a great revival of faith for a time (Fatima, La Salette). And I have been rowing my own boat for a great many years now. This should occur by the 100th anniversary of the Fatima miracle, so within a year.

  3. Hilary, I love your columns and I wish you all the best with this new endeavor to breathe new life into women’s religious. Hopefully the day will come when God, in His Mercy, will remove Bergoglio and his ilk from the Church and we’ll have a real shepherd who will erase all of this confusion and heresy that has polluted the Church and destroyed vocations to the priesthood and religious since Vatican II. The following article which appeared in this Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer illustrates perfectly how the fruits of Vatican II were absolutely rotten in regards to women religious. Here we have a nun who became a feminist right after Vatican II, left her order, left the Church and is now a proud muslim???

  4. Hillary, I love this article! My best friend and I have contemplated doing something like this for some time now. To get back to the ‘holiness’ of our Catholic faith by living like this is truly inviting. I’m fed up with being in the world and would love to live in a community like this with women who truly love the Lord, His mother and God’s Catholic church however when I’ve checked into this, was told I’m past age so I began looking into the ‘Secular Carmelite Order.’ Its not living in a community but it will have to do..!!

    • The point I’m making above is that you don’t have to do it alone, and you don’t have to wait for someone else to give you community. the Beguines and similar things demonstrates that the need creates the opportunity. You can adopt a pioneer spirit and get started.

    • Lodewijk Tytgadt – Belgian painter (27 April 1841 – 9 May 1918)
      Le Petit Béguinage de Gand (1886). Oil on canvas, 158 x 122 cm, Contemporary Art and Museum of Modern Art of the City of Liege

  5. Very interesting. Was there a comparable movement for men? Some of what you say resonates with me and I’ve wondered how I could either associate myself with an existing monastic community (rather challenging when living in the Northeast of the U.S.) or finding like minded men to form some sort of loose community, one short of the formal monastic vows. I wish you the best and hope you will continue to inspire us with your writing.

    • Yes. The Beghards were the male version of the Beguines. One of the greatest of all Catholic spiritual books, The Imitation of Christ, was written by a Beghard priest, Thomas A Kempis.

    • The Beghards are usually mentioned together with Beguines, but as a medieval institution they had a lot more to do with the craft and artisan guilds and often functioned as a kind of retirement home for elderly or infirm guild members. It was a result of a totally different social order that I think would be all but impossible to recreate today.

  6. Where do I sign up? : ) An order to consider may be Mother Miriam’s new Benedictine order in Tulsa, Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope. From their decree: “We desire to assist women of all ages in becoming “mothers to the world,” leading all to the Mother of mothers who is our refuge and path to God.” See that? Women of ALL AGES are welcome : ) Also:
    A woman seeking to enter must:
    ♦ be a single Catholic in a state of grace; (widowed or divorced with Decree of Nullity)
    ♦ love the Church and all her teachings (one cannot impart what she does not love);
    ♦ desire to be a Handmaid of the Family, to bring the love and presence of God into every situation,
    ♦ be suited by disposition for the living out of our particular charism in community;
    ♦ be 18 years of age or older;
    ♦ be in good health—physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally;
    ♦ be able to participate heartily in the schedule and activities of the community;
    ♦ be free of financial debt and family responsibility;
    ♦ be flexible, self-sacrificing, not given to gossip or negative speech, able to come under instruction
    and correction, and to maintain a spirit of generosity and joy.
    Their mission: “We are a community of contemplative-active Benedictine sisters reaching out, in full habit, through the streets of our local neighborhoods and assisting families – both Catholic and non-Catholic – who wish to enter into a deeper relationship with the God who loved them and who gave His life for them…to assist in restoring honor, respect, and godliness in all things, and especially in the family – to encourage modesty in dress and speech, the respect of the young for the old, and the courage of the elderly to be role models for the young, to protect the value and dignity of every life, to restore hope, and to help all to know the God who loved them and who gave Himself for them.”
    5:00 Rise
    5:30 Lauds, Angelus
    6:00 Chapter
    6:30 Leave for Mass
    7:00 Holy Mass
    7:45 Breakfast
    8:30 Study& Work of the Apostolate Angelus & Rosary
    12 Angelus /Rosary
    12:30 Lunch
    1:30 Rest
    2:30 Study/Work of the Apostolate
    3:00 Divine Mercy Prayer
    4:00 Holy Hour/Lectio Divina
    5:00 Dinner
    6:00 Recreation
    7:00 Community Time
    8:00 Compline (followed by Grand Silence)
    10:00 Lights Out

    • The latest is that the new bishop of Tulsa is a far, far different fish from the great Bishop Slattery, and has been sent to Tulsa to torpedo efforts to restore the Faith there, including this one.

      • Yes. Mother Miriam and her holy women are likely in the bull’s eye. And those at Clear Creek must be having a moment of pause as well. To kick out spiritual directors/ exorcists shows more like the demonic is welcome and holiness of souls not a priority.

      • Knowing Mother Miriam personally, i feel quit sure that she will continue with her mission goals with all of the zest and zeal that she had when she started her order. When she came back from France (and Ireland which was a bitter disappointment for her order i believe) she had verve and audacity of hope to strive to expand the order. Unfortunately, while she and several others were in France, she lost most in not all of her novitiate members, i presume,due to the machinations of the order of which she was directed to learn from. She kept both the conditions experienced and the politics she was challenged to deal with quit obtuse. It could not have been an easy task to go to France 3 months early to be submerged in the French language and then be moved into different quarters for cloistering.

        But her writing after her return was somehow very reserved. After enjoying a long distance, Catholic relationship with Mother Miriam since a 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land that my wife and i shared with her, we did what we could to help her with her fledgling ministry some 4 or 5 years later when she left Catholic Answers. Frankly, i have not heard from Mother in over 10 months. Could be the Bishop Slaughtery replacement is wrecking havoc on her community. It would be tremendous to know how all is going. Thank you, Hillary for mentioning her. I am now resolved to attempt to penetrate more deeply into her community for answers that are in my heart. God bless.


    This has been going on for a long time, now, and our daughters & sons are preserving the True Faith. Deo Gratias, “be not afraid”!!


    Today I spent
    A moment —
    Upon a
    Mountain top.

    A cloud of
    Mist descended
    My watch hands they
    Did stop.

    I heard her voice
    Cry “Mommy!”
    I saw her first
    Skinned knee,

    Then took a train
    Across a plain
    With suitcase
    And ros’ry.

    Now underneath
    A veil of snow
    A root of Cross-earth

    She turned and smiled
    A Marian glow
    I gently floated

    Today I spent
    A moment —
    Upon a
    Mountain top.

    My little girl with milk of Pearl
    Nurses souls
    Wasting not —
    A Drop.

  8. This is a recipe for all Catholics. In order to save souls we need to be Catholics, not American Catholics, nor conservative Catholics, nor liberal Catholics, we need to show the world the example of Catholics, We need to take seriously the Beatitudes and Christ’s admonition to love our enemies. We think being meek and humble and loving our enemies will cause us to be trampled on, and it will, but it is Christ’s solution for the world and we must trust Christ. America and the world have practiced striking back at any wrong done us, and in following the liberal economic scheme where in the only morality is profit, and what has this got us. We are the richest and most powerful society ever and et we have not known piece or social harmony while following the path laid out by the secular values we now live by. Voting has been a trap. We must set an example by following Christ. Hillary white is one of the few Catholics who have taken off the blinkers, as Dr. Rao would say.

  9. I love this idea! I would pursue it myself if I were not married but that vow comes first. However, I am vowed Third Order Franciscan following a faithful and more traditional branch of the Order which is, of course, now being persecuted. The present regime has little love for holiness and is after even the cloistered to change their charism and etc. Men who wink at, condone, are soft on, accompany, or even participate in some evils are being rewarded with promotions in our Church which is going through another of her times of passion. But, for me, I do pursue many of the things mentioned above even in my married state. My children are grown and I am kept quite busy.

  10. Hilary, you are right that “the time for activism is closing and the time for sacrifice is upon us.” Activism is still possible, but the door is closing.

    Now that the internet has been handed to the UN for control, now that ruthlessly anti-Christian politicians and judges shape not only our laws and culture, but even what we can do in what was once considered our “private” lives, now that corporations instantly destroy employees who say the wrong thing in any traceable way, we have very little time left to try to change the world in any open way.

    Even most of our victories have been successful rear-guard actions, clawing back part of the rights and freedoms we used to have. And if we have convinced many of the young that abortion is wrong, we have not convinced them to stop the rampant fornication that keeps bringing millions of half-orphaned babies into the world. Prayer, penance, Scripture, the Rosary, and holiness are truly our weapons, as Our Lady has said to so many.

    However, i think that In looking at Beguines alone, we are missing half our strength. The Beguines and Beghards, their male counterparts, worked together. One of the greatest and most enduring of all Catholic spiritual books, The Imitation of Christ, was written by a Beghard priest, Thomas a Kempis.

    Perhaps as we continue this discussion, we can speak of Beguines and Beghards, rather than of Beguines alone. Personally, these days, I wouldn’t mind have a Beghard house nearby for protection if I lived in a Beguinage. They were walled and gated for more reasons than just privacy. Think of how much you have liked having the monastery nearby.

    Unfortunately, I do not think that we will be left alone. By the Church hieracrchy, perhaps, unless Bergoglio decides to dump whole sections of canon law again, as he just did with all existing canon law about convents. Fortunately, that is unlikely, as he would have to assert the power to control the behavior of all of the laity.

    But the secular governments and oligarchies will be on us as soon as they are aware of our existence. As you said, this is a war for souls, and that is the consistent factor that explains their apparent inconsistencies. They will look for ways to harass us out of existence, even if we are entirely legal.

    This can certainly be done. In my town last year, a local arts council partnered with the Eisenhower Leadership Center to set up a display of outdoor sculpture for the summer. The more-than-life-size stone statue of a naked Satan, with an exposed penis, crowned and enthroned, was placed on town property directly across from the statue of Jesus in front of the local church, facing Him.

    Neither the pastor nor the mayor did anything about it, and it stayed up all summer. A few months later, I walked past the office of the Eisenhower Leadership Center, and saw that it was dark and empty. I asked a man who was walking by if he knew what had happened. He smiled and said, “Oh, we ran them out of town.” I did not want to have any more information as to how. Sometimes the good guys win. But the methods are the same.

    The local LGBT etc. will be on us too. That nice agritourism house in the country? Lesbian couples will be banging on the door in no time. And transsexuals. The very fact of not being a church opens us up to all kinds of discrimination lawsuits, which we will lose, unless the legalities are worked out very thoughtfully beforehand. We are going to need attorneys before doing anything much more than having “roomates.” And to set aside a bit of money for an ample legal insurance policy. (I have one for my business.)

    In my old parish, I would sometimes see two women sitting in the back corner of the church, not praying, not participating, just watching the pastor. I remember the day he played a pro-life film after Mass. He asked us to remain after Mass, and in absolute silence, set up the screen, played the film, and then closed it. He said not a single word. Both women were there, watching him, waiting for him to make a mistake.

    I suspect need to be grey. Wearing identifiable, similar clothing marks us immediately.

    Modest, of course. But more or less whatever others wear. If you live separately, get together as a poetry club (the Psalms are poetry), or some other cover, if the local authorities are likely to be unfriendly. You should see how mean the local police are to the middle aged pro-life group saying the Rosary outside Planned Parenthood here.

    All this may seem needless now, but please, look at the direction in which things are going. This is a war for souls. The Beguines and Beghards were at times persecuted in the past.

    May the Immaculate Heart of Mary protect us all.

  11. I was under the impression you’re already a Benedictine oblate. Does that by itself not provide the structure you need, either living singly or in a group?

  12. My error. The author of The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis, was not a Beghard; he was a member of the Brethren of the Common Life. Like the Beguines, they were outside the monastic structure, although they eventually became part of it. Because they put a great deal of emphasis on continuing education and spiritual formation, they held up much better than the Beghards.

    If any male readers are interested, you can look them up and see if they make a good model for you. In many ways, they resembled the Beguines, but there were some differences.

  13. “No one on the face of the earth realises whence comes the salvation of souls, the conversion of great sinners, the deferral of great scourges, the production and fertility of the lands, the end of pestilences and wars, and harmony between nations. All this is due to the prayers that rise up from monasteries and convents.” Our Lady of Good Success to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres. From “The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana”, Volume II, chapter 19.


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