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These Nuns Live in a Strict Cloister. So What Are They Doing on Facebook?

WEB-SISTERS-NUNS-CLOISTER-Handmaids-of-the-Precious-Blood-with-Permission

Handmaids of the Precious Blood with Permission

John Burger - published on 04/20/16

With a little help from a friend, an important apostolate for priests gets exposure from within the enclosure

You won’t find these nuns frittering away their time playing Facebook games or watching cute cat videos.

But the Handmaids of the Precious Blood want to be on social media to get the word out about what they do spend their time on — praying for priests — and how the laity can assist the clergy in their spiritual needs.

The small contemplative community has been building a motherhouse in New Market, Tennessee, about 40 minutes northeast of Knoxville. They’ve also been building a presence online. It is not without its dangers.

Their history goes back to 1947. Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, wanted a women’s community dedicated to prayer for the clergy to be a spiritual complement to his clinical work with troubled priests. In his view, that meant prayer and sacrifice, and a focus on Eucharistic adoration.

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The nuns wear a distinctive full length red habit, symbolizing the Blood of Christ. Their white veil symbolizes the Eucharistic host.

“All that we do, in union with and in imitation of the Precious Blood, is directed so that priests be holy priests,” said Mother Marietta, the prioress. “We offer ourselves in immolation and reparation for all priests, particularly for those who have lost sight of their sublime calling, praying for the grace of their conversion. We sacrifice our lives completely for the souls of priests, mindful of the vast numbers of souls just one priest can influence in his lifetime.”

In 2013 the congregation moved from Jemez Springs, New Mexico, where they were founded, to the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. There are 16 nuns, but the congregation also has a house in Lake Villa, Illinois, in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In 2009 Mother Marietta asked a nun to design a website so the community could better publicize the ways that lay people can participate in their prayer for priests. That spiritual work is important, but in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal, it has taken on a new urgency.

“What we are trying to do now is help people realize who a priest is and his unique ministry and fatherhood,” the prioress said. “Going through these difficult years helped us find our voice and hone our message: Our priests are under constant attack by forces that want to destroy our sacramental bond to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Read more: What is the use of monasticism?

She sees that happening in several ways, including the direct persecution of clergymen — the kidnapping and murder of priests in the Middle East and Africa, for example, and the attacks on priests in Mexico by drug cartels. “How many priests are left to bring the Eucharist and absolution?” she asked.

In addition, sensationalism in the media gets people angry at the Church and her priests. “This outrage often replaces prayer,” she said.

Finally, there is “our own toxic indifference and criticism,” she said. “How often is a priest treated like a fast food worker to produce what we want and immediately; we live in a consumer-driven world full of noise, while the priest acts in persona Christi. The Real Presence is spectacular, the most important event in history. We can miss Emmanuel-with-us by superficial expectations.”

And yet while most of the world seems to “live” on social media these days, tending to increase the noise in people’s lives and distract them from the transcendent, the nuns felt they needed to have a presence on platforms such Facebook and Twitter. But as cloistered nuns, they also need to “keep the world out” of their enclosure in order to maintain the contemplative life to which they are called. Would letting the world in through social media be safe?

Essentially, no.

“A microchip in an iPhone is tiny and is very hypersensitive,” Mother Marietta said. “It is made in a clean room where no foreign contaminants are able to enter — or the chips are hurt or ruined in their efficacy.” Likewise, the “contaminants” to an enclosed monastery are “those things which interrupt the focus of those who have given 100 percent to the call of Jesus to share in that phase of his redemptive mission described as ‘Christ praying,’ and in his total sacrificial love which led him to his death on the cross. We want to be keep the atmosphere ‘pure’ (like a clean room), so we can live our lives perpetually centered on Jesus.”

But how?

Enter Scott Maentz, a candidate for permanent deacon in the Diocese of Knoxville. Maentz, who worked in the personal-computer industry for more than 20 years, serves as communications director for the nuns, acting as a “one-way gate through whom we pass materials out,” Mother Marietta said. “We don’t interact with these vehicles, or read them ourselves after they are posted; he checks the sites for inappropriate or obscene comments and passes on to us any contacts that he thinks we might want to respond to.”

©2105 Handmaids of the Precious Blood/with permission
©2105 Handmaids of the Precious Blood/with permission

The nuns also have a little “inhouse” help to assist in getting their message out. Sister Regina, who was a meteorologist and an Air Force veteran who served in Korea and Saudi Arabia, has been “doodling” for years and “turning out cartoons just for fun,” Mother Marietta revealed. She doesn’t have any formal art training, but after she entered the convent, Mother Marietta discovered her talent.

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“We realized that we could communicate some of the simple joy we find in daily life [and] let people know that enclosed life is not intimidating or particularly mysterious,” the prioress said. “And it is a good means to inform people about our way of life.”

The Internet has its benefits and drawbacks, to be sure. As it has broadened the possibility for communication for millions of people, it allows the Handmaids of the Precious Blood to reach people all over the world with greater speed and less expense. “We can also receive prayer requests from people not involved in our prayer associations, and we continue to hand write them in a book kept at the adoration prie-dieu,” Mother Marietta said.

“It is important for us to do everything we can to make our response personal and not packaged.”

Habit-Side-Rosary

All images used by permission of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood.

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