Personal Sacrifices for Faith

Cloistered nuns sacrifice worldly pleasures for austerity and self-denial.

ByABC News
May 10, 2007, 12:17 PM

May 11, 2007— -- Tonight in the darkness, an ancient ritual will begin, as it has every night for almost a thousand years. With bare feet and in complete silence, the Poor Clare sisters of Roswell, N.M., will rise from their beds, don their cowls and begin to pray for your soul.

Each night, these nuns allow themselves no more than three hours of sleep. Their calling is an extreme one: to stay inside the walls of their convent and spend their days and nights in prayer and silent contemplation.

They are part of a small number of nuns in the United States who are cloistered, meaning they do not interact with the outside world except by necessity.

There are only 1,412 cloistered nuns out of 66,608 sisters in the United States. They take four final vows: chastity, poverty, enclosure and obedience, and they follow a rule of silence.

For their enitre lives, their time will be divided between constant prayer and the work of the convent. Most do not read novels, see movies, or play sports. They do not hug one another and keep all physical contact to a minimum. Most of them rarely, if ever, see their families.

These are not the nuns we are familiar with, called apostolic nuns, who teach or minister to the poor. These sisters spend their days in silence and isolation, giving up not only the outside world but often whatever gives them pleasure, however small.

They have sacrificed everything worldly to focus entirely, and without distraction, on praying to God.

At the Poor Clares convent, the ferocity of self-denial the nuns practice is impressive. Not a word in the halls, not a whisper at breakfast, which is eaten standing up, in remembrance of the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land.

The Poor Clares order began in the Middle Ages as a movement against the increasing worldliness and laxity of the church. Every crumb of the sisters' food, the two small pieces of bread and cup of coffee they have for breakfast, for example, must be consumed. Work is always done in constant, quiet prayer whether, they are sweeping floors or making a simple lunch.