Mother Dolores Hart once starred opposite Elvis Presley in a film (Ignatius Press photo)

What a beautiful op-ed in The New York Times by J. Courtney Sullivan, a novelist and lapsed Catholic who has discovered the beauty and power of the Benedictine way of life, by developing a relationship with cloistered Benedictine nuns at a convent. Excerpt:

The abbey’s inhabitants include a former movie star, politicians, businesswomen, artists of all kinds. Some came in reaction to a moment in time that defied understanding — the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, the acquittal of the police officers who killed Amadou Diallo.

Right now feels like one of those moments to me. And so I sometimes dream of throwing off the trappings of our troubled world and joining them. The fantasy is not strictly female. With each horrifying news story lately, my husband has taken to asking, “Is it time for the abbey?” We talk about living in the (nonexistent) caretaker’s cottage, raising our son up in fresh air, far from the evils of corrupt politicians and Pornhub.

It’s Christmastime again, and I feel the longing most acutely now. At the abbey, even the smallest act is considered an act of devotion, so that every dish washed or loaf of bread baked takes on heightened importance. I couldn’t have understood this as a kid, arguing with the parish priest. But I see it now. There is something powerful about being in the presence of faith when you yourself are doubting.

Read the whole thing. You can read more about a couple of the nuns who live and work and pray there. Mother Dolores Hart, a former film actress, writes about her journey from Hollywood to the abbey. Here’s a CBS report on Sister Noella Marcellino, the “Cheese Nun,” who was the subject of a 2006 PBS documentary that is no longer available, per Amazon and the PBS Video site.

Here is a link for the Abbey of Regina Laudis. They are a traditional Benedictine community, wearing traditional habits and chanting in Latin. Sullivan is not only a fallen-away Catholic, but also, it appears, a liberal one (she notes that she favors same-sex marriage and contraception). Yet the beauty of the Benedictine nuns’ way of life speaks directly to her heart. This approaches what Pope Benedict XVI meant when he said the best arguments for the faith are not the actual arguments, but the beauty and the incarnate goodness that the Church produces.