Sunday, September 2, 2018

The More Things Change...

 When young Francis de Pietro de Bernadone was discerning his vocation, he felt inspired to enter the dilapidated old Church of San Damiano to pray.  While kneeling before the Byzantine crucifix hanging there, it suddenly came alive for him and spoke, “Francis, go repair my house which as you see, is falling into ruin.”  As he was a simple man, Francis sold some merchandise from his father’s fabric shop and offered the money to the resident priest for the repair of the church. 
But fearing he was being mocked, the priest refused.  

Then Francis became a construction contractor, and stone mason although he knew nothing about these trades. 
Where there is a will, there is a way—especially for Francis of Assisi.  But after he had repaired three old churches around the countryside and had also attracted followers in his new style of life, he came to realize that Christ’s words to him had a deeper meaning.  He was called to repair not physical churches, but THE Church which through the corruption of wealth and the abuse of power, was threatening to collapse.  The reigning Pope also had a dream in which he saw St. John Lateran basilica toppling over and a small man rushing forward to prop it up with his shoulder.  When Francis arrived at the Vatican to get approval for his newly founder Order, the Pope recognized him as the man of his dream.

The first church Francis repaired, San Damiano, became the first monastery of his “Poor Ladies” who are now known as the Poor Clares.  While Francis’ brothers, the Friars Minor, uphold the Church through their imitation of the life of Christ, we his sisters, do our part as Mary did, by a maternal and prayerful presence.  The Church of the 21st century is much like that of Francis’ 13th century.  Then, as now, there were immoral priests, negligent and power hungry bishops, scandalized laity.  Christ is crucified again in the victims of abuse and we stand at the foot of His cross with Mary, compassionating Him, comforting the suffering laity gathered there and supporting those priests who, like St. John, remain faithful.

During this last week I have often wondered if we should be building an ark rather than a dormitory!  But then I was reminded that in ancient days, monasteries were built according to the dimensions given by God to Noah in Genesis.  The idea was that monasteries were indeed arks in which the life of prayer and penance offered a safe haven from the floods of chaos in the world.  So, as we build our dormitory to shelter young women seeking to live that very life of prayer and penance which offers salvation to the world through Christ, we actually are building an ark as well!  Let us continue to hope for God’s mercy, even as we anticipate his coming judgement upon us.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

We have a problem...

Look about and see;
             they are all gathering
                         and coming to you...
         "This place is too narrow for me,
                          make room for me to live in." Is.18-20

Yes, indeed, we have a problem!  

But it is a nice problem to have
When we moved from Newport News to Barhamsville in 2004, it never occurred to our modest community of twelve to be concerned that our new monastery had a maximum capacity of thirty.  But here we are in 2018 numbering twenty-seven sisters, with more than three young women asking to share our Poor Clare life. 
The problem?  No more room!

 Our novitiate dormitory, containing 6 monastic “cells,” is filled to overflowing.  With your help, we hope to build a new novitiate addition comprising six more cells, two storage rooms and a bathroom.  We also plan to expand the novitiate “common room,” a multi-purpose area for work, study, and recreation, that is presently too small for our growing family.

Every vocation is a unique and unrepeatable mystery of God’s call and a young woman’s response.  Join us in thanking God for the gift of each of these ardent young vocations, and help us to make room for them in the heart of the Church.  Every donor to our novitiate building fund will be gratefully remembered in the prayers of our newest Poor Clares and in those of us “old timers” as well!

Donations can be made by check payable to:

Bethlehem Poor Clare Monastery and sent to:
5500 Holly Fork Rd, Barhamsville VA. 23011
or through PayPal (see the donate button above on the right!)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

August Gardening

I have heard it said that missionaries have a hard time explaining the concept of divine forgiveness to indigenous people who are nature worshipers because in their experience, “Mother Nature” does not forgive!  Our gardening experience confirms it.  This year we got did not get the compost into the squash row before planting and we got behind in the weeding.  The result? Not much squash. Never mind the excuses of not having time, etc.  Tell it to the birds.  They won’t listen either!  But then, sometimes Nature smiles like the sun on a clear day, and for some reason  things go marvelously well.  We had some volunteer pumpkins that ended up being the success story of this year’s garden.  Here is pictured our Sister Prabha holding our prize winner weighing a hefty 35 lbs!
We thank God for the pumpkins, the few squash we did get, the abundant cucumbers and tomatoes still being harvested.  But most of all we thank Him for His love that DOES FORGIVE US when we fail, even if we have to bear the consequences of our negligences.  That is what is called “the temporal punishment due to sin”.

We are now in the midst of our novena to our Mother St. Clare in preparation for the celebration of her feast on Saturday, August 11.  May she bless all of you with the gift of her intercession!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

More photos of Sister Francesca

As promised, here are more pictures of Sister Mary Francesca's investiture:

Sister Mary Francesca

Sister Francesca's Hair Offered in Sacrifice 
Cutting the Cake

Sister Francesca has long since removed her festive crown of flowers and is happily learning how to manage her activities barefooted and clothed in the Holy Habit.  She reports it is easier than in postulant garb!  She is also moving out of her cell in the novitiate dormitory in order to make room for our newest member, Aspirant Amanda who comes to us next Sunday!  We have only 2 more cells left, so it is getting time to build another dormitory.  Stay tuned for further developments!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Investiture of Postulant Casey as...

Sister Mary Francesca of the Blood of Christ!

Casey dressed in her bridal gown
 at the beginning of the ceremony
Today, June 29th, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, we had the joy of transforming one of our Postulants into a radiant new Novice!  Here are highlights of the ceremony.  More photos will follow in the coming weeks.  Sister Mary Francesca's heavenly patron is St. Pio, better known as Padre Pio.  His baptismal name was Francesco (Italian form of Francis).

Casey attends Holy Mass 

Novice Mistress, Sister Margaret Mary
adds the final touches

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Revisiting Holy Week

Holy Thursday Adoration
 During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery, particularly as she commemorates the historical events of the Easter Triduum:  The Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus and His Resurrection.  Glorious are the mysteries celebrated!  Yet their glory is overshadowed by the mournful remembrance of Christ’s bitter Passion.  Therefore, fulfilling our human need to thoroughly celebrate what we have commemorated, the liturgy gives us another chance in the weeks following Pentecost.

Our Corpus Christi Monstrance

Today, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we revisit Holy Thursday, and rejoice that Jesus has left us His Blessed Sacrament whereby we are united with Him and are able to adore Him on our altars.  Since the time of our Mother St. Clare, the Poor Sisters have fostered an intense Eucharistic devotion and lifestyle.

Statue of St. Clare
Long before there were Eucharistic ministers, artists have depicted St. Clare holding a monstrance as her characteristic symbol of sanctity.  Her daughters carry on her legacy today in joyously reverent Sacred Liturgies  and daily adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

On Friday, we will revisit Good Friday in the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Here, to the left, you can see the cross awaiting its unveiling and veneration at the Three O'Clock Service.  To the right is a photo of the community in silent meditation afterwards.

Following in the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare exhorted her Sisters to always remember the Passion of our Lord.  His pierced Heart, wounded not only by the soldier's lance but by love, is our gate into paradise and there we find our rest.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sister Faustina's Investiture-photos and sharing

As promised, here is the sharing of our youngest novice's investiture ceremony:

            Praised be Jesus Christ, and happy 2018!  Behold the letter you have all been waiting for: recounting the joyous day of our Investiture on December 16!  First of all, I hope you have so far had a blessed New Year, filled with many graces and blessings.  For me, my heart sings loudly: “The mercies of the Lord are new every morning!”  It is so refreshing to realize how true this is and that this year before us is waiting for our “yes to all that the Lord will ask of us”, as Mother Abbess said in her New Year’s Eve Chapter.  I will expound upon this later in the letter.  Now, where do I start?
            I’d like to share about our retreat which I am so grateful for; it was so peaceful.  The weather was very cold, but I managed to get outside almost every day to enjoy God’s creation.  I did some light hiking down our trails and visited our beautiful pond.  My soul was wrapped in silence, and my heart was humming a gentle song of thanksgiving.  This became my theme for the retreat, which began on December 11, the vigil of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I received our refectory penance from Mother: “I humbly beg you to pray for me that my Poor Clare life may be a sign of the love of Christ for the world.”  This was a reference to our Lord’s words about the Divine Mercy image.  Kneeling before each sister and asking her to pray for me for this intention was such a joyful and humbling experience!  The Solemnity was rich with graces and at the end of the day I had the opportunity to participate in the festivities at recreation—although from a distance.  I sat with our dear Lord in the dimly lit Choir and listened to the angelic voices that came from down the hall in the Chapter Room.    Listening to the sweet sound of sisterhood brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!   
            To finish off this time of quiet preparation I decided to pray the Stations of the Cross as an offering of thanksgiving for each of my sisters and their many prayers that made our retreat so fruitful and peaceful.  When I reached the last Station, I looked at the wooden cross with the anchor etched onto it.  I felt something within me that made me want to stay a bit longer at this Station.  I looked at that anchor intently; a sense of hope and peace washed over me.  Little did I know this anchor was destined to become my Poor Clare mark!  Definitely a nudge from the Holy Spirit!
            The next day was the big day.  My family arrived from Florida the previous evening.  We were thankful for clear skies and clear roads because they made the trip by car!  Later they told me they were exhausted from the drive but were very eager for the morning to come so they could see me in our bridal gowns; the first one being, of course, the traditional “fine garments of the world”, and the second being the lowly garments of a true Bride of Christ.  The first dress was a beautiful rose lace treasure brought over from Eindhoven, complimented with my Mom’s heart shaped miraculous medal.

Processing down to Choir with the blessed olive branch, the symbolic lamp of St. Clare and with the sound of my sisters singing “Look down with love on us” was an overwhelmingly joyous experience.  Gentle tears began to stream as I remembered that theme of thanksgiving which deepened as the morning unfolded.            

Before I knew it, we were in the Chapter Room awaiting my transformation.  Mother gave a beautiful exhortation before the ceremony actually began.  Every word was so meaningful.  Her theme was hope in God.  She drew inspiration for the mark from Hebrews 6:19.  If I can remember correctly she concluded with a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux:  “A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.”  This was a hint to what my title would be!   

I was so happy to finally put on the second bridal gown, that of our Holy Mother St. Clare!

So now I’m sure you are wondering how Mother chose St. Faustina to be our patron.  Mother of course knew of my growing devotion to St. Faustina which began during Holy Week of 2016, months before I entered.  I entered in August that year and made the consecration to Merciful Love two months later on October 5, the feast of St. Faustina, which was very providential because I had other dates in mind; one of them being on St. Therese’s feast day.  Many graces followed and I grew in my love for our Lord of Mercy.  St. Faustina became like a sister to me, I could speak to her so easily.  Mother Abbess told us during recreation after the Investiture that she had noticed me standing for a long time before a picture of her that we had out in the Narthex on the evening of April 23, 2017, Divine Mercy Sunday, which was surprisingly and providentially the same date of the first Divine Mercy Sunday inaugurated by Pope St. John Paul II!  That was when she knew something special was going on. 

            Having said all that, and looking back on all the occasions God showed his mercy to me throughout my discernment, I realize how blessed I am to have St. Faustina as my friend and guide on this journey called life!  So that is how it all came to be!  Praise God!  I am still humming that gentle song of thanksgiving for all His mercies especially for placing me in the hands of such an amazing family. 
            Before I close, I said I would expound upon Mother’s New Years Eve Chapter conference.  She gave a beautiful exhortation which gave me hope for this New Year as a Poor Clare Novice.  One thing that really spoke to me was the words I shared at the beginning of this letter: “say yes to all the Lord asks of us”.  This made me think of all the ways the Lord may ask us to adore and glorify his Mercy in each loving encounter with our sisters and the needs of the world. 
 I also remembered the words our Lord spoke to St. Faustina: “These Rays of mercy will pass through you, just as they have passed through this Host, and they will go out through the entire world.”  After reading this I was filled with joy as I pondered the beauty of our Poor Clare vocation; our Holy Mother St. Clare desired this for all her daughters, that through our continuous life of prayer and sacrifice, although lived behind the walls of the enclosure, the endless mercy and love of Christ may spread throughout the entire world.  Outstanding is our vocation!  May the Holy Spirit make this great work of mercy blossom in our souls this year and may our Blessed Mother Mary teach us always to sing her great hymn of praise and thanksgiving for all the mercy the Lord has shown us. 
  Lovingly in Christ, Sister Mary Faustina of Merciful Love