Sunday, March 29, 2015

Love Stronger than Death



The primary human need and goal is to love and be loved and to know and be known.  By God’s gracious design sorrow and suffering have become a means by which our inmost being experiences love.  After His Agony in the Garden, when the minions of the Jews came to apprehend Jesus, one of His disciples drew a sword and struck the slave of the High Priest. Jesus said to him: “Put your sword back into its place…Do you not think I can appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (cf. Mt. 26:51-53)  We know from these words of our Savior that it would have been good and just enough if He had not undergone His bloody Passion.  Since all His acts are infinite, He could have redeemed mankind by a single tear.  But this would not have satisfied Love: He had to give all and he desired to do so.  Pain penetrates deep into our nature and opens a wound which can receive and understand love.  Jesus’ Sacrifice is the primary reason why we can draw such goodness from suffering.  It unites us to Him in the Mystery of His Cross and enables a mutual flow of knowing and loving.  We pray then that, after the example of Our Lady sharing in Christ’s sufferings at the foot of the Cross, all who suffer may have the strength to draw the goodness available to them even in their darkest trials.

   Salvation history is like a magnificent poem expressing God’s Romance with His People. As we approach the Holy Days commemorating Our Savior’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we are given cause to reflect on how much we are worth to God and why.  The infinite mutual flow of love in the Most Blessed Trinity has become a fertile Communion from whence is born a distinct creation.  In creation one can see traces of God Who is the Source, but God has made man in His Image.  God has bestowed on human nature the capacity to respond to His Divine Love, and He espouses mankind through His Beloved Son, drawing us to Himself through the vivifying action of the Holy Spirit.  He is so in love with us that when we betrayed His Love He took the full burden of our sins upon Himself and delivered Himself over to death for our sake.  He thirsts for our hearts and desires to unite us to Himself forever in heaven.  Though we were sinners and worse than worthless, He loved us and gave Himself for us, so how could we call ourselves worthless now?  His Love has redeemed us and ours is an eternal vocation.  “I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare, not for woe.” May we all offer him perpetual praise and thanksgiving for His Infinite Mercy that lasts forever!



Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Newsletter Published!



Our Easter Newsletter has at last been published!  We are a bit late this year due to circumstances beyond our control. :) Here is the link:
Easter Newsletter 2015

Blessed Holy Week to All!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Charity in Solitude and Prophetic Witness



Charity in Solitude
     As Francis was returning from Rome with his small group of brothers they lived in a state of utter poverty.  They possessed nothing and had neither food nor shelter.  Yet the Lord provided for them and they trusted in His Providential care for them.  They endeavored with all their hearts to live their lives in holiness according to God’s Will.  The question arose among them whether they should live in solitude or among men.  Francis betook himself to prayer and God made known to him His Holy Will.  They were not to live for themselves alone but to spend themselves in the service of their Lord and fellow men.
***
     A Monastery is an island of peace in a troubled world.  Those who visit it can feel the sacredness and smell the grace exuding from its very walls.  When one enters a Monastery she has the experience of a place set apart where she can be alone with her Beloved in spousal communion.  She sees it as a blessed garden wherein she can pursue the life of holiness and contemplation.  The discipline and austerity of cloistered life ensure her of a safe vessel to bring her to the sublime rest of love in the Heart of the Triune God.

     Yet a cloistered Poor Clare cannot live for herself.  The life of solitude and self sacrifice in the enclosure leads to more than the intimacy with our Lord mentioned above.  A follower of Saint Francis is called to be a little poor one.  She must not make demands for rights and privileges for herself.  In her life with God she must surrender to His Will in all things.  Her every moment must express her spirit of self-denial. 

     By giving her time generously to prayer, penance, and the service of her sisters regardless of her own desires, a cloistered nun participates in the missionary activity of the Church.  On her knees before Almighty God she has the interests of the world and all suffering souls in her heart.  She gives herself for them.  Although she earnestly desires the love of Christ and is indeed His chosen bride, she accepts suffering even in her life of prayer in the spirit of generous surrender.  Just as Saint Francis realized that the wonderful life and the Mystery of Holy Poverty were not for himself alone, so also his Poor Clare followers receive this sacred gift only so that they might give themselves.



Prophetic Witness
    After his Order had been approved by the Roman Pontiff and God had shown Francis what he was to do, Francis went about heartily preaching the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Repentance.  He did not speak in flattering and lofty words conniving to gain human respect, but rather he testified to the truth in simple sincerity.  Many came to know of him and desired to listen to him.  He made available to all the message of salvation.  He called himself and those who had gathered around him the “lesser brothers,” for he desired that in all things they should be poor, lowly, and subject to all.
***
    There is in the world today, as there has been in every age, an influence of materialism and secularism.  Superficial things which have their roots in the mortality of this present life become for many the only world they know.  Their sustenance, pleasure, and purpose come from the world which will pass away.  They know nothing of the world which will not pass away.  To remedy this God calls some to live their lives on earth in surrender to the reality of the life to come.  They become a Prophetic Witness to the Kingdom of God.

    As was shown in a previous section, a Poor Clare does not proclaim the Gospel in an ordinary way.  Her life is hidden and silent.  She spends herself in penance and prayer.  Even her self-gift and sacrificial offerings take many small invisible forms throughout her daily life.  Her entire ministry and purpose is centered on faith.  She must believe that the graces she receives and obtains for others benefit the entire world.  She cannot see the effects of her self offering, but she trusts implicitly that God in His Mercy accepts her gift and deigns to use it as a vessel of His Graces.

    The poverty lived by Saint Francis disproved the idea of earthly wealth as the goal of life.  His detachment from material things bore witness to a world of greater value.  In the same way the life of a cloistered religious is singularly prophetic.  Her person is dedicated to her Spouse, but she awaits the consummation of her nuptials in heaven.  God has promised her joy and a great reward, but she must wait for the fullness of her inheritance beyond the grave.  All that a cloistered contemplative lives for is incomprehensible to those who have no faith because her whole existence depends on the belief in God’s Work among humanity and the certainty of a real and everlasting Kingdom where goodness and love shall reign.







Sunday, March 8, 2015

St. Francis and Obedience to the Church


Loyalty and Love for the Church
    After a small group of followers had gathered around him, God granted Francis a prophecy.  He showed him that his Order would grow and do much good.  With great joy Francis sent his brothers on their first mission, exhorting them to pursue holiness and preach repentance.  He wrote down the sacred words of the Holy Gospel for them in a simple and orderly manner as their rule of life, that they might better understand how they were to serve God and imitate the Lord.  As his influence spread Francis wished to express his filial obedience to the Roman Pontiff and the Holy Catholic Church.  So he and his brethren traveled to Rome where their form of life was confirmed by the Lord Pope Innocent III, who commissioned them to preach penance as the Lord would inspire them.
***
    When one is inspired with heavenly things there is always the danger of placing too much emphasis on one’s own revelation.  In Saint Francis time, as in our own, there were people who, in seeking personal sanctity, deviated from the communion of the faithful and the Church of Christ.  Saint Francis wished to make very clear that he was a loyal son of the Church, and he exhorted his followers to have a special love for the Church and reverence for the clergy.  Saint Clare herself was careful to promise obedience to the Lord Pope and his successors canonically elected.


    A Catholic has the conviction that the Catholic Church founded by Christ upon the Apostles is under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.  A religious, therefore, of any order, who has been baptized into the Catholic Church, is first of all a Catholic and must obey the Church’s laws and teachings.  In the spirit of Saint Francis, and as a sign of her loyalty, a Poor Clare places herself in obedience under the protection of the Pope.  She must be grateful and value the Church’s guidance while safeguarding ancient traditions and values.  In the manner of a young squire who is devoted to his master’s household, Saint Francis and his followers are small but faithful servants in the Church.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snowy Mardi Gras

The days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent are traditionally held as special days of festivity, the famous Mardi Gras.  It may seem a strange way to celebrate, but being of a practical turn of mind, I had planned on a painting party for Tuesday, Ash Wednesday Eve, as it were.  New closets had recently been built, I was eager to put them to use, and I had a crew of inexperienced painters who needed free scope to practice their skills on surfaces that for the most part would never be visible.  So it looked like Tuesday would be a fun and productive day.

St. Teresa of Avila once said that if you want to make God laugh, make plans.  I guess my planning tickled the Most High enough to create a blizzard Monday night followed by a sunny Tuesday just right for sledding.  What could I do but submit to the Divine Will?  In the early morning hours a placed a note outside the novitiate common room that read:  “Dear Sisters, your assignment this morning is to go outside and praise God for His gift of snow.  Dress warmly.”  Dutiful as always, the novitiate Sisters bundled up so thoroughly that it was difficult to recognize one from the other.  Our single sled was used to great advantage on our slopes behind the monastery.  No one hit a tree this year either.  Here are some pictures of our snow adventures.

Phoenix and Cheyenne bury Sister Angelique

Sister Angelique sends Sister Veronica down the slope

Who needs a sled?
Sister Miriam Rose rolls down the hill


Sister Joyce (left), Sister Prabha (face down), our Sisters from India,
are honorary novitiate Sisters on snow days!
Sister Miriam Rose and Sister Angelique on the right

Sunday, February 22, 2015

St. Francis and Repentance



Repentance
    Though he had converted to Christ and was already living a truly edifying life, Francis was often moved to deep contrition for the sins and wastefulness of his youth.  On one occasion, as he stood before God in fear and trembling and hot tears, a consolation and peace swept over him.  He knew that he had been forgiven.  Experiencing the state of grace he could now stand apart from himself and all his passions and look upon life as a child of heaven.  He could see with fresh hope the marvelous things God could accomplish through him.
***
   As was mentioned before, Saint Francis was not merely a messenger of the Gospel.  He himself desired to respond to that message.  He did not merely preach penitence, he was himself a penitent.  The Order he founded is an order of penance: not for saints but for sinners.  It is not an Order reserved for those who are very holy or endowed with mystical experiences, but for the little poor ones who have been forgiven. 

   A Poor Clare is conscious of a continual movement of conversion in herself.  She knows that God’s grace first turned her heart to Himself and it is this grace which sustains her.  Life in a Poor Clare community provides a constant experience of reflection, mutual contrition, and gratitude as the sisters urge one another to be reconciled to God and to trust in His Mercy.  Yet even in this there is a sense of surrender and confidence.  Forgiveness and repentance are a source of healing and strength to our fallen human nature.  God’s forgiveness freely offered on His own initiative and our acceptance of this forgiveness, as well as our response of repentance, place us back in a right relationship with God.  They save us from the fear and dread of the fugitive.  They give us peace in the midst of the confusion of our own passions.


    To be reconciled to God is the only way to be in a right relationship with the world around us.  By seeing ourselves as we are before God and humbly accepting our limitations we have the potential for growth.  For Saint Francis and for his followers in the Poor Clare Order repentance is an occasion for freedom and joy.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

St. Francis Responds to the Word of God


Little Poor Ones of the Kingdom
     Now that Francis’ ears were open and receptive to the Word of God, the Lord made use of this same Word to teach him the way of life he should lead.  Francis’ soul at this time was like fertile soil ready to receive the seed of truth.  He heard this Gospel proclaimed:
“Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food…Preach saying ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’…Whatsoever house you shall enter say ‘Peace be to this house.’” (cf. Mt. 10)  From these and other similar verses Francis learned that he was to be a poor servant of the Kingdom.  Casting from himself all money and provisions and removing his sandals and leather girdle he clothed himself with a rough habit shaped like a cross, put a rope about his waist, and cried out in great joy that this is what he longed for with all his heart.  This was the birth of the Franciscan Order.
***
    The life of a Poor Clare within the enclosure is mystically akin to the missionary calling of Saint Francis.  In the spirit of faith she casts herself penniless upon Divine Providence as a daughter of the Kingdom.  God receives her into His household and her role is that of a daughter serving her Father and Spouse.  It is for this reason that the Church’s faithful supports her as part of its family.

    A Poor Clare claims nothing for her own and does not seek material security.  She is wholly confident that God will care for her.  She thus becomes a prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God as it will be for all at the end of time.  Moreover, by making no demands and harboring no ambition for her own advancement, she becomes a symbol of peace such as will reign in heaven.

    It is no figure of speech to say that the enclosed Poor Clare fulfills these passages in imitation of Saint Francis and of Christ Himself.  Her role of rendering perpetual praise and petition to God in adoring love is at the heart of the Christian mission.  Her struggle for holiness embodies the struggle of all mankind to come to a holy understanding and union with God in the midst of this complicated and fallen world.

    The Poor Clare Monastery is not comparable to heaven, but rather to Purgatory.  It is an antechamber to heaven where penance and purification take place.  A Poor Clare therefore not only bears witness to the Gospel, she herself portrays the consequence of heeding the Gospel Message.  In this way she is an imitator not only of Saint Francis rule but also of his personal sanctity: she preaches the Gospel and rarely uses words.