Sunday, February 22, 2015

St. Francis and 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.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Video of Cheyenne's Entrance

Cheyenne asking to enter the cloister
Mother Abbess Therese about to receive her

Mom Paradiso (Mother of our Phoenix and Cheyenne) made a video of Cheyenne's entrance into our community on January 2.  It is hard to believe that she is over a month old and will be exchanging her little white aspirant veil to the postulant black veil next week on Ash Wednesday.  Even harder to believe is that her sister Phoenix is one year old (monastically speaking) today, feast of St. Colette!  Stay tuned these next 6 months for an investiture!

Here is a link to Cheyenne's Entrance

Sunday, February 1, 2015

St. Francis and Sacred Scripture

Before the feast of St. Francis last year, I began to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters.  I would like to resume this series now as we look forward to entering the season of Lent, the great time of joyous penitence and so an especially dear season for Franciscans.  The purpose of this study is to introduce the reader to our Poor Clare Spirituality through the lens of the edifying life of our holy founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Immersion in Sacred Scripture
    In his journey of conversion to Christ, Francis found great consolation and support in Sacred Scripture.  The words of Jesus Himself in the Holy Gospel became so precious to him that he claimed them as his own rule of life.  Every Word of Scripture was for him a source of living water from which he drank with ardent thirst.  In the usual fire of his spirit he sought to conform himself in every way to the commands of his God and Lord as shown in the Sacred Text.
    St. John the Evangelist tells us in his Gospel that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh.  The Word proceeding from the mouth of God has become Incarnate in the Person of His Beloved Son.  It is natural, then, that the one who would embrace Christ should also embrace the written Word of God.

    At first one may be attracted to Sacred Scripture by the wisdom and message found therein.  Saint Clare, follower of Saint Francis and mother of all Poor Clares, echoed Francis’ words in her rule saying “This is the form of life of the Poor Sisters: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Therefore from the moment she has embarked upon this way of life a Poor Clare must attend to the Book of God.

    As an imitator of Saint Francis, it is the custom of the Poor Clare to read and meditate upon Sacred Scripture each day through the practice of Lectio Divina.  She must then endeavor to make of it her own rule of life.  She seeks in it the wisdom and means to help her grow in virtue.  If she is faithful she will learn to habitually think as God thinks and thoughts of the Kingdom will spontaneously arise in her heart.

    Yet the Mystery of immersion in Sacred Scripture as exemplified in the life of Saint Francis is even deeper than this.  For him it is the living Word, full of meaning and dynamic vivacity.  It is a spring that becomes a sea of reality flowing over every aspect of life.  As a Poor Clare is nourished more and more by contemplation of God’s Word she is herself made holy.  It becomes a place of contact with her God, of mutual understanding and spousal intimacy.  Phrases and stories which may at first have only seemed interesting and perhaps displayed an edifying message will now be for her mirrors of eternity through which she can identify her Lord and God.  For a true follower of Saint Francis, Sacred Scripture is a transformation and a source of everlasting life.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crystal Rain

Coming from New England, I am always amazed at Virginia's weather although I have lived here since entering our monastery over thirty years ago.  Winter in the Old Dominion is particularly fascinating.  A few weeks ago, we were treated to a nighttime freezing rain that coated every leaf and twig with a glassy coat of ice.  But with dawn came a clear sky that allowed the rising sun to transform the great outdoors into a glittering wonderland.  Now here is the difference between New England and Virginia:  in the former, one could look forward to weeks of enduring ice, but the Virginian winter sun has warmth enough to begin an immediate meltdown.  As I emerged from our choir after attending Holy Mass, I found in our cloister courtyard a crystal rain.  I tried to capture the moment in the above picture.  The beauty was fleeting, but the memory will be with me forever.  All joys in this life are a foreshadowing of eternal joy which will not pass away.  We can let go of passing pleasures in peace, for we hope to receive them back again and infinitely more besides in our union with God from whom all beauty and goodness flow.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Aspirant Cheyenne

Our new aspirant Cheyenne is all of two weeks old, going on three!  She pretty much knows where she is going and what she is doing, but sometimes still needs a little help from her big sisters.  Her Mom has shared with us her video of our entrance ceremony, also a link to her diocesan magazine where Cheyenne is the cover story.

Entrance Ceremony 

Cover Story

Sunday, January 11, 2015

To End the Christmas Season---A Poor Clare Christmas Story

On Holy Innocents Day (a special novitiate feastday in the octave of Christmas) the Circus Minimus of Bethlehem Monastery presented a one act play named “A Broken Destiny”, written by Novice Sister Miriam Rose and directed by Novice Mistress Sister Clare.
The All Star Cast
Novice Sister Veronica as Mary, Novice Sister Miriam Rose as Joseph, Junior Sister Angelique as the Lazy Donkey, Postulant Phoenix as the Crippled Lamb and Postulant Cecilia as the Incredulous Ox
A Broken Destiny
Once long ago, a little lamb was born to a poor farmer in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem. The Farmer did not own many sheep, yet the sheep he did possess were of fine stock and breed. But this little lamb was different you see: a cripple. Good for nothing but to be served at table— but not on the great feasts. However this poor farmer grew an attachment to this meager creature and could not bring himself to allow it to fill his belly. So, he kept it and cared for it.
The other sheep, as you would guess, hated the little lamb and would tease it most mercilessly. If it was not for the gentleness of the poor farmer and of a diligent but carefree young ox, this little crippled lamb would probably not know what true friendship was all about. For, after all, who in this world would ever care for anything broken, much less a little broken creature with no destiny at all?
But, what if God entered into that brokenness…

“Well, lamb,” The poor farmer greeted the little lamb gaily as he patted his small curls, “happy birthday! I hope you spent it well?”
The little lamb’s only gesture was to sadly look down at the ground.
“Aw, don’t worry! There is still tonight. I am sure you and Ox will have a good time together.” The poor farmer patted the lamb’s head again and turned to leave as he clicked his tongue to the other sheep. “Come on sheep. Let us be on our way. The night will not wait for us.”
The lamb started to follow but the poor farmer held him back, “No, my friend. You must stay here tonight. You are too fragile to go out at night with the others. You rest here.” He made the lamb sit down and before he could allow himself to feel a pang of guilt for leaving the little thing behind, hurried out of the stables.
The lamb watched the poor farmer leave and sighed with sorrow, not even noticing the ox coming up beside him, “Hey kid, what’s up?” The ox asked, his tone ever so cheerful and sprite.
“The stars.” The lamb replied without looking up.
“Yeah, I’ll say!” the ox exclaimed as he tried to liven his little friend up, “And look at that big one over there! It is as bright as the sun! You would think the Lord would keep it down a bit, huh? Others are trying to sleep!” The Ox then burst out into a fit of laughter, as he was the only one who found his jokes funny, but abruptly stopped as he saw the lamb was not amused, “Aw, come on, Kid, it’ll be alright. He just doesn’t want you to get hurt is all. Besides, don’t you wanna keep me company?”
“Of course, Ox. I really do love our times together.”
“Well then,” the ox merrily maneuvered the lamb to the corner of the stables, “come Kid, I have a great idea on how we can scare those mangy pigeons away from the stable. All we need is—--”
They were then interrupted by the farmer coming back into the stables followed by a couple in mid conversation,
“Really, Joseph, I told you I am perfectly well. The only pain I feel—”
“What?” interrupted her husband, “You feel pain? Where?”
His wife remained patiently calm, “In my hand, Joseph. You are squeezing it.”
Joseph quickly removed his hand from hers, “Sorry dear.”
“Glad I caught you when I did.” The poor farmer interrupted them jovially, “I am only sorry I can’t do more.”
“It suits us very well.” Joseph replied as he pulled out a small money bag and gave it to the farmer, “Thank you, brother, for your kindness.”
“You are most welcome.” He farmer shook Joseph’s hand and then gestured towards the fire, “Well, make yourselves at home. I best be off; busy night tonight with my sheep. Peace be with you.” The farmer waved as he walked out .
“And also with you.” Joseph called back as he watched the farmer leave then turned to his wife who was warming herself by the fire, “Are you sure you are alright”
Mary, smiled happily, “Quite sure.”
“No pain?” Joseph asked again still in disbelief.
She smiled again and shook her head.
“I don’t understand…” Her husband began to chew on his lip as he too began to warm himself by the fire, “if you are not in pain then how do you know He is coming?”
“I don’t know. I just… know. It is in the air, Joseph. Can’t you feel it? It’s as if time is opening up in anticipation to receiving Him. And it is in my heart, as if His heart is beating in union with mine… And if that is indeed true, then our hearts are beating with excitement for the joy that is to come; the joy of God and His people becoming one.” She reached for his hand and took it in hers, “He is coming, Joseph! Maranatha! He is coming!”
“Well,” replied her husband with a sly smile, “if He is coming then you better sit down.”
Mary laughed as she protested but he was resolute and as she finally sat down the cry of their donkey was heard from the outside. Mary looked towards Joseph who obviously had not heard the noisy cry.
“Um, Joseph?”
“Yes, dear?”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“No…” he poked at the fire, “the only thing that’s missing is your pain.”
“And the ass…”
And just as if it was on queue, the poor animal cried out again and this time Joseph heard it.
“My goodness! I left my ass outside! I’ll be right back, Mary. Don’t you worry about a thing. Just remain calm! I’ll be right back!” And after saying so much he then left her in the stables.
She watched him leave with a smile and shook her head, “Now what am I going to do with him?” She said to herself and then was answered back by the little crippled lamb’s soft bleating.
“Well, hello there my little lamb.” She walked over to it and started to pet his head, “And what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be out there with your friends?”
The little lamb limped closer to her and sat down at her feet.
“Oh, I see.” She smiled with compassion and sat down beside it, “You are a sweet little thing… May I tell you a secret?” 
The little lamb answered with a bleat.
“I do feel pain… No, not the physical pain that comes with such a miracle, but an inner pain… You see, as long as He is in me I know Him to be safe and warm. But once He is born this cold night air will sting His soft and precious skin. And I will not be able to keep Him warm and secure anymore as I am doing now… I feel pain knowing that He will be in pain. And… and I feel pain knowing that I will be losing Him in some small way…”
The little lamb bleated softly again in reply, making Mary giggle, “Thank you, my dear little lamb. I knew I could trust you.”

Just then, Joseph enters the stables again dragging behind him a much crabby donkey.
“Come on you stubborn beast of burden! I’m trying to help you inside!”
Mary watched as her husband continued to pull at the animal and making little progress. Such a sight caused her to laugh as she turned to the lamb in amusement, “Never mind him, dear lamb. He is just nervous. You would think it was he having the baby, hmm?”
Joseph finally pulled the ass all the way in and after taking out their bedding left the animal to eat his fill of hay.
“That was harder than I thought.” He said as he made ready their beds, placing a blanket on one side of the fire then the second on the other side, and after his work was done he came and sat down beside his wife who had moved closer to the fire as the opened door had brought in the cold air. “But I finally got everything settled. And all we have to do now is sit and wait.”
The couple began a quiet conversation, which made no sense to the little lamb so he got up and moved slowly over to Ox and their new companion.
“ Salutations, brother Ass,” greeted the ox, “and where do you hail from?”
“What’s it to you, yah over-sized ox!” gritted the ass as he stuffed his mouth with hay.
“Thank you for the compliment, friend. But I detect some bitterness in you. What is it that makes you so bitter?”
“You would be bitter too if you were a beast of burden.”
“Friend, look around you. You are not the only one with burdens. We all carry it. Isn’t that right Kid?” He pushed the lamb further in to introduce him to the ass. “Kid, this is brother Ass, brother Ass, this is my friend, Kid.”
The ass looked down as the skinny lamb, “Did you just call that lamb chop, Kid?”
“Of course!”
“But he’s a baby sheep?”
“What can I say? I had always wanted a baby goat!” And so saying, the ox busted out into a fit of laughter as the lamb smiled shyly.
“ Great! Just great!” The ass was not amused, “The whole world is going crazy! A lamb is called Kid! And a man drags his expecting wife half way across the world! What will happen next?”
“Wow!” The little lamb looked up at the ass in awe, “You came from the other side of the world?”
Galilee, lamb chop. I had to carry that huge woman all the way from Nazareth! And my back is killing me!”
“Now that’s not called for, brother Ass. You shouldn’t call a mother-to-be huge. Just look at her, she is glowing!”
“I like her.” The lamb smiled and glanced back at the woman, “She was so nice to me. And she told me a secret!”
“That’s very good, Kid.” The ox nudged the lamb with his hoof, “I’m glad you made a new friend.”
“Just don’t let her get on your back!”
“Hey Kid,” the ox said as he was not pleased with the ass’s comment, “why don’t you go back over to the nice couple and keep them company for a bit.”
The lamb smiled and walked slowly back towards the woman and her husband, who had already gone asleep and was snoring peacefully beside the fire.
“Now see here, brother Ass” the ox began when his little friend was safely away, “I will not have you talk in such a way in front of the Kid. You are an ungrateful creature. Do you see my little friend over there? You know what he wishes he could do? Help. He longs to help others and it hurts him to know he can’t. And now look at yourself! The Lord has given honor through your work; you just finished helping a man carry his wife safely to Judea and what do you do afterwards? You complain. You are young and strong. You have no right to complain about anything; especially when my little friend over there would love to help even those mean blokes who tease him every day. I believe, brother Ass, you need to learn some charity.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Aw, who am I kidding. Lazy donkeys like you never listen to words of wisdom. It will take God himself to change the likes of you.”
“Change? I don’t need changing. The night I need changing is the night the sun will come and shine in this poor polluted barn!” 
Suddenly they were interrupted, again, by an intense light that seemed to be coming from the fire.
“Ox! Ox!” The little lamb cried as he limply ran towards his friend in utter fear, “She is glowing! She really is glowing! Help her Ox!”
But the ox could do nothing as all three animals saw the woman being engulfed in a warm and powerfully clear light and just as suddenly as it appeared the light was then gone and afterwards they heard the poor cries of a newborn baby and saw the shivering infant in his mother’s arms.
“Hush, my baby.” Replied His mother as she cried with him and tried to warm, “Shh, Shh, my baby. I know you are cold. I’m so sorry.”                                                               
Joseph, meanwhile, who had been sleeping was confoundedly surprised to be awakened by the sounds of a baby and after he hurriedly arose from his sleeping pallet he rushed to his wife’s side, “What? When did this happen?”
“Here Joseph, take Him.” She placed her Son in his arms and began to remove her swaddling bands as Joseph stared dumbfounded at the little God he was holding. Profound awe overcame him and he went to his knees as he brought the shivering deity closer to himself to keep him warm.
After she removed her swaddling bands she too went to her knees as they began to wrap Him.
“He is still cold, Joseph.” She told him through her tears after they had wrapped Him and He was still crying. She then began to take off her veil but was stopped by Joseph.
“No, Mary, we cannot have you getting ill. He’ll need you.” He then began to untie his own wrap from around his waist and handed it to her. “Here—”
She quickly wrapped Him in it and they were rewarded when He stopped crying. His mother then began to rock Him as Joseph sat before them adoring His Savior.
“My Lord and my God.” Joseph whispered has he reached out with his finger and the baby grasped it.
“Ox! Ox!” The lamb cried excitedly, “Did you hear what he said! That baby is our creator!”
“I heard…” admitted his friend, “but I still can’t believe it…”
“Oh, I believe it! I really do! And what about you, brother Ass?”
“I don’t know… For years I have been a selfish lazy beast looking for my own self importance and mad at the Lord for making me an ass! But… as I look on my… Creator and see Him as the creature, I feel… ashamed. Because not only is He now the creature but he is also poor, cold, vulnerable, and… dare I say it… maybe even mortal?”
“Mortal?” cried the ox in disbelief, “The Lord, mortal? Impossible!”
“Who is ungrateful now, Ox?” Replied the ass who was now humbled before his Lord, “Did you not see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears?”
They were then interrupted by Joseph, who had noticed his wife’s tired eyes and how she was holding in a yawn, “You are tired, dear. It is very late and you must sleep.”
She says no protest but nods her agreement and begins to lie down on her pallet with her Son still in her arms.
“I am sorry, Mary,” He was sorry to stop her, “it would not be wise to sleep with Him. You could smother Him in the night…”
“But then what shall we do? He will be cold.”
Joseph looked around the stable, hoping to find something that would satisfy both his wife’s and his own anxieties for the babe; until his gaze fell on the manger. He thought about it, and maybe glanced away, but as he looked it over he noticed it was the same size as the cradle he had made for him back at home. The cradle they had to leave behind because such a burden would have been too much on their long and unplanned journey to Bethlehem.
“We will put Him in the Manger.” He finally said as he got up and walked towards the animals.
“The Manger?” Mary instinctively held her baby closer to herself.
“Yes,” he effortlessly picked up the wooden manger filled with hay and brought it closer to the fire, “He will be warm, Mary. Don’t worry.” He then took the babe in his arms and placed him in the manger. “Look, He is sleeping already.” Joseph himself looked down at his little scheme and was humbled to see his God sleeping peacefully in a cave made stable. “I only wish we could do more…”
Mary arose and took Joseph’s hand, “He wanted it this way.”
“Yes… Maybe one day we will understand why.”
They both smiled, though sadly, in agreement and sat down beside the manger as they waited for sleep to overtake them. Meanwhile, the lamb, still in awe of seeing such wonders, crept closer to the manger, his heart soaring higher at every step.
“Kid! Where are you going?” the Ox protested, “Don’t go near that baby!”
“But Ox, I must. She is worried that He is cold. I must help! She is counting on me.” When the lamb finally reached the manger he smiled down at the little sleeping baby. “Thank you Lord.” He whispered as he huddled up close to the infant and placed his head on the babe’s belly, “Thank you for letting me help you. And thank you for making me the way I am so that I could be here with you tonight.”
Mary smiled peacefully and patted the lamb’s head, “Thank you, my little lamb. I knew I could trust you.”
“I was too proud to acknowledge the humility of the Lord.” The ox said as he looked from the baby then to the ground.
“And I was too proud to accept the life the Lord has given me.”
“Come then, brother Ass. Let us go and adore the Lord.”

And so there you have it, my dear readers. Yes, as you see, the little lamb is still broken, but only on the outside. After all, are we not all broken creatures who seek to be whole? And who knows, if we look long enough inside of ourselves we might also find a poor little crippled lamb and a little baby who wishes to be warmed by our brokenness.