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.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Together again: Cheyenne Joins her Twin Sister Phoenix in the Cloister

Aspirant Cheyenne and Postulant Phoenix
with their parents and two sisters
“They came to offer in sacrifice a pair of turtle doves…”

This verse, taken from the story of the presentation of the Lord in the temple which we had for our Gospel reading at Holy Mass last Monday, comes vividly to my mind as I announce to you the glad tidings that we have received another member into our community.  Cheyenne, our Postulant Phoenix’s twin sister entered our monastic enclosure on Friday to begin her Aspirancy.

Each call of the Lord is uniquely given, even when heard by twins.  Phoenix felt that call several years ago and after a period of discernment, entered our community last year on February 7th, feast of St. Colette.  Several months later, Cheyenne started her own vocational journey, first exploring the possibility of an active religious vocation and ending by falling in love with St. Clare and her spirituality.

Although the sacrifice of not one but both of their twin daughters is keenly felt by her parents, in faith and love they offer their turtle doves now to the Lord in His temple on Mt. St. Francis.  May God bless them with His most abundant graces!  May Phoenix and Cheyenne, twin sisters in blood, become true sisters in spirit, offering their lives as a fragrant holocaust for the glory of God.  And may we be worthy of their gift, being a holy dwelling place of the Lord where His praise and worship ever ascend to heaven on behalf of His people on earth.

What a way to begin the New Year!  Blessings to all from your Poor Clare Sisters in Bethlehem Monastery!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas at Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares 2014

Here are some Christmas Scenes 
from around Bethlehem Monastery

Our Choir Sanctuary

Nativity Scene in Our Cloister Courtyard

Nativity Scene in our Monastic Refectory

Stairwell Decorations

Looking into the Refectory

Novitiate Tree with Family Gifts

Novitiate Nativity Scene

Cheyenne's Cell is Decorated and Ready for her Entrance on Friday!

Cheyenne's Cell Crib

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pre-Christmas at Bethlehem Monastery

Poor Clares do not decorate for Christmas until the very last minute, or just about!  On Saturday, the novitiate went out with wheel barrows, clippers and saws to cut our evergreens for Decorating Day, the eve of Christmas Eve.  Tomorrow we head out again to collect holly berries.  Meanwhile, we continue to meditate on our Blessed Lady and her Holy Child:

My Mother

Better is she than the freshly fallen snow
That for all its whiteness is flaky cold
Lovelier far than the fragrant lily bloom
Whose pure petals blight and brown too soon.

Beyond even linen fuller bleached and pressed
That shrinks and wrinkles at the least caress,
She is most like milk, warm from the breast,
Strongly smooth as ivory, yet sweet and mild,
Purest good for press of a precious child.

Blessed Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Before Her True Image

Advent is always a Marian season, but never more so than in the week we celebrate two of her great feasts.  Last Monday we contemplated our Immaculate Mother, patroness of our Country, our Poor Clare Federation and our Franciscan Order.  Then on Friday we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas and of our own monastery.  She is truly “ours” by many titles.  Yet, most precious of all her names is that of “Mother”.  We love to call upon her as we look at her miraculous picture imprinted on St. Juan Diego’s tilma and reproduced in countless pictures throughout the world.  Almost every room in our home is graced by her lovely face.  Here is a poem by one of our Sisters who has a tender Marian devotion:

Before Her True Image

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose of Paradise,
We thirst for healing waters of your grace
And find compassion flowing from your eyes.
Generations have longed to see your face.

            That men might know your love you came.
            We have no need to search beyond the skies:
            Your image here makes our exile home,
            Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose of Paradise

No art of human hands that could reveal
All that this portrait speaks, these features trace:
A mother-with might of God at your appeal.
We thirst for saving waters of your grace.

            Fountain of life and hope of humankind,
            You hold in fold of hands and vigilant gaze
            Your children, all who turn in trust to find
            That warm compassion flowing from your eyes.

Fairest flower of earth and Queen of Paradise—
Alone Immaculate of all our sinful race—
Bring us to the fullness reflected in your eyes.

Happy the generations who see your face.