Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HUGE Update!! Video by Cheyanne

Our Postulant Phoenix had a YouTube channel before she entered our community.  Her twin sister Cheyanne has decided to use it to give updates on her sister's vocation and now to express her own interest in religious life.  Here she shares her view of how it felt to see her sister enter the cloister. On Palm Sunday Phoenix exchanged her white aspirancy veil for the black veil of a full fledged Postulant and looks forward to experiencing her first Sacred Triduum and Easter in the monastery.  We also look forward with her to her first family visit on Easter Monday.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blessings for Holy Week and Easter!

We are on the threshold of Palm Sunday and the holiest week of the liturgical year.  On behalf of my Poor Clare Community in Barhamsville, I wish all of you a most blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter!  You will be remembered in our prayers.  Here is our Easter newsletter:

      Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares
   Spring, 2014

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; 
for his love endures forever.”

Our dear Friends,

            Yes, here is the great Good News!  It is the joy of the Gospel: God’s love endures forever!  It is the joy proclaimed throughout the world by Holy Church at the Easter Vigil as she invites all the powers and hosts of heaven to rejoice and exult because Christ is risen and nothing and nobody can separate us from His love – all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding!  But that joy cannot be contained just in one night or even one day.  We sing it over and over again for a whole week: Give thanks to the Lord!  He is good.  He is good.  And His love lasts forever!

            We have had so much to give thanks for these past months, beginning with the publication of our Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium at the end of the Year of Faith.  Mother Abbess gifted each of us with a copy so we could study it in depth together, which we have been doing at recreation on Sunday evenings.  We hope all of you have been able to delve into this marvelous document as we have.  Of course, the big news of December—and our primary reason for giving thanks – is always the arrival of our Infant Savior and all that He has brought to us from His Heavenly Father.  This year, we were led into and guided through the season by our Father Francis Simeone, who had a surprise for us.  You may recall that he was scheduled a couple of years ago to take our Christmas Masses, but suffered a heart attack and underwent by-pass surgery at the beginning of the novena.  Well, he had already been working on his homilies for those days and had just completed one of them when he decided he really needed to drive over to emergency to find out the cause of the chest pains he was having.  And the rest is history.  Except he never deleted that homily. So, after the gospel on the appropriate day this year, he opened his remarks by holding up his notes and telling us that this was that homily.  God is so good!

            Mid-January brought us yet another special gift in the person of  Bishop Bosco Puthur, from Kerala, India. He has been a long-time friend of our Sister Mary Joyce and was in the United States visiting family before traveling to Australia to become the first bishop of the eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of the Syro-Malabar rite.  So he dropped down for a couple of days to be with our sisters from India.  He asked our prayers for the daunting task that lies before him in setting up this new eparchy among the some 40,000 Syro-Malabar faithful who up to now have had only two priests of that rite to serve them and no official organization.  Like the first bishop in our country whose diocese covered the whole of the thirteen colonies, Bishop Bosco’s territory will be the whole of Australia and New Zealand!  We ask you to join us in supporting this valiant son of the Church as he carries the Good News of the Gospel to, quite literally, the ends of the earth.

            Meanwhile, we were preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our move up here to Mount St. Francis.  How many memories we had to share with our sisters who had not been with us during that momentous time!  Family books with photos of the way it was back then filled in things words could not supply.  And how we gave thanks for all of you who helped with that great saga – and saga it was – one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that brought so many of us together for the glory of God.  We remembered also those who took such great part in that day, but who are no longer with us here.  We are sure they are now receiving that reward for which we pray daily: that God may bestow eternal life on all those who do good to us for His sake .
            Part of the joy of that anniversary was our anticipation of welcoming yet another member into our midst.  Postulant Phoenix joined us on February 7th, the feast of our Holy Mother St. Colette, she who, through the centuries has led so many along the way of St. Francis and St. Clare.  A little farther down the road, in the month of March, we celebrated another Tenth – this time of the formal dedication of our monastery and monastic church with the several days of Open House that preceded it.  So many more came than we were expecting!  All for the glory of God, because those who gave thanks were so many – some even coming from out-of-town and out-of state!  To help us with our celebrations this year, the parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel  in Newport News threw a pantry shower for us that was just overwhelming in its generosity!  We cannot even begin to repay all those who contributed, and so we pray the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity, to reward each and every one with that measure of His own, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, just as He promised.
Of course, we are on the verge of celebrating the greatest good news imaginable: the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is the heart of the new evangelization, our Holy Father told us, the primary Kerygma:  “Jesus Christ loves you; He gave His life to save you, and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”  But for such wondrous proclamation there must be preparation.  And so, the Spirit led us forth into the desert in late March and early April in our annual retreat, conducted this year by taped conferences on the Gospel of St. John given to the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George by Most Rev. Jan Liesing, S.S.D., bishop of the diocese of Breda in the Netherlands.  Leading us through the great mysteries of Holy Week will be Father Anil Gonsalves, O.F.M. Cap., a friar from India who is presently studying at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.  Then, at the end of the great Paschal Octave, we are looking forward to the canonization of two beloved Popes of recent decades:  Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.  Needless to say, we are excited now!

            Which brings us – almost – to the month of Our Lady, when our Sister Angelique will be making profession of her First Vows.  We invite you to join us at 9:00 a.m. on that great day, May 24, feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of our Holy Father St Francis in Assisi, as Sister vows to “observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, in poverty, and in chastity,” and also to observe enclosure.  Thus we proclaim the joy that comes from personally encountering the Lord Jesus.  Stay tuned for accounts of this event and more in our August newsletter.

            Oh!  Listen!  Do you hear it?  All the flowers on Mt. St. Francis have, and are bursting into bloom for joy!  Just over the horizon:  the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, the Christus Factus of Good Friday, the returning Alleluia, and then, then the great reassuring tones of Easter morning, bright with the light of His rising:    “Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum.”  

 “I arose and am still with you.  Alleluia.”

Our Holy Week Liturgies in this year of the Lord 2014

April 17          Holy Thursday        Mass of the Lord’s Supper                                               5:00 p.m.

April 18          Good Friday           Celebration of the Lord’s Passion                                     3:00 p.m.

April 19                                          Easter Vigil                                                                     11:00 p.m.

April 20          Easter Sunday         Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection                                       9:00 a.m.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Martha and Mary

A number of years ago we all took the Myers-Briggs Personality test, and since then we have had fun analyzing the results, discovering ourselves and each other in a new way.  Especially helpful has been the increased ability to answer the ever present question, “Why does she do that?”  “Because God made her different from me and it is OK!”  One of the challenges of cloistered life is that we live very closely.  Differences of personality are keenly felt.  It is essential that these differences be not only tolerated, but received, accepted and even celebrated.  Difference need not lead to disunity.  Rather it is meant to be a source of strength.  For if differing personalities can cooperate with each other, it is possible to cover all your bases.  The weaknesses of some are supplied by the strengths of others, situations are perceived with a fullness of perspective and better judgments made.

Yet, it is always good to remember that the human person, made in the image and likeness of God transcends his or her personality.  Grace builds on nature, but also delights in surpassing it.  A naturally reserved Sister may suddenly surprise everyone by dancing with excitement.  One who has spent most of her life in practical pursuits may develop a love and talent for poetry.  In today’s Gospel of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we see Jesus calling two sisters of almost opposite personalities to transcend themselves.

Martha and Mary have just lost their brother Lazarus.  Jesus, after receiving their message, delays two days and so has missed both the death and burial.  Finally he arrives.  Martha, true to her quick and practical nature, rushes out to meet him before he even comes into the village.  Meanwhile, Mary, faithful to her more reserved personality, remains at home.  Jesus enters into a theological discussion with Martha about the Resurrection and elicits from her a profession of faith equal to Peter’s, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”  Martha, the great doer, has paused; she listens, receives, then taking up again her native energy, leaps to a faith filled conclusion that in turn impels her toward her sister, “The Master is here and is calling you”.  When Mary hears this, she throws caution to the winds and runs like Martha to Jesus.  But then she casts herself down at His feet, her preferred place.  In Luke’s Gospel, Mary sits at Jesus feet to listen to His word (to the consternation of Martha) and later she will be found there again, wiping them with her hair. She speaks, and then weeps, baring her heart with her tears.  Jesus does not discourse with her, but rather weeps with her.  He knows that this is the language she would best understand.

In the presence of Jesus, the two sisters of Lazarus both find themselves and are called out of their selves.  Soon they will welcome their brother back from the dead and then Martha will prepare a feast that becomes a transcendent foreshadowing of the heavenly kingdom, while Mary will become a prophetess, anointing Jesus as King and Priest of the Paschal Sacrifice.  When we come before Jesus, we too will find ourselves welcomed for who we are, and at the same time called to become more than we are.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

10th Anniversary of Dedication

 Today is the 10th anniversary of the dedication of our monastery church!  It is hard for us old timers to believe that a decade has gone by.  But we are grateful for our memories and even more grateful that we have youngsters to whom we can tell the memories!  It was a joy to hear our Postulant Mary read some of the accounts that we wrote at the time and to share at recreation more of that momentous day in our lives.  Here is one's Sister's story:

At the open house there was an exceptionally large crowd of people (approximately a thousand) who came for the two days of touring parts of the monastery the weekend before and the morning before the Dedication Mass. What a joy it was to share with them the beauty of the monastery and its surroundings, with its spirit of quiet, prayer, and peacefulness.

It was this spirit that we had tried to maintain throughout those days in preparation for the upcoming significant events. This was quite a challenge as the big day drew near. Open house was only two days away and there was not a sign of the choir grille as yet. And Premier Millwork Company was still working on the choir furnishings up till the day before the dedication.

But when all was done (well, almost) in God's good time ... oh, what a transformation! Sister Pius' burning bush design on paper came to life in the choir grille. One indeed feels she is standing on holy ground. The big double doors that close in front of the tabernacle during the Eucharistic celebration give one the sense of transcendence, that this is the Holy of Holies. The sacred space now only awaits the real Presence of its Lord.

This is the place where God has chosen to dwell among His people. The day of Dedication dawned with excitement in the air. There was one more chance for the people to tour the first floor of the monastery, this time reserved for those who came from a further distance. As soon as the last person walked out the door, the Franciscan brothers from the Holy Land province were on hand to roll up the hall rugs. Yes, all is ready!

All were gathered at the doors to choir for the entrance procession, and so unfolded the glorious Dedication Mass. Bishop Emeritus, Walter F. Sullivan and about twelve 'priests, including Father Abbot Robert Barnes from Holy Cross Abbey in Barryville, came to concelebrate. The whole ceremony of Dedication was moving. One of the high points for me was the anointing of the altar, for isn't Christ Himself, the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice? And when the lights were turned on in the sanctuary area, and the candles were lit during the lighting of the altar and the church, everything was as if aflame with God's love and Presence. And right after Holy Communion the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Finally, we are really home!

"Remember not the events ofthe past; the things oflong ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!" (Isaiah 43: 18-19) Yes, the Poor Clare saga of moving from Newport News to Barhamsville is past. Behold! God makes all things new. 

Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares on Mount St. Francis, with its monastery church, is now dedicated to God for His praise and worship

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reflections on Exodus Then and Now By: Sister M. Joseph

Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are deeply into the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt, for that is the continual story related in the Office of Readings during Lent.  The older Sisters fondly remember how our Sister Mary, one of the foundresses of our community, would get so excited each year on the night we would cross the Red Sea.  (Poor Clares pray this liturgical office at midnight).  Even when she was dying of cancer she pleaded to be there rather than to sleep through that epic event.  Another of our Sisters has meditated on some key moments of the exodus story, and it is my joy to share some of them with you here.  Stay tuned for further installments! 

     “Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” He answered, “I will be with you…”

     The call is given, the call of our vocation, and that is sufficient security to begin our journey. The call is given to Moses and through him to the whole people of Israel. We are all called by Holy Mother Church to leave the land of Egypt, the land of our bondage to sin. We are called forth to enter a land of desert, an unknown land filled with dangers; but we can set forth with confidence for the simple reason that God will go with us. He is our Way and He is the End of our journey.

     “Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians that to die in the desert.”

     We would rather live enslaved to the ease of the world and our selfishness then to go out into the desert of asceticism and self-denial. God invites us to a life of the spirit, a life which seeks to rid us of the encumbrances of self and looks for all its joy and sustenance in Him alone. But there are times when we tell Him. “No, I would rather be a slave to my selfish desires, my self-will.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn about and camp in front of Baal-Zephon, just opposite, by the see. Pharaoh will then say, “The Israelites are wandering about aimlessly in the land. The desert has closed in on them.”

     Sometimes obedience can seem to us like aimless wandering around by obeying what seems foolishness to us. Yet the Israelites obey promptly. They walk straight into the trap between the Egyptians and the Red Sea and find themselves not closed in by the desert but closed into God’s loving embrace. God’s watchful eye is over them all the while. What looks like aimless wandering is a wise plan of an all-provident God. And look at their reward! They cross the Red Sea in ease while leaving their enemy to drown behind them, an event they will celebrate for generations to come. We will join them in like celebrations if we obey without question.
The Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians were on the march in pursuit of them. In great fright they cried out to the Lord.

     But before their reward a terrifying trial! They cry out in fear and even rebellion instead of praying with faith, just as the apostles later did when Our Lord was with them in the sinking boat. Instead of praying with faith, instead of fervent prayer, there were frantic cries. The apostles are rebuked, “O ye men of little faith!” In such situations it is impermissible not to pray, but our prayer must be a prayer of faith. We must really believe that a God who can save us or who can allow us to suffer is listening. There was more of doubt and selfish fear in the cries of the Israelites than faith and surrender to God. “Why have you brought us out here?” does not show much faith. We may cry out in prayer providing we are also focusing on God and our prayer ends: not my will but Yours be done.

     But Moses answered the people, “Fear not”. Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today. The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep quiet. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

     Here we have a great plan of action when fear and trouble surround us. The so familiar biblical greeting: Fear not; then, stand your ground, at least do not retreat! Stay where you are and face the danger and you will see the Lord winning the victory for you. The Lord Himself will fight for you if you keep quiet. Suffer in silence. What wise counsel! If you suffer in silence, God will surely come to you. It is very difficult to suffer in silence. We want to cry out. We want someone to know we are suffering. It is a far greater thing to keep our sufferings for the Lord. Speaking of them is like going to Egypt for vain help instead of relying on Yahweh, who alone is our fortress, our stronghold, our defense in times of trouble. Then the last dictum, “go forward to the impossible and watch it under God’s hand become possible.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transfiguration Sunday

To you my heart has spoken, I have sought your face, your face O Lord, I will seek:  do not turn away your face from me.
Such is my translation of the Latin Gregorian chant we sang this morning as we entered our monastic choir for Holy Mass.  It was the perfect preparation for hearing the Gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  There it was proclaimed:  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as snow.  No wonder that Peter wanted to camp out there on Mt. Tabor forever!  Every human heart, whether it knows or not, desires to see the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.  As contemplatives in the Church, Poor Clares are privileged to make this our special aim:  to seek his face, that is his presence, in the liturgy, the adoration of the Eucharist, and the daily events of our lives.  We have fulfilled the desire of Peter to build a tent (in Latin: tabernacle) for him and for Moses and Elijah (whom we encounter in our daily reading of the Holy Scriptures).  Here on Mt. St. Francis, we and all who join us for worship, can seek and find him whom are hearts love.  Yet, his divine presence is experienced in different ways, according to his desire and not ours.  Always the bright cloud overshadows us, drifting between us and a clear seeing of his face.  As St. Paul would say, we see in faith, as in a glass, darkly.  Sometimes the cloud is not so bright, and at other times the sun of his face seems to set and we are enveloped in nighttime darkness.  Why is this so?  The opening prayer for today gives us a clue:
O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Our spiritual sight is not yet pure.  Who indeed can look steadily at the sun?  And every gardener knows that life needs not only light, but also the rain which the dark clouds provide.  In our present state of becoming pure, we need the night of his unfelt presence to temper our hearts so that we will live truly for him and not for ourselves.  We need to be washed clean by listening to his word, including that hard word, deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me.
It would not be long after the Transfiguration before Jesus would take his three favorite disciples apart again, but this time it would be in the darkness of Holy Thursday on the Mount of Olives.  Then, on Friday, only John would be there on another mount called Calvary.  We follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to joy or to sorrow, to glory or to crisis, trusting that he is the way to the bosom of the Father.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Nun Run

Today six girls on a “nun run” from the University of Dallas arrived in time for Mass after traveling 22 hours by car.  They were a very interested and interesting group, asking insightful questions and very sincere in their discernment.  Mother Abbess and other professed Sisters met with them in a morning and afternoon session.  The girls joined us for the Divine Office (from the public chapel) and then shared a recreation period with the novitiate Sisters.  Tomorrow they continue their pilgrimage to New 

Jersey to visit cloistered Dominican Nuns, then on to see active Franciscan Sisters in New York and Steubenville, Ohio, more Dominican Nuns in Buffalo, NY and ending with our friends the Nashville Dominican Sisters.  Please pray for these lovely and earnest young women that God may reveal His will for their lives and give them the graces they need to follow it.  One may even become a Poor Clare!  Here are some pictures from the novitiate recreation: