Sunday, September 14, 2014

St. Francis and the Urgency of Love

On October 4th we will celebrate the Solemnity of our Holy Father St. Francis.  In order to prepare for this great celebration, during these next few weeks I would like to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters. 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. 

Christ spoke to St. Francis from the Cross
"Francis, go rebuild My Church"
The Urgency of Love
    Once Francis began to receive the message of God, the vigor with which he had previously sought vanity was now given in full to the commands of his Lord.  His heart was aflame with love and understanding.  Whenever he had perceived the true meaning of the Gospel he could not rest until he had conformed himself to it.  In this way the grace of conversion bore fruit in him.
   The Poor Clare vocation can never be followed half-heartedly.  In order to embrace such a life of supreme generosity one must be strongly motivated by love and God’s grace.  Yet a Poor Clare soon finds that she is grasping, not for the fulfillment of some ideal or desire, but for God’s Holy Will.  She thirsts for His Will to be done in her.  For her not a day, not even a moment can pass that is not in absolute conformity to God’s Will.

   Thus, for the Poor Clare, as for Saint Francis, there is an urgency which can never be ignored.  The Gospel requires an immediate and dedicated response.  All her strength and energy must be expended in adoring obedience to her Divine Lord.  Moreover, nothing is trivial, no act is unimportant once it has been touched by the Sacred Truth of God’s Will.

Espousal of the Kingdom
    Francis had identified a mysterious treasure which he himself did not yet fully understand.  His romantic and chivalrous heart courted this Mystery in generous patience.  He perceived that the surrender and ardent gift of his whole self was mystically akin to that sacrament by which a man and a woman become one flesh. Thus he considered his devotion and fervent pursuit of this treasure to be a matter of fidelity, and his service and outward deeds to be an expression of fealty.
    One of the first movements of the Spirit revealed in a soul who has been given a vocation to become a follower of Saint Francis in his Second Order is the call to exclusive intimacy.  She perceives that she is not intended to make the sacred gift of herself to a man; indeed, she finds that she is already not her own.  She has been chosen by a Spouse who gently urges her to accept Him.  He courts her by holding before her eyes a veiled bouquet in which she barely sees the splendor of sanctity shining from within.  Her Mysterious Lover whispers His Truth in her ear and she finds a wonderful resonance in her heart assuring her that this truth is already present there preparing to receive this Bridegroom.  Her response, then, is a “yes” to His Proposal.

The Means of the Spirit
    Receiving a commission from the Lord to repair His Church, Francis fervently sought to fulfill it with the material means at his disposal.  Yet the world does not take kindly to one who attempts to expend its resources for things of the spirit, and Francis immediately met with opposition.  In the simplicity of his heart Francis would have liked to give the world as a gift to his Beloved, but when he found that he was not in possession of that world, he was confused and afraid.  His weakness prevented him from seeing clearly what was his to give.  Through suffering, patience, and self-restraint he was unknowingly freed of the many reservations which kept him from giving himself.  Finding that he was in possession of a new liberty, he proceeded with joyful confidence to renounce the futile use of wealth and sought rather by the labor of his hands and the sweat of his brow to render service to his Beloved.
    When one senses within herself the invitation to a Poor Clare vocation, she may at first think that the gift she is to give is the sacrifice of worldly pleasures and the selfish use of her personal talents.  She sees herself placing in the hands of her Lord all that she could have had and could have been.  When suffering comes she welcomes it as the natural consequence of her self-abnegation.  Yet as she is stripped of exterior things she finds to her amazement that there is something left.  Her being does not consist of those things which she has given to her Lord.  Indeed, she finds that the garments of future pleasure which she has cast aside are mere rags compared with the robes of true beauty with which her Lord now gently adorns her.

    She finds that she is the beneficiary of a gracious Bridegroom Who, rather than taking these external gifts, delights in drawing out the pure bride He alone could see in her.  Now she realizes that the future possibilities she had so generously given were a mere abstraction, and the reality of her self-gift is far better.

   In this way the follower of Saint Francis experiences the same truth which he was taught by his Divine Master.  She strives more and more to give her self, all her thoughts and all her moments, to her Lord, and to surrender more and more to His Loving Gift.  Finally she realizes that her own true peace and perfect joy are the gift required by her vocation.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

St. Francis and the Mystery of Vanity

On October 4th we will celebrate the Solemnity of our Holy Father St. Francis.  In order to prepare for this great celebration, during these next few weeks I would like to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters. 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. 

The Mystery of Vanity

    When he was about twenty three, while he was still in hot pursuit of the glamour of the world and the nobility of chivalry, something happened to Francis.  He became ill and depressed.  The world suddenly lost its shine.  He began to wonder what there was to smile about after all.  Everything seemed futile for it no longer brought him the pleasure it had hitherto done.  His own disposition confused him.  So he turned to God as the One Who would teach him Truth.

   Few are endowed with a clear view of life from childhood.  We live on the surface of reality and first perceive the superficial values of the world.  This simplicity is innocent and good.  Indeed, if there had been no fall from grace, it would even have been enough.  Only goodness and truth would have grown from it.

   It is sin which complicates this initial clarity and confuses us.  We are selfish and we do not know why.  We reach out for empty things and set goals for achievements of little value.  When we feel dissatisfied we think it is because we have not yet attained these vain pursuits.  Thus we rapidly forget what truly made us happy.

   God provided Saint Francis with a remedy for this problem.  He brought to the surface the pain and discontent of Francis’ spirit.  He made use of the sufferings of this life to give Francis a glimpse of the superficiality and futility of those trivial things from which Francis had begun to seek pleasure and fulfillment. 

   God does the same for all of us.  A Poor Clare is called to a life of penance so that, mortified in the use of trivial things, she may begin to see the deeper value of everything.  Like Saint Francis, she turns to God as the One who can clear her eyes of dust so that she is able to perceive the Kingdom in all its beauty. 

    Through the patient endurance of the unpleasantness of discipline and suffering, she eventually comes to value these as vehicles to freedom and joy.  What she at first bore in obedience, she now embraces and seeks.  She sees herself as the privileged child and beneficiary of God’s mercy, and receives the strength and courage to weather the storm of faith which will bring her to the harbor of understanding.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Life of St. Francis of Assisi and Poor Clare Spirituality

On October 4th we will celebrate the Solemnity of our Holy Father St. Francis.  In order to prepare for this great celebration, during these next few weeks I would like to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters. 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. 


Part One:  
The Youthful Romance

The Garden of Delight
    From earliest youth Francis was a man of dreams and vigor.  He was extravagant, generous, jovial, and ambitious.  For him life was joyful and filled with potential and wonder.  His hope was to do great things with his life and to experience fully the delights it held.  This led him to devote himself to the foolish and vain pursuits the world offered, but it also opened his heart to supreme self-emptying and utter dedication.
    For one who has opened her eyes upon the Light of God’s Face, the first task is to welcome the gift of existence.  God the Radiant and Perfect Good exists, the created world truly exists, and she herself has been given the gift of existence.  She must conceive the fundamental realization that life has been given to her for a purpose, and that purpose is good. 

   Like Saint Francis, those who inherit his legacy must experience the fire of life.  The invitation to self-gift presupposes the value of one’s own being and the concept of the goodness of the Other.  Francis’ extravagant youth was his touchstone with reality.  His perception of earthly delights and his ambition to fight for the romance life held was the preparation for his encounter with the Divine Benefactor.  Aglow with the full view of the day, a Poor Clare waits eagerly for this same encounter.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Novitiate Update

It has been awhile since we took a picture of our Barhamsville Novitiate, all together in an ordinary setting.  So many blessings and transformations have taken place in the last few months!  Pictured here from left to right, beginning with the back row:  Junior Professed Sister Mary Angelique who made her First Profession of Vows on May 24th.  Novice Sister Miriam Rose who was invested with the Holy Habit on June 28th.  2nd Row:  Postulant Phoenix who entered our community on February 7th.  Aspirant Cecilia who entered on August 15th.  And Postulant Sarah who will be receiving the Holy Habit on October 7th.  Not pictured is Novice Sister Maria Christi who has taken up residence with the Professed Sisters, continuing her formation with them.  She has special treatment, being a "transfer Sister" from an active congregation.  Pray for all of these good young people as they pray for you!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cecilia's First Day as a Poor Clare

I am happy to report that Cecilia has successfully navigated the intricacies of Poor Clare living for 24 hours (with a little help from her friends).  She is pictured here earnestly accomplishing one of the first tasks of a new arrival: that of “marking her clothes”.  Each Sister’s “mark” fulfills the eminently practical function of identifying her clothing so that she gets it returned to her after our communal wash day.  “The mark” also serves to identify each Sister’s mailing pigeon hole, and where she puts her outdoor shoes (when not wearing them).  It appears on the liturgical board to show which Sister has petitions at Holy Mass on what day.  Aspirants get a Roman numeral as their temporary “mark”, which they will keep until the blessed day of Investiture when, along with her new name and title, a Sister receives a significantly identifying “mark”.  Many Sisters have marks derived from the Passion of Christ:  the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear, the hammer and the nails.  As in all things, we seek to elevate and beautify the mundane with a touch of the spiritual.

Sisters embroider their marks on their clothes with blue thread, while Aspirants and Postulants do their embroidery in green.  Sister Miriam Rose recently exchanged her Roman numeral III for a combination mark:  a small “m” beneath a cross, signifying Our Lady at the foot of her Son's cross.  Phoenix still has a few articles of clothing missing her green I and Sarah looks forward to exchanging her green IV for a new blue mark.  At the rate Cecilia is going, she will probably have everything embellished with a green II in no time!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Video! Investiture of Sister Miriam Rose, and more good news

Blessed Feast of our Mother St. Clare!  To celebrate, we have posted a new video on YouTube entitled “Investiture of Sister Miriam Rose”  Here is the link:

We also have some good news to share:  our community has approved our Postulant Sarah’s petition to receive the Holy Habit.  Mother Abbess revealed yesterday that this blessed event will occur on October 7, feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Surely our dear Mother Rosaria is smiling down on us from heaven!

And as if that were not enough, on the feast of the Assumption, this coming Friday, we will welcome our Aspirant Cecilia into the midst of our enclosure.  Pray for her, Sarah, and all our novitiate Sisters.  Help us to thank God for all these blessings!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

All You Who Are Thirsty, Come to the Water! More Pictures from Solemn Profession

Thus says the Lord:  All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk…Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.  I will renew with you the everlasting covenant… Is. 55:1-3

The Latin entrance chant that Holy Church gives for us this Sunday is a paraphrase of the First Reading for Holy Mass: 

(translation) You who are thirsty, come to the waters, says the Lord:  and you who have no worth, come, drink with joy

Those of us who are privileged to sing Gregorian Chant are privy to a rich source of ancient exegesis.  The scripture ponderings of medieval monks and nuns bore fruit in revealing melodies that are a musical blessing for us modern singers.  In this particular chant piece, at the words, “you who have no worth”, the melody suddenly soars like a geyser of jubilation.  What a surprise!  Shouldn't we be sad about the fact that we have no worth?  Is this not the secret fear of all of us, to be counted worthless?  The prayerful composer of the chant says no!  Being worthless is not a hindrance, to divine love, but rather a precondition!  We hear an echo of Jesus’ words:  blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger and thirst…But wait; we have great worth, not of ourselves, but as we are created by God in His own image and likeness.  How are we to have no worth?  By pouring it out in love!  Christ has gone before us to show us the way.  He “emptied Hi
mself.”  But he did not remain empty, for “God highly exalted Him.”  This is ever the dynamic movement of love.  In heaven it will be pure joy to see and to participate in the eternal outpouring of the Divine Persons, One to the Other and to us.  But here on earth where sin and selfishness interfere, our self-emptying is always painful. So it was with Christ as “He became obedient, even unto death, death on a Cross”.  Yet the very pain experienced, both for Him and for us, becomes the source of redemption and salvation.

We are still in the afterglow of our Sister Marie Elise’ Solemn Profession, and so we cannot help but think of her at every turn of the sacred liturgy.  Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is also read at the Easter Vigil, when the catechumens are thirsting for the springs of salvation.  Religious consecration is an intensification of the Baptismal covenant and that is why it is not a separate sacrament.  So what is true of all baptized Christians is even more true for Sister Elise and all of us here at Bethlehem Monastery.  By our vow of poverty we have no money and are emptied of all worth so that we have free access to the divine water, wine and milk offered in abundance by the Church in her liturgy.  We come heedfully and listen to God’s Will as it is revealed to us in the living of our vow of obedience, and we experience the renewal of our covenant love in holy chastity.  We do this now and forever and always in our blessed enclosure.

Here are more pictures from our celebration of Sister Marie Elise’ Solemn Profession:

"I, Sister Marie Elise of Jesus Crucified, vow to God, before the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Father St. Francis, Our Mother St. Clare, and all the saints, and I promise you, Mother, to observe during the whole time of my life, the form of life which the Blessed Francis gave to our Blessed Mother Clare and Pope Innocent IV confirmed, living in obedience, without anything of my own, and in chastity; and I vow to observe enclosure."

"Receive this crown, Sister Marie Elise, which your Spouse, the Son of God, offers you.  May you deserve to be made a partaker of his Passion on earth and of his glory in heaven."

Bridal Cake for Sister Elise