Sunday, September 13, 2020

September Thoughts

 Autumn comes slowly to Virginia.  It seems that summer is loath to relinquish its hot grip on our world.  But here and there, we can perceive signs that the inevitable transition is taking place: few cooler days, some reddish or yellowy leaves sprinkled among our trees, but most of all the marked shortening of the days.  Poor Clares are early risers and so we are very much aware when the sun delays its own rising.  Another sign of autumn is a paradoxical shift back to spring of some of our flowering plants.  It seems that when the days get short enough and the nights appropriately long enough to imitate the light setting of March/April, spring blooming bushes and bulbs are tricked into blooming in September!  One of these was a perfectly lovely, pure white iris that blossomed forth last week, just in time for Our Lady’s birthday.  An observing Sister joyfully added it to Mary’s birthday bouquet gracing her statue at the back of our choir.

We know that Mary, like any good mother, has a special, tender love for all “late bloomers”.


September also presents to us a liturgical “flashback” to the springtime celebration of the Paschal Mystery as we celebrate the Lord’s Triumph of the Cross on Sept. 14, followed by His Mother’s Sorrows and then, for Franciscans, the Stigmata of St. Francis.  This last commemorates the mystical imprinting of Christ’s wounds upon our Holy Founder, his own very special participation in the Passion of the Lord.  We pray for you and your loved ones, that the crosses you bear and the wounds you suffer may be transformed by the grace of God into blessings now and triumph in the age to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Sister Francesca Makes First Profession

 When a Poor Clare Sister is invested with the Holy Habit, she also receives a new name, title and “mark”.  This last is a religious symbol that is often linked to her name or title and serves as her identification mark for the items given to her for her exclusive use.  One of the first challenges facing a new novice is “to mark” all her clothes using blue embroidery thread so that they will return to her after the community washday!

On the joyous occasion of her First Profession of Vows, the Sister’s mark is usually on display, being a feature of the festive decorations throughout the monastery.  Our Sister Mary Francesca of the Precious Blood, who pronounced her first vows as a Poor Clare last week, has for her mark the chalice.  Here is a picture of her "refectory board", newly wood burned.  Each Sister has such a board at her place at table.

And a chalice-shaped vase held the bouquet of white and wine colored carnations at the foot of the altar in our chapel.  

Our Bishop Knestout was able to come for the celebration of the ceremony along with two priests who regularly serve our community Mass and a few of our friends.  Everything had to be kept simple because of the pandemic restrictions, but nothing could restrict our Franciscan joy.  Sister Francesca is now a radiant bride, having exchanged the white veil of a novice for the black veil of the professed.  

Here are a few more pictures from the ceremony:

Entrance Procession
Mother Abbess Therese, Sister Francesca, Sister Margaret Mary (novice mistress)

Pronouncing her Vows
Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Enclosure

Receiving the Black Veil

Signing the Profession Document

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Summer Newsletter 2020

Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares

Summer, 2020

“…and this be our motto: In God is our trust!”


Our dear Friends,


            Some issues of this newsletter ago, we opened with an exclamation of wonder over the progress being made in our new construction.  “What hath God wrought!” one of us was reported to have said when viewing the appearance of a wall where a few hours before there had been only framing.  It has been tempting to begin this issue in somewhat the same way, but with a slight alteration: “What is God up to?”  We know He has a purpose in everything; that nothing ever merely happens.  Jesus Himself said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father noticing.   And that is why we trust Him, even when things get rough.  As His very small children, we are sure our Father knows what He is doing and has everything under control.   And what have we been up to these past weeks?


                 Back in March , when we last wrote to you, we here in Virginia had recently entered Phase I of the great Lock-down attempt to stem the tide of the Corona virus pandemic and our chapel was still open for Mass and private prayer.  Shortly after that, however, to our great sorrow and yours, it became necessary for us to post the announcement of its temporary closing.  So it was that on the 15th anniversary of the dedication of our monastery and the opening of our monastic church, our public chapel was empty and would remain so for the duration .   It was with truly great joy that we were able to reopen our doors on May 17th, at first to a few and then to more and more as word got around.  But that is getting ahead of our story.


                Our Holy Week, like yours, was much more subdued than usual as we put into practice the recommendations issued by our Bishop for the various ceremonies.  For instance, while we had the blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday, we had only a short entrance procession rather than our usual longer one; only Father venerated the Cross on Good Friday, and the ceremony of the renewal of our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil was also somewhat simplified.  We cannot be grateful enough to our Father Francis Simeone for once again leading us through the Sacred Triduum, nor to our faithful chaplain, Father Gerry Pryzwara, who celebrated Holy Mass for us every day during the Major Lockdown.  Someone remarked that this year Holy Week and Easter must have somewhat resembled the very first one back in 33 A.D.  Except that we knew the end of the story, and they did not.  Surely the return of the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil after the glorious ringing of our bells  presaged the return of a  more open way of life, but that would not be for some weeks yet, weeks that would hold many adventures of their own.


                At this point, we would like to thank each and every one of you for your loving concern for us and for your generosity in making sure we did not lack anything.  We are deeply grateful, and have been keeping you all in our prayers, especially during Holy Mass, praying that all the graces available from the actual Masses being celebrated would flow in a full stream into your hearts and your lives. 


                The month of Mary’s month of May brought the joyous event of the renewed consecration of our country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  We were very much united in spirit with the ceremony, but various circumstances demanded we schedule our own community consecration a month later, on June 1, feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.  We are sure that, with the love of a Mother and Handmaid, she has embraced our nation, our diocese, our monastery, and each one of her children to draw us closer to her Son. A number of us prayed the prayers privately throughout the month, however, as a personal cry to the Father for His mercy and protection in the violence that had erupted in so many places.  Our annual Rosary procession on May 13th, feast of Our Lady of Fatima, thus became our own march for peace as we moved through the halls from shrine to shrine set up for the occasion, praying her rosary and singing hymns in her honor. We ended with the crowning of her image by our youngest novice, Sister ImmaculĂ©e.


                Then it happened.  You remember: the great “unplanned” event. Our last major one was in November when our Sister Joseph’s newly installed pacemaker slipped out of place, necessitating an unexpected open heart surgery.  This one wasn’t quite as life-threatening, but it was still pretty dramatic.   

After our noon meal on May 20, while many of us were at the dishes, two Sisters thought they heard a cry for help coming from our infirmary area and ran to investigate.  They found that our dear Sister Mary Agnes had fallen and was unable to get up because of the intense pain.  Paramedics got her to the hospital, where it was discovered that Sister seemed to have broken her hip.  Surgery the following day revealed that the bone was actually only cracked rather than broken, so the operation did not last as long as originally projected, but Sister still had a long stay at the hospital followed by a time in rehab.  Thanks be to God and the good care she received from devoted doctors, nurses, and therapists, Sister was able to return home on June 4, and has been making remarkable progress ever since.  At this writing, Sister still has a good amount of healing to do, but she is well on the way to full recovery.


                Sister’s return to us was not the only happy event of June, however, for the month began with our own ceremony of renewal of consecration to Our Lady on its first day, as mentioned above.  A couple of weeks later, on June 12th, we gathered in our chapter room to hear the Glad Tidings that our dear Sister Mary Francesca would make her first holy Profession on August 27th, feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, and one of the great Pray-ers of the Church. We are looking forward to having our Bishop Barry Knestout with us as presider at the Mass and ceremony.  The following day, June 13th, we celebrated the feast of St. Anthony of Padua with special observances of the 800th anniversary of his entrance into the Franciscan order.  Mother blessed a large statue of our saint and we carried it through the halls chanting an official litany in his honor. Afterwards, it remained for the rest of the day on a specially decorated stand in the narthex behind our choir.


                However, St. Anthony’s is not the only great anniversary we are celebrating this year.  2020 marks also the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Richmond.  The Lord gave us a unique opportunity to participate in its observance during the last week of June when then-Deacon Anthony Ferguson made his pre-ordination retreat in our guest quarters.  His ordination to the priesthood on July 11th coincided with that anniversary.  As of this writing, we are looking forward to his first Mass with us and receiving his first priestly blessing on July 17th.  Other things we are looking forward to at this writing are the 30th anniversary of Holy Profession of our Mother Abbess Mary Therese on July 16th, and the 60th anniversary of our dear Sister Mary Pius on August 5th.


PLUS -- as you may have noticed from the insert included with this letter – our solemn Novena in honor of our Holy Mother St. Clare, which will run from Sunday,  August 2nd to Monday, August 10th, concluding with her Solemn Mass on Tuesday, August 11th at 8:00 a.m.   We invite you to join us for the novena prayers, which will follow our 8:00 Mass each morning, if not in body then certainly in spirit.  We will be entrusting all your intentions to our Holy Mother, whose requests her divine Spouse will surely not refuse if they are in accord with His plans for your greater good.  For most assuredly throughout her lifetime, her prayer and that of her Sisters was:  “In God we trust.”


Due to the limited space available in our chapel, we invite you to join us at least in spirit for



August 2-10                            Novena in honor of our Holy Mother St Clare         Prayers follow 8:00 morning Mass


August 5                                     Diamond Jubilee of our Sister Mary Pius                         Mass at 8:00 a.m.                                                                                                


August 11                                    Solemnity of our Holy Mother St. Clare                          Mass at 8:00 a.m.


August 27                                First Profession of our Sister Mary Francesca                     Mass at 9:00 a.m.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Sister Francesca to Make First Vows

Glad Tidings Chapter for Sr. Mary Francesca         June 12, 2020


+My dear Sr. Francesca,

   In God’s loving and gracious providence, this day has been chosen for you, the day on which you will be espoused to Christ the Lord. St. Monica may not seem to be a fitting patroness for such a day, but the more I prayed about it, the more I found the day to be just right, and specifically because God chose it, since the Bishop will be able to come on that day.

   When I think of St. Monica she is to me a woman of prayer, of unceasing prayer.  She did not give up her prayer until God answered her, and He rewarded her perseverance with gifts and graces beyond measure.  Not only was her son Augustine converted to Christ, but he became a great saint of the Church.

As Monica prayed with tears for the conversion and salvation of her son Augustine, how much more are you to implore God for the salvation of your spiritual children.

  But even more than following the holy example of St. Monica, you are called and chosen to imitate the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Mediator between God and Man and to follow in His footsteps.  As contemplatives, we are called to specifically imitate Christ in prayer upon the mountain and in the daily offering of the Divine Office we stand before the throne of God as intercessors in the name of our Mother the Church. Truly we become the voice of the Church,” the Bride addressing the Bridegroom” day and night on behalf of the entire world.

 Our seraphic parents, Saints Francis and Clare, are your first models after Christ for a life of unceasing prayer.  It was said of Holy Father Francis that he did not so much pray, but became prayer, and we know our Holy Mother Clare was immersed in prayer as if it were her very life breath.  And as their daughter, this is your calling also-to intercede and to pray without ceasing, imploring God for the sake of all His children until your prayers are answered, fulfilled according to His merciful love and grace. 

     In the document, “Vita Consecrata”, St. John Paul II writes eloquently of the consecrated life and says that the evangelical counsels, which are at the heart of our consecrated life, are a gift of the Most Holy Trinity, which is an appropriate reflection for us today, too, since we are within the Octave of that great solemnity.  He wrote: “The deepest meaning of the evangelical counsels is revealed when they are viewed in relation to the Holy Trinity, the source of holiness. They are in fact an expression of the love of the Son for the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” (#21)

   These evangelical counsels are first and foremost an invitation from the Lord to follow Him, poor, chaste and obedient, to dedicate oneself as a total gift, with an undivided heart, in complete self-emptying, living without anything of one’s own. 

  “The consecrated life, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, constitutes a closer imitation of the way of life which Jesus, the supreme consecrated one, embraced and proposed to his disciples.” (#22)

   Our Constitutions state that “We have entirely offered ourselves to the Lord Jesus with the firm resolution to live in the spirit He lived, obedient, poor and chaste, observing not only what is given in the Gospel as commandments and counsels, but also striving to follow all admonitions and exhortations…”   This is a high calling and a privilege: to live the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!  It would not be possible for us unless God gave the grace and your Holy Profession marks a new outpouring of grace so you can re-spond with a greater fullness to the vocation you have received, to the invitation the Lord has extended to you to “Come, follow Me!”

   The vows are not just something you pronounce in love, but they are also pledges of God’s faithful love to you because, as our Constitutions also say “By our religious profession, we are totally set apart for God in a personal covenant of love.” It is a mutual exchange of love, which all marriage vows should be.

  We know our vocation is not a burden but a pure gift given by God and so we receive it with joy and grateful love, wanting to respond to His call with all our hearts. Our beloved enclosure, in which we vow to live, is the precious space where we will live with the Lord in this covenant and be offered with Him day after day as a gift.  And this brings us to the next great Solemnity we are about to celebrate:   The Most Sacred Body and Blood of Christ, the Holy Eucharist.  In the cloister, we are able to offer ourselves in a unique way with Christ for the world’s salvation.  As our Mother St. Clare, whose “entire life was a Eucharist” you also can and will be offered up as sacrifice, expiation, praise and thanksgiving with Christ to the Father through the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Feasts of Corpus Christi and St. Anthony

Blessed feast of the Body and Blood of Christ!   We are so happy that our chapel is now open so that our friends can join us for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Our Catholic faith is not only spiritual but corporeal.  As cloistered nuns, we do maintain a certain distance, not in order to avoid contamination from the world, but to be more fully present to all in God.  We still are interdependent with the faith community and it is important that we celebrate the mysteries around our altar, praying as one body in Christ.  We continue to pray for the health and well being of our country and world.

Yesterday was the feast of St. Anthony, that great 13th century son of St. Francis.  This is his 8th centenary anniversary of joining our Franciscan Order.   To celebrate in a fitting way, our novitiate Sisters created this "float" which we took in procession around our cloister, reciting his litany as we went.

Here is the Litany that we prayed:


The Litany of St. Anthony, Greatest  Son of St. Francis

For Private Use.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, graciously hear us.

O God the Father, of Heaven:
have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world:
O God, the Holy Ghost:
O Holy Trinity, one God:
have mercy upon us.

Holy Mary:
Pray for us.
Immaculate Virgin:
Mother and Mistress of our Order:
Pray for us.

St. Anthony of Padua:
Pray for us.
St. Anthony, glory of the Friars Minor:
St. Anthony, greatest son of St. Francis:
St. Anthony, playmate of the Holy Child Jesus:
St. Anthony, devout client of Our Lady:
St. Anthony, messenger of the Sacred Heart:
St. Anthony, holy prophet of God:
St. Anthony, doctor of divine truth:
St. Anthony, preacher of grace:
St. Anthony, keeper of the Scriptures:
St. Anthony, ark of the covenant:
St. Anthony, hammer of heretics:
St. Anthony, terror of infidels:
St. Anthony, horror of evil spirits:
St. Anthony, searcher of consciences:
St. Anthony, consoler of the sorrowful:
St. Anthony, gentlest of saints:
St. Anthony, example of obedience:
St. Anthony, gem of poverty:
St. Anthony, lily of chastity:
St. Anthony, rose of patience:
St. Anthony, violet of humility:
St. Anthony, apostle of the Savior:
St. Anthony, martyr in desire:
St. Anthony, confessor of the Faith:
St. Anthony, virgin in soul:
St. Anthony, finder of lost things:
St. Anthony, helper of all who invoke thee:
Pray for us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
spare us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
graciously hear us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
have mercy on us.

V. Pray for us, O blessed Anthony. Alleluia.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ. Alleluia.

Let us pray.

Choose one of the following Collects.

Almighty and eternal God, Who hast glorified Thy faithful confessor and doctor Anthony with the perpetual gift of working miracles, graciously grant that what we confidently seek through his merits, we may surely receive upon his intercession. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let this devout commemoration of blessed Anthony, Thy Confessor, give joy to thy Church, O God: that she may always be strengthened with spiritual help; and attain to the fruition of eternal joys. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let Thy people, we beseech thee, O Lord, be assisted by the devout and continual supplication of Thy illustrious Confessor, blessed Anthony: that in the present Thy grace may make us less unworthy; and in the future may give us eternal joy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord Jesus, Who didst manifest Thyself to St. Anthony in the form of a little child: grant, by his intercession, that we may be converted and become as little children, and so obtain our petition from Thee. Who livest and reignest God, for ever and ever. Amen.