Thursday, December 22, 2011

Decorating Day

Yesterday in Bethlehem Monastery was D-Day—Decorating Day. And now the monastic halls are literally decked with wild holly from our woods along with evergreen boughs and sprigs surrounding candles waiting to be lit. Our cribs are empty, awaiting the coming of the Christ Child who will fill not only them but our yearning hearts with His longed for presence. Yesterday was also the winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year. Even the day was dark for it was cloudy and raining. But today begins the gradual increasing of the light that will soon bring us the new growth of leaf and flower. The Church gives us the Christmas Season, just at this transitional time of the year to impress upon us the absolute dreariness of our natural human condition without God. But our hope lies in the joyful realization that the Son of God has come into the very depths of our self-made darkness to bring us His healing light. Our Matins Advent hymn expresses the mystery well: “Already now your crib is bright and night, in wonder breathes new light, which darkness cannot dim or break as lasting light is wed to faith.”

I will not be posting during the coming Christmas Season, so I will take this opportunity to wish everyone a most blessed Christmas celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord. And may He grant one and all a joyful New Year, rich in grace and peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A New Novice

4th Sunday of Advent
In today’ Gospel, we hear the familiar story of the Annuntiation. Mary hears the summons of the angel Gabriel to become the mother of the Son of God and she whole-heartedly responds with her unconditional “fiat”: Let it be done to me according to your word. We cannot help think of our new little novice who last Monday entered more deeply into her own “fiat” to the Lord.
Yes, we have a new novice! After Holy Mass in the monastic Chapter Room, a place for solemn gatherings of the Sisters, Postulant Kimberly became Sister Marie ElĂ­se of Jesus Crucified. This particular ceremony was historic in our community for it was the first to happen in our recently built monastery and the first to be performed by our new Abbess, Mother Mary Therese. Since I am novice mistress, I also had the privilege of assisting in the transformation. The day before the great event, I could be found in the Chapter Room diligently practicing my part as mistress of ceremonies beside my little table on which were laid the garments, and other needed items, all laid out in order like a surgeon’s instruments.
Prominently displayed on the table were a pair of shiny scissors for the cutting of hair, for we treasure the ancient custom of the “tonsure”, the cutting of a woman’s crowning glory to signify her consecration to God. Women are poetic by nature. Our clothes and our adornments not only cover and beautify us, but they also symbolize who we are. And so by the cutting away of the hair, that lovely product of our body, we signify the holocaust of our very selves: the joys of marriage to an earthly husband, the fulfillment of physical motherhood, even our very identity. But we are not left stripped of all these good things. We receive the enfolding veil of divine love and a new identity as bride of Christ, spiritual mother of countless souls, sister to the whole world. Like Mary, we are blessed among women, for we are favored by the Lord.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday Year B
Isa 61,10
Blessed Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday to one and all! We are rejoicing with extra joy this year as we anticipate the clothing ceremony of our Postulant Kimberly who will be transformed into a Poor Clare novice tomorrow, the beautiful feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was wonderful to hear in our first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah of the Church’s joy in being “clothed in the robe of salvation and wrapped in a mantle of justice”. We also listened to these words at the liturgy of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, where they were attributed to Our Lady. Mary was prepared for her unique mission in salvation history by being “pre-redeemed”, sinless from the first moment of her conception. Sin is what limits love, for it is directly opposed to all love. But Mary, being without the least stain of sin, was able to receive the fullness of God incarnated in her own body and to respond to Him with the complete fullness of love. We, on the other hand, daily experience our inability to love as we would. For us who were not immaculately conceived, the only way we can become able to give ourselves fully to the love of God is by way of repentance. When a young woman takes on our Holy Habit, it signifies that she is “putting on Christ”, taking up her Cross and following in His footsteps in a life of joyful penance. Yes, joyful penance! We deny ourselves, not out of hatred for our selves, but so that we can give our entire selves in love to the Divine Bridegroom who beckons us. Sin and selfishness are in the way of our union with Him, so they must go. It is that devastatingly simple.
Along with her new habit our new novice will also receive a new name. We believe that God reveals this new name to Mother Abbess who does not divulge this divine secret until the very end of the ceremony of investiture. Be sure that we will let you know by what name Kimberly will henceforth be called. Share the joyful suspense with us!

Monday, December 5, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent Year B
Entrance Chant “Populus Sion”
“People of Sion, behold the Lord will come to save the nations: and the Lord will make the glory of His voice heard in the joy of your heart”.
I wish you could hear this beautiful Gregorian Chant melody which perfectly expresses the words of the sacred text. You would see in your mind’s eye a herald climbing to the top of a high mountain and calling out to a people who are discouraged, depressed and anxious: BEHOLD! The Lord will come…But then there is a surprising twist: The Lord will also make the glory of His voice heard. How does one hear glory? I can only speak for myself, but I usually think of seeing glory rather than hearing it. What does glory sound like? Mystical writers tell us that we have spiritual senses but they work much more fluidly than our physical ones. So here we must simply “go with the flow”. Yes, we will hear the glory of God’s voice. Where? In the joy of our hearts! Especially we will hear it when there seems to be no reason for joy in our lives, when all is dark and dreary, like a cold December day after the bright colors of autumn have long faded but no snow yet whitens the muddy earth. On a day like that, all of a sudden there is a spark of joy, a trill of laughter that wells up from the depths of the heart. We know it does not come from ourselves. It is the voice of God assuring us that all will be well. He loves us, knows our pain and our trouble and is already working it for our good. As we walk through this valley of tears, let us raise our heads to see and to hear the herald of glad tidings who calls out: Behold the Lord will come to save us!

Monday, November 28, 2011

First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent
Entrance Chant Ps 24(25) 1-3
Happy Liturgical New Year! It is always invigorating to begin anew, and we have so many new beginnings this week. A new year, a new season and a new translation of the Roman Missal. Like all good Catholics across the country, we were ready at Holy Mass with our Mass cards and new responses printed in bold. I was very impressed with our chapel congregation on Sunday that nearly blew us away with their enthusiastic, “And with your Spirit!”
It was a new Sunday, but we sang some very old Gregorian Chant. The Latin words of the Introit (Entrance Chant) are beautiful. My own translation follows here:
To you, my God, I lift up my soul: in you I trust, let me not be put to shame: neither let my enemies laugh at me: indeed, all who wait for you will not be confounded.
One of our cherished Poor Clare customs is to gather around our Advent wreathe to light the candles before each meal. In the evening, the Sisters take turns offering a prayer. This is my own, inspired by the Entrance Chant of Sunday:
To you, we lift up our soul, O Lord our God! We trust in you, we believe in you, we confide all our hope in you! But we see that the winter nights are long and the days will be growing cold, unwarmed by the sun’s weakening rays. We fear the strange sounds in the darkness and the footsteps that are not your own. The enemy of our soul would snare us in our weakness and laugh at our downfall. Our love, not yet perfect, has little power to cast out our fear. So you give us words to express our anguish: “Let me not be put to shame!” “My soul yearns for you in the night, yes my spirit keeps vigil for you”. You listen to our cry, and you come to save us! You are our light and our help. Whom shall we fear? You have already come and you will come, you are with us in our darkest night and our deepest sorrow. We wait for you, watching and waking. We listen for that longed for knock on the door of our hearts so that we can open to you without delay. We remember those who have waited for you and were not confounded—our Holy Father Francis, our Holy Mother Clare and all the saints who have gone before us. With them we lift up our souls. We are filled as with a banquet and our mouths will praise you with joy. We cling to you and your right hand holds us fast. Your love is better than this passing life. Come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe Year A
Mt 25, 31-46
I have a fascination for words and for the way different languages express reality. Our English language is generally very precise and specific, but one interesting exception to this rule is the word “Love”. While other languages have a diverse vocabulary to identify the different warm, positive feelings we have for a sunset, a chocolate bar, a favorite dog, a friend, a son, a brother, a spouse, or our God, English has only one. Greek, however, has no less than four different words to describe the various forms of “Love”. One of these is “Philia”, which is the deep affectionate love between brethren or close friends. It is said that the person who feels this kind of love identifies himself with the one he loves. So, if my brother or friend is happy, I am happy, if he is sad, I am sad, if someone hurts him, then I am hurt, if he is honored, I feel honored. My brother or friend is my “other self”.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He has this kind of love for us. Whatever is done to the least of His brethren is done to Him. He so identifies Himself with us that our happiness is His own. In another place in Sacred Scripture, St. Paul tells us that we are part of Christ’s Mystical Body, so we should all sympathize with one another as the members of the same body sympathize with one another. I will never forget when I dropped something heavy on my foot and fractured one of my toes. Believe me, the whole rest of my body was in deep sympathy with that little toe! There was no indifference over the fate and welfare of this little member. This is what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God: to be in a close union of love with Jesus and with all our brothers and sisters. We must allow His love to flow between us and among us, not only in good feelings but in acts of mercy and kindness. Jesus told us at the last supper, “Love one another as I have loved you”. He has laid down His life for us. Let us also lay down our lives for each other. Blessed Solemnity to one and all! May the fullness of Christ’s kingdom come soon!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thief in the Night

33rd Sun. Year A
1Thes 5, 1-6
In today’s 2nd reading at Holy Mass, St. Paul describes the coming of the Lord as being like a thief at night. Anyone who has experienced a nocturnal prowler in one’s own home cannot be unmoved by this image! About 30 years ago I was sleeping in my monastic cell and I heard a strange noise in the hall. Sleepily I wondered what it was and also why my door was swung wide open. The noises gradually solidified in my mind as those made when someone is franticly opening and closing cupboard doors. My heart began to pound and my limbs seemed glued to my bed. Then a Sister yelled and a leapt to my doorway just in time to see a male figure speeding past. The Sister yelled again, this time with articulate speech: “There’s a man in the house!” I shouted back: “I saw him!” At this point, Mother Abbess poked her head out of her door and we both shouted at her, “Man in the house!” She immediately grabbed the large hand bell used for waking us up and began to ring it while walking quickly down the hall. We followed her, setting up a hue and cry which included, “Call the police!” Soon all the Sisters were aroused and gathered at the foot of the stairs on the first floor. Many had heard multiple footsteps running down the halls, so it was surmised there were several thieves. Some of the Sisters had secured makeshift weapons. I will never forget the bemused expression on the face of a 6 foot 6, broad shouldered policeman as he fixed his gaze on our tough, little Brooklyn-born sister while she brandished a curtain rod as if it were a sword and said, “Just let him touch one of my Sisters!” We told him of what we had seen, our hue and cry and the running footsteps. He glanced down at the curtain rod and said, “If I saw you all coming after me I’d run too!” Upon inspection, it appeared that one of the windows on the first floor had not been closed properly and had given easy access to our unwelcome visitors.
Not only St. Paul, but Jesus even calls Himself a “thief in the night”. So unexpectedly does He come! But does He need to come so unwanted as a thief is unwanted? St. Augustine wonders why we fear the Lord’s coming so much since we say that we love Him. Do we really love Him or do we love our sins more? Or is it perhaps that we just feel so helpless, so out of control of the situation when He suddenly comes upon us? And He does come suddenly, like a thief in the night, not only at the end of time, not only at the end of our own time at death, but even in the unexpected challenges of life. You just never know when He will come, nor how, nor under what guise. But what does He want to steal anyway? Is it not ourselves? He wants us to be His, but we are always on the defense. So He waits to catch us when our guard is down. Why don’t we instead make the job easy for Him and leave the windows open and the doors unbarred. For He only comes to take us to His Father’s house where we truly want to be.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Wise and the Foolish

32nd Sun. Year A
Mt 25,1-13
On Sunday, Jesus tells us the familiar parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. Five are prudent, bringing oil for their lamps and five are foolish, neglecting to bring the essential fuel for their own lamps. When the bridegroom finally arrives after a long delay, the foolish ladies ask the prudent ones for some oil, but are told there will not be enough to go around so they had better buy some for themselves. Of course, oil is hard to come by at midnight, so by the time the foolish get back the door to the feast is barred and they are on the wrong side. Our Lord’s parables always have surprising elements in them which are designed to make us wonder. I would like to focus on the attitude of the prudent bridesmaids. At first glance, it seemed to me that although they might be prudent, they certainly were not very nice. Why didn’t they share their oil so that the others could at least get into the wedding feast? The answer is that no matter how nice we are, how much we may love, how ardently we want our loved ones to come close to God, to live a virtuous life, to indeed be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when the Lord comes, we just cannot do that for them. Everyone must take ultimate responsibility for their own lives. This is the dignity of the human person and the terrible choice for each one’s free will. We can teach, we can give good example, we can encourage, but we cannot give our own relationship with God to another. Every good parent of a wayward child knows this sad truth. Oil often symbolizes the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture. Each one of us must choose to allow the lamp of the heart to be filled with this Blessed Oil so that it may be enkindled with the fire of His love. If the Bridegroom delays, it is so that we have more time to get ready for His feast. Let us be wise and choose well. And let us pray for those who neglect their opportunity.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Weaned Child

31st Sun. Ordinary Time Year A
Ps 131
Today’s responsorial psalm, Ps. 131, has always fascinated and challenged me. Since it is short I will quote it here in full:
O Lord, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord,
both now and forever.
First of all, I really cannot say with the unqualified assurance of the psalmist that my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty, but I can say that I am moving toward this blessed state as I seek to repent of any and all attitudes of pride I find within me. The next lines, however, gave me even more pause and greater puzzlement. How can I possibly say declare that I do not busy myself with great and sublime things when I spend most of my day occupied with the greatest and most sublime Thing, God Himself, the Supreme Being? Perhaps the answer lies in contrasting the “busyness” of these lines with the stillness and quiet of the following verse. We can be busy with God in the same way that a scientist is with the universe. An astronomer can observe the stars and planets and galaxies with his instruments, measuring, calculating, exploring. All this is good. But he does well if at times he allows himself to be overwhelmed with the awesome immensity and beauty of what he studies. Otherwise, he risks losing an important perspective. In the same way, the theologian, both professional and amateur, can study God, making Him an object of observation, a thing to be understood and therefore controlled. But when we truly and honestly deal with God, we cannot help but be overcome by the shear infinitude of His being and the magnitude of His love. If we do not find this to be so, then I dare say we are not in the presence of the Almighty Creator, the Crucified and Risen Redeemer, the Celestial Lover, but rather we are manipulating some little tin god of our own making. When we are in a true relationship with God we must humble ourselves, yet we are not humiliated. Like a weaned child that no longer grasps for its mother’s breast we become completely still and lifted in the arms of Love. We find in God a deeply affirming peace that quiets all our restless seeking for self satisfaction. Here then is fulfilled the saying at the end of today’s Gospel: whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Law of Love

Mt 22, 34-40
Once again Jesus is confronted with His adversaries who attempt to catch Him in His speech. The scholars of the Law ask Him to give His opinion on what was for them a controversial subject: which was the greatest commandment? Jesus gives them an answer full of divine wisdom: love God with everything you have within you. Then He goes on: love your neighbor as yourself. Who is this neighbor? In another gospel text, Jesus answers this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. I do not know what word Jesus used in Aramaic which has been translated “neighbor”, but in the Latin, the word is “proximum”, from which we get our English word “proximate”. In other words, my neighbor is the one who is proximate to me, next to me, in front of me. Oh, yes, it is easy to love the poor people in China or Libya, and we ought to do that, but to love the one who is here and whose needs demand my attention, is sometimes much more difficult. Being faithful to this law from the Old Testament prepares us for receiving the New Law of Love which Jesus will give us on the night He was betrayed and who will exemplify it by His death on the Cross the next day: love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you. Transcend yourself; love another to the point of sacrifice; lay down your life for the sake of the other.
While the two laws of love from the Old Testament are hard enough, the new law is absolutely impossible to keep without the light and strength of the Holy Spirit that only comes to us from our being incorporated into the Paschal Mystery. Sometimes God is good enough to show us this through personal experience. A few years ago, our eldest Sister fell during the night and I accompanied her to the emergency room. It was finally revealed that she had cracked her pelvis and needed to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. By the time we had finally settled her in her room, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was very glad to lie down on the couch prepared for me. But as soon as I got comfortable, Sister cried out, “Help me!”. I got up. What did she want? A drink of water. Then again, “Help me!” Fix her blanket. Each time I lay down she called. After about the fifth time my patience had run out. My body was screaming for sleep. Could she not do these little things for herself and leave me alone? I knew the answer, but I was angry and wanted to tell or at least show her how she was imposing on me. I knew it was wrong and I grabbed the bars of her bed to try to resist the temptation. As I looked down at her, I tried to remember how much she was suffering, and to my horror I realized I did not care. I had come to the end of my own human love in the face of my own human need. Turning to the Lord in a wordless cry for help, I was given the grace to love with His love and to be patient one more time…one more time. The power to love manifestly did not come from me but from the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Render unto Caesar

Mt 22,15-21
I have always admired the cleverness of the Lord, especially in his repartee with His enemies in today’s Gospel. The Herodians and Pharisees, two parties at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, have put aside their differences in order to unite in common hatred of the upstart rabbi from Nazareth who threatens the established order and their own various spheres of influence. After hypocritically complementing Him on His sincerity (and divine intelligence is not needed to see through that one!), they ask Him if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. If He said “no”, then the Herodians, who were sympathetic to the Roman occupation, would report Him to the authorities. But if He said “yes”, then the Pharisees would denounce Him as a collaborator and erode His popularity with the crowds. And we know how well He sidestepped this trick, saying that they should “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. But I imagine that as Jesus looked after His departing, vanquished foes, His heart must have been grieved. How He longed to give them that Wisdom which leads to eternal life, and there they were just seeking to preserve their own narrow vision of reality as well as their selfish interests. But it is also easy for us to paddle about in the same shallow waters. Let us rather determine to follow Bl. John Paul’s exhortation to “go out into the deep” by setting aside petty projects of self-promotion and focusing our attention on the greatness of God’s love and the glorious joy that lies before us.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feast of St. Francis

Feast of St. Francis
Gal 6, 14-18
Today, the feast of St. Francis is a very great Solemnity for the Poor Clares, for they count him as their spiritual Father and Founder. For nine days the Sisters have prayed a novena in his honor and now they celebrate his holy life for two days. Franciscans are very good at celebrating and they just cannot fit all their joy into just one day! The 2nd reading at Holy Mass for this feast is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he says “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ through which I am crucified to the world and the world to me”. In other words, for St. Paul as for St. Francis, contemplating the poor, crucified Christ destroyed in them all desire for wealth and prestige. In another place Paul states that all he wants is to know Christ and to know how to share in His sufferings, to be conformed to the pattern of His death. Toward the end of his life, St. Francis actually bore the wounds of Christ visibly on His hands, feet and side. But these marks were only the outward signs of a heart already pierced by the love of Jesus who had suffered and died for him. Some Poor Clare saints, like St. Veronica, also bore the visible “stigmata” of Christ. All Poor Clares, however, pray to be ever more imbued with a deep love of Jesus Crucified, that they may be united with Him in His death and come to share His resurrection. This new risen life is not for themselves alone, but bears fruit for the whole Church, indeed, for the whole world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No Anxiety

Sun. 27th Week Year A
Phil 4,6-9
St. Paul tells us that we should “have no anxiety about anything”! Wait a minute, St. Paul! You do not seem to have been so good about following your own advice. Were you not anxious about those wayward Corinthians? What about the “stupid” Galatians? Were you so calm when you “fought those beasts at Ephesus”? Did you not even admit that anxiety over the churches you had formed daily pressed upon you? But let us read further: “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In the verse just preceding this one, Paul gives us the real reason we need not be anxious: “The Lord is near”. Yes, the Lord is near! No matter our trouble, no matter our problem, no matter how bad things seem to be, He can handle it and He will handle it if we ask Him. But He will do it in His own way (which is most often not our way!) and in His own time (which is often not as soon as we would like). If we can trust Him so much that we already thank Him before He actually answers our prayer for help, then truly our hearts and minds will be in a peace which surpasses all understanding. Until we are saints, (and maybe even afterwards! Cf. St. Paul above) we will always be subject to a certain agitation on the surface of our being, but it will not touch the very center of our selves where God Almighty secretly dwells in all His hidden splendor.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Deeper Yes

Sun. 26th Week Year A
Mt. 21, 28-32
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the complexities of our spiritual lives. God asks one person to do something for Him and that one says no, but then thinks better of his response and goes and does what was asked. What is happening here? I would like to propose that deep within our hearts we have an ardent desire to say yes to God, for to do His will is the fulfillment of our being, the satisfaction of our every longing. But on the surface of our selves we are deceived by other desires and enticed by other ephemeral goods. We rebel, do our own will, receive some fleeting pleasure and then are left holding an empty bag. But our Heavenly Father is merciful and patient. He waits for us to give the yes that will make us truly happy. The sooner we do it the better! Better for us, better for those around us, better for the world! Here is a little poem that expresses this same thought:
The First Son
When you ask I say no
But then I go.
Why am I slow?
I do not know.
Ignoring my no,
Your trust you bestow,
Seeing below
My shameful show
That I want to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Sun. 25th Week Year A
Mt 20, 1-16
Today Jesus tells us the parable of the landowner who hired laborers to work in his vineyard at all times of the day yet gave each one the same amount of pay. Those who worked longest very naturally were jealous of the ones who worked least, and so they complained. Yet, as the employer pointed out, he had a right to do what he pleased with his money as long as he gave the agreed pay to those who had bargained for it.
Jealousy is an emotion we all experience, though few of us are comfortable with it. In and of itself, like all emotions, jealousy is a moral neutral we share with the animals. Ask any dog owner of more than one dog! St. Thomas defines jealousy as a sadness we feel when someone has a good we think we should have. And so, jealousy is appropriate when the good we see is exclusively ours. I am jealous of my arm, my good name, my spouse, for they are truly mine and no one should take them from me. But if I am jealous of attention, honor, praise, or good fortune, there is a problem since other people have a right to these things as well as myself. It is part of the maturing process that we learn to recognize the difference and to act accordingly.
In the Old Testament, God is frequently depicted as the jealous lover of an unfaithful bride. And He is no less jealous of our love. He made us for Himself alone, and so He will tolerate no rival. Absolutely anything that comes between us and Him incurs His fiery wrath. His anger is not directed towards us as much as toward our turning from Him. But when the lazer beam strikes and we are suddenly cut off from the object of our affections, we feel it as punishment, as a painful wounding. If we could only understand that this fire is a cauterizing flame. It heals even as it burns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feast of the Triumph of the Cross

Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Phil 2,6-11

This beautiful feast is precious to all Franciscans whose special joy is to contemplate Jesus Crucified.  St. Clare exhorted her friend, St. Agnes of Prague, to meditate always on the mysteries of Christ’s holy Passion.  It was here that Jesus completed the self- emptying that He began in His Incarnation when, although He was God, He took the form of a servant.  In His Passion, He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  St. Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself”.  Only He, in the strength of His Divine Person, could completely empty Himself.  For the rest of us, we do our best by asceticism, prayer, penance, and faithfulness to our duty to become an empty vessel for God to fill with His love.  But no matter how hard we try, by our own efforts we can only go so far.  Even our efforts aided by grace are not enough.  At the end of the day, we always find at least a bit of ego left at the bottom of our hearts that infects with selfishness even our best actions.  But in His gracious Providence, the Father takes pity on our weakness and sends us the Cross.  Some trying circumstance, some unforeseen sorrow, some incredible pain is suddenly thrust upon us, pierces our hearts, and we find our life draining away.  We have the choice to let it go in faith or to try to stop up the hole with resentment and compensation.  Here is fulfilled the scripture which says, “If you save your life you will lose it, but if you lose it for My sake, you will find it”.  Being truly emptied of self by God’s action, makes us ready to receive our new life in His love.  So, let us, like Jesus, endure the Cross, heedless of its shame, for the sake of the joy that lies before us.  The Cross will always be painful, but it is at least possible to bear it and to be crucified on it when we have this hope of glory to sustain us.  We do not have to wait for heaven to receive this glory, for it is already ours when we submit ourselves to the loving will of God.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jesu Tibi Vivo

Sun.24th Week Year A
Rm 14, 7-11

“Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” The Poor Clares have a little song they sing which takes its inspiration from this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The song, in Latin with its translation, goes like this:
            Jesu tibi vivo,                         Jesus, I live for You,
            Jesu tibi morior,                     Jesus, I die for You,
            Jesu sive vivo,                        Jesus, whether I live,
            sive morior,                            or whether I die,
            tuus suum.                              I am yours.

Now translating this song into our ordinary lives, it means that whatever happens, whether it seems positive or negative, whether it feels like it gives us more life or takes away our life, whether it is joyful or painful, whether it increases us or diminishes us, none of it really matters in the end because we belong to Jesus.  He is the great positive, the life, the joy, the fullness we desire.  He is ours and we are His.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Good Tree

Sat. 23rd Week Year 1
Lk 6, 43-49

Jesus says that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.  None of us are thoroughly good trees, for only God is completely good.  And none of us (thank God!) are thoroughly bad trees.  Each of us is somewhere in between, in process of becoming good or bad.  And sometimes that process can be reversed several times in a single day!  To be a human being this side of the grave is to be a being that is in flux.  Unfortunately, it takes little effort to become bad; all we have to do is follow the line of least resistance.  For the way that leads to perdition is broad and many choose to go that route.  In contrast, the way to blessedness is narrow and few find it.  But we have a Savior!  He, Himself, is that good Tree who alone can bear the truly good fruit and it is only in our being united with Him that we too are good.  Without Him we can do nothing, but with Him everything is possible.  He is the Rock upon which we must build our lives so that when the rains come we will not be swept away.

The Sisters will have their community elections on Tuesday, September 13.  Their Religious Assistant to their Poor Clare Federation, Father Robert McCreary, will be presiding.  He arrives tomorrow to help them prepare.  The time immediately preceding an election are intense, so if I do not post during the next few days, you will know why!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Freedom of Excellence

Sat. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel Lk 6,1-5

The disciples of Jesus are in trouble again.  Don’t they know that the law forbids the faithful from harvesting wheat on the Sabbath?  Surely the upstart rabbi from Nazareth knows, doesn’t he?  Yes, He knows the law and He can also see the difference between reaping a field of grain on the Sabbath and taking a few ears of grain to satisfy an immediate need.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, not only because He is the God who is the author of the Law, but because as Man He had the wisdom and love to know when to bend the prescriptions of the law in favor of the law of charity.  As He would say at another time, we feed our animals on the Sabbath, can we not do good to a human being?  And were His opponents so really concerned about the honor of God or about using God’s law to their own advantage?  “Love and do what you please.” Says St. Augustine.  But he was not talking about that self-serving urge for satisfaction that our culture calls “love”.  Rather, he was speaking about the love that lives for the good of the other, that sacrifices self interest in order to give to the beloved.  When one’s whole being is oriented in this way, then one has that “freedom of excellence” that gives wisdom to make the best decisions in relationships.  Those who are busy straining out the gnats will not understand.  And in their anger they will continue to miss the camel.

Feast of the Birth of Mary

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mt 1, 18-23

Whenever we celebrate someone’s birthday we are actually celebrating the person.  We rejoice that God thought to create this wonderful human being.  Only the one who looks with love can truly be happy over the existence of another, for only love looks beneath the surface to see the goodness of God’s creation.  The Gospel today presents us with a man whose love was profoundly tested.  Joseph was betrothed to Mary who had been found to be with child and that child was not his own.  Had she betrayed him?  That was what everyone was saying.  But when he looked into her eyes, he saw, not guilt, but that pure innocence which had enamored him from the beginning.  Was God working a mystery in her?  And was he worthy to be part of that mystery?  Or was it a mystery of iniquity?  And was it right for him to receive her as his own? Already in the dawn of the new covenant, his heart was moved to mercy and he did not want to hand her over to the  death penalty.  If she had betrayed him, he still did not want to betray her. Yet, if he accepted her, he was also taking on her mystery and her scandal.  Agonizing over this heartrending dilemma, he reluctantly came to a decision which could only seem like a compromise, but he did not know what else to do; he would attempt to divorce her quietly.  Then, having exhausted all his human resources, he fell asleep.  We know what happened; an angel came to his rescue, assuring him that it was the will of God he should receive Mary as his wife and take responsibility for her Divine Child.  And when he awoke he wasted no time, but did as the angel had directed him.  Once his way was clear, his love gave him wings.  He dedicated his life to Jesus and Mary despite the hardships and the ridicule that he knew would follow his decision.  We give gifts on birthdays.  Joseph gave the gift that makes all other gifts meaningful.  He gave himself.

Planks and Specks

Fri. 23rd Week Year 1
Lk 6, 39-42

A number of years ago when I was novice mistress, I was peacefully writing at my desk one day when a novice burst into my office exclaiming, “I can’t stand it!  I can’t STAND it!  I CAN’T STAND IT!”  “What’s the matter?”  I then listened in open-mouthed wonder to a long diatribe against a fellow novice which accurately described in remarkable detail the outstanding faults of the very novice who stood before me.  Why is it that we get so upset over the faults of other people?  Sometimes because they are a wonderful distraction from our own.  We especially like to denounce our own faults that we find in our fellow human beings.  It is so painful to admit our shortcomings and so difficult to dislodge them.  What a relief it is to be able to abhor them in someone else and to generously offer assistance in correcting them.  Yet, we have no power to correct anyone’s faults but our own.  And we have no qualification for trying to give anyone advice that we have not tested on our own selves!   As our Lord put it, let us remove the plank from our eye first and then we can see clearly to help our brothers or sisters remove the specks from their eyes.  But an interesting thing happens in the process.  When we work hard to correct ourselves and we discover how hard it is, we become more patient and forbearing with the faults of our neighbors.  We are all sinners together.  And we begin to suspect that perhaps some of the things we get so upset about really are not all that important after all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Already and the Not Yet

Wed. 23rd Week Year 1
Col 3, 1-11
Lk 6, 20-26

We have died with Christ in Baptism and so now we are raised with Him.  The spiritual writers say that we live now in a condition of “the already and the not yet”.  By faith we know that we already share the risen life of Jesus, that in fact we are ascended with Him in heaven!  But not yet do we feel the full effects of this exalted condition as we fumble through our existence in time.  Our true life is “hidden with Christ in God”.  It is part of our maturing process that more and more we orient ourselves toward heaven.  As the life of the spirit becomes more real and more important to us, our desire for the heavenly realities becomes stronger while the urgency of earthly concerns becomes correspondingly less.  Some of us reach that blessed state where we are truly poor, having no interest making material things our idols because we possess a heavenly kingdom; where the yearning for the consummation of our union with Christ is better than any worldly pleasure.  Of course, such people are free and dangerous in this world for they cannot be controlled and manipulated since they have no handles by which the powers of evil can coerce them.  And so, they are feared, hated, persecuted, ostracized and insulted because of Christ.  Let us pray for all such who suffer in this way, that they may not lose sight of their blessedness, nor the great reward that awaits them.  And let us also pray for those who enjoy their ill-gotten riches, who feed off the pain of others and who laugh at the afflictions they cause the just.  May grace soften their hardened hearts before they face the day of the Lord.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fullness of God

Tues. 23rd Week Year 1
Col 2, 6-15

St. Paul exhorts us to live in Christ; walk with Him, be rooted in Him, built upon Him.  How many more ways could he say that Christ Jesus is our all?  In Him is the fullness of God and we ourselves enjoy this very fullness if we are one with Jesus, drawing our life from Him, having our every movement inspired by Him.  So why are we not always abounding in gratitude?  Why are we so often agitated and anxious?  Because we still seek to fill our God given empty space with something other than God.  Nothing and no one in this world can satisfy us since our hearts were made to hold the divinity.  But since the fall, we are radically turned from Him and seek to fill ourselves with the lovely things He has made that are meant to be simply signs of His love and foretastes of His joy.  When we do not find the perfect satisfaction we crave we complain or we franticly look for more.  Consecrated religious renounce this vicious cycle by their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  These vows proclaim that neither possessions, people nor power can fulfill them but only God.  Once they have the fullness of God in Jesus, these happy souls overflow with gratitude and then can turn to love nature, humanity and even themselves with a generous and free love.  They have the peace which the world cannot give and no one can take away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Labor Day
Gospel Mt 6, 31-34

Jesus tells us that we should not be worried or anxious about our life.  How can He possibly say that to a father of a family who has been out of work for 2 years and faces foreclosure on his house and personal bankruptcy?  In the Latin text of the Scriptures, the word we translate as “worry” or “anxious” is sollicito which means “violently moved or shaken”.  In other words, an earthquake!  Now having just experienced an earthquake for the first time in my life, this word speaks to me.  I remember last week when the house was shaking and sounding like a moving train, I myself was shaken into a kind of paralysis.  I was so focused on the event that my mind could not make a rational decision nor was my will able to act.  If we allow the troubles of our life to shake us so deeply that we cannot work to address them, then there is not much hope for us.  We are obliged to be concerned for our welfare and the good of those in our care.  This is part of “seeking the kingdom of God and its justice”.  Yet we must do so with an attitude of faith in God’s help.  Jesus says in another place, “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust”.  This trust does not inspire us to sit back and let God or the welfare agency to take care of everything for us.  But it frees us from that paralysis which prevents our minds from being open to creativity and inhibits our wills from acting courageously to solve our problems and achieve our goals. “Sufficient for the day is its own evil” So let us get to work on today’s evil.  Don’t worry, there will be more tomorrow.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gathered in the Name of Jesus

Sun. 23rd Week Year A
Gospel Mt 18, 15-20

Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in the midst of them.  Moreover, He says that if we all pray together we will receive what we ask for.  But gathering together in the Name of Jesus means more than simply being in the same room or church and saying the same prayers.  We must be, like the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, of “one heart and one mind”, so that in the Holy Spirit of love we may truly be with Jesus and feel together (con-sensus) with Him.  Our hearts must be like His, moved with pity for the needs of all.  And we must have the mind of Him who, “emptied Himself, even to death on the Cross. Yes, when such people gather to pray, then Jesus prays in them and with them. The Father cannot but hear and answer such a prayer!
Today the Poor Clare Sisters begin their novena of prayer to the Holy Spirit in preparation for their community elections.  Next week they will gather together in the Name of Jesus as they do every three years, to elect their Mother Abbess and her Council.  Please join them in prayer that they may truly feel together the will of God.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Freedom of Excellence

Sat. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel Lk 6,1-5

The disciples of Jesus are in trouble again.  Don’t they know that the law forbids the faithful from harvesting wheat on the Sabbath?  Surely the upstart rabbi from Nazareth knows, doesn’t he?  Yes, He knows the law and He can also see the difference between reaping a field of grain on the Sabbath and taking a few ears of grain to satisfy an immediate need.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, not only because He is the God who is the author of the Law, but because as Man He had the wisdom and love to know when to bend the prescriptions of the law in favor of the law of charity.  As He would say at another time, we feed our animals on the Sabbath, can we not do good to a human being?  And were His opponents so really concerned about the honor of God or about using God’s law to their own advantage?  “Love and do what you please.” Says St. Augustine.  But he was not talking about that self-serving urge for satisfaction that our culture calls “love”.  Rather, he was speaking about the love that lives for the good of the other, that sacrifices self interest in order to give to the beloved.  When one’s whole being is oriented in this way, then one has that “freedom of excellence” that gives wisdom to make the best decisions in relationships.  Those who are busy straining out the gnats will not understand.  And in their anger they will continue to miss the camel.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Wine

Fri. 22nd Week Year 1
Col 1, 15-20
Lk 5, 33-39

St. Paul tells that in Jesus is the fullness of all that is.  In Him is found all good for He is the source of all good.  He is that new wine of which the Gospel for today speaks.  He is alive and dynamic.  For our hearts to receive Him they have to be made new.  Old, stony hard hearts can not stretch to contain Him for they cannot move with His life.  How are our hearts made new?  By suffering the trials that He permits.  The Psalms tell us that by anguish we are expanded.  When the Divine Bridegroom is taken away we fast.  The Poor Clares who observe the Lenten fast all year will tell you that fasting is the best appetizer!  When Jesus returns to us the feast is better for having fasted.  He is our new wine, our bread of life and it is from Him we receive our vitality.  Since all things work to the good for all who love Him, we trust that the sufferings we must endure will prepare us, expand our hearts and make them able to stretch to receive all the joy and love He wants to give us. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Expect the Unexpected

Thurs. 22nd Week Year 1
Gospel (Lk 5, 1-11)

Expect the Unexpected

Life with Jesus is full of surprises.  He rarely fulfills preconceived expectations and always asks and delivers the unexpected!  Peter and his companions have had a hard night fishing without any results.  They just get finished cleaning their nets when Jesus, the non-fisherman itinerant preacher asks them to go out into the deep for a catch.  It was the wrong time.  It was the wrong way.  He had the wrong men.  Or so they thought.  But they go out anyway and we know what happened:  they caught so many fish that the boats were sinking.  Then He tells them they will be catching men from now on, so they leave all the fish (I guess the crowds on the shore had a good dinner!) and follow Him.  I must confess that is about all I have by way of inspiration.  My nets cast into the sea of the Gospel came up with just these few, small fish today.  Maybe the fact that we are on day 5 of our power and phone outage and all that means by way of improvisiation; a Sister has strep throat and needs a stronger anti-biotic; a workman is here finishing up work in the kitchen and looking at possible damage from the earthquake that caused the roof over the sanctuary to leak; the chaplain’s generator is not working; an applicant had to reschedule her visit because of the hurricane; another girl confirmed that she is coming tomorrow; and having to prepare a class for our Indian and Vietnamese Sisters, has something to do with the reason my nets are a bit tangled today.  But I have been around long enough to know that there are seasons of the soul just as there are seasons of the year.  The winter prepares for the spring.  And the dark night of fruitless fishing makes the large morning catch all the more dramatic and joyful.  So maybe there will be better fishing tomorrow, or the next day.  I will just go with the flow, for I go with Jesus.  He will decide.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Danger of Success

Wed. 22nd Week Year I
Gospel (Lk 4, 38-44)

This week we leave the Gospel of Matthew to begin our liturgical sojourn through the Gospel according to Luke.  And so we jump back to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when he is enjoying tremendous popularity as an eloquent preacher and a rising reputation as a worker of wonders.  After a particularly successful day, He escapes into the wilderness in order to renew Himself in prayer to His Heavenly Father, the Source of His energy and love.  The crowds find Him and try to keep Him from departing.  Who can blame them?  But Jesus refuses to bask in the glory of their adulation, just as He had not allowed the demons to acclaim Him as the Messiah.  Jesus knew the danger of premature success and that His true glory lay in doing His Father’s will.  He would admit of no delay!  He must go forth to walk the sacrificial way of service, suffering and self oblation—even to death, death on a Cross.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Children of the Light

Tues. 22th Week Year 1

First Reading 1Thes. 5,1-6, 9-11

“You are not in the dark, brothers, so that the day might catch you off guard, like a thief.  No, all of you are children of light and of the day”.  There was a smile in the voice of the reader as she proclaimed these words of St. Paul during the pre-dawn hour of Lauds (Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours).  And there was an answering smile in the heart of the Poor Clare Sisters as they sat listening with their array of flashlights and other makeshift lighting arrangements in the dim monastic choir.  As God would have it, we would hear the same reading at Mass, this time in the half light of the dawning day.  One thing is certain, in these days after Hurricane Irene, when our artificial light has been cut down to about 40% capacity due to the limitations of our generator; and that light gives us a wavering effect not unlike a disco and very unlike a monastery, the coming of the day does not in any way catch us off guard!  We are alert and expectant and eager for the sun to rise!  We are truly children of the light and of the day.  And so should we be expecting the coming of the Rising Sun of Justice, the Divine Thief who will surprise those who are sleeping but not us who are awaiting Him.  Let us open the window of our mind and unlock the door of our heart so that He may enter swiftly and easily, not only at the end of time, not only at the end of our life, but at each moment of every day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Aug. 29 Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Gospel Mk 6, 17-29

I must confess that Herod fascinates me.  Here is a man who is thoroughly worldly, completely given over to his pleasures, who values a man’s life less than a woman’s dance.  Yet, he is also someone is enticed by holiness and tempted by truth.  He imprisons John in the darkness of a dungeon, yet the brilliant light of the Baptist shines, attracts and disturbs.  But alas!  Herod is too committed to the worship of the god of this world and he resists the allure of divine goodness.  How many are there who are like him!  How I wish that those of us who have given our allegiance to Christ would sing a siren song drawing all the weary and jaded followers of evil away to Him!  It is He alone who gives a happiness that lasts, a life that is really worth living.  Of course, it is dangerous, for the worldly are half asleep and do not like being awakened.  But there is no adventure if there is no risk.  Perhaps someone will listen after all.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

August 28, 2011
Hurricane Irene

Since the Poor Clares built their monastery in Barhamsville, they have had trouble with water leaks.  Over the past 7 years, much time, consultation, labor and expense has been spent in attempting to make walls, roof and windows impervious to the outside elements.  And so now the Sisters no longer fear every rainstorm that happens by.  Even tropical storms cause little concern.  But hurricane Irene proved yesterday that the sealed, patched, caulked monastery could yet leak under the duress of torrential rain being driven by 75mph winds.  It is disappointing, but not altogether unexpected.  Just as a hurricane will reveal the inevitable structural weaknesses of a building, so do the severe trials of life unveil the hidden weaknesses of our character.  No matter how hard we try to examine our consciences, resolve our issues, deal with our problems, repent of our sins, get our lives together, or whatever else you want to call our attempts at self improvement, we always will come up somewhat short.  And it is precisely here that we meet God.  I once heard Scott Hann say that God gives us our strengths and gifts to be used for the benefit of other people and that He allows us to have our weaknesses and faults for our own sake.  No matter how good or bad we are at self-improvement, we are all desperately in need of the mercy of God.  Tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of God first because they know this truth very well since their faults are more obvious.  The hurricanes of life prove to us that we are not God, we need Him as our Savior.  Suffering and weakness are not the worst evil but rather sin is.  And suffering, borne with love heals us of our sins.  Our weaknesses which can be our greatest sufferings can actually be our greatest blessings.  How paradoxical!  It is the paradox of the Cross.

The One Talent

Sat. 21st Week Year I
Gospel (Mt. 25,14-30)

Jesus tells us another parable about the kingdom of God.  A man gives money to his servants to invest while he goes on a journey.  Two of the servants double their investment while the third buries his money in the ground and just gives it back to his master unchanged.  The first two are rightly commended and the last is justly chastised.  I am reminded of another saying of Jesus: “ He who saves his life will lose it and he who gives his life for my sake will find it”.  We may feel like we have very little to give to the Lord by way of great talents or gifts.  But no matter how poor or limited we are, each of us does have one gift, the only thing He really wants from any of us.  All of our so called “talents” or “gifts” are simply means of giving that one thing.  In fact, St. Paul says that if we give everything we have except that one thing then it means nothing to God.  What is that one thing?  It is our own self, our own heart, our very life.  It seems that the faithless servant in the Gospel did not trust himself, nor did he trust the bankers who could have helped him, and certainly he did not trust the master.  And so he just kept what he had been given, did nothing with it, and finally lost it.  If we refuse to give ourselves away, then we will lose the ability to do so.  We condemn ourselves to an eternal frustration of our very being that is made in the image and likeness of God who is self-giving love.  Another name for this self imposed exile is hell.  In this life, the misery of this condition is actually a mercy for it will sometimes impel the sufferer to repentance.  But once we cross to the other side, God will ratify our decision to be with Him or apart from Him.  May we all choose to “enter into the joy” of our Lord by living now for Him.

The Foolish and the Wise

Fri. 21st Week Year I
Gospel (Mt. 25,1-13)

Last night, after a great deal of meteorological fanfare, we just received a bit of a thunder storm.  I thought Irene had snubbed us and was heading toward Manhattan!  She may still end up there, but it turns out that our rain and wind was simply a preview of coming attractions.  We still have time to prepare!  In today’s Gospel parable of the 5 foolish and the 5 wise virgins all the bridesmaids fall asleep waiting for the delayed bridegroom.  Those who were wise could afford to take a nap, for they were well prepared.  Too bad the 5 foolish ones did not use the delay to get their oil.  St. Peter says that the Lord delays His coming because He is merciful and wants to give us more time.  But we have to realize that sooner or later our time is going to run out.  Why could not the foolish virgins borrow oil from the wise ones? We can see the oil as the symbol of love, that which lights and warms our lives for God and for others.  Each of us freely decides whether or not to love and no one can do it for us.  We can “fool” other people into doing our work for us or giving us their money, but we cannot make them love for us.  And it is the height of foolishness to think that we can fool God!  What a terrible thing it will be for some to hear those awful words from Him, “I do not know you”.  How can the all knowing God not know everyone?  Because He allows each person that freedom to consent to be in a knowing, loving relationship with Him or to reject such a relationship.  St. John of the Cross says that in the end, we will all be judged on love.  Let us echo the words of St. Francis that he spoke on his deathbed, “Up to now we have done nothing.  Now let us begin.”

The Coming of the Lord

Thurs. 21st Week Year I
Gospel (Mt. 24, 42-51)

Our Lord tells us today to stay awake, for we do not know the day nor the hour that He is coming.  We must be prepared.  Right now, everyone on the east coast is preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene.  She is courteously sending out heralds of her coming in dark, lumbering clouds and fits of gusting winds.  And all the weather people are diligently keeping vigil for us from their technological watch towers.  Although we do not actually know the day or the hour of her coming, Irene is very well documented.  I cannot help but compare the relative predictability of a hurricane to Tuesday’s sudden earthquake phenomenon.  Then there was no herald, no warning.  Immediately it was upon you.  It overtook you wherever you were, and invaded you while you were doing whatever you were doing.  I imagine the coming of Christ at the end of time will be like that.  In fact, each day He comes to us just as suddenly in the unexpected person who needs our help, the untoward circumstance that tries our patience, the surprising loveliness that crosses our path.  If we are preoccupied with advancing our personal agendas over other people or indulging our selfish desires like the unfaithful servant in the Gospel story, then we will not be ready to respond to the challenge of the Lord’s coming, today or on the last day.  But if we are constantly seeking His face and doing His will, then when He arrives unannounced, we will tremble, not with fear, but with joy to finally see Him whom our soul loves.  May it be soon.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Jesus Takes the Initiative

Aug. 24 Feast of St. Bartholomew
Gospel Jn. 1, 45-51

Jesus always takes the initiative in our relationship with Him.  We see this clearly in today’s Gospel on the feast of St. Bartholomew.  Jesus found and called Phillip to follow him.   Then Phillip in turn finds Nathanael (whom some think is another name for Bartholomew) and tells him about Jesus.  After some hesitation and a cynical remark, Nathanael comes to see for himself.  He is shocked to find that Jesus already knows him and has seen him “under the fig tree”, a phrase used to describe someone who was praying and meditating.  Nathanael, the former cynic is overwhelmed and exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the king of Israel!”  Jesus must have laughed as He said, “Do you believe just because I said I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than that!”  But we should not be too surprised at Nathanael’s seeming overreaction.  There really is nothing more wonderful than to be known and loved by Jesus.  Sometimes we think that He is far from us and that we are the ones who are in search of Him.  But St. Peter tells us that it is God who inspires in us any measure of desire for Him.  So He is there watching and waiting while we are under our own fig tree, praying and seeking.  Then He sends us our own Phillip when he sees we are ready for Him to call us to Himself.  Even when we hesitate or perhaps just respond because of curiosity, He takes us as we are.  Now that we are with Him, let it be our joyful task to open ourselves more and more to Him and His love until every part of us is touched by Him.  Let us be able to sing with the psalmist:  O God, you search me and you know me, You know my resting and my rising, You discern my purpose from afar.  Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me.  Too wonderful for me this knowledge, too high beyond my reach!

Earthquake Wake Up Call

August 23, 2011

Like everyone else from New York to North Carolina the Poor Clares had some excitement this afternoon. Mother Abbess reports: We were all doing the dishes when everything began to move underfoot. I wondered if something was exploding in the basement or there was some construction nearby. Postulant Kimberly from California said, "This is nothing", and Postulant Joscelyn said, "This is soo cool!"  That's youth for you!  I said, "We just built this monastery and I don't want it coming down nor anyone dying either!"  That's middle age responsibility.  We thank God there was no damage to us or anyone else that we know of.  A good priest friend called to see how we were doing in the earthquake.  I was grateful for his concern and also for the news.  It seems we are quite near the epicenter.  He said we should take all these kind of events as a communication:  shake up, wake up!  In the Gospel today, Jesus calls to task the Pharisees who are good at keeping all the little rules they have made up so as to avoid having to do the great commandments of the law.  They have made their religion into a way of controlling their lives and an attempt to manipulate God.  We "good Catholics" are always in danger of doing the same.  But an earthquake is a very visceral reminder that we are not in control.  So let us put aside all our pettiness and get down to the business of really serving God with everything we have and loving one another as He has loved us.  Let's do it before the next earthquake strikes!  You never know.

Feast of the Queenship of Mary

Aug. 22 Queenship of Mary
Gospel Lk 1, 26-38

Eight days after the Solemnity of the Assumption of our Lady, we celebrate the feast of her Queenship.  Today’s Gospel is that of the Annunciation.   I love to contemplate Mary at the moment of Gabriel’s greeting for she is so very human.  Although she was immaculate, not having any pathological insecurity or afflicted with false humility, she is deeply disturbed by the sight of the great Archangel and even more by what he says.  Every true encounter with the supernatural has a certain terror in it.  We often like to treat God as a kind of commodity, or like some celestial vending machine.  We say some prayers and expect to get some blessing in return.  But once we really understand Him as the Supreme Being who nevertheless deigns to draw us into an incredible intimacy with Himself, then we can never regard Him in a casual way again.  Yet this terror does not terrorize.  Rather it fascinates and draws the human being to its Source.  Although Mary was afraid and had to be reassured by Gabriel, she did not lose her composure.  She was a queen even here, a royal mistress of herself because she was utterly submissive to her Lord.  She had a question and she was able to ask it.  And although the answer was even more mysterious than the original statement, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word”.

A New Name

Sun. 21th Week Year A
Gospel (Mt. 16, 13-20)

Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is and Simon responds for them all by saying, “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God”.  Jesus tells Simon that he is blessed because the Heavenly Father has revealed this to him.  Then Simon receives a new name and a new mission.  He now is called “Peter” and holds the keys of the Kingdom.  A beautiful dynamic is taking place here.  God the Father reveals to Simon Peter that Jesus is His Divine Son and the One Anointed by the Spirit.  Then in Peter’s dialogue with Jesus, Peter’s own identity is revealed to himself.  As we come closer to Jesus, the Father gradually reveals His mystery to us.  This is to be expected.  But it is a shock to realize that Jesus is actually a mirror who reveals our own mystery to ourselves.  He speaks our name; not the name that our parents gave us but a new name that only He knows and only He can say.  It is the creative name that He continues to utter at every moment of our existence.  And it is the name by which the Good Shepherd us to follow Him.  When a Poor Clare postulant becomes a novice, the abbess gives her a new name that she has received in prayer from God.  This name symbolizes the new novice’s special call and new mission in the Church.  The girls who came to the Come and See Day at the Poor Clares were blessed to have this Gospel preached to them this day.  Pray for them now as they continue to discern their call.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Service of Authority

Saturday, August 20, 2011
20th Week Year I
Matthew 23:9-10

Jesus tells his followers that they should not want to be called “Rabbi” or “Father” or “Teacher”.  He is using a bit of rhetorical hyperbole here, using an exaggerated statement in order to make a point.  Just as we do not feel obliged to take Him literally when He says we ought to tear out our eye if it gives us trouble, so we do not have to feel guilty for calling our priests or our Dads “Father”.  The point that Jesus wants us to get is that we should not be concerned about titles of honor, marks of respect, or what advantage to our egos we can obtain by being experts in Catholic theology or observance.  Pope Benedict said at his inauguration Mass that his being Pope was not about honor, but about service.  St. Francis saw the position of authority as one of serving the brethren and wanted the “superiors” of his order to be called “ministers” or “guardians”.  St. Clare exhorts the abbess in her rule to lead the sisters by holiness of life rather than by her office.  She herself thought it a privilege to perform all the lowliest tasks of the monastery.  Jesus, the Son of God Most High emptied Himself for love of us to become our servant so that we could join Him for all eternity in the happiness of the heavenly kingdom.  He has given us the Eucharist and the indwelling Holy Spirit so that we can follow His example. Let us do so.

Two Commandments of Love

Friday, August 19, 2011
20th Week Year I
Mt. 22:34-40 (Two Commandments of Love)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the 2 great commandments of love on which we are to base our lives:  love God with everything you have within you (heart, soul, mind), and love your neighbor as yourself.  But where do we, sinful and selfish as we are, get the power to love like this?  For this answer we must turn to the Beloved Disciple John.  He tells us that God Himself is love.  “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way:  He sent His only Son to the world that we might have life through Him.  Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins.  Beloved, if God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another.”  Love always begins with God for He is the origin and source of all love.  We have to first receive His love before we can love Him or anyone else.  We cannot believe in our own goodness and so love ourselves as we ought, until we experience that we are loved.  But since we live in a sinful world, we have all been wounded by sin, our own and that of others.  Those of us who have been blessed with good and loving families find they are able to love easily.  But they must remember that “to whom more has been given, more will be required”.  They are called upon to sacrifice themselves with a heroic love like Christ did on the Cross.  And those of us who have grown up in unloving and even abusive families must not despair.  Christ has suffered their abuse with them.  He has said that whatever is done to the least is done to Him.  He loves the abused with a special and tender love, but they must open themselves to Him and allow Him to love them where they hurt the most.  Surrendering every part of our being to Jesus is the way He wants us to love Him.  Once we do that and really believe in our own God-given goodness, then we can turn in love towards our neighbors with a true and Godlike love.  We will be able to fulfill the new commandment of love given by Jesus at the Last Supper:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Wedding Garment of Love

Thursday, August 18, 2011
Matthew 22:114 (The Wedding Garment of Love)

When a Poor Clare Sister wakes up in the morning, she prays a morning offering and then dresses while reciting what are called “dressing prayers”.  Each garment has its own prayer.  When she takes off her night habit she prays, “Strip me now of the old man” and as she puts on her daily habit she prays, “Clothe me with Your virtues, enrich me with Your graces and give me the wedding garment of Your love”.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of a king giving a wedding feast for his son.  A man is found in the banquet hall not wearing a wedding garment.  When asked by the king why he is not properly dressed, he makes no reply and so is thrown out.  The man made no reply because he had no excuse; the wedding garment was provided by the host at the door.  Jesus calls us each day to the wedding feast, but we must be willing to put on “the wedding garment of His love”.  All love requires a certain surrender of autonomy, a loss of our personal independence.  Divine love is especially all-engaging.  But we resist, fearful lest we sacrifice too much of ourselves.  How foolish can we be!  Sometimes we are like the first guests of the parable who could not be bothered with the feast because they were too interested in their own affairs.  They did not care because they did not love.  In the end, each will get what he or she chooses: self-centered loneliness or self-giving unity with Love Himself.  Let us choose wisely.

Laborers in the Vineyard

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Matthew 20:1-16 (Laborers in the Vineyard)

A man goes out to hire laborers in the morning, mid-morning, midday, afternoon and late afternoon.  At the end of the day he calls all the laborers and gives them all the same wage!  Report this man to the Better Business Bureau!  He has violated the principle of “equal work, equal pay”, or at least its logical corollary, “unequal work, unequal pay”.  But Jesus is not talking about economics here, but about the kingdom of God.  How do we feel when we hear about some notorious sinner who has lived a life of debauchery and then at the last minute is given the grace of repentance on his deathbed and is saved?  Hopefully we rejoice and thank God for His great mercy.  But is there also a little petulant voice inside us that cries out, “Unfair!  Here I am, a good Catholic all my life, doing everything I am supposed to do and avoiding all the things I am not supposed to do and this guy gets off easy!  He has a good time doing just exactly what he wants all his life and then gets heaven besides!”  But let’s look at this a little more closely.  Are we in a business relationship with God or in a love relationship?  What woman, happily married to a man who deeply loves and respects her, ever looks with envy at her unmarried counterparts who are flitting from one unhappy liaison to another, vainly seeking the joy she herself daily experiences?  Oh, she may do so briefly on a bad day when the kids are crying and the wash is piled too high.  But she will soon come to her senses.  Are we serving the Lord for pay?  Or do we find our joy in being in love with Him and doing what He wills and loving those He loves?  And what about those people outside the Christian fold.  Are they having such a good time?  They do not look like it to me.  In fact, they look bored, like laborers hanging around all day waiting to be hired.  They are looking for joy in all the wrong places.  They just find brief pleasure that disappears and leaves a gaping hunger that can never be satisfied except with the infinite love of God.  So let us who have the privilege of working in the Lord’s vineyard renew our commitment to Him in love.  And let us pray that He may soon find those who will only be happy once they join us in His service.

Gideon's Call

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Judges 6:11-24a (Gideon's Call)

In today’s first reading at Holy Mass we meet Gideon, a man called by God to rescue His people from the power of their enemies.  An angel appeared to Gideon, using words that remind us of Gabriel’s salutation to our Lady, “The Lord is with you, O Champion!”. (Actually, it is better in the Latin, “The Lord is with you, O strongest of men!”)  But Gideon argues, “My lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” And then he mournfully lists all the troubles of the Israelites.  The angel replies, “Go with the strength you have, and save Israel from the power of Midian.  It is I who send you.” Gideon continues to argue, “How can I save Israel? My family is the meanest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.”  And the angel (who is really the Lord Himself), insists, “I shall be with you”.  And that really should end all argument.  So often, when we are called by God to do something great for Him, we look at our own weaknesses and tell Him he has the wrong person.  We are no one special, we are not important, we don’t have what it takes, so get someone else.  But we have to remember that God actually delights in using just such people as we are.  St. Paul said, “He chooses the weak and makes them strong”.  He also says that God uses those who are nothing to put to shame those who are something.  So let’s stop making excuses and get going.  If God is with us, who can be against us?  Even if it is the whole world, He can handle it.  I heard a priest say it well in a homily many years ago, “Do your best, and Jesus Christ will do the rest”.

Feast of the Assumption

Monday, August 15, 2011
Feast of the Assumption

All my life I have been fascinated with clouds.  During my school days, I eagerly studied the different cloud formations, diligently memorizing their names.  Almost every day since then I have delighted in looking at the sky to see what new cloud design God was creating there.  So last night, just after sunset, I was intrigued by a large cloud bank, looming dark on the southern horizon like a just formed mountain range.  I marveled anew at how hard the cloud looked, silhouetted against the dying light of day, and wondered again at what celestial substance held together the mist whipped by wind in the mixing bowl of sky.  Musing thus I was surprised to see what I had never before seen up close—heat lightning!  From the heart of the cloud came flashes, now here, now there, but no thunder.  I opened my window to be sure of the silence.  No thunder, did I hear, but neither was there silence.  Instead I heard the music of serenading crickets.  As I listened, there was another flash of light, this one, not up in the sky but near the ground.  A lonely firefly made its presence known, now here, now there, almost as if it were imitating the fantastic display above.  I remembered the firefly’s other name of “lightning bug” and fancied that perhaps this one might fly up into the mountainous cloud, attracted irresistibly by the heavenly flashing light which in some way resembled its own.
Infinitely great is the distance between God and us, yet we are made in His image and likeness.  We yearn to be united to Him we resemble, however remotely.  But there was one among us who was overshadowed by the bright could of the Holy Spirit and God became incarnate in her flesh.  On this feast of the Assumption, we celebrate the mystery that the one who brought God to us has now been drawn up into heaven.  She is clothed with the sun and the flashing clouds surround her.  We too, little fireflies that we are, flashing our brief sparks of divine life amidst the darkness of the world, will someday follow her into the eternal light.  Let us rejoice and be glad in this hope.

Of Wounds

Sunday, August 14, 2011 10:32 AM
Matthew 15:21-28 (Of wounds)

A good Franciscan Capuchin Friar was visiting the Sisters for the feast of St. Clare.  In the course of his inspiring talks to them he said this lovely word, “No one can hurt you more deeply than Christ has wounded you.”  Surely Christ wounded the good Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel who pleaded with Him for the healing of her possessed daughter when He seemed to ignore and rebuff her. But His wounding was like that of a surgeon whose laser light cuts not for harm but for wholeness.  Jesus knew the quality of the woman kneeling before Him and that His cutting remarks would serve to increase her faith until He could call it great.  And they would pierce her heart, making it more tender with love.  The wounds we receive in this life are meant for the same ends.  Of course, every wound is painful.  We cry out in sorrow for the pain and in anger for the injustice of it all.  We attempt to scar over our wounds with hard layers of resentment and pick at the scabs with endless remembering.  But some wounds are never meant to close.  Rather, they are to remain open like the wounds of Christ, and to be pressed against His so that His life and ours can flow together.  As the life and love of Jesus flows into our opened heart, it becomes tender with love for our suffering brothers and sisters.  Here then is the fulfillment of that mysterious saying of Scripture, “All things work together for the good of those who love God.”