Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Giving




Fourth Sunday of Advent 2012



Christmas preparations at Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville are almost complete! 







Our newest members have proven to be marvelous festive bakers and wonderful decorators.  They decked the downstairs halls with boughs of holly and greenery yesterday while the rest of us tackled the other rooms of the monastery. 

 

Tonight we will place the ornaments on the lighted trees.  Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, Mother Abbess will distribute the donated poinsettias which will add their vibrant red to the quiet evergreens.  Their contrasting colors seem to echo the song of the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”

This is the season for giving gifts, and our benefactors inundate us with their loving generosity, for they see in faith the gift we have made of ourselves to God on their behalf.  In today’s second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that when Jesus entered our world, He said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…as is written of me in the scroll, behold I come to do your will, O God.”  Until Christ came, mankind could only offer token sacrifices to God, but now, in Jesus, we can offer ourselves along with Him to the Father, by the action of the Holy Spirit.  Poor Clares are called by God to image this reality in a radical way.  When we enter the cloister, we too echo Jesus’ words:  behold I come to do your will, O God!”  Possessing nothing in poverty and possessed by no one but Him alone, we are exclusively His.  Yet our union with Him is not a closed circle, but a fruitful nuptial embrace that expands to include the whole world.  We are Sisters to all of creation and every human being is our child whom we nurture with loving prayer.

May each and every one of you be blessed this Christmas with the gift of divine peace which comes from the assurance that God is with us, Emmanuel!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Lights


On shortest day of the year, when the sun sets earliest and the night is longest, we put up our Christmas tree lights!  Come, Jesus our Light!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Immaculate Conception 2012





That as the Heavenly Father prepared Mary by her Immaculate Conception to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, so may all who are called to serve God in a priestly or religious vocation have confidence that they too will have every grace they need to fulfill their mission in the Church.

That the laws of our country may again reflect the conviction that every human person is a being to be cherished and reverenced from conception to natural death.

That sinners may look with hope to her who is sinless and yet is also our Mother of Mercy.

That we who were not immaculately conceived, nor blameless in our living, may forsake all denial and subterfuge, so that we may face God our Father in honest humility and entrust ourselves to Jesus our Savior who purifies and clothes us in His forgiving love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent 2012




Happy New Year!  No, I am not early, for today is the first day of the Church’s liturgical year.  I just got used to remembering that we were in Year B for the Sunday readings and today we begin Year C!  Yesterday we made our large Advent Wreath that stands in the middle of our monastic refectory (where we eat together).  At the beginning of our meals we observe the ancient custom of lighting a candle in honor of Christ our Light who is to come.  In the evening, each Sister takes a turn offering an advent prayer.  Here will be tonight’s prayer:


Blessed are You, O Jesus, our Savior, and our only hope.

Jesus, You are the rising flame dispelling every darkness.
Enlighten our heavy winter night.

Jesus, You are the descending heavenly dew.
Melt away our hoary, morning frost.

Jesus, You are the ever green standing amid the naked woods.
Wreathe our noon-day death in Your all fragrant life,
as we await the blessed advent of Your incredible spring.  Amen.

Blessed Advent Season to one and all!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe



Jn. 18:33-37

In today’s Gospel, Jesus stands trial before Pilate. Our Lord says that He has come to bear witness to the truth and all who are “of the truth” hear His voice.  We may ask with Pilate, “What is truth?”  The ancient philosophers would tell us that truth is WHAT IS.  St. Thomas Aquinas would tell us that we must be humble before the truth.  It is what it is and our duty is to seek it, find it, and then embrace it.  Unfortunately, modern philosophers and pendants would tell us that truth is what we decide it is.  How do we decide?  Well, of course, according to our own convenience!  So, what is true becomes what we like, what gives us pleasure, advancement, praise, or whatever we want at the moment.  Pilate decided that the politically convenient solution was “true” and so he condemned an innocent man to a most cruel death.  When an unborn child proves inconvenient to his or her mother, then our society has decreed that this child is not a human being.  The truth about marriage is contested by those who find pleasure in “alternative lifestyles”. 
Our Lord has said in another place that He, Himself, IS the truth.  He is also the way to the truth and He is the life that comes from the truth.  He is the standard by which we judge all of reality.  Origen, an early Christian writer, says, “There should be in us a kind of spiritual paradise where God may walk and be our sole ruler with His Christ.  In us the Lord will sit at the right hand of that spiritual power which we wish to receive.  And He will sit there until all His enemies who are within us become His footstool.”
Few of us have the opportunity to fight the Lord’s battles on the stage of world history, but each of us has the responsibility to do so on the field of our own hearts.  Our Father St. Francis began the reform of the Church and his society by first reforming himself.  Let us follow his example by conforming our lives according to the truth that is Christ.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Full and Lasting Happiness



Last year the church gifted us with the long awaited new translation of the Roman Missal.  At Bethlehem monastery we have often reflected together and commented on the riches of the prayers that are now directly available to us.  This Sunday’s opening prayer for Holy Mass is no exception.  “Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.”  Here we ask God to give us constant gladness and are reminded of the true source of all joy.  We spend much of our time seeking happiness in the wrong places-physical or emotional comforts, the esteem or admiration of others, power and self assertion.  Even Poor Clares, although our resources for such vain pursuits are by our own free choice more limited, can also fall into the trap of seeking superficial rather than lasting joy.  It takes a deep faith to see that full and lasting happiness is found only in God, the author of all that is good.  In Him is ALL the good we are seeking in those other seemingly more attainable “goods”.  Someone has said, “God is enough, God is enough, and everything else is not enough”.  It is only in loving and serving Him, not sporadically but with constancy, that we will find that fulfillment which will at last quiet the longing of our hearts.  The paradox here is that in the Kingdom, to serve is to reign, to die is to live and losing is so much gain.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Giving Our Two Cents Worth


It is said that our Father St. Francis gave two coins to God:  his body and his soul.  But are these not paltry gifts to give, if not for St. Francis, then surely for us, with all our faults and failings, our wrinkles and our warts?  Would it not be better for us to give the Divine Majesty some wonderful work or some magnificent sum of money for His greater honor and glory?  But if we ask this question, then we show that we are losing sight of the truth that God is first of all a Lover, and Christ is the Bridegroom of every human being, not their CEO.  And what ardent lover would ever be satisfied with anything his beloved gave him if she withheld herself?  Of course, whoever has the means to do great things ought to use them, but all is worthless in the sight of God if it does not spring from and is an expression of the essential self-gift of love.

We little Poor Clares are icons of this glorious reality.  Like the poor widow in today’s Gospel, we are without an earthly husband, without material possessions, and of little worth in the sight of men.  But we joyfully cast our “two cents worth”, our bodies and our souls, our entire selves, into the treasury of the Church, confident that we are precious in God’s sight and that He will use us to enrich His Kingdom.  And we hope that when you feel “like two cents”, that you will think of us and rejoice to know how valuable you are to God.  You are worth the Precious Blood of Christ!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Eventful Week



 It has been an eventful week at Bethlehem Monastery!  Hurricane Sandy was due to arrive here on Tuesday, so we had all our array of battery operated hurricane lamps, flashlights and extension cords ready to keep our 21st century lives going should our electrical power be blown away.  Thank God we do have a generator which gives us light and outlets in our hallways plus keeps our mechanical room and kitchens in operation.  The rest is left to our ingenuity and experience of many power outages over the years since we moved to Mt. St. Francis.  Since it looked as if Sandy was determined to disrupt that very significant, bi-monthly event in our feminine monastery known as “Washday”, my own ingenuity was working overtime.  Delaying washday creates havoc in our domestic scheduling, so I had determined to take my life into my hands in order to save the situation.
 When we rose at midnight for our usual prayers and office of Matins on Tuesday, the power was out.  So afterwards, I went down to the laundry, and although most of the equipment had warning tags on their electrical cords threatening me with personal injury or death if I dared to attach an extension cord, I did so anyway.  At least I was prudent enough to choose two older model washing machines that did not have the warning tags.  But I could not help wondering if there was some intrinsic evil I was committing.  However, by morning, (wonder of wonders!) the power had been restored and I could remove the forbidden extension cords.  Not trusting in the permanency of the miracle, I washed everything (and dried it too) before our 9AM Mass.


By Thursday we had lovely autumn weather to celebrate the great feast of All Saints.  This was also the day set for our novice, Sister Marie Elise, to make her Sacred Promises and to receive the black veil of a professed Sister.  She is a finally professed Sister from an active congregation, so instead of professing temporary vows, she simply promised to observe her vows according to our Holy Rule.  She also made a vow of enclosure which is unique to our Poor Clare Order.  The ceremony took place during Holy Mass and we were so happy that Sister Elise’s own blood sister, Mia, was able to attend.  


We love having another black veil among us!

Friday, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, we visited our cemetery where three of our Sisters are buried.  There we offered our Rosary and other prayers for the repose of their souls.  The whole day was also one of prayer for the souls in Purgatory.  Indeed, the entire month of November is dedicated to that intention.  It is also the month when we begin our “monastic advent”, a preparation for the great Advent of the Church.  In spirit we join with Mother Nature in her slow and glorious dying, and that waiting for new life which is the coming of the Lord.  Most particularly we set our sights now on election day, praying that our new leaders will guide our nation and local governments on the path of life.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenstorm

We are all praying for those in the way of Frankenstorm (including us!). It is raining and windy now, but the hurricane is officially due to arrive tonight or tomorrow. We have a generator that gives us some power but not everywhere. So we have our flashlights and extension cords ready! God bless everyone in the coming week!

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Investiture Video of Sister Angelique

We have a new video commemorating the 8th centenary of St. Clare and the investiture of our Sister Mary Angelique.  Here is the link:  http://youtu.be/tnGUEOaxYGw

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Faith and the Rich Young Man


Last week our Holy Father Pope Benedict inaugurated the year of faith.  Those of us who attend daily Mass know that on the very anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the first reading was on the subject of faith.  Each succeeding reading has continued the same subject.  Only God could have arranged such a coincidence!  Today’s Gospel is the story of the rich young man who ran up enthusiastically to Jesus, threw himself down at His feet and begged Him to say how one can inherit eternal life.  Jesus reminds the young man of the commandments.  Then, perceiving that he wanted more, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and come follow.  “At this his face fell and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
  The rich young man of the Gospel evidently had faith, or he would not have come to Jesus.  Yet he did not have enough faith to abandon his financial security for the sake of Christ.  Deep faith always bears the fruit of love and urges one to a commitment of love.  St. Francis, the son of a wealthy, 13th century cloth merchant, was another rich young man who did not go away sad when Jesus called him.  No, rather he went home joyfully and sold everything, even what was not his to sell!  When his father angrily demanded his money in a public hearing before the Bishop of Assisi, Francis gave it back to him along with all his clothes in a dramatic and symbolic gesture of self renunciation.  St. Clare was also wealthy and of a noble lineage.  She abandoned all her worldly possessions to follow Christ along the way of Holy Poverty that Francis pointed out to her.  Countless others, both rich and poor and middle class have followed their example throughout the centuries.  May many more come after us!  Only by the grace of faith can we exchange what is visible for what is invisible.  Our Lord says that for man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.  Love, born of faith, conquers all.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Communion Handclasp


Our Sister Mary Agnes, who suffered a stroke in July is doing remarkably well!  She has made a truly wonderful comeback, participating in all our community daily events including our midnight rising for prayer.  She still needs to have some support for the sake of balance when she walks, and so for that purpose uses a rolling walker much of the time.  For receiving Holy Communion, however, another Sister accompanies her while holding her hand.  The poetic heart of Sister Mary Agnes was touched to write on this sisterly act of love.  Here is her lovely poem:


Communion Handclasp

Our supporting hand, my Sister,
that has just lifted to your lips God Incarnate,
the morseled Christ, now grasps
mine that has cradled Him, Bread of everlasting life.
Then you steady me toward the yearing Cup.


We drink the Wine, no longer juice from vine,
but Love Divine outpoured in unmerited mercy,
    in Blood of the slain Lamb,
redeeming Blood freely shed for us,
vessels of clay, carrying away the risen Son
Whose radiance transforms, brightens,
beams warmth to hands, heat to hearts joined
   in bond of Sisterhood.

Lord Jesus, bear her burdens who lightens mine
on today’s pilgrim way of faith

for this vital Food and Drink, O Christ,
for universal brotherhood, to our eternal Father
from your Heart speak our gratitude.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Feast of St. Francis


Blessed Feast of Our Holy Father St. Francis to one and all! This is a picture of our new statue which is now in our sanctuary. It shows Francis as he truly was; meek and humble of heart like Jesus. May we always follow his example and be his true children!
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nun Run 2012


This weekend we hosted a Nun Run consisting of members of several local youth groups.  They also visited the Nashville Dominican Sisters and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters.  These girls and young women were a wonderful group and we pray for their continuing discernment!  I am taking the picture from the cloister side in our parlor :)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hope Does Not Disappoint

My Mom and Dad at the reception following my Solemn Profession
April 23, 1984


May God bless and reward all of my dear friends, for your expressions of sympathy at the passing into eternal life of my mother, and especially for your prayers.  The Sisters here have all been so very kind in their expressions of sisterly love, and it has been good that we have been on retreat so that I have had extra time to pray and to mourn.  The day after the funeral, I was standing on our infirmary porch just before Terce and I was graced to see a rainbow, the sign of hope.  Here is the poem I wrote to commemorate the event:

Hope Does Not Disappoint
September 2, 2012

My mother sent me a rainbow today.
How, you say, do I know it was she?
Well, her funeral was yesterday,
So now from her place in eternity
She sees how heavenly splendor speaks to me:

By the sun, a seraphim with fiery wings,
Or the cherub moon’s more reflective light,
The mysterious clouds heralding wonderful things,
And by eagle-angels in their courtly flight.

I’m sure that Dad was eager to explain
To Mom the art of bending rays of breaking dawn.
She guided them through the prism mist of rain
Until a perfect arc of layered light was drawn

Upon the parchment of an expectant sky.
“Honey, I’m safe.”-The message plain.
Glistening hope was my reply.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sarah's Visit




On the feast of our Mother St. Clare, Sarah came to visit as part of her observance of our aspirancy program.  Here she is shown having recreation in the parlor with our novitiate Sisters.  From left to right:  Novice Sister Angelique, Aspirant Sarah (in the extern parlor—you can see her through our cloister grille), Novice Sister Elise and Postulant Walta who just graduated from the aspirancy to become a Postulant.  Aspirancy begins after an applicant’s papers have been handed in and she has been given a date to enter our community.  Another three months of aspirancy continue inside the enclosure during which the candidate wears a simple white veil, white blouse and dark skirt.  Upon becoming a Postulant, she receives a short black veil, brown vest and skirt.  Sarah hopes to enter in January after she works at fundraising for the Laboure society which will help her to pay her college debt.  We are counting the days until Christine’s entrance on September 12.  Mary is in the last stages of getting her papers together and hopes to enter at the end of December.  Keep all these earnest young people in your prayers!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Legend of St. Francis and St. Clare


Today the Franciscan family concludes its celebration of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Poor Clares by St. Francis and St. Clare. In the spiritual journey, every ending is the occasion of a new beginning, So I offer this video celebrating the heart of our charism which is love--the love of Christ and the love we have for one another in Him.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Lord is My Shepherd




“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”  Last Sunday, while I was the cantor at Holy Mass, singing this line of the Responsorial Psalm, I was reminded very poignantly of our Sister Mary Agnes, who at that time was in the hospital recovering from her stroke.  “Agnus” is a Latin name meaning “Lamb”.  As our little community lamb had been cast down the day before, so the provident care of our Good Shepherd had also been present.

Saturday morning in a Poor Clare monastery is a time of happy, homemaking activity.  After Holy Mass, we scatter to our individual cleaning charges to put everything in order for the next day’s Sabbath rest.  I was sweeping and organizing the garage.  Through the open door, I saw Mother Abbess hurry past, having been called from her gardening chores.  Nothing unusual to happen to an abbess.  But then another Sister came running down the stairs with a message for me.  “We think Sister Mary Agnes is having a stroke.  Mother Abbess wants you to come.”  So, I flew up the three flights of stairs separating me from the gathering of the flock around our fallen lamb.  Just minutes before, Sister Francis Maria had been cleaning the hall outside Sister Mary Agnes’ monastic cell and had heard her fall.  When Sister Mary Agnes could only respond with slurred speech, Sister Francis Maria rushed to get our nurse, Sister Elise who was cooking that day’s dinner.  We all thanked our Good Shepherd for providing that a Sister would be in the right place, at the right time. 

Word quickly spread throughout the monastery, our rule of silence gladly giving way to the supreme law of love.  I called 911.  “We have a woman in her eighties with a possible stroke.”  “Address?”  “5500 Holly…” “Is this the monastery?”  “Yes”  “We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”  Mother Abbess and Sister Elise prepared Sister Mary Agnes and themselves for a ride in the ambulance.  Lunch was made for them.  A suitcase of Poor Clare essentials was prepared.  A substitute cook continued the dinner.  Faxes, phone calls and e-mails sent to family, friends and other monasteries begging for prayers.  The medics discovered that their stretcher would not fit in our elevator, so we found a wheelchair.  Finally, Sister was on her way to the emergency room while the rest of us at home continued life as best we could, surrounding her with our love and prayers from afar.

Like every family in similar circumstances, we anxiously awaited news from the hospital and Mother Abbess gave us frequent updates.  The reports were good, then not so good, then better.  It was a joyful day indeed when at last we gathered our lamb back into the monastic fold, grateful that the stroke had not been worse and its effects not as serious as they could have been.  She lives life now at a slower pace and we have more opportunities to express our love for her in tangible ways.

How easy it is to take our lives for granted, both the lives of others and our own!  As Sister Angelique, our novice said to me last week, “On Monday, Sister Mary Agnes gave us Franciscan History class…on Thursday I cooked with her, and now she is in the hospital!”  Truly, we “know not the day, nor the hour”.  So much can change in just a few moments.  Let us not put off to tomorrow what we can do today, for we do not know if we will have a tomorrow to love, to forgive, to be forgiven, to serve, to give joy.  We can only live life seriously and to the full when we face the fact of death.

Since my cell window faces west, I am often treated to marvelous sunsets.  The past month has given me spectacular displays; water color scenic paintings with ever changing evening rainbow colors.  One night this week, I noticed that the sunset looks just like the dawn.  Indeed, my sunset is someone else’s dawn on the other side of the world, or just on the other side of my horizon.  Someday, we will all come to that final sunset of our lives.  But our Good Shepherd, who is also the Rising Sun, will gather us into His arms and bring us into that New Day, the great Dawn of the Resurrection into new life in our heavenly homeland.  He has conquered death by going through it Himself. 

“Though I walk through the dark valley, I fear no evil, for You are at my side, with your rod and your staff that give me courage.”  May His name be praised for ever!  Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My visit to the Poor Clare monastery in Virginia - YouTube

My visit to the Poor Clare monastery in Virginia - YouTube
 
This video is by a young woman who visited us last week.  Pray for her!

Amazing to God!



Recently shared by one of my Facebook friends, this really made my day! It addresses in a lighthearted way, a universal, mysterious and often painful phenomenon.  We cannot go too far in life before we recognize the fact that not everyone finds us amazing.  Even after years of diligently praying for enlightenment and grace, reading Scripture, listening to conferences, examining our consciences, living the ascetical life, eradicating vices, acquiring virtues, and even studying all the self-help improvement manuals, there are people who still do not like us.  This can be discouraging, to say the least, and can even lead to a form of bitter despair.  Women are especially prone to this kind of discouragement since we are so very sensitive to personal relationships.  We begin to suspect that the problem is not in what we do, but in who we are.  If others who ought to love us rather dislike us, does that mean we are of little worth as human beings? No!  It just means that we are not being seen for who we truly are.  We may need to do more to reveal our true selves.  Or it may be that our critics have bad taste.

We have to start from the premise that we are made in the image and likeness of the All Good and All Beautiful God.  We are each like mirrors reflecting the Divine Goodness and Beauty from a slightly different angle.  But sometimes our mirrors are clouded or covered over.  It is part of our task in life to shine up our mirror so that we can better show God to the world.  But it would be an insult to the Divine Artist if we should smash that mirror or try to position it in another direction because someone happens to dislike what is seen there.  And the street runs in both directions.  When we find ourselves saying that we “just don’t connect” or “this relationship doesn’t click” or “the chemistry is bad” when we regard another human being, then it may be that we have bad taste.  Then it is our task to see with the eyes of love the good and beautiful image of God hiding beneath the deceptive covering.  We must have faith in the dignity of each human being and be willing to make every effort to penetrate beyond the sometimes distressing surface.  Cloistered nuns become experts in this art, for God delights in calling every sort of personality to His cloisters, especially His Poor Clare ones!  If we persevere, we develop an “acquired taste” for each of our Sisters who may be difficult for us to like on the natural plane.  Eventually, personality differences cease to be annoying and threatening, but rather become interesting and intriguing.  After all, variety is the spice of life.  We all dress alike, but oh, there is nothing more unique than a good Poor Clare! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist



Today we celebrate the birthday of Christ’s Precursor, the great John the Baptist.  And in celebrating him, we also affirm our faith in the dignity of every human being from the moment of conception.  We remember how, when still in his mother’s womb, he leapt for joy when he sensed the presence of the just conceived, pre-born Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mother.  John’s mother, St. Elizabeth, was filled with the Holy Spirit, also recognized the Messiah and was the first to call His Mother Blessed.  Mary, already filled with God’s grace, sang His praises.  How can anyone who takes the Bible seriously, deny the humanity and the divine activity in the bodies of the unborn?  Please read this inspiring story of a heroic young mother and her choice for life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Slide show of Sister Elise's Investiture

Sister Marie Elise on her Investiture Day

I did it!  Made my first slide show!  Only took me 6 months to do, but of course I was doing some other things besides. :) Here is an account of our Sister Elise's Investiture.  The words are hers and the pictures are ours.

Investiture of Sister Marie Elise of Jesus Crucified

  To read the full text, go to:  The Making of a Novice

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corpus Christi and a Vocation Story


Corpus Christi




“…After gazing on God, they could still eat and drink.”  These lines from the Book of Exodus, which we read at our midnight office of Matins each year on the feast of Corpus Christi, never fail to make me smile.  The story is being told of Moses bringing the chosen elders of Israel up Mt. Sinai to meet God.  Evidently, the author of the Sacred Scriptures is amazed that these chosen souls were able to survive the experience!  I wonder what he would he think about us, the people of the New Covenant, who not only gaze on God in the Holy Eucharist, but actually take Him intimately within ourselves as our food and drink?  And what would that holy scribe think of God Himself, who gives this privilege so lavishly, not only to a chosen few, but to everyone who believes and loves Him?  Indeed, let us with joyful and humble hearts, “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!”

Although, as I said above, that Jesus calls everyone to His Eucharistic embrace, it is still true that He calls a chosen few to dwell with Him always on His holy mountain.  Here is the vocation story of our aspirant Sarah who hopes to join us soon on Mt. St. Francis to adore the Lord night and day forever:

The love story which has been my vocation began two years ago while I was a Sophomore at Christendom College in Front Royal, VA. I was leaving a building on campus when a friend of mine who was sitting on a bench nearby called to me as I passed.
“Sarah!”
I stopped and turned around. “Yes?”
“Have you ever thought of becoming a nun?”
Up to that point in my life I had never had strong feelings toward either the married or religious state, but afterwards that changed. For the first time in my life I could not shake the idea of devoting my life to Christ. At first I was angry and confused that God could have so thoroughly uprooted and cast aside the plans I had made for my life. I had assumed that I would lead a “normal” life like everyone else—go to college, get a job, and probably get married at some point and raise a family. Yet now all my plans were fading away at the advance of a far more brilliant and beautiful dream, and there was nothing I could do to bring them back. All the rest of that semester and the following summer I wrestled with myself and God until I yielded my will for His, realizing that all I truly wanted in life was His Will for me and that Will alone would be my happiness. It was then that my heart found relief and a great sense of peace.

The following semester I took part in Christendom College’s study abroad program in Italy. As part of the program my fellow students and I visited Assisi, where I could palpably feel the spirit of the ragged beggar who once so joyfully walked its cobbled streets. Towards the end of the pilgrimage, I went to pray before the cross of San Damiano. As I knelt before the cross, I found myself asking the same question that St. Francis had as a young man kneeling before this same cross: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Then I heard the most beautiful voice in my heart. It was a voice that did not speak in words so much as it did in love, and my heart leapt with joy as I knew it instantly for that of my Jesus. He answered me, saying, “Come. Come. Be mine. I love you.” I could barely contain my joy as I cried “yes.” I felt gloriously helpless in the arms of His love—how could I answer His beloved voice with anything other than consent?

After some later reflection, I decided to take this great grace with a grain of salt; perhaps Our Lord wanted me to grow closer to Him in my spiritual life, and was not necessarily calling me to become a religious sister. Yet His call only grew in my heart, along with a magnetic attraction to any Franciscan or Poor Clare I met in Rome! I realized that I needed to learn more about the Poor Clare order, and began to investigate different monasteries. First I visited the Poor Clares in Alexandria, VA, but I did not feel drawn to return for a second visit. Then I searched the internet and read over the websites of multiple Poor Clare communities; yet I did not feel drawn to visit a single one of them. That is, until I visited the website of Bethlehem Monastery. I had been to their website before, since a close friend of mine had entered there the previous year, but this time I heard it speak to me—I do not know how else to describe it—in a way which struck my heart and instantly convinced me that I needed to visit. It was as if the community spoke to my heart in the voice of someone who might become a beloved friend.

On August 12, the day after the feast of St. Clare and the inauguration of the 800th anniversary year of the founding of the Poor Clare order, I visited Bethlehem Monastery for a weekend. I could not believe the peace and joy which I experienced while I was there. My soul literally drank up the life as if it could never have enough! I remember being struck by the silence which hummed and sang with the energy of the still, small Voice Who speaks through it to the listening heart. As the weekend drew to a close, I could not wait to leave the Monastery so that I could return. I knew that if my weekend experience stood the test of time and my return brought me peace and a sense of coming home, then these would be signs that God was calling me to live there forever.

This return visit came in October during my Fall Break from college. Over the course of my five hour drive, so many doubts and fears crowded into my mind that I reached Barhamsville convinced I was mistaken and Our Lord was not calling me to Bethlehem Monastery. Yet as I pulled around the corner and the monastery came into sight, I felt instead a great sense of peace. Of arrival. Of having come home.

The next few days were fraught with doubts and fears. I could hear Christ’s voice speaking to me through the Divine Office and confirming my vocation to the Monastery; yet I still hesitated. I was waiting for some big sign by which I could be absolutely certain of God’s Will for me. Then at vespers on Thursday of that week we prayed Psalm 32, in which God said to me:

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel with my eye upon you. Be not like the horse and mule, unintelligent, needing bridle and bit, else they will not approach you. Many sorrows has the wicked but he who trusts in the Lord, loving mercy surrounds him.”

I took this as a sign that Our Lord wanted me to trust in Him without needing the confirmation of a dramatic sign. He was asking me to love Him in a deeper, more mature way by trusting completely in Him. That is when I found myself writing in my spiritual journal the word “yes.” I repeated, “Yes. Yes,” and felt a deep sense of peace and profound joy. I knew, and still know, that my Beloved Spouse desires to wed me at Bethlehem Monastery. And how could I ever desire anything else? For in His Will we always find our joy, fulfillment, and peace.





Sunday, June 3, 2012

Our Little Trinity



Happy Trinity Sunday!


  
Meet our little novitiate trinity:
  
Novice Sister Marie Elise, 
newly arrived Aspirant Walta, 
Novice Sister Mary Angelique. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!


Ascension Year B
Mk. 16:15-20

Veni Sancte Spiritus!  Come, Holy Spirit!  Hear the cry of the Church as she once again mystically enters the upper room with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to await the promised coming of the Holy Spirit who will renew her in the fire of His love!  The faithful living of the Sacred Liturgy is much more than a simple remembering of past events.  It rather enables us to re-live in our own day all the events of salvation history, giving us the power to actually participate in them through the timeless gift of divine grace. 

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised that authenticating signs would accompany those who had been clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Among these signs was the ability to speak foreign languages.  We know that on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles were able to be understood by all their listeners who had come from many foreign lands.  In our own day, our brothers and sisters in the Charismatic Renewal Movement often receive the “gift of tongues” by which they sing the praises of the Lord.  Throughout history, some of the Saints have been able to communicate in languages they have never studied.  Our own St. Colette of Corbie, a French Poor Clare abbess of the 15th century, once was traveling through a dangerous mountain pass near the German border of her country on her way to found a new monastery.  Suddenly, her little party of sisters with their chaplain was accosted by a band of highway brigands.  In his most eloquent French, the good friar priest pleaded for the sisters’ safety.  But the German robbers understood not a word, nor did they seem to care.  Then St. Colette descended from her covered wagon, approached the men and addressed them calmly in fluent German.  They were so impressed that not only did they do no harm, but they made themselves into a protective escort for the sisters throughout the rest of their journey.

It is not usual for a Poor Clare to have this extraordinary gift of tongues, but we do rely on the Holy Spirit to teach us the personal language of every sister.  For in the cloister, one discovers that each person really does have her own unique language which must be learned through the inspirations of God’s Spirit and the observations of love.  We all use English words, but each word passes through the prism of each one’s past experience, family situation, ethnic background and personal temperament.  Then, we who are bound by a rule of silence communicate also by body language and facial expression.  Only a sympathetic eye guided by a charitable heart can accurately read these media.  Next Sunday we will be privileged to welcome a new one into our midst and all of us will be eager to learn her language while at the same time teaching her to understand ours.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us here and every one in the world, that all the peoples of the earth may become one in heart and mind in the common language of love.

I may not be able to post next week as I will be very busy taking care of a newborn aspirant.  But once she has learned her first monastic steps I will be back.  Pray for my intentions! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Belated Mother's Day


Mother’s Day 2012

Blessed Mother’s day!  Contrary to what some would have us believe, all women are designed by God to find their truest expression and glory in the grace of motherhood.  It is a fact that many women will never know the joy of physical maternity, but every feminine heart is meant to be an abundant source of life and a font of nurturing love.  Actually, maternal love transcends biology.  Although a man, and Perfect Man at that, Jesus once expressed the depth of His suffering love by using an image of maternity.  On His way to Jerusalem to undergo His passion, he gazed at the city that would reject Him and said that He had longed to gather its children like a mother hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, and He could not.  Then, near the end of His life, while hanging on the Cross, he gave us His Blessed Mother, through the agency of St. John, to be our own spiritual mother.

By our vow of celibate chastity, we renounce all hope of physical motherhood, a profound sacrifice which cuts to the heart of feminine nature.  But that very wound opens us up to the spiritual espousals with Christ.  Through our bridal surrender to Him, we bear His life-giving love to every soul.  Some of us bear the title of “Mother”, such as our Abbess and her first councilor, since their exercise of authority is a maternal function in community.  But all of us become mothers through the daily sacrificial services we render to each other and the prayers we offer for all our benefactors and every one in need.

Right now, our community is experiencing the gift of maternity in the expecting of new life.  Two young women have made application to join us and are officially “received”.  Now they are like unborn infants being carried in our collective spiritual womb, waiting to be born into our monastic home.  However, they are not twins.  Sarah who graduated from college this weekend, has a student loan to pay, and so, with God’s help, the aid of the Laboure Society and the generosity of friends, she is due to enter at the end of the year.  (By the way, anyone interested in contributing to this worthy cause, let me know!)  But Walta is due exactly 2 weeks from today!  On Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, God willing, we will have a newborn aspirant in our midst.  Pray for her as she makes her final preparations to enter the birth canal of the enclosure doors.  We, like good expectant mothers, are preparing as well.  Here is her monastic cell, open and waiting as are our hearts to welcome her.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The True Vine and His Branches


5th Sunday of Easter
Year B
Jn. 15: 1-8

The image of the vine and the branches is one of my favorite analogies of our relationship with Jesus.  Where does the vine end and the branch begin?  One flows seamlessly into the other.  We are joined with Christ in a mysterious way, at some unfathomable, hidden point of union where His life flows into us as sap streams through a vine and its branches.  Our origin is in Him while His origin- His root, is in the Father.  Living water flows from both the Father and the Son in the gift of the Holy Spirit to us as long as we remain connected to this Vine in love.
But then there is the pruning.  How painful it is for the pruner, to willfully cut off what look like perfectly good branches!  The poor plant bleeds its sap and looks so pitifully naked and reduced.  Yet it would be a false compassion for the farmer to avoid the medicinal pruning that cuts away the vagrant offshoots which simply dissipate the energy needed for bearing good flowers and abundant fruit.  And how painful is this wounding of the branch!  It takes faith and especially trust in the Divine Gardener before this pruning can be borne with patience, all for the sake of fruit that will not in fact benefit the branch at all.  The fruit is for the making of wine that will gladden the hearts of others.  Only in the generous giving of our fruit will its blessing return again to us.  Those branches that do not bear fruit, the Father takes away.  Notice that they are not cut away.  Evidently, they just fall off of their own accord.  Cutting is for the fruitful branches.  Yes, we, unlike natural branches, have free will, and so we ourselves choose to fall away from the vine.  The Father has little choice but to take these stubborn branches away, unless, of course, they choose to be grafted back on to the vine.  Now our Lord does not say this, but He does not say everything, so I feel free to expand His image a bit here.  Grafting requires another kind of wounding.  Both the vine and the branch must be cut and then bound tightly together until the two wounded parts somehow mingle with each other and become one in their mutual healing.  When completed, the living water again flows between them.  Christ’s wounds are infinitely able to mingle with our wounds and make them one with Him.
We pray for those who have separated themselves from the true Vine, that they may consent to be grafted back into their source of spiritual life and happiness.  We pray for those who are lovingly one with the Vine, that they may submit to the pruning that will make them ever more fruitful.  And we pray for all, that in our union with Christ, we may be ever more deeply one with each other.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Choice


4th Sun. of Easter
Jn. 10: 11-18

Some years ago I was counseling one of my novices who had received an unpleasant directive.  In the course of our exchange, she asked what she no doubt considered a rhetorical question, “I don’t have any choice, do I?”  But I responded, “Yes you do; you have the choice to do it willingly or to do it unwillingly.”  She did not like this answer.  Neither do I when it comes to be my turn to accept something that goes against the grain of my will.

Jesus laid down His life with the full freedom that was His as God.  Unlike Him, we often have no control over the manner and timing of our death nor of the many daily dyings to our selfishness that present themselves unfailingly in the trials and tribulations of life.  I wonder if we did have the choice, how many of us would choose crucifixion.  At any rate, when faced with the inevitable, we do have the choice to lay down our lives willingly or unwillingly.  If we do so willingly, then, like Jesus, we will experience a resurrection, a new surge of life and spiritual energy.  It may, however, take longer than 3 days.  Sometimes it is more like three weeks, or three months or maybe 3 years, or even 3 decades!  It is also possible that we may have to wait until eternity dawns.  But however long it takes, that new life will be ours.  One of the advantages of growing older (as opposed to growing old) is that we have had the time to experience this ourselves.  Those of you who have the misfortune to be young simply have to take it on faith.    But take it from me as one who is growing older, that after you have been through the death, resurrection cycle again and again, you finally start getting the idea. That is, if you at least make the attempt to do it willingly, to conform your will to that of our Heavenly Father as Jesus did.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday and day of prayer for vocations, I pray that all who are called to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters as priests or religious may have the freedom of love to do so.  May they know that hundredfold reward promised by the Lord and joyfully sing that new song which only those who follow the Lamb may sing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mary Tells Her Story


Today we have a guest speaker, Mary Didier who graciously consented to my request to tell her vocation story to you.  Mary is seriously discerning her vocation with us and she is a regular visitor here at Poor Clare Hopefuls.

Hello, J My name is Mary Didier and I was asked if I would like to tell my vocation story. It is rather long but I’ll do my best to condense it as much as I can.

Ever since I was little I would always pray in my bed every night to God for He can give me the best husband that had ever walked this earth and to have as many children as He could give me. I wanted this so much and I had faith in my prayers so much that I knew God would give me those very special gifts. I did not think, however, that he had something else in mind…

Time had gone by and then I started college. Here at my college there is a wonderful Catholic Student Ministry (we call it Wisdom!) and it was during my freshman year my faith grew in such a radical way: I was with friends who shared the same beliefs as I did and I became on what I can only say was a “spiritual high.” However, I remember one time I was in the Church thanking God for his many graces and then heard something say to my heart “Give me more.” I told God I did not understand and I was giving him all I got, but there was always the same words that spoke to my heart, “Give me more!” Deep down I think I always knew what he wanted from me but it was not part of my plans and so I ran away from it, causing me great anxiety.

One day I was walking to class and my anxiety was so great that I screamed out loud for relief, "God help me!" Everyone looked at me and my face turned red. But then a thought came to me, "Call Mrs. Deborah." (She is a wonderful woman who allows the Holy Spirit to talk through her. You must be careful when you hear people who can do this. Sometimes they are not of the Holy Spirit and they allow the evil one to take the place of the Holy Spirit. However, she goes to my parent’s parish and so I knew her to be the real deal.) So after class I called Mrs. Deborah and she said that my Dad called her in September because he was worried about me and after he called her the Holy Spirit allowed her to write down three scripture passages (she wrote them down in September and it was march when I called her):

S/S 1:15-17 
15   Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves!
16  Ah, you are beautiful, my lover-yes, you are lovely. Our couch, too, is verdant;
17  the beams of our house are cedars, our rafters, cypresses.
Rev 19:7-8
7  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready.
8  She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment." (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)
Luke 1:27b
...and the virgin's name was Mary.
We then talked for a bit more and she prayed over me for I may accept God’s will and when she hung up I was mad! The first thing I did was run to the adoration chapel and fall to my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I told God why give me such desires to be a mother and not let me become one?! I told him right then and there that I would leave the Catholic Church because I will not have Him force me against my will. (I am not proud of what I told God then and I believe I will never be proud of that. I think that is why I have so much respect for women that join religious life without even hesitating. They are good strong women to do that and I myself do not deserve the same blessing as they do.) I went to bed that night angry but when I woke up I realized how could I leave the Catholic Church when She has everything I need, the Eucharist. I went back to the adoration chapel. I had to trust that if God wanted me to join the religious life then he would give me the desire to do so. So I stayed and prayed and cried for a while. My whole life plan seemed ruined but you remember that saying that "God laughs when you tell him your plans"? I don't believe He laughs, I believe he holds you close and cries with you because he knows how much those plans mean to you. And He will be patient until you finally come around to what He has always had planned for you. And his plans, my friends, are much better than our plans. Full of Joy!

It was not until that summer that I finally and happily said yes to Christ and when I look back I do realize how much of a silly and sappy girl I was to behave in such a way. I told my family and they were all exited. My Mom was so happy that she cried and my Dad said that he knew it all along. I was happy that they were behind me on this but God still wanted me to grow. After a while I felt like God still wanted me to give him more and after a year of not understanding what he wanted from me I finally understood that maybe I should look into contemplative life. I remember talking to God saying, “Ok, if you really want me to pursue this then you give me the order that you want to look into and I’ll go from there.”

I have a friend who is discerning with the Nashville Dominicans and we went to visit them in New Orleans for a weekend. They told me if I was discerning and I said yes I was and lately I have been feeling a pull to contemplative life. I told them I was looking into Franciscan spirituality and one of the sisters told me that they know of Poor Clares who live in Barhamsville Virginia and the spirit of St. Clare is definitely in their monastery. Now, usually when people give me information on orders my heart is closed to them but this time my heart was open and I took the written information happily and emailed the Poor Clares the next day. The Mother Abbess was so nice and very patient with me. She sent me information on their order and spirituality and I fell in love with it and soaked it up like a sponge. I even had a chance to visit them and really enjoyed myself there; the food was great, their land was beautiful, and the sisters were even more beautiful! However, I do believe that before I came I did have a romantic notion about the Poor Clares and so staying there made me realize that you really do have to be called to be one. And oh! How I really wanted to! (And still do of course!) I was scared when I left their monastery that God would not want me to join them and I started to feel like I should also look into the Carmelites, but when I did look into them more I realized that I did not have the Carmelite Spirituality. I must say that when you are looking for an order you need to pick one that you do not have to change your true self with. For God made your personality and if you join an order where you are not fitting into then that would mean that you are probably not called to it. That is what I found out with the Carmelites, that if I joined them I would have to change myself. Keep in mind though that when you do enter an order changes do happen, but the change is spiritual change. This spiritual change is necessary and the biggest change ever; you will begin to talk, walk, pray, work, and do many other things differently. Yet, this spiritual change should never change you. Because God made yourself the way he wanted to do it and if you pretend to be someone you are not then it will end up killing the soul instead of making it grow.

After I looked into the Carmelites more and surrendered myself to God’s will I discovered that St. Therese (my patron saint) was taking my hand and giving me to St. Agnes. In order to be sure that the Poor Clares were for me I had to stop leaving God out of the equation. I had to pray and bring him back into my life and when I included Him in my future that is when He began to lead me to the Poor Clares. I still beg God everyday for the graces to be a Poor Clare and one day I do hope to join the Poor Clares in Virginia but right now I know God wants me to remain in college (much to my disapproval). Maybe there is still something he needs me to do here, but until then I will keep the faith and always be thanking Him for His great kindness. I hope you all did something out of my story and I am so sorry it is long so God bless the person that finishes reading it.

Pax et Bonum!
Mary J