Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mary becomes a postulant

Yesterday, feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Mary joyfully relinquished her white aspirant veil for a black veil, thus joining the ranks of our Poor Clare postulants.  Here they are with her (Mary is kneeling, center front) along with big novice Sister Mary Angelique.  We miss that little aspirant veil, but will only have one week to wait until Sarah enters next Saturday, feast of a great Poor Clare, St. Agnes of Bohemia.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best Kept Secret

One of our Sisters is a former teacher in a Catholic inner city school.  At recreation last week, she shared a few lines of a song she taught her students: 

It’s Lent!
It’s Lent!
Time to repent!

The other Sisters doubted that the song would go over well, especially with teen-agers, but she said that her kids did like it.  Moreover, they had never heard of Lent, much less anything about “repent”!

But for us Franciscans, this is our special season.  Before his spiritual sons and daughters were given an official name, St. Francis called his movement the “order of penance”, so to put on the Franciscan habit is to declare oneself a public penitent in the Church.  We are the sinners whom Christ has called to repentance.  Jesus continues to scandalize the Pharisees of this world by deigning to eat with the likes of us and to be Himself our food at the table of the Eucharist.

Franciscans are famous for their joy.  It was said by her Sisters that St. Clare was always happy in the Lord, and this in spite of a life fraught with illness and hardship.  It is one of the best kept secrets, the paradox of penance, that moderation and self discipline create the necessary conditions for an excess of joy.  We must never forget, particularly during the season of Lent, that penance is not the end, but only the means.  Neither is the Cross of Christ the goal, but rather the Resurrection.  St. Paul says, “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him, Christ endured the cross, heedless of its shame.  I wish I could shout from the housetops this wondrous truth to a jaded world glutted with self indulgence:  “Hey, you’ve got it all wrong!  Turn away from the mess which is only making you more miserable!  You’re getting nowhere fast with all that!  Clear it out!  Make space for the hope that does not disappoint, the love that never fails, the joy that lasts forever and begins even now!”  Well, at least I can do my bit by climbing onto my little cyberspace soapbox here.

If you prefer eloquence, listen to today’s preface which says it so well:

“…By abstaining forty days from earthly food, He (Jesus) consecrated through His fast the pattern of our Lenten observance, and by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice, so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery, we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.”

Or again:

It’s Lent!
It’s Lent!
Time to repent!
And believe in the Good News!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Resting Place

As we continue to prepare for the entrance of our aspirant Sarah, we realize that in addition to needing a cell to sleep in, she also needs a bed to sleep on.  Since our last arrival is now using our last available mattress, this necessitated the making of a new one.  Only sick or infirm Poor Clares sleep on a regular mattress bought in a store, and we are confident that Sarah fits neither of those categories.  When I first entered over 30 years ago, the standard Poor Clare bed was a “straw sack”.  However, over the years it has proved nearly impossible to obtain suitable straw for the making of a mattress, for the machines now used to bale straw also pulverize it.  Then too, the hot and humid weather we have here in Virginia is very conducive to mold and mildew which loves to proliferate in our straw beds and afflict the sleepers thereon with severe allergies.  Finally, about fifteen years ago, one bed began to crawl with vermin.  This was literally, the last straw!  At the time this happened, we were doing some renovation work on our old monastery and an ingenious Sister noticed the hard Styrofoam panels the men were using for insulation.  This Sister, following her vocation as a Franciscan mendicant, begged for some of the panels.  She then made a padding of old, worn out blankets and soft foam rubber, wrapping them, along with the Styrofoam in mattress ticking to form a modern day substitute for the medieval straw sack.  It has served us well, being much lighter and yet firmer than its predecessor.

Yesterday, we completed Sarah’s genuine Poor Clare bed.  Pictured here are the completed mattress with the left over blanket trimmings on display along with the tools of the mattress making trade. 

Next is the bed frame, what we call the “bucks and boards” on which the mattress will be laid.

“The Heart of Jesus is my resting place; it is there I wish to live and to die.”  Thus begins the prayer each of us says before we retire at night.  Our physical sleeping accommodations are simple enough.  But who needs more when the Heart of Jesus is our deepest repose?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When the Going Gets Tough

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Colette, a great Poor Clare mystic who founded many monastic communities in France and Germany during the 15th century.  Our own community traces its ancestry to her spiritual activity.  St. Colette’s life is one of contrasts.  She began as a recluse, enclosed in a tiny cell attached to a church.  But God called her out of her loved solitude to become a Poor Clare abbess.  Although she established strict enclosure for her sisters, God Himself again called her to leave that enclosure many times to travel long distances to spread the living of the Poor Clare ideal.  We know it was not easy for her to obey the will of God, for she tells us of how He had to strike her dumb and then blind before she would submit to His plans for her.  I love her for this, that she had a very strong will, but once she gave it over, she did it all the way.  Then once given, it enabled her to cooperate with grace in such a way that she overcame humanly insurmountable obstacles.  When I think of St. Colette, I am reminded of a saying:  when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  The next time you have a tough situation and everything in you is in high rebellion, pray to St. Colette who knows what it is like and will obtain for you that holy toughness you need to do God’s will.  Here is the prayer she herself prayed when she finally gave in:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Love Never Fails

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

We are making preparations for the entrance of our aspirant Sarah on March 2nd.  Less than a month away now!  Since one of the things she will need is a place to sleep, I spent yesterday clearing out the last available cell in our novitiate dormitory which up until now I have been using as an office.  Said office will be my own cell, so there is a necessity for down-sizing.  I found myself reluctant to do the obvious:  organize the last of my recently deceased mother’s documents into a single box to be put away on a shelf somewhere, I guess for a few years, until it seems good to dispose of the bank statements, etc.  After her death in August, I had done what was necessary and then left it all to return to the business of living.  So, yesterday, as I sorted through the documents, my thoughts turned grim as I faced what seemed to be the futility of life.  Here were my Mom’s records along with my previously deceased Dad’s:  Birth certificate, marriage license, death certificate, funeral arrangements, deed of cemetery plots.  Also there were discharge papers from the hospital where both my parents had undergone treatment for tuberculosis and where they had met and fallen in love.  Both had survived, married and eventually gave birth to me.  Copies of my own birth certificate I also found.  I sadly discarded the many copies Mom had made of her last will in which she stipulated that her bank would be the executer of her estate.  This was to save her cloistered daughter the trouble of dealing in these matters.  At Mom’s death, however, her “estate” was so negligible that the bank refused to have anything to do with it.  And so now, here was a life all nicely organized in a box:  just papers recording financial transactions, and government identification. I also have an album of photos, mostly of me, which Mom and Dad put together to document me in images as they watched my growing up.  I suppose it is true to say that I am the lasting legacy on earth of my parents life and love.  And yet, what am I?  What will be left of me after my own death?  There will be the documents of my profession in the monastery archives, my name will appear in the chronicles, my novices will tell stories (probably not complimentary ones) about me to the new postulants.  Perhaps some of my writings will float about in cyberspace for awhile.

But all these cheerful reflections were brightened by the light of the 2nd reading at Holy Mass.  St. Paul says that love never fails.  Everything else comes to an end, but love goes into eternity, for love is of God.  Indeed, God is love, as another apostle has said.  So recorded or not on paper, remembered or not in human hearts, every act, thought or word of love is preserved and waiting for us in our eternal homeland, the bosom of the Father.  The grave is not our end, nor does a box of papers sum up the meaning of our lives.  Our names are written in the book of life kept by the Lamb.