Sunday, October 27, 2013

First Frost

Yesterday, Postulant Sarah told me she had completed her cleaning, and was there anything else she could do?  So I sent her out to the garden to assess the damage caused by that morning’s frost.  As I have mentioned before, this is my first year of fall gardening, and so I was unsure as to when the first fall frost would hit here in Barhamsville.  At our old stomping ground in Newport News, the frost would come in mid-November.  But I had a suspicion that it would come earlier here, being as we are a bit further north, a bit higher in elevation and quite a bit further inland from the regulating ocean waters.  Although expected, a frost always seems to be a surprise when it arrives.  And so, I was duly shocked when I observed the tell-tale white glimmering on the monastery roof as I passed on my way down the hall to Holy Mass this week.

Here is what Sarah saw in our frost-bitten garden:

Buckwheat dead (I had hoped we could harvest a few leaves as salad)

Beans finished (we did get a few handfuls)

Eggplant MOST unhappy (I had not been paying much attention to these as they were rather a disappointment during the summer.  But low and behold!  There was a bumper crop of eggplant fruits hiding under the withered leaves!  You just never know…)

Collards untouched (These are SUPPOSED to get frosted before you pick them.  Louisiana-born Postulant Erin says she knows how to cook them.  She gets her chance this Friday)

Chinese Cabbage flourishing  (our Asian Sisters are excited!)

The advent of the frost heralds the ending of the growing season, just as the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time proclaims that the end of the liturgical cycle is in sight.  In today’s second reading for Holy Mass, St. Paul speaks of his own immanent death as a “pouring out” and a “dissolution”.  The dying of the year reminds us of our own death.  This can be frightening, especially for those of us who feel the cold in their bones and see the frost whitening their hair and cheek.  Our culture worships the springtime glow of youth, caring little for the experience of age.  Yet we as Christians know that eternal life follows only through the door of decline, death and decay.  Just as the onslaught of winter is inexorable, so is the flowering of spring inevitable.  Local wisdom has it that the harder the winter, the better the spring.  Perhaps it is, however, that the slowly limiting autumn is more taxing than the winter, just as old age is sometimes more feared than death itself.  But in these moments, let us look forward to the eternal youth that will be different from our first flush since it will be enriched by the harvest of wisdom gleaned from our lives well lived or from our mistakes well learned.  Like St. Paul, let us await the crown of glory that will be placed on our heads by Him who has gone before us and who Himself is called the Day-Spring!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Poor Clare Cross Prayer

Several times a day, Poor Clares pray with arms outstretched in what we call the “Cross Prayer”.  I always smile to see a new postulant gradually getting used to this usually unfamiliar prayer position.  They must be told what it is not:  it is not calisthenics (one, two, arms above your heads, touch your toes…), it is not ballet (I have seen lovely coronals), it not an act of defiance (hands raised in the air clenched as fists or pushing out), it is not wimpy (elbows bent and sinking—come on, you can do it!).  No, it is none of these, but it is an act of penance offered in union with our Lord’s Passion on behalf of all our suffering brothers and sisters. 

I think of the Cross Prayer whenever we have today’s reading from Exodus that describes how Moses climbed a mountain to pray for Joshua and the Israelites as they fought their enemies.  When Moses raised his hands, Israel had the better of the fight, but when Moses lowered his hands, the enemy had the battle go their way.  As Moses grew weary, his companions, Aaron and Hur supported his hands so that Joshua was able to finally win the victory.

In this story from the Old Testament we have a foreshadowing of the entire Church.  Contemplative monks and nuns pray on their mountains of solitude for the Church militant fighting the battles of salvation.  But monastics need the support of the hierarchy, represented by Aaron the priest, and their good benefactors, represented by the layman Hur.  Although we do not literally hold our hands up in prayer continuously, yet our whole lives are spent as a sacrificial offering for the embattled Church.  We are ever grateful to our faithful priests who give us the inestimable sustenance of the Sacraments as well as their instruction and advice.  We are likewise grateful for our friends who sustain us in our material needs.  Without the support of our Aaron and Hur, we could never live our monastic, contemplative lives.  Nor could they well do the tasks God asks of them without the vivifying grace that flows through the channel of our prayer.  Whatever our diverse vocations, let us be united in the Heart of Christ for the furthering of His Kingdom!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hol(e)y Kale!

Last Monday, feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, our dear departed Mother Rosaria celebrated her nameday by obtaining for us some much needed rain.  She had been an avid gardener in her day, so must have seen the dryness of our soil and said something to whatever angel is in charge of Barhamsville weather.  It has been raining on and off ever since.  The precipitation stopped long enough on Tuesday, however, for the novitiate to harvest kale, first fruits of our fall gardening efforts.

I had heard that fall gardening was a delightful adventure free of the summertime plagues of weeds and bugs.  While I am far from denying that it has been a delightful adventure, I must say that there are fewer weeds, but just as many bugs—at least on the kale.  In fact, it seems that most of the vegetarian insects find their home on kale.  The ants are herding literally hundreds of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.  I suppose that they are providing lots of wonderful honeydew for the milking ants.  Cabbage worms live out their life cycles from egg to pupa while they chew a Swiss cheese design alongside the sucking aphids.  Meanwhile, the word is getting around to the carnivorous spiders and ladybugs that a meal awaits them on the Poor Clare kale crop.

Theoretically, it probably would do us little harm to eat a few bugs along with our kale, but…well…we just somehow prefer to get our protein in another form.  So, after picking, we set up large laundry tubs full of water outside the garage to try to wash off the unwelcome protein.  A question arose as to whether we should save leaves with many holes in them.  One clever postulant said, “We are in a monastery; we eat holey things!”  Very nice pun!  But then I began to think.  What is a hole?  An empty space.  What does it mean to be holey?  To have lots of empty space.  And what does it mean to be holy (note the absence of the e)?  To be like Jesus who “emptied Himself” as St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians. And in the 2nd reading today at Holy Mass, St. Paul again tells us that “if we have died with Him, we shall also reign with Him”.  So the emptiness is destined to be filled with glory:  filled with the utter fullness which is God!  All the troubles and trials of this life, the bugs, as it were, empty us of our selfishness, pride, sin so that we can receive well the love of Jesus.  It is a worthwhile exchange.  But always we must remind ourselves of “the joy which is set before” us so that we, like Jesus, can “endure the cross (or the bug), heedless of its shame.”  Becoming holey is no fun, but it is only a necessary step along the way.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pope Francis at St. Clare's Monastery in Assisi

Our Holy Father Pope Francis did not neglect to visit his Poor Clare daughters during his trip to Assisi!  Here is an excerpt of his message to them and to us:

Vatican City, 5 October 2013 (VIS) – Shortly after 4.15 p.m. the Pope reached the Basilica of St. Clare, where the cloistered nuns of the order founded by St. Clare, friend of St. Francis, reside. The pontiff descended into the crypt to venerate the body of the saint and then, in the chapel of the choir, prayed before the cross of St. Damian, which according to tradition spoke to St. Francis, telling him to repair His house. In this chapel the Pope, accompanied by the Council of Cardinals, met with the cloistered nuns and spoke with them off the cuff, beginning, “I thought that this meeting would be like the ones we have held twice at Castel Gandolfo, alone with the nuns but, I have to confess, I don't have the courage to send the cardinals away. Let us all remain together”.
“When a cloistered nun consecrates her life to the Lord, a transformation occurs that we do not usually understand. Normally we assume that this nun becomes isolated, along with the Absolute, alone with God; it is an ascetic, penitent life. But this is not the path of a Catholic or indeed Christian cloistered nun. The path always passes via Jesus Christ. Jesus is the centre of your life, of your penance, of your community life, of your prayer, and also of the universality of prayer. And therefore, what happens is contrary to what we imagine of an ascetic cloistered nun. When she follows the path of contemplation of Jesus Christ, the path of prayer and penance with Jesus Christ, she becomes greatly human. Cloistered nuns are called upon to have great humanity, a humanity like that of the Mother Church; to be human, to understand all aspects of life, to be able to understand human problems, to know how to forgive and to pray to the Lord for others”.
“Today during Mass, speaking of the Cross, I said that Francis had contemplated it with open eyes, with open wounds, with flowing blood. And this is your contemplation: reality. The contemplation of Christ's wounds! This is why it is so good when people attend the visiting room of a monastery, asking for prayers and talking about their problems. Perhaps the nun does not say anything extraordinary, but her word is inspired by her contemplation of Jesus Christ, because the nun, like the Church, is on a path to becoming an expert in humanity.
“The second thing I wanted to say to you, briefly, relates to community life. Forgive and support each other, because community life is not easy. … Make sure that the monastery is not a purgatory, but rather a family. Look for solutions with love; do not harm anyone among you to solve a problem. … Cherish community life, because when the community is like a family, the Holy Spirit is among the community. … I beg for you the joy that is born of true contemplation and of a beautiful community life. Thank you for your welcome and pray for me, please; don't forget”.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feast of St. Francis

Happy feast of our Father St. Francis!  

I just posted a new video on YouTube about his Stigmata.  Here is the link:  Stimgata of St. Francis