Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Collards Charism

Since our new novice, Sister Maria Christi, had been duly invested with our Holy Habit, and her new clothes were becoming a bit rumpled, spotted and wrinkled so that she ever more looked like the rest of us frayed Franciscans, we were able to at last pick, prepare and cook our collard greens under her expert supervision.  We found out that what us Yankees did not know was that you have to cook collards the day before you eat them because the cooking literally takes all day.  Although Sister Maria Christi was quite limited by our Poor Clare custom of only using seasoning on feastdays (unfortunately, Thursday was not such a day), and of course, the Louisianan tradition of using pork fat was completely out of the question, she declared the end result quite good and we concurred.

I must confess that I never had much affection for greens before I began growing them, but now I am sold.  They are such amazing things, providing us faithfully with iron-rich nourishment when everything else in the garden is devastated by frost.   On Friday, our community celebrated what we call “Foundation Day”.  This day commemorates the beginnings of our Bethlehem Monastery.  On November 15, 1956, a group of Poor Clares traveled from their monastery in Cleveland and arrived in what was then Warwick, Virginia.  After some time in a temporary residence, they moved into their partially completed monastery and began their simple monastic life of prayer and penance. At first the community seemed to flourish, but then the unsettling years following the 2nd Vatican Council revealed serious problems.  The first community finally dissolved, with some Sisters returning to Cleveland, others going to other monasteries and some going back to secular life.  But a second community, formed by generous Sisters from Roswell, New Mexico, along with one brave Sister from the former community, restored Poor Clare life in Virginia in 1972. 

Other trials, sometimes severe ones, have afflicted this community, but by the grace of God, it has always survived.  Two of the re-founding Sisters have attained to their eternal reward.  The others are our aging elders that give daily witness to the younger newcomers.  After forty some years, it can be said that our community is a lot like those collard greens out in the November garden that have withstood the test of hoary frost again and again.  Here we stand in a death dealing, wintry world, providing it with a wholesome, though perhaps rather strong tasting spiritual nourishment:  iron for the building up of blood for the Mystical Body of Christ!

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