Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Newsletter

Donated Poinsettias from our Generous Benefactors Awaiting their Christmas Debut

            Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares
             Christmas, 2013

                      Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

                       Our dear Friends, 

We left you last issue standing before the ready-to-open door of our August novena in  honor of our Holy Mother St. Clare, but just before it opened, who should come knocking but a group of parishioners from St. Bede’s Church in Williamsburg!  They were members of the “Young at Heart” ministry, led by seminarian Miguel Melendez, stationed for the summer at St. Bede’s. They wanted to know more about us and visit our monastic dwelling place.  Since some of them are senior citizens, they did not think they would be able to come for the early morning Mass, but chose to arrive a little later for  some prayer time and parlor gatherings.  For this latter, Seminarian Miguel divided the large group into three smaller ones.  Mother assigned a few sisters for each group to answer their questions and share a little about our life.  Our new friends truly proved to be “young at heart” as they very enthusiastically participated in the informal discussions and, before heading for Richmond to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor, joined us in choir for the chanting of Sext.  We entrusted their many prayer intentions to our Holy Mother St. Clare as we began her great novena the following day.     

            You may remember that last year, we experimented with once more having our novena services in the evening with different priest-speakers, as do other of our Poor Clare houses.  However, our remote location and that dusky hour prevented many of you from attending, so we decided to return this year to having those prayers immediately following our morning Mass.  Since August 11th fell on a Sunday this year, both our morning and evening Masses were very well attended.  We thought of each of you, our dear friends, knowing that, if you could not be here in person, you were very much so in spirit, and we are sure you felt the intercession of our Holy Mother St. Clare very strongly those days.

            Did you know that August also marks the beginning of the Church’s harvest season?  A priest-friend pointed that out to us some years ago.  He said it begins on August 15th, anniversary of the day when Our Lord stood at the door of the life of Our Lady and led her forth into the glory of heaven.   That is why, in many places, an offering of produce is brought to the church to be blessed, in honor of her who is the first fruit of Jesus’ own Death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.  We had never thought of that before, but when we looked at the liturgical calendar – oh, so many saints and blessed from that time all the way up to the great solemnity of all the saints and beyond –  spilling over right to the threshold of the First Sunday of Advent!  Just like our own first-time vegetable garden this year!  (Remember, we told you a bit about it last issue.)  As of this writing, it is still producing Asian vegetables and perhaps some chard, but our novitiate sisters had a wonderful time growing squash, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, and even a few potatoes this season.  They are even looking forward eagerly to a repeat performance next year.

            September found us joining our Holy Father Pope Francis and so many others around the world knocking on the doors of the Divine Mercy for His gift of peace in our world, especially in the Middle East.  This vigil of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament reminded us of the prayer the Angel of Peace gave to the three shepherd children in Fatima early in 1917, telling them to pray it especially for the end of the current World War.  Do you know it? It runs like this:  “O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope, I love You.  I ask Your pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, do not love You.” Such a simple prayer of adoration and intercession, yet it had such large consequences then!  Why not now as well?

            The following day saw us opening our doors to our long-time priest-friend,  Monsignor Arthur Calkins, an outstanding Mariologist and theologian, who gave us several days of retreat/classes on the triple make-up of our human nature, demonstrating from Scripture and the writings of several Fathers and Doctors of the Church that we are body, soul, and spirit – not just body and soul.  From there, Father went on to speak of our Blessed Mother and her pre-eminent role in the economy of salvation as mediatrix, co-redemptrix, etc. as spoken of in the Council documents and various papal writings.  We are so grateful to Father for all the riches he shared which we will spend many hours unpacking in the coming months.

            October, and the feast of our holy father St. Francis on its fourth day found us once more in Italy, this time accompanying our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on his pilgrimage to Assisi, hometown and major shrine of his great patron.  Many and varied as his stops were, we especially relished the one he made to our protomonastery of Poor Clares there.  And we could tell he relished it, too.

A  particularly beautiful door opened a few days later on October 7th.   That feast, of the most Holy Rosary, saw us welcoming our dear Sister Mary Joyce, who came to us a couple of years ago from India, as a permanent member of our community.  We celebrated in high festive Poor Clare style, with a special ceremony in our chapter room after Holy Mass, which included the bestowal of a new crown of thorns (her original one had broken many years ago when she went on foundation from Kerala to West Bengal) and a new ring of espousals to match those each of us receives at our solemn vows.  We kept the whole day like a bridal day, with some of Sister’s favorite music (a tape of the Syro-Malabar Mass) as well as some favorite Asian dishes at our meals. 

It seemed only a short time after doors closed on that beautiful day that, on November 9th,  another very lovely door swung open as our then-postulant Erin entered into the fullness of noviceship with the reception of our Holy Habit and a new name and title as well.  Many of you may remember from past reports in this missive the suspense that precedes this particular event, mostly surrounding that latter revelation.  Yes, many and varied were the guesses and suggestions submitted to Mother on this point, but to each she only smiled and said they were very good, but also very wide of the mark.  Finally that moment of the ceremony arrived when Mother said, “Dear Sister, in the future, you shall no longer be called ‘Erin,’ but … Sister Maria Christi of the Immaculate Conception, with your nameday on December 8th.”  Oh, what a perfect patroness Sister Maria Christi has  -- and Mother was right: we could never have guessed it!

And now we have crossed the threshold of a brand-new liturgical year, as everything turns once more to the Little One Who crossed into our world through the smallest of doors: the womb of his  Immaculate Mother Mary.  As we watch for His coming, we pray with Holy Church that our Father keep us alert -- He comes in so many guises – so that, when He comes and knocks at the doors of our own hearts, He may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise.

                                               A blessed Christmas to you all! 

Our Masses at Christmas

                   December 25                       Midnight Mass                      12:00 a.m.
                                                           Christmas Morning                     9:00  a.m.

                   January 1                            New Year’s Day                      8:00  a.m.

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