Sunday, February 16, 2014

Glad Tidings for Sister Angelique

On Friday of the past week, our Sister Angelique received a special “valentine”.  This was the day of what we call the “Glad Tidings Chapter”.  In the midst of the assembled Community, Mother Abbess announced the glad tidings that Sister Angelique would make her First Holy Profession as a Poor Clare Nun on May 24th, the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Francis.

Chapters are always formal affairs in a monastery.  Faults are confessed, penances imposed, exhortations given, serious matters discussed, votes are taken.  But “Glad Tidings” chapters are especially solemn.  Young Sisters struggling through their initial adjustments to monastic life, anxiously await the news that they are being permitted to go on to the next step on their journey toward full integration and final commitment.  At last the day comes, and she kneels in the middle of the chapter room among her Sisters to engage in a moving dialogue with Mother Abbess, although formally prescribed, is none the less meaningful.  I always marvel at how our traditional formulas really say just what needs to be said at such a time.  The Sister is acutely aware of her unworthiness to be called to such a vocation, and so she is given to say:

Reverend Mother Abbess and holy community, I humbly beg your pardon for all the faults I have committed during the time of my probation.  I humbly beg you to be merciful to me and for the love of God, of the blessed passion and death of our Savior, of the ever blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, of our seraphic Father St. Francis, of our holy Mothers Clare and Colette, to permit me to remain in our holy community, and grant me the grace to make my holy Profession.  I am firmly resolved to correct my faults with the help of your holy prayers.

After Mother Abbess has declared that she will indeed be given the grace to make her holy Profession and revealed the day of its doing, the novice, overflowing with awe and gratitude, then is able to say:

Reverend Mother Abbess and holy community, I humbly thank you for the great love and mercy you have shown me in receiving me for holy Profession in our community.  I am confident that, because of your holy prayers, God will receive the sacrifice which I desire with all my heart to make to Him of all I am and have, for the love of him and for his greater honor and glory; for I desire only to live and die in our holy Order and in the most faithful observance of our holy Rule.

Her companions in the novitiate, happy that one of their own has “made it”, kneel behind her and say:

Reverend Mother Abbess and holy community, we humbly thank you for having granted our dear sister the grace to make holy profession.

It was a joy to see newly arrived Phoenix kneeling there behind Sister Angelique along with our two postulants Mary and Sarah, and fellow novice Sister Maria Christi.  Application papers are coming in for aspirant-to-be Cecilia, and Refina is here making a discernment retreat in our guest quarters.  We look forward to good things to come!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ever Try Building a Monastery?

Sister Charitas and Sister Agnes at what would become our front entrance
 You haven’t really lived until you do!  That is, if you do survive to tell the tale.  On Thursday, January 30th, we celebrated our 10th anniversary of our transfer from our old monastery in Newport News to our present location in Barhamsville.  As is now our time honored custom, during our evening recreation period us old timers reminisced about our great move for our own enjoyment as well as for the benefit of the new comers who did not have the good fortune to be born into our monastic family in time to experience these “moving events”. (Pun intended)  Here are some excerpts from our newsletters of 2004 which give some idea of how it was:

Many years ago, within the format of one of our newsletters, we showed you (in words) our monastery photo album.  The response was enthusiastic, and so we want to show you a few photos from the past six months. 

The first is entitled Dateline: Jan. 30 - How did we ever do it?  It is moving day and the last contingent of bedraggled, more-than-tired sisters have just come through the kitchen door to be welcomed by the other eleven.  You see them seated around a small wobbly table, just used by three other groups in turn.  With our usual monastic schedule quite disrupted, they are having their first meal in Barhamsville.  We are happy the unusual cuisine, the paper and plastic ware, and the general disorder you see, are things of the past.

This photo we called “Poor Clare late-Winter fashions.”  This group photo was taken outside the library on the second floor after we painted our way through the corridors around the quadrangle.  Workmen from every trade are maneuvering around us, and we around them to meet some imminent deadlines.  You see us all in colorful paint-splattered sweatshirts, which our foreman, Jim Grace, had gone off to purchase for us because the heating system was not yet fully engaged. Adding to the unusual pallet of hues are the old faded habits, paint smocks, and sneakers we donned for the operation.

For the free-of-heart, love is the great stabilizer in the midst of throes.  Much has been shared about the great move that was completed by January 30th, meaning that we were all under our new roof, even if without heat in the dorm, or hot water, or telephone service.  These were easy to compensate for, at least that night, with a huge, happy feeling of accomplishment.  No one really needed warm water or central heating to sleep that night.  A few days later, we celebrated the feast of our Mother St. Colette and in his homily Father Russell Smith urged us to look at our beginnings (that is, our Founders) and stretch their graces into our own day.  He reminded us that we were at a defining moment - a moment of fidelity.  Little by little, over the coming weeks, the army of workers, still finishing up parts of the monastery, diminished and the wrinkles of much disruption began to smooth out. 

Little did we know back then that those “wrinkles” would take about eight years to “smooth out”!  A monastery is a living thing, so development, improvement and adjustment continue, though at a much more serene pace.  Our cloister courtyard is a good place to see the changes for the better on the material plane.  We hope that it symbolizes the living growth of our Poor Clare community here on Mt. St. Francis.

Cloister Courtyard 2004
Cloister Courtyard 2014

On this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we thank God for giving us a temple where we can live and praise Him.  The psalmist says, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain to its builders labor”.  We can testify after ten blessed years that the Lord indeed has built this house. May the candle of our Poor Clare life ever burn brightly in the Church!