Thursday, March 27, 2014

10th Anniversary of Dedication

 Today is the 10th anniversary of the dedication of our monastery church!  It is hard for us old timers to believe that a decade has gone by.  But we are grateful for our memories and even more grateful that we have youngsters to whom we can tell the memories!  It was a joy to hear our Postulant Mary read some of the accounts that we wrote at the time and to share at recreation more of that momentous day in our lives.  Here is one's Sister's story:

At the open house there was an exceptionally large crowd of people (approximately a thousand) who came for the two days of touring parts of the monastery the weekend before and the morning before the Dedication Mass. What a joy it was to share with them the beauty of the monastery and its surroundings, with its spirit of quiet, prayer, and peacefulness.

It was this spirit that we had tried to maintain throughout those days in preparation for the upcoming significant events. This was quite a challenge as the big day drew near. Open house was only two days away and there was not a sign of the choir grille as yet. And Premier Millwork Company was still working on the choir furnishings up till the day before the dedication.

But when all was done (well, almost) in God's good time ... oh, what a transformation! Sister Pius' burning bush design on paper came to life in the choir grille. One indeed feels she is standing on holy ground. The big double doors that close in front of the tabernacle during the Eucharistic celebration give one the sense of transcendence, that this is the Holy of Holies. The sacred space now only awaits the real Presence of its Lord.

This is the place where God has chosen to dwell among His people. The day of Dedication dawned with excitement in the air. There was one more chance for the people to tour the first floor of the monastery, this time reserved for those who came from a further distance. As soon as the last person walked out the door, the Franciscan brothers from the Holy Land province were on hand to roll up the hall rugs. Yes, all is ready!

All were gathered at the doors to choir for the entrance procession, and so unfolded the glorious Dedication Mass. Bishop Emeritus, Walter F. Sullivan and about twelve 'priests, including Father Abbot Robert Barnes from Holy Cross Abbey in Barryville, came to concelebrate. The whole ceremony of Dedication was moving. One of the high points for me was the anointing of the altar, for isn't Christ Himself, the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice? And when the lights were turned on in the sanctuary area, and the candles were lit during the lighting of the altar and the church, everything was as if aflame with God's love and Presence. And right after Holy Communion the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Finally, we are really home!

"Remember not the events ofthe past; the things oflong ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!" (Isaiah 43: 18-19) Yes, the Poor Clare saga of moving from Newport News to Barhamsville is past. Behold! God makes all things new. 

Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares on Mount St. Francis, with its monastery church, is now dedicated to God for His praise and worship

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reflections on Exodus Then and Now By: Sister M. Joseph

Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are deeply into the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt, for that is the continual story related in the Office of Readings during Lent.  The older Sisters fondly remember how our Sister Mary, one of the foundresses of our community, would get so excited each year on the night we would cross the Red Sea.  (Poor Clares pray this liturgical office at midnight).  Even when she was dying of cancer she pleaded to be there rather than to sleep through that epic event.  Another of our Sisters has meditated on some key moments of the exodus story, and it is my joy to share some of them with you here.  Stay tuned for further installments! 

     “Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” He answered, “I will be with you…”

     The call is given, the call of our vocation, and that is sufficient security to begin our journey. The call is given to Moses and through him to the whole people of Israel. We are all called by Holy Mother Church to leave the land of Egypt, the land of our bondage to sin. We are called forth to enter a land of desert, an unknown land filled with dangers; but we can set forth with confidence for the simple reason that God will go with us. He is our Way and He is the End of our journey.

     “Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians that to die in the desert.”

     We would rather live enslaved to the ease of the world and our selfishness then to go out into the desert of asceticism and self-denial. God invites us to a life of the spirit, a life which seeks to rid us of the encumbrances of self and looks for all its joy and sustenance in Him alone. But there are times when we tell Him. “No, I would rather be a slave to my selfish desires, my self-will.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn about and camp in front of Baal-Zephon, just opposite, by the see. Pharaoh will then say, “The Israelites are wandering about aimlessly in the land. The desert has closed in on them.”

     Sometimes obedience can seem to us like aimless wandering around by obeying what seems foolishness to us. Yet the Israelites obey promptly. They walk straight into the trap between the Egyptians and the Red Sea and find themselves not closed in by the desert but closed into God’s loving embrace. God’s watchful eye is over them all the while. What looks like aimless wandering is a wise plan of an all-provident God. And look at their reward! They cross the Red Sea in ease while leaving their enemy to drown behind them, an event they will celebrate for generations to come. We will join them in like celebrations if we obey without question.
The Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians were on the march in pursuit of them. In great fright they cried out to the Lord.

     But before their reward a terrifying trial! They cry out in fear and even rebellion instead of praying with faith, just as the apostles later did when Our Lord was with them in the sinking boat. Instead of praying with faith, instead of fervent prayer, there were frantic cries. The apostles are rebuked, “O ye men of little faith!” In such situations it is impermissible not to pray, but our prayer must be a prayer of faith. We must really believe that a God who can save us or who can allow us to suffer is listening. There was more of doubt and selfish fear in the cries of the Israelites than faith and surrender to God. “Why have you brought us out here?” does not show much faith. We may cry out in prayer providing we are also focusing on God and our prayer ends: not my will but Yours be done.

     But Moses answered the people, “Fear not”. Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today. The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep quiet. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

     Here we have a great plan of action when fear and trouble surround us. The so familiar biblical greeting: Fear not; then, stand your ground, at least do not retreat! Stay where you are and face the danger and you will see the Lord winning the victory for you. The Lord Himself will fight for you if you keep quiet. Suffer in silence. What wise counsel! If you suffer in silence, God will surely come to you. It is very difficult to suffer in silence. We want to cry out. We want someone to know we are suffering. It is a far greater thing to keep our sufferings for the Lord. Speaking of them is like going to Egypt for vain help instead of relying on Yahweh, who alone is our fortress, our stronghold, our defense in times of trouble. Then the last dictum, “go forward to the impossible and watch it under God’s hand become possible.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transfiguration Sunday

To you my heart has spoken, I have sought your face, your face O Lord, I will seek:  do not turn away your face from me.
Such is my translation of the Latin Gregorian chant we sang this morning as we entered our monastic choir for Holy Mass.  It was the perfect preparation for hearing the Gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  There it was proclaimed:  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as snow.  No wonder that Peter wanted to camp out there on Mt. Tabor forever!  Every human heart, whether it knows or not, desires to see the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.  As contemplatives in the Church, Poor Clares are privileged to make this our special aim:  to seek his face, that is his presence, in the liturgy, the adoration of the Eucharist, and the daily events of our lives.  We have fulfilled the desire of Peter to build a tent (in Latin: tabernacle) for him and for Moses and Elijah (whom we encounter in our daily reading of the Holy Scriptures).  Here on Mt. St. Francis, we and all who join us for worship, can seek and find him whom are hearts love.  Yet, his divine presence is experienced in different ways, according to his desire and not ours.  Always the bright cloud overshadows us, drifting between us and a clear seeing of his face.  As St. Paul would say, we see in faith, as in a glass, darkly.  Sometimes the cloud is not so bright, and at other times the sun of his face seems to set and we are enveloped in nighttime darkness.  Why is this so?  The opening prayer for today gives us a clue:
O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Our spiritual sight is not yet pure.  Who indeed can look steadily at the sun?  And every gardener knows that life needs not only light, but also the rain which the dark clouds provide.  In our present state of becoming pure, we need the night of his unfelt presence to temper our hearts so that we will live truly for him and not for ourselves.  We need to be washed clean by listening to his word, including that hard word, deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me.
It would not be long after the Transfiguration before Jesus would take his three favorite disciples apart again, but this time it would be in the darkness of Holy Thursday on the Mount of Olives.  Then, on Friday, only John would be there on another mount called Calvary.  We follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to joy or to sorrow, to glory or to crisis, trusting that he is the way to the bosom of the Father.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Nun Run

Today six girls on a “nun run” from the University of Dallas arrived in time for Mass after traveling 22 hours by car.  They were a very interested and interesting group, asking insightful questions and very sincere in their discernment.  Mother Abbess and other professed Sisters met with them in a morning and afternoon session.  The girls joined us for the Divine Office (from the public chapel) and then shared a recreation period with the novitiate Sisters.  Tomorrow they continue their pilgrimage to New 

Jersey to visit cloistered Dominican Nuns, then on to see active Franciscan Sisters in New York and Steubenville, Ohio, more Dominican Nuns in Buffalo, NY and ending with our friends the Nashville Dominican Sisters.  Please pray for these lovely and earnest young women that God may reveal His will for their lives and give them the graces they need to follow it.  One may even become a Poor Clare!  Here are some pictures from the novitiate recreation:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mardi Gras Snow Fun

Winter has made a brief comeback to Virginia and some of us took advantage of the situation to have a snowball fight. In our cloister courtyard.

Blessed Lent and spiritual springtime to one and all!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fed by the Heavenly Father

“… I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink…or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”

These words of Jesus from today’s Gospel never fail to move the Franciscan heart.  Our Father St. Francis and his faithful disciple St. Clare, wanted their followers to put aside all anxiety about earthly things, trusting in the providential love of the heavenly Father to take care of His children.  That does not mean, however, that we just sit back and do nothing for ourselves.  It is true that in great measure our material needs are supplied by the generosity of our benefactors in return for our dedicating ourselves to the service of the God and His Church through a life of prayer and penance.  About eight hours of our day are consecrated to this “work” of prayer, both liturgical and private.  But four hours are also devoted to manual labor, that penance which was enjoined upon Adam and Eve after the fall and which is the common lot of the poor.

I would not say that I was exactly worried, but perhaps it would be appropriate to say that I was energetically concerned this month about our spring garden.  Believe it or not, February is the time to plant spinach in Virginia and everything seemed to be against me.  Every two or three days it rained or snowed, making the ground too wet to work.  Then, last week it happened!  The weather turned warm and sunny for several days and we were out there loosening up the soil.  We prepared four lovely rows that awaited their seeds but no seeds arrived from Burpee.  I kept watching the mail and eyeing the gathering clouds.  Which would come first the seeds or the rain?   

Yes!  An envelope of seeds arrived at my door on Friday!  Saturday I took Phoenix and Mary out and we successfully got our spinach planted.  Now I can actually pray, “Dear Lord, you were good enough to give me dry days to plant seeds, now could you please water them?”

 Back to the snow days which I sincerely hope are past history, we were mindful of another admonition of our Father St. Francis:  to feed our sisters the birds.  Left over crumbs are regularly scattered in our cloister courtyard for their enjoyment, especially during the winter.  So while we rely on the heavenly Father for our sustenance, we also participate in His care of creation.  The birds do not sow or reap, but God feeds them.  It is our joy to help Him!