Friday, April 11, 2014

Blessings for Holy Week and Easter!

We are on the threshold of Palm Sunday and the holiest week of the liturgical year.  On behalf of my Poor Clare Community in Barhamsville, I wish all of you a most blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter!  You will be remembered in our prayers.  Here is our Easter newsletter:

      Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares
   Spring, 2014

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; 
for his love endures forever.”

Our dear Friends,

            Yes, here is the great Good News!  It is the joy of the Gospel: God’s love endures forever!  It is the joy proclaimed throughout the world by Holy Church at the Easter Vigil as she invites all the powers and hosts of heaven to rejoice and exult because Christ is risen and nothing and nobody can separate us from His love – all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding!  But that joy cannot be contained just in one night or even one day.  We sing it over and over again for a whole week: Give thanks to the Lord!  He is good.  He is good.  And His love lasts forever!

            We have had so much to give thanks for these past months, beginning with the publication of our Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium at the end of the Year of Faith.  Mother Abbess gifted each of us with a copy so we could study it in depth together, which we have been doing at recreation on Sunday evenings.  We hope all of you have been able to delve into this marvelous document as we have.  Of course, the big news of December—and our primary reason for giving thanks – is always the arrival of our Infant Savior and all that He has brought to us from His Heavenly Father.  This year, we were led into and guided through the season by our Father Francis Simeone, who had a surprise for us.  You may recall that he was scheduled a couple of years ago to take our Christmas Masses, but suffered a heart attack and underwent by-pass surgery at the beginning of the novena.  Well, he had already been working on his homilies for those days and had just completed one of them when he decided he really needed to drive over to emergency to find out the cause of the chest pains he was having.  And the rest is history.  Except he never deleted that homily. So, after the gospel on the appropriate day this year, he opened his remarks by holding up his notes and telling us that this was that homily.  God is so good!

            Mid-January brought us yet another special gift in the person of  Bishop Bosco Puthur, from Kerala, India. He has been a long-time friend of our Sister Mary Joyce and was in the United States visiting family before traveling to Australia to become the first bishop of the eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of the Syro-Malabar rite.  So he dropped down for a couple of days to be with our sisters from India.  He asked our prayers for the daunting task that lies before him in setting up this new eparchy among the some 40,000 Syro-Malabar faithful who up to now have had only two priests of that rite to serve them and no official organization.  Like the first bishop in our country whose diocese covered the whole of the thirteen colonies, Bishop Bosco’s territory will be the whole of Australia and New Zealand!  We ask you to join us in supporting this valiant son of the Church as he carries the Good News of the Gospel to, quite literally, the ends of the earth.

            Meanwhile, we were preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our move up here to Mount St. Francis.  How many memories we had to share with our sisters who had not been with us during that momentous time!  Family books with photos of the way it was back then filled in things words could not supply.  And how we gave thanks for all of you who helped with that great saga – and saga it was – one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that brought so many of us together for the glory of God.  We remembered also those who took such great part in that day, but who are no longer with us here.  We are sure they are now receiving that reward for which we pray daily: that God may bestow eternal life on all those who do good to us for His sake .
            Part of the joy of that anniversary was our anticipation of welcoming yet another member into our midst.  Postulant Phoenix joined us on February 7th, the feast of our Holy Mother St. Colette, she who, through the centuries has led so many along the way of St. Francis and St. Clare.  A little farther down the road, in the month of March, we celebrated another Tenth – this time of the formal dedication of our monastery and monastic church with the several days of Open House that preceded it.  So many more came than we were expecting!  All for the glory of God, because those who gave thanks were so many – some even coming from out-of-town and out-of state!  To help us with our celebrations this year, the parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel  in Newport News threw a pantry shower for us that was just overwhelming in its generosity!  We cannot even begin to repay all those who contributed, and so we pray the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity, to reward each and every one with that measure of His own, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, just as He promised.
Of course, we are on the verge of celebrating the greatest good news imaginable: the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is the heart of the new evangelization, our Holy Father told us, the primary Kerygma:  “Jesus Christ loves you; He gave His life to save you, and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”  But for such wondrous proclamation there must be preparation.  And so, the Spirit led us forth into the desert in late March and early April in our annual retreat, conducted this year by taped conferences on the Gospel of St. John given to the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George by Most Rev. Jan Liesing, S.S.D., bishop of the diocese of Breda in the Netherlands.  Leading us through the great mysteries of Holy Week will be Father Anil Gonsalves, O.F.M. Cap., a friar from India who is presently studying at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.  Then, at the end of the great Paschal Octave, we are looking forward to the canonization of two beloved Popes of recent decades:  Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.  Needless to say, we are excited now!

            Which brings us – almost – to the month of Our Lady, when our Sister Angelique will be making profession of her First Vows.  We invite you to join us at 9:00 a.m. on that great day, May 24, feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of our Holy Father St Francis in Assisi, as Sister vows to “observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, in poverty, and in chastity,” and also to observe enclosure.  Thus we proclaim the joy that comes from personally encountering the Lord Jesus.  Stay tuned for accounts of this event and more in our August newsletter.

            Oh!  Listen!  Do you hear it?  All the flowers on Mt. St. Francis have, and are bursting into bloom for joy!  Just over the horizon:  the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, the Christus Factus of Good Friday, the returning Alleluia, and then, then the great reassuring tones of Easter morning, bright with the light of His rising:    “Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum.”  

 “I arose and am still with you.  Alleluia.”

Our Holy Week Liturgies in this year of the Lord 2014

April 17          Holy Thursday        Mass of the Lord’s Supper                                               5:00 p.m.

April 18          Good Friday           Celebration of the Lord’s Passion                                     3:00 p.m.

April 19                                          Easter Vigil                                                                     11:00 p.m.

April 20          Easter Sunday         Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection                                       9:00 a.m.

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