Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Life of St. Francis of Assisi and Poor Clare Spirituality

On October 4th we will celebrate the Solemnity of our Holy Father St. Francis.  In order to prepare for this great celebration, during these next few weeks I would like to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters. The purpose of this study is to introduce the reader to our Poor Clare Spirituality through the lens of the edifying life of our holy founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. 


Part One:  
The Youthful Romance

The Garden of Delight
    From earliest youth Francis was a man of dreams and vigor.  He was extravagant, generous, jovial, and ambitious.  For him life was joyful and filled with potential and wonder.  His hope was to do great things with his life and to experience fully the delights it held.  This led him to devote himself to the foolish and vain pursuits the world offered, but it also opened his heart to supreme self-emptying and utter dedication.
    For one who has opened her eyes upon the Light of God’s Face, the first task is to welcome the gift of existence.  God the Radiant and Perfect Good exists, the created world truly exists, and she herself has been given the gift of existence.  She must conceive the fundamental realization that life has been given to her for a purpose, and that purpose is good. 

   Like Saint Francis, those who inherit his legacy must experience the fire of life.  The invitation to self-gift presupposes the value of one’s own being and the concept of the goodness of the Other.  Francis’ extravagant youth was his touchstone with reality.  His perception of earthly delights and his ambition to fight for the romance life held was the preparation for his encounter with the Divine Benefactor.  Aglow with the full view of the day, a Poor Clare waits eagerly for this same encounter.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cecilia's First Day as a Poor Clare

I am happy to report that Cecilia has successfully navigated the intricacies of Poor Clare living for 24 hours (with a little help from her friends).  She is pictured here earnestly accomplishing one of the first tasks of a new arrival: that of “marking her clothes”.  Each Sister’s “mark” fulfills the eminently practical function of identifying her clothing so that she gets it returned to her after our communal wash day.  “The mark” also serves to identify each Sister’s mailing pigeon hole, and where she puts her outdoor shoes (when not wearing them).  It appears on the liturgical board to show which Sister has petitions at Holy Mass on what day.  Aspirants get a Roman numeral as their temporary “mark”, which they will keep until the blessed day of Investiture when, along with her new name and title, a Sister receives a significantly identifying “mark”.  Many Sisters have marks derived from the Passion of Christ:  the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear, the hammer and the nails.  As in all things, we seek to elevate and beautify the mundane with a touch of the spiritual.

Sisters embroider their marks on their clothes with blue thread, while Aspirants and Postulants do their embroidery in green.  Sister Miriam Rose recently exchanged her Roman numeral III for a combination mark:  a small “m” beneath a cross, signifying Our Lady at the foot of her Son's cross.  Phoenix still has a few articles of clothing missing her green I and Sarah looks forward to exchanging her green IV for a new blue mark.  At the rate Cecilia is going, she will probably have everything embellished with a green II in no time!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

All You Who Are Thirsty, Come to the Water! More Pictures from Solemn Profession

Thus says the Lord:  All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk…Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.  I will renew with you the everlasting covenant… Is. 55:1-3

The Latin entrance chant that Holy Church gives for us this Sunday is a paraphrase of the First Reading for Holy Mass: 

(translation) You who are thirsty, come to the waters, says the Lord:  and you who have no worth, come, drink with joy

Those of us who are privileged to sing Gregorian Chant are privy to a rich source of ancient exegesis.  The scripture ponderings of medieval monks and nuns bore fruit in revealing melodies that are a musical blessing for us modern singers.  In this particular chant piece, at the words, “you who have no worth”, the melody suddenly soars like a geyser of jubilation.  What a surprise!  Shouldn't we be sad about the fact that we have no worth?  Is this not the secret fear of all of us, to be counted worthless?  The prayerful composer of the chant says no!  Being worthless is not a hindrance, to divine love, but rather a precondition!  We hear an echo of Jesus’ words:  blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger and thirst…But wait; we have great worth, not of ourselves, but as we are created by God in His own image and likeness.  How are we to have no worth?  By pouring it out in love!  Christ has gone before us to show us the way.  He “emptied Hi
mself.”  But he did not remain empty, for “God highly exalted Him.”  This is ever the dynamic movement of love.  In heaven it will be pure joy to see and to participate in the eternal outpouring of the Divine Persons, One to the Other and to us.  But here on earth where sin and selfishness interfere, our self-emptying is always painful. So it was with Christ as “He became obedient, even unto death, death on a Cross”.  Yet the very pain experienced, both for Him and for us, becomes the source of redemption and salvation.

We are still in the afterglow of our Sister Marie Elise’ Solemn Profession, and so we cannot help but think of her at every turn of the sacred liturgy.  Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is also read at the Easter Vigil, when the catechumens are thirsting for the springs of salvation.  Religious consecration is an intensification of the Baptismal covenant and that is why it is not a separate sacrament.  So what is true of all baptized Christians is even more true for Sister Elise and all of us here at Bethlehem Monastery.  By our vow of poverty we have no money and are emptied of all worth so that we have free access to the divine water, wine and milk offered in abundance by the Church in her liturgy.  We come heedfully and listen to God’s Will as it is revealed to us in the living of our vow of obedience, and we experience the renewal of our covenant love in holy chastity.  We do this now and forever and always in our blessed enclosure.

Here are more pictures from our celebration of Sister Marie Elise’ Solemn Profession:

"I, Sister Marie Elise of Jesus Crucified, vow to God, before the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Father St. Francis, Our Mother St. Clare, and all the saints, and I promise you, Mother, to observe during the whole time of my life, the form of life which the Blessed Francis gave to our Blessed Mother Clare and Pope Innocent IV confirmed, living in obedience, without anything of my own, and in chastity; and I vow to observe enclosure."

"Receive this crown, Sister Marie Elise, which your Spouse, the Son of God, offers you.  May you deserve to be made a partaker of his Passion on earth and of his glory in heaven."

Bridal Cake for Sister Elise