Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall Moves into Winter


Observing the dying of the old year in our part of Virginia is like watching at the bedside of a hospice patient.  There is the slow but inexorable approach of death signaled by progressive weakening, withering, fading life, although punctuated at longer and longer intervals with sudden spurts of energy and warmth.  It is the perfect time of year to contemplate our mortality.  The liturgy too, urges us throughout the autumn month of November to meditate on the “last things”, death, judgment, hell and heaven.   Poor Clares call November our “monastic Advent” which is a jump-start on liturgical Advent.  Usually it is a quiet month, though this year it was full of the busyness of home improvement projects.  We thank God that these have reached their successful conclusion and we can now turn our sights fully on the work of “preparing the way of the Lord”.


Our Golden Jubilarian was interviewed by Catholic World Report at the end of November, resulting in a dramatic increase in prayer requests coming to us over the internet!  We added a gold star to Sister Charitas’ already golden year for her marvelous answers to the reporter’s questions without having the opportunity to review them ahead of time.  No surprise there, however, since she is our reliable, on the spot substitute for a Sister who has forgotten to write her petitions for the Prayer of the Faithful at Holy Mass.  Here is the link to the article:Catholic World Report interview with Sister Charitas

One of our cherished Poor Clare Advent customs is to light our Advent wreathe before each of our meals in the refectory.  In the evening, the Sisters take turns offering a prayer before the lighted candles.  One Sister was struck by an article given to us about the astronomical phenomenon taking place during this year in the constellation Virgo, so she took that and wove the themes of Advent and the approach of winter into her prayer.


Advent Prayer

O loving Maker of the stars and earth,
Our world’s bright sun is dying in our sky.
The days are short and nights are long.
Each dawn reveals a fresh embrace of death:
Withered leaf,
Blighted lawn,
Naked branch of tree.

But every twig bears its mystic bud,
Where life, asleep, dreams until the Spring.
The wearied sun lies solaced
In your Mother’s arms,
A fickle moon is still beneath her feet,
While steady stars,
And errant planets
Play about her face.

Tonight we pray that you and she
Will keep the lights of heaven safe,
And us who wait through all the winter’s dark
Until you come to birth.


In the cold days ahead, please know that we keep you all warm in our hearts and prayers.  Blessed Christmas and New Year’s celebrations!  By the way, our Midnight Mass is at midnight for those who would like to join us!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cloud of Witnesses and a Garden Update

Our newest Poor Clare Saint in the making:
Aspirant Casey joined us Oct. 4,
feast of St. Francis
One of the most cherished of our Poor Clare family customs is the display of holy cards depicting the multitude of saints in our Chapter Room on the feast of All Saints.  Last week, as I walked into the room and beheld this token of the “cloud of witnesses” who “spur us on to victory”, I was reminded of another experience that took place nearly twenty years ago at our ground blessing ceremony.  We had just purchased the land for our new monastery and our abbess designed a very creative ritual for the dedication of this piece of earth to the service of God.  All of our friends, both cleric and lay, Catholic and non –Catholic, were invited.  The rubrics included a procession that began on the bridge spanning a narrow dam on Goddins Pond following a short ecumenical prayer service.  Each of the Sisters obtained water from the pond to be used at the blessing and carried it in a bucket to our property about a half mile away.  In our free hand we held our music.  Knowing that some of our elder Sisters and many of our benefactors would not be able to do the long walk, it was arranged that all who wished could make the journey by car ahead of time and greet the walking pilgrims as they came to the site of our future monastery.
Chapter Room altar decorated with our patron Saints
I shall never forget that trek up the rural lane that was to be our new street address.  I was well occupied in managing my bucket of water, my music and my voice, as well as keeping an eye on the people with whom I was processing, particularly one of our brave elders who was beside me, walking with a bit of difficulty and trying not to show it.  Eventually we made it to the property and then the challenge became even greater as we turned from the asphalt onto a rough loggers’ dirt road.  Then I was fully engaged, watching  my feet in addition to my other concerns.  I must admit that there was not a whole lot of conscious attention to prayer going on in my heart! But suddenly, the road opened up into a large, open space where literally hundreds of people were waiting for us, clapping, cheering us on, joyful that we had “made it”, and at last were joining their company to praise the God who had made it all possible.  At that moment, in a flash of spiritual insight, I imagined that this is what it must be like to enter heaven, being greeted by all the saints who have been waiting for us and praying for our perseverance along the path of our earthly life.

Our present journey is often like that pilgrim walk to our monastery.  We are occupied with our tasks, our prayer, and those who walk beside us, especially those  needing our service and our love.  Juggling the various demands of life can seem overwhelming at times, but we are not alone.  We have friends who have gone before us and who cheer us on, as well as the grace of our Heavenly Father who draws us all to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son, in the enduring love of the Holy Spirit.

Garden Update:
Sweet Potato Harvest
As autumn progresses, the days grow shorter and colder, we think of the dying year and our own life’s ending, so our vegetable garden has put aside its summer flourishing.  Now is the time for harvesting the fall crops.  Last week we brought in the sweet potatoes. 
7 Pounder to the Right!  One Sister said it looks like a sleeping dog.
Some were incredibly large and very curiously shaped.  One weighed in at 7 lbs!  In a few weeks the southern peas will be ready and we pray the frost hold s off until the seeds rattle in their pods like the book says they ought!  This is the first year for growing them so we have to rely on “book knowledge” at this point.  We will let you know how the harvest went next month!  Meanwhile, we pray for our upcoming elections and God’s mercy upon our nation.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

September Celebrations

Jesus us says that when we have done all things well, we should say that we are “useless servants”.  I must say that I don’t care for that designation!  In fact, I like to consider myself quite useful; I garden, I sew, I do blog posts…So what is this about being useless?  But Jesus says in another place that He “has called us ‘friends’”. Friends do not consider each other as “useful”.  If they do, they are no longer friends; they are perhaps business associates.  What is worse than being “used” by a friend?  Only being “used” by a family member.  “Use” is only one step away from “abuse”.  God is love.  And love is never about utility, but about appreciating, enjoying and giving for the benefit of the other.  God does not need the many wonderful things we can do.  He is interested in loving the wonderful persons we are.

To love means to give the self, the one thing necessary, the only thing the lover desires for and from the beloved.  The cloistered nun, who lives for God alone, and so is considered “useless” by secular standards, is the sacrament of this mystery.  What she does in a very explicit way is what every soul is called to do:  to love the Lord God with all the soul, mind, heart and strength.  During the month of September, we celebrated the First Profession of Sister Veronica Mary, and also the Silver Jubilee of Sister Mary Joyce.  There is a special joy in witnessing ceremonial first giving, and then commemorating the faithful living out of that same self-sacrificial giving in a covenant that has matured over 25 years.  Here are some pictures of both these blessed events:

Sister Veronica Mary and Sister Margaret Mary (novice mistress)

Sister Veronica Mary at the Mass of her Profession

Sister Veronica Mary makes her vows in the hands of Mother Abbess

Receiving the black veil of a professed nun

Our current novitiate along with Sister Margaret Mary and Mother Therese
(next week Casey will join the group)
Sister Mary Joyce leads the procession for her Jubilee Mass

Sister Mary Joyce renews her vows for the 25th time

At Holy Mass


Sister Mary Joyce adorned with a traditional Indian garland

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Following Jesus

Sister Charitas renews her vows for the 50th time!
In today’s Gospel, our Lord seems to be about throwing cold water on the enthusiasm of the crowd following Him.  He turns around and says that if anyone does not hate every member of his loved family and even his very self, he cannot be the disciple of the Christ!  That must have stopped at least some of the people dead in their tracks!  We too must pause and reflect on what this saying means for us.
As with many of Jesus’ words, this one too contains a paradox which is not be immediately apparent.  The lived experience of cloistered Poor Clares may be of help to understanding how “hatred” can be reconciled with love.  When each of us left our homes to follow the Lord’s call into the strict enclosure, it seemed to many of our loved ones that we indeed loved them no longer.  Does not voluntary separation and abandonment imply aversion, neglect and even hatred?  Yes, except when it is done for the love of God!  When one chooses, or better, when one is chosen, to abandon all other loves for the sake of Divine Love, then it is that the paradox is manifested.  God is Love, and all our love relationships have their origin and end in Him.  Putting God in the first place, which is His proper place, and everyone else second, makes us more loving, not less.  Our natural, human loves are freed from the possessiveness, controlling manipulation, dependency and suffocating need that so often poisons and ruins our relationships.  God Himself, is the fulfillment of our every need, so now in His abundance we overflow with generous, self-giving love.  We and our family members can testify that far from separating us, the cloister actually unites us in a deeper and more fruitful bond.
As we begin September, we look forward to celebrating the willingness of our Sisters to embrace the Cross and so become transforming instruments of God’s mercy to the world.  Sister Veronica Mary will pronounce her First Vows on the 17th and Sister Mary Joyce will renew hers for the twenty-fifth time on the 29th.  We have posted on YouTube a video remembrance of Sister Charitas’ golden jubilee celebration that took place earlier this year.  This video is also a celebration of her life with some very endearing family photos of her early past! Please view and enjoy! Sister Charitas Golden Jubilee  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

An Eventful July

It is hard to believe that August has arrived!  Life has been eventful on Mt. St. Francis, so that must have made the time fly.  The speediness of time experienced in the cloister may come as a surprise to those who think of monastic life as a dull, unchanging routine.  But in fact, “the Spirit breathes where He wills”, as our Lord says in the Gospel, and often He seems to be blowing at gale force! Just having coming out of our retreat given on the theme of the Holy Spirit, what else can we expect?
Today we look back on July, thankful for the rich harvest of summer vegetables as well as the grace to keep up with their preserving despite the demise of one of our large kitchen storage coolers.  Since said cooler cannot be repaired (it being too old) and its twin showing definite signs of imminent death, we have decided to construct an outdoor , walk-in cooler to take care of our produce needs.  This project, one of those things to do “someday” suddenly rocketed to the top of our priority list.  Yet, as Murphy’s law, particularly “Everything takes longer than expected”, holds true even in the cloister,  the new cooler is expected to be completed by the end of October!  So we have been earnestly praying that our remaining refrigeration will continue until then.  Meanwhile, as the summer fades, it is time to uproot the old and begin preparing for the fall garden!

Better news to share is that our novice Sister Veronica Mary received the “glad tidings” of her acceptance by the community to make her First Profession of Vows.  This blessed event will take place on Sept. 17, when Franciscans celebrate  the day our Father St. Francis received the wounds of Christ in his own flesh.  A perfect choice, for Sister Veronica Mary also bears as her religious title “of The Wounds of Christ”.
Thus not only do we look back, but we also look forward to the graces that lay ahead.  After celebrating Sister Veronica’s profession, we will then celebrate the Silver Jubilee of our Sister Mary Joyce on Sept. 29th
And if that were not enough, August itself holds the anticipated joy of Our Holy Mother St. Clare’s feast on the 11th, preceded by her public novena, and then of receiving a postulant on August 15, Feast of the Assumption.

St. Clare exhorted her daughters to go forward “with light step and unstumbling feet” along the way of our life, which after all, is Jesus Himself.  A breathtaking journey indeed!

Please share with us your intentions for prayer during our novena to St. Clare!  Also, anyone feeling inspired to donate toward our new cooler is also welcome! Here is the link to the contact page on our website: Contact/Donate

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Introducing our New Novice...

Sister Laetitia of the Merciful Heart of Jesus!
On June 22nd, which Poor Clares all over the world celebrate as “Covenant Day”, Mother Abbess gave the Holy Habit of St. Clare to Postulant Cecilia, transforming her into our newest novice.  We were all agreed that the name was perfectly chosen for this year of Mercy. 

Above is a collage of pictures taken of the transformation.
The center picture is of Sister Laetitia after receiving the white veil of a novice.
Then going around clockwise from upper left:

Two novices!  Old Sister Veronica Mary who is looking forward to her First Profession with Sister Laetitia and lonely Postulant Kathryn.  But next month Kathryn will have a postulant companion.

Kathryn and Sister Laetitia exchanging the Pax.

Mother Abbess placing the Habit over the bride and Sister Margaret Mary waiting to help.

Sister Margaret Mary and the Bride

Postulant Cecilia passing on the flame to her Sisters.

The cutting of the hair: a Poor Clare’s sacrificial offering.

Sister Margaret Mary, recently appointed as Novice Mistress, did very well in her first time role of assisting Mother at the Investiture ceremony.  It is lovely now to have two novices leading our monastic processions like the angels of the Resurrection.  Being of similar height and girth, they are a matching set.

Meanwhile, life continues on a more mundane, but not less eventful level.  The gardens are flourishing, producing flowers and vegetables in abundance.  The Sister in charge of the vegetable field wrote a poem about a special moment experienced when picking zucchini:

Zucchini Picking
Bending low I see
Orange-yellow stars aglow
In a firmament of green,
Open fully now
To the pollinating bee.
Florescent beauty
By the busy one unseen:

A nectar-fill for her-
Instilling hope for me.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Video

As we prepare for Cecilia's Investiture to take place on the 22nd of this month, it is my joy to present a slide show depicting our last investiture ceremony:

Sister Veronica's Investiture

For those of our friends who check back here every week, please know that posts will now be monthly events instead of weekly.  New posts will probably appear at the beginning of the month. So, July's entry will feature pictures of Cecilia turned Poor Clare novice!  Pray for her during these last days of preparation.  Meanwhile, our guest area is booked with young women making discernment retreats.  Pray for them too!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

O Sacred Banquet!

You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes. (Ps.23)

O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received,
the memory of His passion is renewed
the mind is filled with grace
and a pledge of future glory is given to us!
Many times during the day we pray this beautiful prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas when we come into the Presence of our Eucharistic Lord.  The Holy Eucharist is not fast food!  It is a banquet, lovingly and laboriously prepared for us by a most solicitous Host.  It is indeed what the ancient Christians called, “A Love-feast”.  When human beings eat, they do not merely devour plants like a herd of cattle or flesh like a pack of wolves.  Or they ought not.  Men and women “do not live on bread alone”, but on loving relationships.  In the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, food has a sacramental value.  Meals are prepared not only for the sake of physical nourishment, but as a means of self-giving love to the beloved.  The Eucharist is this in an eminent way.  The Bread from Heaven was baked in the fire of the Passion and the Wine of the New Covenant flowed from the wine press of the Cross.

Not only cooks have to work to prepare a feast, but also gardeners labor  by the sweat of their brow”, particularly in Virginia!  Our cool and rainy spring has given way to welcome sunshine and warmer weather.  The gardens are flourishing, flowers and vegetables as well as opportunistic weeds!  A bumper crop of beets as well as mustard and Swiss Chard are currently a major part of the Poor Clare cuisine these days.  Summer plants are up and coming!  The fight is on to rescue them from bugs, fungi and other pests eager to share the wealth and the space.  Such is life after the Garden of Eden.  In this fallen world, all self-giving love involves suffering and every labor done through love is blessed.  Since God has loved us so in Christ, we are privileged to show this same kind of love to one another.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Holy Trinity Sunday



“Charitas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris”:  The Love of God has been diffused in our hearts we sang in our entrance chant this morning on this beautiful feast of the Most Holy Trinity and our own Golden Jubilarian’s nameday.  How lovely to be named for love!
Each Sister who has a jubilee is given the opportunity to design her remembrance card.  Most need some help from their more artistic Sisters.  But since Sister Charitas is numbered among the artistic, she was able to do the designing herself.  Yet, a remembrance card, like most other aspects of Poor Clare life, is a community affair.  There is paper to cut, computer graphic programs to be run, printing to be done and finally stuffing envelopes for the unskilled but generous Sisters willing to help.

Pictured above is Sister Charitas’ card.  The triangle represents the Most Holy Trinity.  In the center is the Sacred Heart her Bridegroom of fifty years, who is also the center of her own heart and life.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Spirit of the Lord Fills the Whole World

Sister Charitas
 in front of her decorated cell door
on her Jubilee Day
We are still in the afterglow of Sister Charitas' Golden Jubilee.  This picture seems Pentecostal to me and so seems appropriate to head this post on the Solemnity of Holy Pentecost.  One of the gifts we have received in our Indian Sisters is their talent for decorating on great feast days.

Today we celebrate the coming of the "Sweet Guest of the Soul", the Holy Spirit who embraces us in His Love and brings us into the intimate life of the Holy Trinity.  Not only on the Church as a whole, but to each individual soul does He come.  Here is one Sister's experience expressed poetically:

Spiritus Domini Replevit

The subtle Spirit of the Lord
Forms and fills the ephemeral world,
The fragile bubble nothing,
But for His tender holding.

How easy His flow, both out and in
Across the membranes, micro-thin,
Dividing each substantial thing
From all and every other thing,
Excepting Him.

But the microcosm of the heart,
Hard and heavy from the start,
Gently He holds, but waits to fill.

Attentively He stays until
The fretful fears arise, then stilled
In His Divine embrace,
Surrender a tremulous space
For the free-willed cry
Accepting Him.

Then He, rushing wind,
Down blows the stone divide,
Twining her, His chosen Bride.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Newness for Young and Old


We have good news to share on this Mother’s Day.  Our Postulant Cecilia will receive the habit of our Mother St. Clare on June 22nd, the day Poor Clares call “Covenant Day”.  The story goes that when enemy soldiers were climbing the walls of St. Clare’s cloister, she appealed to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament who responded with the voice of a child, “I will always take care of you”.  The soldiers immediately fled.  Not only for St. Clare, but for all her daughters, the Lord has fulfilled His promise throughout the ages.

As Cecilia takes another step on her Poor Clare journey, our elders are now aided in taking their steps outside with a newly constructed handicap ramp.  Here they are shown trying it out for the first time with even able bodied Sisters taking part.

Sister Mary Christine leads the way

Coming back.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hope Deferred

Frost devastated fig tree
(our dog Honey at lower left)

Did you ever notice that salvation history seem to be a series of false starts?  Right from the very beginning, in Genesis we see God creating a wonderful universe, and placing Adam and Eve there.  But soon comes the dreadful fall.  Then God sends them out into the world and there is a fresh start.  New life happens in the birth of Cain and Abel.  Next, Cain kills Abel.  New hope comes in the form of Seth who seems to get off to a really good start.  He and the family he engenders walk with God, calling upon His name.  Enoch, a descendent of Seth is so good that he is taken up to heaven.  However, the family of Cain intermarries with Seth’s family and corrupts it.  Things become so bad that God regrets He made the world and determines to destroy it with a flood.  But Noah finds favor with Him.  And on it goes.
The New Testament is no different from the Old in this respect.  Jesus begins His ministry with great success but then is crucified.  The resurrection vindicates Him and Pentecost sees the coming of the Holy Spirit in power upon the Apostles.  Persecution, spread of the Gospel to the gentiles, worse persecution by Nero follow in swift succession.  The Church finally wins out and becomes the religion of the empire.  But nothing fails like success, and soon heresies and corruption set in.  Councils, reforms, schisms more reforms, persecution, restitution again follow throughout the centuries and millennia.  Since it has always been this way, it looks like it will continue to be this way until the Lord comes in glory at the end of time.  What is the good of it all?
I began to ponder this question when a few weeks ago, our very warm Spring was suddenly arrested by a killing frost.  Oh, it was so sad to see our fig tree!  It had just sent out its delicate, iridescent green leaves, when the frost hit, turning them into black hanging rags.  But being a seasoned nature lover, and Virginian resident of over 30 years, I knew that nothing stops the Spring for long.  I am still not sure why the frost has to happen in nature or in the life of the spirit, but it must be an intricate part of God’s plan as He is rather consistent about permitting it. The “Exultet” that the Church sings at the Easter Vigil gives us a clue, calling Adam’s sin a “necessary fault” which brought us such a Redeemer. The Paschal Mystery is the “Mystery of Faith”.
Here is a poetic meditation on this theme:

Hope Deferred

The late spring frost horrifies the heart.
O grieve for the daring leaves unfurled,
The new shoots blighted in the starry night,
The cold dawn sparkling on the crystal doom
Of death decreed for the upstart bloom.

But the strains of spring will not be halted.
Its melody will rise undaunted.
Account the frost, not a senseless wrong-
Score it as a measured pause
In song.

New leaves coming!
Spring will not be halted!




Sunday, April 24, 2016

Continuing our celebration of Sister Charitas' Golden Jubilee

It is truly impossible for Poor Clares to celebrated a Golden Jubilee for only a single day, so it should come to no surprise that we are still in jubilee mode a week after the event.  Today our Bishop DiLorenzo was able to preside at our celebration.  Here are a few pictures:

Sister Charitas being "reflowered" by Mother Abbess

Bishop DiLorenzo at the Eucharistic Prayer,
 flanked by our chaplain, Father Gerry
and our good friend, Father Robert, OFM, Cap.
Sister Charitas up front and center 

Bishop DiLorenzo congratulating Sister Charitas

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sister Mary Charitas Golden Jubilee

Yesterday we had the joy of celebrating the Golden Jubilee of our Sister Mary Charitas.  Here are a few picture highlights.  More to come!

Entrance Procession

Renewal of Vows for the 50th time!

Cutting the Bridal Cake

Evening Program:
Classical Indian Dance
(novice Sister Veronica dancing with her Indian Sisters for the first time!)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dedication Day Rainbow


Being daughters of St. Francis, that ardent lover of God and enthusiastic singer of God’s creation, Poor Clares are often about marveling at the wonders of nature.  So when I looked out of a window on my way to our evening recreation and saw a brilliant setting sun shining through a shower of rain, it was no surprise to me that I was greeted with the plea:  “Get your camera!  There’s a rainbow!”  I ran quickly to my cell to retrieve the camera, for a rainbow is a major photographic event.  This ancient sign of blessing and peace arched gracefully over our public chapel toward the east, becoming a double arch and then slowly faded as the sun sank lower in the western sky.  A few of our elder Sisters were not agile enough to make it to the window before the fading of the rainbow, so I transferred the pictures to a computer for their enjoyment.  Technology has its own wonders!  

We always love rainbows, but the day of this one’s appearance gave this particular rainbow a special significance; it was the twelfth anniversary of our church’s dedication.  God gave us a tender sign of His love and an encouragement to be in our turn a sign of His mercy in a dark and stormy world.

Sisters enjoying the Dedication Day Rainbow

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mercy Sunday



Blessed Mercy Sunday!  Today Jesus appears to His disciples who had failed Him utterly during His time of trial, and yet He offers them His Mercy.  More than a simple greeting, He comes close to each of them, "breathes on them" in an intimate embrace of restored friendship and gives them the Holy Spirit in a joyful kiss of peace.  Then those disciples who have been forgiven and redeemed are sent out with the power to offer forgiveness to all the world.

Above is our Mercy Shrine that we have erected this day in our sanctuary.  Below is our Mercy Display in the narthex outside of our choir that greets us each day of this year dedicated to Mercy.


Now that we have completed the celebration of the Paschal Octave, our sights are set for our Sister Charitas' Golden Jubilee to take place on April 16!  Join us in anticipation and prayer!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Itroduxit

Our Redbud Tree

The entrance chants for the Easter Octave are some of the most beautiful that the Church offers her children.  One Sister did a poetic study of  "Introduxit", sung on Easter Monday.  The following is the English translation of the Latin text and then Sister's poem inspired by that text.  Blessed Easter celebration to one and all!  Remember, we have 50 days!

The Lord has brought you into a land flowing with milk
and honey, alleluia:  so that
the law of the Lord always may be in your mouth,
alleluia, alleluia.
Ps. Give thanks to the Lord, and invoke his name:
announce among the nations
his deeds.


You have led me into a spacious land
that flows with milk
as from the breast.
Its very rocks, O Lord,
are honey-sweet
Whereon the manna comes to rest.

My lips you bathe
in everlasting love;
Candid law and goodly bread
are on my tongue.
Not enough for me to tell of who
you are and what you do-
these must be sung.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stations of Mercy Part II


During this year of Mercy, each Sister is taking a turn presenting a particular aspect of mercy to the community.  Below is the first half of one Sister’s presentation, the fruit of her prayer.  She has a special devotion to the Way of the Cross, and so it is not surprising that she would use the stations to illustrate her reflections on God’s mercy and our response.  This is the second half of her meditation.  The first half was posted last week.


Stations of Mercy
And the Life of Penance
(Love’s Reply and Other Sources)

VIII.       The eighth Station follows directly on this thought.  The image of the weeping women compassionating Christ.  From the Gospel of Saint Luke: A great number of people were following Him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for Him.  But Jesus turned to them and said: ‘daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the days are surely coming when they will say: blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.  Then they will begin to say to the mountains: fall on us; and to the hills: cover us.  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it is dry?  Of course there is a reference here to Isaiah and much can be said about that, but without presuming to give a commentary on these words, one notices a connection with the Vow of Chastity.  Jesus said that when the Bridegroom is taken away the children of the wedding feast will fast.  We are in that time now, a time of fasting and mourning and dry wood, are we not?  A wholesome sorrow and contrition is part and parcel of the Life of Penance.  But it turns out to be a blessing.  The Old Testament is full of images of a barren woman which God blesses with seven sons, and so forth, and the New Testament speaks of the last being first.  In fact, God’s solutions are far better than our own.  So at this Station we can think of how our apparent barrenness is a good sign that we are not being unfaithful to Him, and we can be sure that His merciful blessing of fruitfulness will be far better than anything we could achieve by ourselves, or by creatures.
IX.             The Ninth Station—Jesus’ Third Fall.  At this Station we might imagine that Our Lord was a miserable sight, covered in matted blood and gaping wounds and the dirt of the street… moreover, He was weak, and soon He would die.  Yet something about the Blood of Christ stirs our devotion and desire, almost as if the Blood Itself were love gushing out of Him.  Recall the Second Lesson for Good Friday by St. John Chrysostom: “As a woman feeds her child with her own blood and milk, so too Christ Himself continually feeds those whom He has begotten with His Own Blood.”  It is a beautiful Lesson, and it tells us something about ourselves.  By Chastity and the other vows we are entirely focused, but the desire is not extinguished.  It is a cause of suffering for us, but also a joy, because we know God has promised to satisfy our need for Him.  This Station is like a pause when we can remember how important He is to us, and how Merciful He is in giving Himself to us.
X.                The Tenth Station.  How does God give Himself to us?  There is, of course, a problem, and that problem is human sinfulness and perversity.  As Love’s Reply puts it, there is one thing which must not attract the servant of God, one thing he must thoroughly detest, and that is sin.  By sin he ceases to be the servant of God, and seeks to serve another master; by it the Kingdom of God is destroyed within him, and he is turned away from the ultimate goal of his life…(and later it says) whoever has abandoned the loving designs of God through sin and has strayed from the path of Christ must indeed be punished.  He has cut himself off from union with God and has become a son of the devil, whose works he does…by greed and desire of possessions he becomes the servant of the devil, a slave of self and of the powers of darkness which take possession of him.—The problem is that this is a reality that can’t be shrugged off, and the Crucified Christ testifies to that.  At this Station we can see Christ’s utter misery, nakedness, woundedness, and shame, as He stands before a mocking crowd stripped of everything and about to be nailed to a Cross in that condition.  We can see ourselves as the jeering crowd that has now been given access to Christ.  We have been given access to Him, and we can believe that He intends to continue giving Himself to us until we experience the full possession of Him in eternity.  Is there any greater evidence of Mercy?
XI.             This Station is the kiss where misery meets love.  Christ’s being fastened to a Cross for love, become totally vulnerable, totally given, is for us the dearest treasure and testimony of God’s Mercy.  But, to quote again from Love’s Reply, “The lover seeks to become like to the Beloved.  If she therefore lives with Christ and embraces Him, she will also desire to share His sufferings.  As His Love for us led Him to suffer and die, so does it expect to be answered in like zeal on our part.  To give answer to such a plea, Our Holy Father Saint Francis made his own a prayer which clearly expresses such readiness…Please, O Lord, let the fiery, honeyed force of your love lap up my spirit from everything there is under heaven: so that I may die for love of love for you, who deigned to die for love of love for me.”  Then it says that the Franciscan mysticism of virginity is centered primarily on death to self, the dying of the natural man, that Christ’s Love may live and flower in him: “Temptation overcome is the ring with which the Lord espouses the soul of his servant.” (quoting Celano)  This is difficult of course, but it is consoling to think that Christ did not nail Himself to the Cross, that is, He Himself did not wield the hammer.  In this Station, it seems, we are to have some assistance, channeled by our Holy Vows, Superiors, Rule, etc., in making that complete self-offering which will unite us to Him forever.
XII.          The most striking thing about Christ’s Death on the Cross is that it is the Consummation.  From the moment He came into the world He offered Himself as a living sacrifice to the Father’s Will.  There was no moment in His lifetime that He wasn’t fulfilling His intention of Sacrifice.  But it is interesting to think that, after the Agony in the Garden when He said “not my will, but Thine be done.” He never for a moment went back on His decision.  From that time on He was peaceful and strong, with a constant “yes” in His Heart, even during the worst moments.  He was so entirely composed and given up to the Father’s Will that He ceased to think of Himself, and thought instead of the well-being of those around Him, and of the purpose He had come to fulfill.  Perhaps we do not experience such a firm yes in our hearts, yet the wonderful thing truth is that Christ’s Death and Christ’s Merits are ours.  If we claim Him, we too can offer the Father a perfect “yes” at our death.  So great is Christ’s merciful gift to us, that He has not refused us anything, He even gives us His Own achievement, His Own merit, to present to His Father with Him. 
XIII.       I quote our Holy Father Saint Francis: “Now that we have left the world, we have nothing else to do, save to be solicitous to follow the Will of the Lord and to please Him.”  At this Station Christ’s Body is entirely vulnerable.  It is taken down by comparative strangers to be laid in a tomb.  It would have been possible at this time for anything to be done to it, and it would have protected itself now even less than it had before Christ had sent forth His Spirit, since then at least His Spirit would have been there to give it dignity.  It is the same with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  He is there for us to tend and care for, or to ignore… yet He has given the Gift permanently, and He keeps His Word: He will always come down at the words of the priest, no matter what will happen to Him then, no matter what kind of evil souls will come to claim Him.  We too can consider that our bodies are given to Christ.  When we die, they won’t be worth much until the Resurrection.  But now, while we live, they are worth very much, because we have the opportunity to use them to serve Him.  God has given us the immense and precious gift of life and time in a mortal body on this earth, and while we’ve got it, we can do like Christ is doing even now: give.
XIV.       Saint Colette speaks very movingly about the cloister being our Sepulcher of Stone, in which we can live forty years either more or less, and in which we will die.  This is consoling because, once Christ’s Body entered the Sepulcher, there was only one thing that happened next.  Saint Colette urged us to praise Him, love Him, serve Him worthily so as to be certain of unending life, as sure as those who are already in its full possession and who see God in the clear vision of His Sweetness and Infinite Goodness with supreme rejoicing and perfect security of the eternal possession of Him.  If by faith we possess the substance of the Beatific Vision even now, then we can see in this Station a monument to hope and confidence.  It is dark in a Sepulcher, and the Light of the Resurrection has not yet dawned, but by God’s Mercy we can have joy, because we have been redeemed.

XV.          As an aside… after reflections on the Stations of Mercy and the Life of Penance, another means of gaining access to Christ’s Mercy is through His Wounds.  By His Wounds we are healed, through His Wounds we dare to approach the Father, by possession of His Wounds, we can attain to the Divine Reality, even in our weak human condition.  If Mercy is defined by God’s Love meeting human misery, then as Fr. Larry Webber so well put it, the Cross is the Instrument of Mercy, and understanding the Passion of Christ is the key to understanding Mercy.  Fr. Tijo took it one step further: we too are called to open the wounds of mercy, to become vulnerable, so healing streams can flow from us to others.       

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stations of Mercy Part I


During this year of Mercy, each Sister is taking a turn presenting a particular aspect of mercy to the community.  Below is the first half of one Sister’s presentation, the fruit of her prayer.  She has a special devotion to the Way of the Cross, and so it is not surprising that she would use the stations to illustrate her reflections on God’s mercy and our response.  The second half of her meditation will be posted next week.


Stations of Mercy
And the Life of Penance
(Love’s Reply and Other Sources)

Outline

  1. “It is better to fall into the hands of God…”
  2. The Life of Penance—Love’s Reply and a grateful response
  3. Metanoia
  4. Growth in Christ—Sharing the sentiments of Christ
  5. The Life of Penance—a healing solution
  6. The Face of Mercy—how focusing on Christ draws us into a good life
  7. Self-denial in the following of Christ
  8. Spiritual fruitfulness—blessed are the barren who wait for the Lord
  9. Chastity and God’s Promise
  10. Highest Poverty and the Mysteries of God
  11. Consecration and Sacrificial Offering in Christ
  12. Obedience and final perseverance
  13. Service and total dedication
  14. Darkness into darkness—the hope of Mercy.

It was not hatred or sin or the malice of men that Crucified Our Lord—it was love, love for the Will of the Father, and for us.  When confronted by the Prophet Gad after his sin, David said “Better for me to fall into the hands of God, for He is Merciful, than the hands of men.”  (2 Sam. 24:14) God’s Justice is Merciful, and the Cross is the standard of that Mercy.  The Way of the Cross is a precious gift the Mercy of God has given us and an outline of the Divine Remedy for sin.  God does not merely save us, He heals us, and our life of Penance patterned on the Passion of Christ is the context for that healing. 

I.                   At the first Station we see Jesus condemned to a shameful death.  In the Garden of Gethsemane He surrendered to the Will of His Father, and His Father gave His answer.  He teaches us not to fear the judgments of God, no matter how severe these judgments might seem, but to surrender ourselves into the Hands of God, knowing our Father in heaven has a greater good in mind than we or any human reason can fathom.  God knows us fully, entirely (I think here of psalm 139).  He does not excuse our faults, but knowing them He loves us fully for who we are.  Our Holy Father Saint Francis recognizes this Providence of God with a Canticle of Thanks, as Love’s Reply puts it: From the depths of his heart Francis renders thanks for the great Mercy of God, which begins with our creation through Christ, raises us up again after man’s sin through the Incarnation and our Redemption through Christ, and will reach its climax through the second coming of Christ in judgment…(and a bit later) It is not surprising that Francis should begin his compendium of the life of penance in this chapter of the early Rule with a prayer of thanksgiving.  The very-starting point of our life of penance is naught else than overflowing gratitude for the benefits which the mercy of the Father has bestowed on us in His true and holy love through our Lord Jesus Christ.
II.                As we move into the second Station, when Christ acts upon the express Will of His Father, we see a parallel in the response of a heart brimming with gratitude.  This is a quotation from Love’s Reply: ‘That one should undertake a life of penance does not depend on the will of man but on the action of God.  “There is question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy.” (Rom. 9, 16)  What God in His goodness and mercy has done for us and continues to do is the beginning and starting-point of any obligation on our part.  The Life of Penance, like the whole Christian Life, is thus the grateful answer of man to the call of grace, to God’s saving mercy toward us.  It is from this gratitude, to the degree that it is true and heartfelt, and not primarily from our will or desire, that there arises an obligation to lead a life of penance.’ Thus you can see that it is the Mercy of God which moves our hearts to begin our journey to deepest joy.  As we read in the book of Isaiah “I was found by those who sought me not…”  God is the Author even of our response to His Grace.
III.             The first fall of Christ.  God knows how weak we are, and He understands the confusion and limitations of our minds and perceptions.  We do not always see the whole picture.  Often times we are biased by our fears and personal reservations, and thus blinded to the whole truth.  But God provides an answer: He touches our misery intimately and thus enlarges our vision.  A few passages from Love’s Reply: ‘The Incarnation of the Son of God is an unfathomable gift of Divine Love to us.  This world is no longer the same since God became man in Christ.  No longer can man regard either the world or his fellow-man as though this wonder of love had never happened.  Whether we like it or not our lives must be radically different.  Since Christ came among us His Call to metanoia, to a life of penance, must be answered unreservedly by those who desire to seek God and truly find Him…the redeeming grace that streams to us from the Cross must effect in us a total change of life…It is under the sign of the Cross and by the power of the Cross that the transformation of the new man is to take place in the life of penance…This desire gave Francis an entirely new view of life.  He saw all things and circumstances in a new light that gave a new value and meaning to whatever he had known or loved.’  At this Station we find our first opportunity to begin to think the thoughts of Christ.
IV.             The fourth Station, Jesus meets His mother, is tender in character, but it also opens up vistas for a new kind of discipleship.  Mary understood Jesus and His mission so well, she is His Mother, and she is our Mother.  She can help us to understand and participate in the Mystery of Redemption as she did: that is, as a member of God’s own family.  By allowing her to form us in her own virtues and her unique perspective, we can live and work in this world as children of God and instruments of His Mercy.  At this Station the Life of Penance is already beginning to transform us.
V.                In a book entitled “The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality,” by Paul Murray, Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying that Jesus’ command to take up our cross is not merely a command as is commonly said and thought: it is a promise and Divine Prescription for a man to make all his sufferings, all his deeds, and all his life happy and joyful.  It is more a reward than a commandment.  For to whoever has abandoned self and completely gone forth from self nothing could be a cross or pain or suffering: it would all be joy.  It is not due to God’s Justice , or His severity, that he demands so much of us, rather it comes from His great bounty, for he wants the soul to be capacious so as to hold the largesse He is ready to bestow.  This teaching about the narrow path sounds hard, but when one has got into it no life is easier, more delightful, or lovelier.  The book goes on to quote St. Thomas who speaks of a joy which is nothing less than an expansion of the heart.  Thus at this Station we have an invitation to respond to God’s call to embark on the Life of Penance.  It is a good time to consider specific ways that we can do this, that we may become freer to share our Master’s joy.
VI.             Experience shows that the cross without Christ can be disastrous.   This Station refocuses us on the reason for the Life of Penance.  A quotation from Love’s Reply: “At the heart of the Franciscan Life of penance stands the figure of Jesus Christ.  His Life is to be our life, His Spirit our spirit, His Ways our ways.  The more we die to self in penance to live completely unto God according to the Gospel, the more must we be ready to follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ and become like Him in all things.  The life of Christ must penetrate, form and shape us, that we become wholly changed into Him.”  This is the goal of the life of penance: that we may become like the one we love.  At this Station we think of Veronica, whose gaze was fixed upon the Face and Person of Christ.  It is a moment when we can gaze on Him, consider Him, and contemplate Him, desiring to imitate Him.  We can think of what makes Him sweet, the Gospel life that He lived, how Good we know Him to be, and how we are to be like Him. 

VII.          The Seventh Station is the Second Fall of Christ.  The Life of Penance is arduous, it hurts, and sometimes it can seem to be destructive.  But Christ said “He who would save his life, will lose it, and he who loses his life for My Sake will save it.”  This Station is an opportunity to surrender, to let go, to deny self, to yield our will in some way so as to give God the opportunity to heal us.  A quotation from Love’s Reply: “Self-denial and mortification are means of removing whatever might hinder the action of God in us.  Because they make us truly poor, they help us submit unreservedly to the will of God in our regard.”  This is experienced most especially in the Grace of Obedience, which is a great Mercy, and the most sought after capital in the spiritual life.  Our Holy Father Saint Francis says “That man abandons all he possesses and loses his body (that is, himself) who yields his whole self to obedience in the hands of his superior.”  For such a one who is fully centered on God, and God alone, all things work together unto good—men, and things, and circumstances, no matter who or what they may be, help, not hinder him in loving God.  The Spirit of the Lord alone controls and guides his life because he has surrendered himself completely to the holy workings of that Spirit.  Here is a time to make some perhaps very small sacrifice that will enable that process to begin.