Sunday, October 14, 2018

Construction Update

So far, this little flag is the only outward sign that we are about to construct a new novitiate dormitory.  It was placed there to mark the location where a sample of our ground was to be taken to determine how deep to put the posts that will hold up said dorm.  We are happy to report that the posts do not have to go too deep!

On our library table is the other evidence of our intent:  the newly drawn up construction plans!  Here is a pertinent picture:

Then, our insurance company wants to know the exact location of the construction.  So here is a modified excerpt from our old plans:

The Sister in charge of our finances informs me that we have so far raised enough money to pay for our new construction drawings.  Hurrah for us and all of our good benefactors!  But we are going to need more funds for things like bricks, mortar, windows, doors...So if you can help us out, please give what you can by using our little donate button at the top of the page.  All donations are tax deductible and more importantly, will be rewarded by our good God who is never outdone in generosity.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Our Newest Novice

As promised, we have for you the best of our pictures of our newest novice, invested with the Holy Habit yesterday, feast of St. Faustina and nameday of her twin Sister!  It was a wonderful day for us all.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pictures of Novitiate and Garden for September

Before these pictures are out of date, I had better get them on-line!  Here it our crew of postulants who are soon to lose one member to the novitiate.

Postulant Phoenix will be clothed in the Holy Habit of our Mother St. Clare this Friday!  Stay tuned for pictures of that blessed event to come!

And here is our current novice crew, soon to gain one member, but due on November 21st, feast of the Presentation of Mary, to lose another to the juniorate....

our Sister Laetitia!

Meanwhile, out in the garden, an amazing thing!  I was about to pull up this winter squash vine since it is September and that is what you usually do at this time of year.  But all of a sudden it took on new life.  Now it is taking over the grass that in its turn has taken over the empty spots of the veggie field.  Large fruits have been spotted last week, so...Where there is life there is hope!  May it be so for the seemingly dead and dying areas of the Church!  May we witness a new springtime, even in the approaching winter.  It is our job to pray and sacrifice to that end.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The More Things Change...

 When young Francis de Pietro de Bernadone was discerning his vocation, he felt inspired to enter the dilapidated old Church of San Damiano to pray.  While kneeling before the Byzantine crucifix hanging there, it suddenly came alive for him and spoke, “Francis, go repair my house which as you see, is falling into ruin.”  As he was a simple man, Francis sold some merchandise from his father’s fabric shop and offered the money to the resident priest for the repair of the church. 
But fearing he was being mocked, the priest refused.  

Then Francis became a construction contractor, and stone mason although he knew nothing about these trades. 
Where there is a will, there is a way—especially for Francis of Assisi.  But after he had repaired three old churches around the countryside and had also attracted followers in his new style of life, he came to realize that Christ’s words to him had a deeper meaning.  He was called to repair not physical churches, but THE Church which through the corruption of wealth and the abuse of power, was threatening to collapse.  The reigning Pope also had a dream in which he saw St. John Lateran basilica toppling over and a small man rushing forward to prop it up with his shoulder.  When Francis arrived at the Vatican to get approval for his newly founder Order, the Pope recognized him as the man of his dream.

The first church Francis repaired, San Damiano, became the first monastery of his “Poor Ladies” who are now known as the Poor Clares.  While Francis’ brothers, the Friars Minor, uphold the Church through their imitation of the life of Christ, we his sisters, do our part as Mary did, by a maternal and prayerful presence.  The Church of the 21st century is much like that of Francis’ 13th century.  Then, as now, there were immoral priests, negligent and power hungry bishops, scandalized laity.  Christ is crucified again in the victims of abuse and we stand at the foot of His cross with Mary, compassionating Him, comforting the suffering laity gathered there and supporting those priests who, like St. John, remain faithful.

During this last week I have often wondered if we should be building an ark rather than a dormitory!  But then I was reminded that in ancient days, monasteries were built according to the dimensions given by God to Noah in Genesis.  The idea was that monasteries were indeed arks in which the life of prayer and penance offered a safe haven from the floods of chaos in the world.  So, as we build our dormitory to shelter young women seeking to live that very life of prayer and penance which offers salvation to the world through Christ, we actually are building an ark as well!  Let us continue to hope for God’s mercy, even as we anticipate his coming judgement upon us.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

We have a problem...

Look about and see;
             they are all gathering
                         and coming to you...
         "This place is too narrow for me,
                          make room for me to live in." Is.18-20

Yes, indeed, we have a problem!  

But it is a nice problem to have
When we moved from Newport News to Barhamsville in 2004, it never occurred to our modest community of twelve to be concerned that our new monastery had a maximum capacity of thirty.  But here we are in 2018 numbering twenty-seven sisters, with more than three young women asking to share our Poor Clare life. 
The problem?  No more room!

 Our novitiate dormitory, containing 6 monastic “cells,” is filled to overflowing.  With your help, we hope to build a new novitiate addition comprising six more cells, two storage rooms and a bathroom.  We also plan to expand the novitiate “common room,” a multi-purpose area for work, study, and recreation, that is presently too small for our growing family.

Every vocation is a unique and unrepeatable mystery of God’s call and a young woman’s response.  Join us in thanking God for the gift of each of these ardent young vocations, and help us to make room for them in the heart of the Church.  Every donor to our novitiate building fund will be gratefully remembered in the prayers of our newest Poor Clares and in those of us “old timers” as well!

Donations can be made by check payable to:

Bethlehem Poor Clare Monastery and sent to:
5500 Holly Fork Rd, Barhamsville VA. 23011
or through PayPal (see the donate button above on the right!)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

August Gardening

I have heard it said that missionaries have a hard time explaining the concept of divine forgiveness to indigenous people who are nature worshipers because in their experience, “Mother Nature” does not forgive!  Our gardening experience confirms it.  This year we got did not get the compost into the squash row before planting and we got behind in the weeding.  The result? Not much squash. Never mind the excuses of not having time, etc.  Tell it to the birds.  They won’t listen either!  But then, sometimes Nature smiles like the sun on a clear day, and for some reason  things go marvelously well.  We had some volunteer pumpkins that ended up being the success story of this year’s garden.  Here is pictured our Sister Prabha holding our prize winner weighing a hefty 35 lbs!
We thank God for the pumpkins, the few squash we did get, the abundant cucumbers and tomatoes still being harvested.  But most of all we thank Him for His love that DOES FORGIVE US when we fail, even if we have to bear the consequences of our negligences.  That is what is called “the temporal punishment due to sin”.

We are now in the midst of our novena to our Mother St. Clare in preparation for the celebration of her feast on Saturday, August 11.  May she bless all of you with the gift of her intercession!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

More photos of Sister Francesca

As promised, here are more pictures of Sister Mary Francesca's investiture:

Sister Mary Francesca

Sister Francesca's Hair Offered in Sacrifice 
Cutting the Cake

Sister Francesca has long since removed her festive crown of flowers and is happily learning how to manage her activities barefooted and clothed in the Holy Habit.  She reports it is easier than in postulant garb!  She is also moving out of her cell in the novitiate dormitory in order to make room for our newest member, Aspirant Amanda who comes to us next Sunday!  We have only 2 more cells left, so it is getting time to build another dormitory.  Stay tuned for further developments!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Investiture of Postulant Casey as...

Sister Mary Francesca of the Blood of Christ!

Casey dressed in her bridal gown
 at the beginning of the ceremony
Today, June 29th, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, we had the joy of transforming one of our Postulants into a radiant new Novice!  Here are highlights of the ceremony.  More photos will follow in the coming weeks.  Sister Mary Francesca's heavenly patron is St. Pio, better known as Padre Pio.  His baptismal name was Francesco (Italian form of Francis).

Casey attends Holy Mass 

Novice Mistress, Sister Margaret Mary
adds the final touches

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Revisiting Holy Week

Holy Thursday Adoration
 During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery, particularly as she commemorates the historical events of the Easter Triduum:  The Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus and His Resurrection.  Glorious are the mysteries celebrated!  Yet their glory is overshadowed by the mournful remembrance of Christ’s bitter Passion.  Therefore, fulfilling our human need to thoroughly celebrate what we have commemorated, the liturgy gives us another chance in the weeks following Pentecost.

Our Corpus Christi Monstrance

Today, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we revisit Holy Thursday, and rejoice that Jesus has left us His Blessed Sacrament whereby we are united with Him and are able to adore Him on our altars.  Since the time of our Mother St. Clare, the Poor Sisters have fostered an intense Eucharistic devotion and lifestyle.

Statue of St. Clare
Long before there were Eucharistic ministers, artists have depicted St. Clare holding a monstrance as her characteristic symbol of sanctity.  Her daughters carry on her legacy today in joyously reverent Sacred Liturgies  and daily adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

On Friday, we will revisit Good Friday in the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Here, to the left, you can see the cross awaiting its unveiling and veneration at the Three O'Clock Service.  To the right is a photo of the community in silent meditation afterwards.

Following in the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare exhorted her Sisters to always remember the Passion of our Lord.  His pierced Heart, wounded not only by the soldier's lance but by love, is our gate into paradise and there we find our rest.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sister Faustina's Investiture-photos and sharing

As promised, here is the sharing of our youngest novice's investiture ceremony:

            Praised be Jesus Christ, and happy 2018!  Behold the letter you have all been waiting for: recounting the joyous day of our Investiture on December 16!  First of all, I hope you have so far had a blessed New Year, filled with many graces and blessings.  For me, my heart sings loudly: “The mercies of the Lord are new every morning!”  It is so refreshing to realize how true this is and that this year before us is waiting for our “yes to all that the Lord will ask of us”, as Mother Abbess said in her New Year’s Eve Chapter.  I will expound upon this later in the letter.  Now, where do I start?
            I’d like to share about our retreat which I am so grateful for; it was so peaceful.  The weather was very cold, but I managed to get outside almost every day to enjoy God’s creation.  I did some light hiking down our trails and visited our beautiful pond.  My soul was wrapped in silence, and my heart was humming a gentle song of thanksgiving.  This became my theme for the retreat, which began on December 11, the vigil of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I received our refectory penance from Mother: “I humbly beg you to pray for me that my Poor Clare life may be a sign of the love of Christ for the world.”  This was a reference to our Lord’s words about the Divine Mercy image.  Kneeling before each sister and asking her to pray for me for this intention was such a joyful and humbling experience!  The Solemnity was rich with graces and at the end of the day I had the opportunity to participate in the festivities at recreation—although from a distance.  I sat with our dear Lord in the dimly lit Choir and listened to the angelic voices that came from down the hall in the Chapter Room.    Listening to the sweet sound of sisterhood brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!   
            To finish off this time of quiet preparation I decided to pray the Stations of the Cross as an offering of thanksgiving for each of my sisters and their many prayers that made our retreat so fruitful and peaceful.  When I reached the last Station, I looked at the wooden cross with the anchor etched onto it.  I felt something within me that made me want to stay a bit longer at this Station.  I looked at that anchor intently; a sense of hope and peace washed over me.  Little did I know this anchor was destined to become my Poor Clare mark!  Definitely a nudge from the Holy Spirit!
            The next day was the big day.  My family arrived from Florida the previous evening.  We were thankful for clear skies and clear roads because they made the trip by car!  Later they told me they were exhausted from the drive but were very eager for the morning to come so they could see me in our bridal gowns; the first one being, of course, the traditional “fine garments of the world”, and the second being the lowly garments of a true Bride of Christ.  The first dress was a beautiful rose lace treasure brought over from Eindhoven, complimented with my Mom’s heart shaped miraculous medal.

Processing down to Choir with the blessed olive branch, the symbolic lamp of St. Clare and with the sound of my sisters singing “Look down with love on us” was an overwhelmingly joyous experience.  Gentle tears began to stream as I remembered that theme of thanksgiving which deepened as the morning unfolded.            

Before I knew it, we were in the Chapter Room awaiting my transformation.  Mother gave a beautiful exhortation before the ceremony actually began.  Every word was so meaningful.  Her theme was hope in God.  She drew inspiration for the mark from Hebrews 6:19.  If I can remember correctly she concluded with a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux:  “A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.”  This was a hint to what my title would be!   

I was so happy to finally put on the second bridal gown, that of our Holy Mother St. Clare!

So now I’m sure you are wondering how Mother chose St. Faustina to be our patron.  Mother of course knew of my growing devotion to St. Faustina which began during Holy Week of 2016, months before I entered.  I entered in August that year and made the consecration to Merciful Love two months later on October 5, the feast of St. Faustina, which was very providential because I had other dates in mind; one of them being on St. Therese’s feast day.  Many graces followed and I grew in my love for our Lord of Mercy.  St. Faustina became like a sister to me, I could speak to her so easily.  Mother Abbess told us during recreation after the Investiture that she had noticed me standing for a long time before a picture of her that we had out in the Narthex on the evening of April 23, 2017, Divine Mercy Sunday, which was surprisingly and providentially the same date of the first Divine Mercy Sunday inaugurated by Pope St. John Paul II!  That was when she knew something special was going on. 

            Having said all that, and looking back on all the occasions God showed his mercy to me throughout my discernment, I realize how blessed I am to have St. Faustina as my friend and guide on this journey called life!  So that is how it all came to be!  Praise God!  I am still humming that gentle song of thanksgiving for all His mercies especially for placing me in the hands of such an amazing family. 
            Before I close, I said I would expound upon Mother’s New Years Eve Chapter conference.  She gave a beautiful exhortation which gave me hope for this New Year as a Poor Clare Novice.  One thing that really spoke to me was the words I shared at the beginning of this letter: “say yes to all the Lord asks of us”.  This made me think of all the ways the Lord may ask us to adore and glorify his Mercy in each loving encounter with our sisters and the needs of the world. 
 I also remembered the words our Lord spoke to St. Faustina: “These Rays of mercy will pass through you, just as they have passed through this Host, and they will go out through the entire world.”  After reading this I was filled with joy as I pondered the beauty of our Poor Clare vocation; our Holy Mother St. Clare desired this for all her daughters, that through our continuous life of prayer and sacrifice, although lived behind the walls of the enclosure, the endless mercy and love of Christ may spread throughout the entire world.  Outstanding is our vocation!  May the Holy Spirit make this great work of mercy blossom in our souls this year and may our Blessed Mother Mary teach us always to sing her great hymn of praise and thanksgiving for all the mercy the Lord has shown us. 
  Lovingly in Christ, Sister Mary Faustina of Merciful Love

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Glad Tidings for Postulant Casey

Above pictured is a glowing Postulant Casey.  Not only the sun shines upon her, but an inner joy animates her face these days as she anticipates her Clothing Day on June 29th, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.  This Friday, Mother Abbess solemnly announced before the gathered Sisters in Chapter the "Glad Tidings" of her reception and the appointing of her day of investiture in the Holy Habit.  Below is the text of Mother's exhortation.

Glad Tidings Chapter for Casey- Easter Friday, 2018

Dear Casey, today is the Octave day of the Death of our Savior and we are already looking ahead to the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  That seems to be a pattern of our contemplative life: we are deeply rooted in the present moment, in God’s loving will for us, yet looking with great hope to that which is to come, ultimately the vision of God for all eternity. 
  June 29th is not far off, as you know how quickly monastic time passes, and so we are all joined with you in preparation and anticipation of your investiture on that great solemnity. 
Today is the octave day of the Crucifixion, and so we look back to the Cross of Christ, for it is the Altar upon which our Savior was offered to the Father for our salvation.  The Cross therefore, has become a very precious sign of our redemption and the love of Christ Jesus for us.  Both St. Peter and St. Paul knew this, each learning it through their own unique experiences of the Lord’s love for them, but once they understood, they gave their entire lives to Christ in return.
I think this is also what has happened to you.  You have gazed upon Christ on His Cross, you have seen His Heart pierced open wide for you, you have tasted how good the Lord is and you want now to love Him in return for His love, to give your life, to follow Him.
  Father Francis mentioned in his homily on Good Friday that it is only when we understand that Christ suffered for us (for me) are our lives wholly changed.  Both Sts. Peter and Paul experienced this, as did our own Seraphic parents, Francis and Clare. Each one came to know and believe that “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me!”  This became the power, the impulse of love within them which made it possible for them to give everything back to God.
   And here we are, in the Octave of the Resurrection of the Lord, and you have heard the Glad Tidings of your coming investiture and I think you can see this as a sign of Christ’s choice of you. In these days of His Resurrection, Christ appeared and revealed

Himself to His beloved friends and disciples, to confirm, strengthen and encourage them; also to call them to a more intense form of following Him.  Did He not say to St. Peter: “Do you love Me?” And was this not an invitation to love Him more and begin anew to lay down his life for Christ? “Feed My lambs, Feed My sheep.”
Christ has a special mission of love for you as well, and perhaps your new name and title and mark will give you some insight into what that mission is.  We do know that as a Poor Clare novice, you will be entrusted with greater responsibility for the needs of the world, as you prepare to pronounce your vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure.  You become a full member of our Order and take part more fully in our life.  It is a time also of being drawn nearer to the Heart of Christ Who has called you and desires you for Himself. 
   Your entrance into the Novitiate is a step toward that day of espousals, which you surely already desire with all your heart.  The habit, which you will soon wear, is symbolic of that personal covenant of love with the Bridegroom and is a continual reminder of your belonging to God. This will be a time to intensely prepare your heart and allow the Lord’s transforming grace to work in you, a time to enter more deeply into a relationship with Him.
  The garments that you receive on your investiture day will be the clothing you wear for the rest of your life.  Each morning, you can be clothed anew when you rise and dress yourself in the holy habit.  The cord, not yet knotted, is symbolic of your blessed binding to Christ, and is also a reminder to pray that you may never be separated from Him. The headband will be a daily call to keep His passion ever in mind.  The habit itself, speaks of your desire to remain always in His holy House as a true religious.  How fitting that we kiss each garment before putting it on, as the habit is truly precious and sacred to us, and we want to be forever grateful and more so each day for the grace to be clothed in the holy habit of our Mother St. Clare.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Investiture of Sister Chiara Marie: Sharing and Photos

Today, March 18th, is the anniversary of our Mother St. Clare’s investiture as the first “Poor Lady”, the first woman in a long line of feminine followers of St. Francis.  In the year 1212, March 18th fell on Palm Sunday, though the two days never coincide in modern times due to the differences in how the date of Easter was celebrated in the middle ages.  A few years ago, we actually were able to have the investiture ceremony of one of our novices on March 18th.  A slide show was made of the event which you can view at:

Last year we were graced to celebrate two investitures, that of Sister Chiara Marie and Sister Mary Faustina.  As is our custom, after a novice has been clothed in the Holy Habit, she writes a letter sharing about her experience which is sent to some of our other monasteries.  Below is an excerpt from Sister Chiara Marie’s letter, along with some pictures of the ceremony.

 Pacé é Bené! Not that I know Italian by any means, but I do enjoy learning little phrases here and there, and, with our new Italian name, I feel like it has enhanced that enjoyment in my inner dialogue. I catch myself saying, “Santa Chiara! Ora pro nobis!...wait a minute, that second part is Latin”. So, it’s still emerging.
I was so overwhelmed with all the graces and blessings that Our Lord was pouring out during our retreat, on our Investiture day, and continues to pour out daily. It is neat to see how much the Lord has transformed me since I entered a year and a half ago. All He asks is that we surrender and say, “yes” and, how beautiful, that He does all the work! Very truly, I have done nothing, except tried to step out of the way and allow Him to work. 

I shared with our Dear Mistress (Sister Margaret Mary) that I felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hydrant with all the graces that I was receiving from all your prayers. I recalled feeling the same way when I entered but, at that time, felt like I was trying to search for buckets to collect all the extra graces to save them up for when I would really need them later. But this time around, I felt surrounded in His love and asked Him to let the graces flow through me and cleanse me and continue to pour out to each of my Sisters and strengthen them and flow out of them and onto the whole world in abundance! How joyous! I also have learned that we don’t need to store up graces, because He provides the grace we need in every situation in each moment that arises. He even tells us in Second Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The second part of that verse which is “for strength is made perfect in weakness” is a whole other sharing.

I wanted to share, “When the Lord delivered Kathryn from Postulancy, it seemed like a dream.” But then one would think that postulancy was like bondage, so we’ll change it. “When the Lord delivered the name Chiara Marie, it seemed like a dream.” The antiphon for this complementary psalm is appropriate too, “The Lord has done great things for us; He is the source of all our joy.” How true! I am still in a state of bewilderment that He would gift me with such a beautiful name and patroness. It is very humbling too, which I’m sure you all have experienced, to be named after a saint really makes you feel very little and very unworthy of that name. Santa Chiara, ora pro nobis! Mother Abbess shared how the Holy Spirit gave her confirmation after confirmation after confirmation about our new name leading up to our Investiture.

 I was still not expecting it at all, but just excited to see what the Lord had prepared for me. Apparently, the state of bewilderment shows on my face and a few times since my clothing my dear Junior Sisters have looked at me and said, “You look lost…”. Although I am only a new Novice, I feel like a new Postulant at times, where I feel like I have forgotten our rhythm of doing things and I don’t know what to do next. I shared this with one of our Junior Sisters and she said, “Everything looks different through a headcover.” How true that feels!

The day of our Investiture itself was beautiful. Even though the liturgy for the day was a feria, the whole Divine Office spoke directly to my heart. I love how the Lord works in that way! It was funny because everyone recalls that Moses had to “remove your shoes, you are standing on holy ground”, but the first lesson of Matins on a simple feria Thursday of the 10th week in Ordinary Time tells us that Joshua was also told the same thing. Nobody ever recalls that little story. But on the day that I would be told that same thing, Our Lord reveals that little story to us. I was able to wear my mother’s wedding dress from 47 years ago. My large family and some close friends were all able to come and share in the day and visit with them. I told them about our tradition here about praying an Ave Maria when you call someone by their Baptismal name. I received a LOT of prayers that day and I’m sure I am still receiving even more from them. Storing up treasure in heaven!
Santa Chiara, prega per noi!
With love and joy from 
His unworthy little plant 
and your newest little Sister,
Sister Chiara Marie of Jesus

Stay tuned for Sister Mary Faustina’s letter and pictures which will be coming soon!