Sunday, September 29, 2013

Panis Angelicus

At our evening recreation period last night, I noticed Postulant Mary had brought with her several books.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  She replied that she was translating the song, “Panis Angelicus”.  She knew the words:  bread…angels…I commented that now she needs to know how the words relate to each other.  That’s called grammar.  She said that could wait.  We laughed.

I began thinking…panis angelicus…bread of angels…What a really strange phrase that is!  It comes from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and refers to the miraculous manna that fed the children of Israel during their forty year long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The manna would mysteriously appear after the evaporation of the morning dew each morning on the desert sand, ready for the people to gather and eat.  I suppose that the Old Testament writer assumed that this bread was also good fare for angels as well as for men.  After all, it came from heaven, just like the dew.  But my rational mind objects:  angels are pure spirits, without bodies and so without need of physical food.  Ah!  But they do feed, nevertheless!  And their food is God Himself.  Forever they gaze upon the Divine Beauty, the Infinite Good, and draw their life and being from that never ending Source.

In the New Dispensation, the Holy Eucharist is our Panis Angelicus our Bread from Heaven come down to give us strength for our journey through the desert of life to the Promise Land of Heaven.  And we too are able to gaze upon Him daily, just as the angels do, although our look must penetrate the veil of faith.  If it were not Sunday, today we would be celebrating the feast of the Archangels, so we ask their intercession as we share their table.  Wednesday we will remember our Guardian Angels too.  Friday will be the Solemnity of our Father St. Francis who is called “Seraphic” because of his great love.  We are flying high this week!  Join us in our hymn of praise!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fourth of July Pictures

Postulant Mary, Postulant Erin,  Novice Sister Angelique, Novice Mistress Clare, Postulant Sarah

 We still have one of those non-digital cameras that uses real film needing to be developed.  It takes us a while to fill up an entire roll.  So here we are at the end of September looking at pictures taken on the Fourth of July.  But they were worth waiting for!  Above is our novitiate with their novice mistress standing in our large courtyard.  Some are holding burnt out sparklers.  These are fireworks considered safe for us!

Here are our two Sisters from India.  Sister Prabha holds a live sparkler and Sister Joyce smiles beside her.  Of course, fireworks originated in Asia, so ours "safe" kind are rather anti-climatic for them!  They do big time fireworks for New Year's, but are happy to join us for American Independence Day.

Sister Pius and Sister Jean-Colette look on with approval!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stigmata of St. Francis

Today is a great day for the Franciscan Family as we celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis.  “Stigmata” is a Latin word referring to the Roman custom of making a mark on slaves with a hot branding iron designating them as the property of their master.  Toward the end of his life, St. Francis saw a vision of a crucified man borne on the wings of a seraph.  When the vision disappeared, St. Francis found that his heart was burning with intense fervor while his hands and feet were pierced with nails and his side had an open wound as if made by a lance.  Christ crucified had marked His faithful servant with His own brand-marks made by the fire of divine love.

In the history of the Church, there have been over 300 recorded “stigmatists”, but St. Francis is distinguished in being the first to bear these mystic wounds.  Then, his were not just open, bleeding, painful wounds; his hands also had the likeness of nails imbedded in flesh.  It is rare to see the stigmata of St. Francis authentically portrayed in art.  I am pleased to say that our own statue of St. Francis which a good friend found in an antique shop in New York, does have the raised head of a nail carved into his extended hands. 
Although I have not studied all of the hagiography of the stigmata, it seems to me that from what I have heard, most stigmatists receive this grace (or this trial, if you prefer) as a mission to suffer in union with the Passion of Christ.  This of course is also true of St. Francis, but in his case, it came as a culmination and a seal upon his suffering life which had already been perfectly conformed to Christ Crucified.  It is as if the Passion that he had borne so faithfully in his heart suddenly broke out and became visible.

All of us are wounded by sin, that of others and especially that which we have committed ourselves.  But can we allow these wounds to become the wounds of Christ?  If we unite our pain with His through loving obedience to the Father, it can happen.  It hardly matters if our wounds should ever become visible in a stigmata on hands, feet and side.  But the wounds of the Passion will become visible in our open hearts and open hands ready to share Christ’s own compassion for all who suffer.

Today's altar bouquet
Pampas grass makes great angel wings!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Name of Mary

Our Lady's Outdoor Shrine
Pampas grass bloomed for the Assumption
and is still blooming!

One of our Sisters, a self-made Scripture scholar who has also taught herself Hebrew, shares her insights on the name of Mary whose feastday we celebrate tomorrow:

September, in a very special way, opens up to us Mary’s pivotal role in salvation history through the liturgical cycle.  Why would Joachim and Ann choose the name of Mary for their cherished daughter?  Since Mary was to give birth to the new Moses, could her parents have been inspired to name her after Moses’ sister, Miryam?

Moses’ name is of an Egyptian origin, since Pharaoh’s daughter “pulled him from the water and called him Moses” (Ex. 2:10)  No other woman in the Old Testament was called Miryam except Moses’ sister.  So Mary’s name might come from an Egyptian background which would be formed from the verb mer or mar, meaning to love and the divine name Yah.  How appropriate: the one beloved by Yahweh!

From the Hebrew perspective, mir or marror, are words that denote bitterness.  So we see throughout the Gospel she is the one all generations call blessed, the one “beloved by Yahweh” beyond all other women (Lk.1:42), who also shared in the “bitterness” of the Passion beyond all others.

In Aramaic, the native tongue of the Holy Family, mar means “lord” and is used as the title for bishops and saints.  The church in India, founded by St. Thomas, is called “Mar Thoma Church”.  Looking at this from an Aramaic root, Mar if used for a woman, would mean “lady”.  So when Catholics in the roman Rite call her “Our Lady” they are on the right path.  Maryam would mean “mistress over the seas.”  To the Semitic mind, the sea was a symbol of primeval chaos.  Mary as co-redemptrix triumphed over the powers of chaos with her son during His passion; she is the one who crushed the serpent’s head.  May we thank her by following in her footsteps, loving Yahweh, and drinking the cup of bitterness with her for the redemption of the world.

Monday, September 2, 2013

End of Summer Gardening

Swiss Chard making a come back in the foreground,
Asparagus in the middle
Bethlehem Monastery in the back

It is really hard for me to believe that the month of September is upon us, for I feel as if the summer is just beginning and the calendar tells me it is almost over!  Not that we have been unoccupied with summer activities, especially this year as we have reinstituted the ancient Poor Clare tradition of the vegetable garden.  I guess time flies when you are having fun.  Among the various crops we attempted, that which gave the most amusement was the potato.  It is just so different.  You start out with pieces of potato, not seeds.  And then when the plants come up, they are not thin seedlings, but fully formed stems and leaves that fairly erupt out of the soil.  Unfortunately, the dark green potato plants attracted not only our admiration but the grotesque Colorado potato bug.  We hand picked hundreds of them, but it was worth it.  Searching for the potatoes was like digging for buried treasure and the Sisters declared they tasted the best of all the potatoes we have ever had. 

 We also grew summer and winter squash, including a number of mystery volunteers, cucumbers for Sister Pia Marie’s pickling,

Swiss Chard that keeps coming back after you cut it, beets at the beginning  the season, some tomatoes and eggplants (these last only moderately successful).  Part of the fun of gardening is trying to figure out what you did right and what you did wrong.  I suspect the soil was too acid for the tomatoes. Better luck next year!  Now we are working at an experimental fall garden.  Locals tell me it can be done in Virginia, though I have never tried it before.  But with my great novitiate crew there is hope.  

So, we have broccoli and collards planted plus green beans with plans for some oriental greens for our Asian Sisters and zucchini for Sister Francis Maria’s freezing operation.  She just could not get enough of the zucchini we planted in the summer.  I am worried about the squash bugs, but we will see.  Will keep you posted!