Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas at Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares 2014

Here are some Christmas Scenes 
from around Bethlehem Monastery

Our Choir Sanctuary

Nativity Scene in Our Cloister Courtyard

Nativity Scene in our Monastic Refectory

Stairwell Decorations

Looking into the Refectory

Novitiate Tree with Family Gifts

Novitiate Nativity Scene

Cheyenne's Cell is Decorated and Ready for her Entrance on Friday!

Cheyenne's Cell Crib

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pre-Christmas at Bethlehem Monastery

Poor Clares do not decorate for Christmas until the very last minute, or just about!  On Saturday, the novitiate went out with wheel barrows, clippers and saws to cut our evergreens for Decorating Day, the eve of Christmas Eve.  Tomorrow we head out again to collect holly berries.  Meanwhile, we continue to meditate on our Blessed Lady and her Holy Child:

My Mother

Better is she than the freshly fallen snow
That for all its whiteness is flaky cold
Lovelier far than the fragrant lily bloom
Whose pure petals blight and brown too soon.

Beyond even linen fuller bleached and pressed
That shrinks and wrinkles at the least caress,
She is most like milk, warm from the breast,
Strongly smooth as ivory, yet sweet and mild,
Purest good for press of a precious child.

Blessed Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Before Her True Image

Advent is always a Marian season, but never more so than in the week we celebrate two of her great feasts.  Last Monday we contemplated our Immaculate Mother, patroness of our Country, our Poor Clare Federation and our Franciscan Order.  Then on Friday we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas and of our own monastery.  She is truly “ours” by many titles.  Yet, most precious of all her names is that of “Mother”.  We love to call upon her as we look at her miraculous picture imprinted on St. Juan Diego’s tilma and reproduced in countless pictures throughout the world.  Almost every room in our home is graced by her lovely face.  Here is a poem by one of our Sisters who has a tender Marian devotion:

Before Her True Image

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose of Paradise,
We thirst for healing waters of your grace
And find compassion flowing from your eyes.
Generations have longed to see your face.

            That men might know your love you came.
            We have no need to search beyond the skies:
            Your image here makes our exile home,
            Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose of Paradise

No art of human hands that could reveal
All that this portrait speaks, these features trace:
A mother-with might of God at your appeal.
We thirst for saving waters of your grace.

            Fountain of life and hope of humankind,
            You hold in fold of hands and vigilant gaze
            Your children, all who turn in trust to find
            That warm compassion flowing from your eyes.

Fairest flower of earth and Queen of Paradise—
Alone Immaculate of all our sinful race—
Bring us to the fullness reflected in your eyes.

Happy the generations who see your face.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

St. Nickolas Novitiate Workshop

One of the great things about being a Franciscan is that our charism includes in its spiritual genes a childlike simplicity.  Such is evident in our yearly celebration of the feast of St. Nicholas.  All Poor Clare children residing at Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville write a letter to St. Nicholas (whom we familiarly call “Holy Man”), asking him for 3 gifts.  We also give suggestions to him regarding what he could give to other Sisters and offer our assistance in the making of such gifts.  Mother Abbess collects these letters and with the help of Mother Vicaress, makes arrangements with “Holy Man” for his feastday.  All the Sisters then become “Holy Man Helpers”, little elves who work diligently to make St. Nicholas’ feast a day to remember.

This year, the novices and postulants were given the assignment to sew a tunic (the garment we wear under the habit) for each of the Sisters.  To make this project especially challenging, their novice mistress told them to use old tunic “parts” left behind in the cupboard by unnamed former tunic makers.  I am pleased to report that said postulants and novices rose admirably to the challenge!  Other genuine, novitiate-made gifts included several rolls of homemade habit tape, a set of curtains for the library and several pillowcases. 

I must admit that the novitiate common room looks like a disaster area.  Or perhaps you could say that it looks “lived in”.  Lots of living, working and loving has gone on here!  But it is all worth it as we give joy to our Sisters with our simple gifts.  We will get cleaned up next week.  Promise!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Worthy is the Lamb!

Blessed First Sunday of Advent which also happens to be the very last day of November!  During the last week of the liturgical year we have been daily fed at Holy Mass with readings from the book of Revelation.  Meditating on the song resounding around the throne of the Lamb, and echoed in the Introit for Christ the King [“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive glory and honor and power…”], I began to wonder how we could give God these gifts.  After all, does He not already have them with infinite abundance?  In prayer I saw that I give them to God when I at last renounce my aptitude for usurping them for myself.

Power Made Perfect

Worthy is he,
The Lamb who was slain,
To receive from me
Honor and reign,

Inglorious godhead
Furtively claimed,
Power gone dead,
And wisdom maimed.

I fling these foes
Beneath His feet,
That with my throes
His might complete.

During this Advent season, we will celebrate how Jesus emptied Himself, not clinging to the prerogatives of His Divinity, in order to become one of us.  Let us follow Him in humility so that He can raise us up to live with Him forever! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunset Blue

Unlike many people, I do not have a favorite color, though in accordance with my choleric personality, I do tend to lean toward the warm tones of yellow, orange and red.  Dramatic sunsets that blaze with these fiery colors will invariably find me at a western window, or more likely outside enjoying God’s fine artistry.  But recently I had the joy of experiencing in a deeply moving way, what might be called a “cool” sunset.

The warmest color was yellow, and that just on the horizon.  No orange or red was to be seen.  Overhead and overwhelmingly was the most vibrant royal blue.  As my eyes searched its depths, finding at last, where it transcended itself into violet, I found my own self lifted beyond…

Here is a poem which attempts to capture that moment:

Only a little yellow ribbon light
Betrays the passing of the sun from sight.
Next, the merest thread of green transition
Teases the eye, daring recognition,
Then smiles and shyly fades from view,
Giving way to iridescent blue.

Indigo bordering on infinity,
Thrilling with uttermost intensity,
Lifts me irresistibly
Beyond the longest waves of light
And deepest violet hue
To zenith of supreme delight
In unimagined You.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sister Veronica Reflects on Her Investiture

After a novice's investiture ceremony, she writes a letter to some of our monasteries to share her thoughts on this big day in her life.  Here is an excerpt from Sister Veronica's letter:

The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is the day of my baptism.  (Mother did not know this when she chose the date!)  During my investiture retreat, I spent some time pondering the meaning of the word “Baptism”, “to immerse” or “plunge,” in light of our Lord’s “investiture day” when He was baptized in the Jordan River.  Christ did not simply get His feet damp when it came to entering our human condition- He plunged into the very depths of it.  He wanted to walk the same road we walk, and to experience the same agonies of fallen, wounded humanity that we experience, to the extent of wearing our wounds in His own body.  The totality of this self-emptying struck me in a new way during one morning of Lectio Divina (Scripture Reading).  I was walking down our road towards Godden’s Pond, which forms the furthest end of our enclosure.  From a distance, I saw that the surface of the pond was tinged with pink.  Curious, I approached a clearing where there is a broad view of the pond from the brim of a steep, high slope.  I looked down at the pond.  It wore the dark, shadowed aspect of mystery which cloaks every early dawn.  The somber grey wall of forest blended subtly into its blurred reflection in the water.  Only an irregular area in the center of the pond-mostly, it seemed, just below where I stood-eluded the reach of the shadows to mirror the pale blue sky and blushing clouds of the growing dawn above.  For a moment, the scene was one of a world “sitting in darkness.”  Then suddenly this world stood on its head!  I saw only the pond, where the trees seemed to grow downward toward an ever deeper abyss of sky.  Down there in the bottom of Godden’s Pond was a limitless expanse of eternity!  Hebrews 12:2 flashed into my mind:  “for the sake of the joy which lay before Him, He [Jesus] endured the cross, despising its shame.”  Our dear Savior dove from heaven’s heights into the waters of human misery, and in so doing committed all for the sake of what he saw at the end of the plunge-His Father’s glory and the salvation of the world.  The totality of Christ’s self-emptying was something which our Seraphic Father understood very well.  I was blessed to be on retreat during the novena and Solemnity of our Father St. Francis, who was instrumental in guiding me to the Franciscan family, so I went to him to ask him how best to prepare for the grace to be given to me.  The answer came during our Mother Abbess’ Vigil Chapter exhortation.  Mother used the motif of St. Francis’ Stigmata to reflect on several ways in which his life was “marked” by the life of Christ.  One of these ways, she said, was the readiness with which he stripped himself of everything, even down to the clothes on his back, in order to follow Christ, just as Christ emptied Himself even to death on the cross to save humanity.  It struck me that this moment in our Seraphic Father’s life could perhaps be called his investiture- his Di-vesture, if you will.  My investiture, I knew would be a di-vesture too.  

I am a very poetic sort of person, so the cutting of the hair which takes place during the ceremony was for me much more than a mere symbolic gesture,  With the harvesting of my hair, every dimension of my life- heart, mind, body, soul- would be stripped away, and I would lay my life in all its vulnerable, defenseless poverty into the pierced hands of Christ.  Our Holy Father St. Francis’ life said to me, “yes-yes, give it all to Him, all!  Hold nothing back!”

May we, as daughters of Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Holy Mother St. Clare, gaze always upon the self-emptying love on the cross; allow ourselves to be transfixed by it; and be transformed ever more into true images of Love Himself, Who meets our wounds with His own wounds and transfigures them in His Glory.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Poor Clare Style

All Hallow’s Eve, better known as Halloween, is kept by us Poor Clares as a penance vigil day in preparation for the great Solemnity of All Saints.  But a few days ago, Mother Abbess and the novitiate took advantage of a donation of large pumpkins to carve jack o-lanterns.  These greeted us, each in its own uniquely bright and silent way as we processed into our refectory to partake of our pre-dawn repast of bread and coffee.

Our Indian Sisters especially enjoyed this American custom.

Another Poor Clare tradition for All Saints Day is to display as many saint holy cards as we can, trying to somehow image the crowds of the heavenly city of Jerusalem that no one can count.  May we all be among them some day!

Our Chapter Room Altar
where our patron Saints are displayed

Each  Chapter Room window sill is covered!

The Novitiate Altar

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poor Clare Fall Garden Update

Autumn comes slowly to our neck of Virginia, so while some areas in the north or the mountainous west are ablaze with end of season color, we are careful to note our individual trees beginning to show off their red, orange and yellow foliage.  Southern flying birds come here for the winter (it took this Connecticut Yankee a long while to figure this out!), so flocks of Canadian geese, and black birds are often seen and heard in our skies.

Pak Choi in the foreground
Kale and swiss chard in the back
Shrine of Our Lady in the background
Temperatures remain for the most part above 50 degrees, creating good conditions for extended vegetable gardening.  We have a second planting of green beans, and beets, plus a new planting of Pak Choi, while the Swiss chard, kale and eggplant are still going strong.  Of course, the tomatoes and asparagus have definitely seen better days.  Yesterday I planted clover in the open spaces to act as a winter cover crop.

Inside the monastery we have our sites set on the celebration of All Saints and the beginning of our monastic Advent.  As the garden slowly dies to prepare the way for winter and then for spring, our thoughts turn to the last things and beyond them to eternity, “life on high with Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Organ-izing Postulants and a Nun Run

Ever since our Postulant Sarah became novice Sister Veronica Mary, Phoenix has been our one and only postulant.  That is until last Wednesday on the feast of the great contemplative St. Teresa of Avila, Cecilia graduated from the aspirancy and received the black postulant veil.  It is very nice indeed to have a matching set of postulants.  Phoenix and Cecilia also share a great love for the piano and they are both learning to transfer their piano skills into a flowing legato touch destined for organ playing at our liturgies.  Here they are pictured beside our novitiate keyboard.  Each has her own unique style of playing.  Phoenix sits sedately on the bench playing mostly from her photographic memory so that I am often accompanied in my computer work by a medley of musical pieces both classical and modern.  Cecilia, on the other hand sits hunched in an attitude of attack, absorbed in the musical score before her.

At the investiture of Sister Veronica, the whole novitiate participated in the celebrations.  While Sister Angelique and Sister Miriam Rose decorated the common room, Phoenix and Cecilia decorated Sister Veronica’s cell door.

This warning sign was posted on the novitiate library door which was the scene of remote preparations.  When the bell rang for our midnight prayers, Cecilia taped the prepared decorations to Sister’s door so that they would greet her upon her rising in the morning.

These consisted of some appropriate pictures, especially meaningful quotations from Sacred Scripture along with a poem by her favorite poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins.

 There was also a floral display at the cell entrance.  Contrary to popular belief, talents are put to good and constant use in the cloister!

Over the weekend we hosted a “nun run”, girls and young women from the Virginia Beach area discerning their vocations to religious life.  They first visited the Nashville Dominicans who have a mission in Hampton and then came up to spend a day and night with us.  Pray for these earnest young people that they may have the grace and courage to discover and follow the Lord’s leading in their lives.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Pictures of New Novice Sister Veronica

It is wonderful seeing another white veiled novice running around barefoot in our monastery!  She is doing quite well learning the ins and outs of wearing the Holy Habit.  Here are a few more pictures of Sister Veronica's Investiture Day:

Postulant Sarah receiving the olive branch
 in honor of our Mother St. Clare
 who was invested with the Franciscan Habit on Palm Sunday

Receiving the Habit and Franciscan Cord

Cutting of the Hair

Receiving the Veil

Receiving the Book of the Liturgy of the Hours

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dear Sarah, in the future you will be called....

Sister Veronica Mary of the Wounds of Christ! 

Our new novice's patroness is a Capuchin Poor Clare who was greatly devoted to the Passion of Christ and who herself bore His wounds by a mystical grace.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sarah on Retreat

Blessed Feast of our  Father St. Francis!  It is a beautifully sunny autumn day in Virginia, a truly wonderful day to sing the praises of God for His creation in the spirit of our Seraphic Father.  Another reason for joy is that this year our celebration includes the anticipation of the Investiture of our Postulant Sarah.  That blessed day is not far off.  Sarah is now on retreat to prepare for her transformation to take place on Tuesday, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.    We join her in prayer.  Visit us again on Tuesday or Wednesday to find out her new name and perhaps see a few pictures!  Here she is today:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

St. Francis' Love of Neighbor

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 have been sharing 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 Two:
First Fruits of Conversion

Love of Neighbor
    Eager to serve God and to please Him in every way, Francis soon found that his principle means of doing so was through love of his fellow men.  Moved by the Holy Spirit to overcome his natural repugnance and fear of lepers, he walked among them and showed them mercy, even embracing and kissing them.  Thus he came to see all men as precious in God’s eyes.
    God created every human being and loves each one infinitely.  He desires to unite Himself to every soul and bring all to perfect love and joy in His Heart.  There is not a single person who does not belong in the Sacred Halls of Heaven.  Therefore a lover of God is necessarily a lover of all mankind. 
    A Poor Clare expresses her love in a unique way by combining the spirit of Saint Francis with the Mystery of Enclosure.  Like Francis she wishes to give herself fully for everyone in complete unselfishness.  She longs for universal salvation and wishes to sing the message of Christ so that it may be heard in every heart.  Her great desire is to see her Lord united with all His beloved children without exception.

   Her love is so expansive that she cannot be restricted to only a small circle of people.  God has raised her to royal dignity as mother and she must serve all her children with dedication and selfless love.  Her life is consecrated to the sublime mission of rendering praise and petition to our Creator and King.

    Although she is in solitude, her solitude is in the Bosom of Christ where all souls are united.  Her silence and separation from people intensifies her love and spirit of sacrifice.  The free gift of faith in the power of her Beloved assures her that He is using her entire life as a vessel and channel of graces.

   This mystical purpose which has become clear and concrete to one with a Poor Clare vocation also has outward manifestations.  Saint Francis utilized physical contact to give the full expression of his love.  His daughters in the enclosure are not detached from the physical world and must express their love outwardly at every moment.  They do this by earnest dedication to the life of penance and the pursuit of holiness, by abundant generosity and charity to their sisters within the community, and by providing a living witness to the Gospel for those outside the enclosure with whom they come in contact.  No opportunity to render love, service, and sacrifice escapes them.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Perfect Joy of St. Francis

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. 

Perfect Joy
    Finding himself stripped and naked before God, Francis burst forth in joyful song.  He went about through the wilderness singing in French the praises of God.  Now his vision was clearer and the entire world was transformed before his eyes.  He found that in imitation of the Poverty and Humility of His Lord Jesus Christ he had discovered the true nature of His Royalty.  Liberating trials and corresponding graces followed one another in quick succession.  He had become a son and heir of the Kingdom.  The more he overcame his lower inclinations, the more he realized that perfect joy is the life of pure truth and security in surrender.
    The liberating joy of the habitual conquering of oneself is at first only a mystic pleasure, but later it matures and caresses the created world.  The Cross would be a dismal thing indeed if Christ had not died upon it.  All suffering is grave and mournful until Christ is seen living in it.  Once one realizes that all the vague insecurities connected with some sacrifice are a mere deception of the mind, she can move forward with a confidence that was unavailable to her before.  Then the very matter of the sacrifice is returned to her as a free gift, unshackled by the taxes of futility.

    This is the experience of the Beatitudes.  One has the sensation of leaping from a cliff to, by all appearances, a certain death below, and then finding that she can tread air.  Once the desires for what we do not have cease to be needs, and the satisfaction in what we do have has been taken away, then we have the potential to enjoy everything in its original purpose and capacity.

   Saint Francis once described perfect joy as the disposition which can receive insult and injury without indignation.  He was not proposing that we should experience elation in pain and ridicule.  Rather he was pointing out that if we are poor and humble enough not to fabricate demands and expectations we can be secure in the reality of God’s loving care for us.  We already have all that we need, the eternal inheritance, and if we can only set aside our fear and take the risk we will realize perfection.

   A Poor Clare embarks on this journey in the footsteps of her Father Saint Francis.  She surrenders herself to God’s will in every passing trial and thus begins to understand what it means to be loved by Him.  Her confidence increases as she lets go of more and more of her defenses.  She is nearing the gate of Poverty.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

St. Francis and the Urgency of Love

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. 

Christ spoke to St. Francis from the Cross
"Francis, go rebuild My Church"
The Urgency of Love
    Once Francis began to receive the message of God, the vigor with which he had previously sought vanity was now given in full to the commands of his Lord.  His heart was aflame with love and understanding.  Whenever he had perceived the true meaning of the Gospel he could not rest until he had conformed himself to it.  In this way the grace of conversion bore fruit in him.
   The Poor Clare vocation can never be followed half-heartedly.  In order to embrace such a life of supreme generosity one must be strongly motivated by love and God’s grace.  Yet a Poor Clare soon finds that she is grasping, not for the fulfillment of some ideal or desire, but for God’s Holy Will.  She thirsts for His Will to be done in her.  For her not a day, not even a moment can pass that is not in absolute conformity to God’s Will.

   Thus, for the Poor Clare, as for Saint Francis, there is an urgency which can never be ignored.  The Gospel requires an immediate and dedicated response.  All her strength and energy must be expended in adoring obedience to her Divine Lord.  Moreover, nothing is trivial, no act is unimportant once it has been touched by the Sacred Truth of God’s Will.

Espousal of the Kingdom
    Francis had identified a mysterious treasure which he himself did not yet fully understand.  His romantic and chivalrous heart courted this Mystery in generous patience.  He perceived that the surrender and ardent gift of his whole self was mystically akin to that sacrament by which a man and a woman become one flesh. Thus he considered his devotion and fervent pursuit of this treasure to be a matter of fidelity, and his service and outward deeds to be an expression of fealty.
    One of the first movements of the Spirit revealed in a soul who has been given a vocation to become a follower of Saint Francis in his Second Order is the call to exclusive intimacy.  She perceives that she is not intended to make the sacred gift of herself to a man; indeed, she finds that she is already not her own.  She has been chosen by a Spouse who gently urges her to accept Him.  He courts her by holding before her eyes a veiled bouquet in which she barely sees the splendor of sanctity shining from within.  Her Mysterious Lover whispers His Truth in her ear and she finds a wonderful resonance in her heart assuring her that this truth is already present there preparing to receive this Bridegroom.  Her response, then, is a “yes” to His Proposal.

The Means of the Spirit
    Receiving a commission from the Lord to repair His Church, Francis fervently sought to fulfill it with the material means at his disposal.  Yet the world does not take kindly to one who attempts to expend its resources for things of the spirit, and Francis immediately met with opposition.  In the simplicity of his heart Francis would have liked to give the world as a gift to his Beloved, but when he found that he was not in possession of that world, he was confused and afraid.  His weakness prevented him from seeing clearly what was his to give.  Through suffering, patience, and self-restraint he was unknowingly freed of the many reservations which kept him from giving himself.  Finding that he was in possession of a new liberty, he proceeded with joyful confidence to renounce the futile use of wealth and sought rather by the labor of his hands and the sweat of his brow to render service to his Beloved.
    When one senses within herself the invitation to a Poor Clare vocation, she may at first think that the gift she is to give is the sacrifice of worldly pleasures and the selfish use of her personal talents.  She sees herself placing in the hands of her Lord all that she could have had and could have been.  When suffering comes she welcomes it as the natural consequence of her self-abnegation.  Yet as she is stripped of exterior things she finds to her amazement that there is something left.  Her being does not consist of those things which she has given to her Lord.  Indeed, she finds that the garments of future pleasure which she has cast aside are mere rags compared with the robes of true beauty with which her Lord now gently adorns her.

    She finds that she is the beneficiary of a gracious Bridegroom Who, rather than taking these external gifts, delights in drawing out the pure bride He alone could see in her.  Now she realizes that the future possibilities she had so generously given were a mere abstraction, and the reality of her self-gift is far better.

   In this way the follower of Saint Francis experiences the same truth which he was taught by his Divine Master.  She strives more and more to give her self, all her thoughts and all her moments, to her Lord, and to surrender more and more to His Loving Gift.  Finally she realizes that her own true peace and perfect joy are the gift required by her vocation.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

St. Francis and the Mystery of Vanity

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. 

The Mystery of Vanity

    When he was about twenty three, while he was still in hot pursuit of the glamour of the world and the nobility of chivalry, something happened to Francis.  He became ill and depressed.  The world suddenly lost its shine.  He began to wonder what there was to smile about after all.  Everything seemed futile for it no longer brought him the pleasure it had hitherto done.  His own disposition confused him.  So he turned to God as the One Who would teach him Truth.

   Few are endowed with a clear view of life from childhood.  We live on the surface of reality and first perceive the superficial values of the world.  This simplicity is innocent and good.  Indeed, if there had been no fall from grace, it would even have been enough.  Only goodness and truth would have grown from it.

   It is sin which complicates this initial clarity and confuses us.  We are selfish and we do not know why.  We reach out for empty things and set goals for achievements of little value.  When we feel dissatisfied we think it is because we have not yet attained these vain pursuits.  Thus we rapidly forget what truly made us happy.

   God provided Saint Francis with a remedy for this problem.  He brought to the surface the pain and discontent of Francis’ spirit.  He made use of the sufferings of this life to give Francis a glimpse of the superficiality and futility of those trivial things from which Francis had begun to seek pleasure and fulfillment. 

   God does the same for all of us.  A Poor Clare is called to a life of penance so that, mortified in the use of trivial things, she may begin to see the deeper value of everything.  Like Saint Francis, she turns to God as the One who can clear her eyes of dust so that she is able to perceive the Kingdom in all its beauty. 

    Through the patient endurance of the unpleasantness of discipline and suffering, she eventually comes to value these as vehicles to freedom and joy.  What she at first bore in obedience, she now embraces and seeks.  She sees herself as the privileged child and beneficiary of God’s mercy, and receives the strength and courage to weather the storm of faith which will bring her to the harbor of understanding.

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sister Marie Elise Solemn Profession Pictures

Here are some pictures from yesterday's Solemn Profession ceremony:

Sister Marie Elise
leads the entrance procession of the Sisters

Sister Marie Elise
prostrate under a pall while the congregation prays
the litany of the Saints.
This symbolized her death to her former life and her rising to a new life in Christ.
Bishop DiLorenzo
prays the Solemn Prayer of Consecration
over the newly professed Sister Marie Elise