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!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

“By the labor of your hands you shall eat... will be happy and prosper.”  So does the psalmist describe a life of blessedness.  Genesis also reveals that God gave the care of the earth to Adam and Eve, and it was only after the fall that their work became a matter of penitence and sweaty labor:  “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…”.  It seems then, that the gardener has one foot in paradise and one that tramples the thorns and thistles! 

We at Bethlehem Monastery do our best to eat by the work of our hands and it has been great fun as well as muscle toning penance to be able to work up a bit of perspiration this first week of Lent tilling our vegetable field in a surprise day of 80 degree weather. 

 The novitiate garden crew has been busy during the cold and rainy days of February doing the first steps of shoveling rows of raised beds.  

Cardboard boxes, flattened and piled for mulch and pine needles to cover them at last are being put in their proper place on the paths between the rows.  Our trusty Troy built tiller churned up 4 rows so that the soil can start composting the spring weeds.  Soon these beds will be ready for planting peas, beets and mustard greens!  

Although we do our best, we cannot possibly grow enough to meet the needs of our big family.  But that is lovely too, as it makes us dependent on the goodness of our kind benefactors whom God inspires to support our way of life, not only by monetary donations, but by gifts of food as well.  Soon we shall be adding a page on our website that will inform visitors of our immediate needs so that if anyone is dropping by, and feels the breath of the Spirit upon them, they may know where to direct their love!  Some of our friends now use Amazon to order their gifts on-line.

We do landscaping work as well.  Here is a picture of some pre-spring beautifying activities in the cloister courtyard.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Novitiate Photo

It is good to be back on-line and to receive such encouragement!  This is our most recent photo of our current novitiate group and it is already outdated!  One postulant has become a novice since this was taken and the aspirant in the front now sports a black veil with her postulant companions.  But everyone is here (for the moment, that is--2 more are on the way)
So, from left to right, starting at the back row:
Junior Professed Sister Veronica Mary and Sister Angelique, Novices Sister Chiara Marie and Sister Laetitia.
Middle row:  Postulants Mary Elizabeth, Phoenix, Mary, Cheyenne (now Sister Faustina) and Casey.
Front and center:  Aspirant Jean, now a full fledged Postulant

Pray for all these earnest young people and for us elders who work to feed, clothe, house and educate them in the way of holiness taught us by St. Francis and St. Clare!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

We are back! Feast of St. Colette

St. Colette  with St. Francis and St. Clare
decoration for our Chapter Room altar

Yes, we are back after nearly a year of rest from blogging!  A lot has happened at Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, so I will be spending the next few posts bringing you all up to date.  But first a word about today’s feast.  We celebrate on this day the feast of St. Colette whom we call our “2nd Mother” because she was responsible for revitalizing the Order of Poor Clares that had fallen on hard times in the 15th century.  Since I have been appointed Franciscan History teacher for our growing novitiate, I decided to summarize for my students the state of the Church during the lifetime of St. Colette.  After reviewing this time period in our church history book, the only thing I could say was, “Oh my God, this is awful!” :Two antipopes (at the same time!) warring with each other and the real pope, politics, intrigue, scandal, monasteries and convents emptied by the Black Plague, general despair and violence.  And we think we have problems!  Well, we do, but it is useful and instructive to see our own woes in the perspective of history. 
St. Colette was called to do her bit to be part of the solution to the problems of her day by living and teaching a way of holiness.  Now it is our turn to play our role in bringing about a new springtime of faith in the winter of our present afflicted world.

Since you last heard from us, we have had two investitures and a number of new arrivals, bringing our novitiate crew to a record 10 members!  Pictures will be coming in due course as I find them and/or take them.  Home improvement projects have been completed and new ones planned.  Our increased numbers means decreased space.  The monastery we built 14 years ago and that seemed so huge at the time feels much smaller and tighter today.  We count our blessings!  Twenty five Sisters is high on the list!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost 2017

I love this painting depicting the moment that the Holy Spirit descended in flames of fire on the disciples at the feast of Holy Pentecost.  There is such dynamism; truly a worthy representation of the action of a divine Person upon a receptive humanity!  Each of the disciples has his or her own unique response to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of power.  Our Lady is there at the epicenter, again giving birth, now to the infant Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus.  The Apostles are in various states of ecstasy, some gazing upward at the hovering Dove, some looking at her as the Mediatrix of this blessed event.  Then there are two women:  one upward gazing, the other looking at the Mother.  This woman’s face is full of peaceful contemplation.  She is so close to Mary that she seems to share her mystery.
We sometimes forget about the women, even though the Scriptures clearly tell us that they were there with Mary and the Apostles and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as did the men.  Perhaps we neglect them because nothing more is said of them.  The Apostles threw open the doors of the upper room where they had been and rushed out to preach to the people gathered outside.  But the women remain hidden with their Mother.  It was not their mission to go preaching, but their vocation was no less essential to the newborn Church.  They remained at the hearth, there to faithfully tend the fire enkindled by the Holy Spirit in prayerful pondering, in adoring love.
Scientists tell us that as soon as a child is conceived in the womb, the first thing that happens is differentiation.  The newly fertilized cell quickly divides into many cells and each begins to assume its own function while remaining united in one body.  So it was that as soon as the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body came into existence, the members soon discovered their own place.  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be:  for the Poor Clare, her place is at the side of Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit.  We share in her mission to tend the fire of God’s love at the hearth of the Church so that those called to govern and preach may be enflamed and enlightened by divine power, strengthened and sustained by our sacrifice and prayer.

On May 13th we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima.  Having two statues of her, we shared one with our friends in the public chapel and the novitiate decorated the other in the back of our monastic choir. 

  As you can see, they exercised all their youthful creativity, braving inclement weather and other obstacles to obtain the required flowers.  Another member was added to their number, bringing our novitiate up to seven.  Three more are scheduled to enter this year.  Their common workroom is becoming cramped, so we are making plans to enlarge it.  If anyone would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to a worthy cause…visit our website:

Just so you know, we will be taking a break for awhile from posting on our blog and putting more emphasis on our website.  Check there for updates and pictures of coming events.  June 15th our Postulant Kathryn will be invested with our Holy Habit!  God bless all our good readers.  We keep you all in our prayers!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Our Lady's Little Warriors

Our Lady of Fatima
Statue in our Community Room

Those of us who live in the northern hemisphere always celebrate Easter during the Spring, when all of nature seems intent on imitating her Lord as she rises gloriously from the death of winter into newness of life.  Here in Virginia, the gardeners are likewise intent on fostering that new life by sewing seed, watering and transplanting.  This year, the unusually warm beginnings of spring, followed by more seasonal coolness have added to the challenge and excitement. But gardening is not only about nurturing life, it is also about warring against all that would destroy that budding vitality, namely, vicious bugs and weeds.  This dual aspect makes our outdoor work a constant source of meditation on the Paschal Mystery which is death orientated toward life.  We can never forget the Cross, even during Easter, just as we never forget that the Resurrection is the whole point of Lent.  As St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, we have to put to death everything in us that is orientated toward our self centered nature so that we are free to live for God.

The early warm weather was a terrible temptation to plant earlier than usual.  I did succumb in the case of the potatoes.  Usually, I cut up the seed potatoes and let them set in the greenhouse until their eyes begin to sprout before I plant them, but this year the 80 degree weather impelled me to plant with potato eyes still closed.  Well, it was providential.  The few potatoes that had sprouting eyes came up soon and then were zapped by a sudden frost, while most of the others came up later after the cold spell had passed.  But the warm weather also awakened the hibernating potato bugs who were voracious for their breakfast after their long winter’s sleep.  The previous year had seen a plague of these pests which no pesticide was able to quell, so I had determined to “go organic”  It was too late for row covers, so the brutal task of crushing each potato bug and smashing each cluster of bright orange eggs (cleverly hidden beneath the leaves!) fell to my lot.  The war was on and it has been a tedious battle for me and the postulants who have joined me in the fight.
But reinforcements have arrived!  With Mary’s month of May came Our Lady’s little warrior beetles:  better known as ladybugs.  Last year these sweet black dotted red beetles had saved our crop of Southern Peas from destruction by eating up the invading aphids.  Now they have come to rescue our precious potatoes from the evil potato beetle.  Isn’t it just like Our Blessed Mother to send such a humble ally?  And when the world faced the Satan inspired force of Communism, what did she do but to beg three little shepherd children to pray the Rosary and offer sacrifices to bring peace?
Pope Francis will be canonizing two of those children, Jacinta and Francisco on Saturday, May 13th, the hundredth anniversary of Mary’s apparitions at Fatima.  We will celebrate by receiving a new postulant into our enclosure.  May she and all of us be little warriors of prayer and penance for the salvation of sinners and the beginning of peace for our poor strife ridden world.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

To have one’s cake and eat it too

So, why is a cloistered, penitential nun thinking about cake on the Fifth Sunday of Lent?  Well, Easter is only two weeks away…And, following the venerable Franciscan tradition of taking a positive, sacramental view of creation, we do eat cake on Easter!  A liturgical feastday is also just that at the Poor Clare monastic table:  a feast!  Our cake on Easter Day is shaped in the form of a lamb in order to remind us that the Paschal Lamb, sacrificed for us is sweet.  Forming this special cake is the challenge and the joy of the baker during Holy Week, and we always pray fervently for her intentions!
But our thoughts turn now to Jesus, the true Lamb of God, whose bloody sacrifice on Calvary we shall soon be commemorating during the holiest week of the year.  Why did He do it?  To overcome sin which separates us from Him and to lead us to eternal happiness with Him in heaven.  Scripture pictures heaven as a banquet where all enjoy each other and the main course is God Himself.  All desires for love, friendship and joy will be satisfied forever and ever.  But won’t it get boring?  After all, it is our constant experience that whenever we get what we want to full satiety, we quickly lose interest.  In fact, sometimes the excitement of anticipation is actually more pleasurable than the enjoyment of the good thing itself!  So it must be in this life, but not in the next.
The incredible truth is that we poor, finite human beings have an infinite capacity that can only be filled with the immeasurable goodness of God.  Yet at the same time we remain finite and limited in our ability to know and experience the fullness that is divinity.  Will we then remain eternally frustrated at the heavenly banquet?  No!  At that wondrous feast, we will have at the same moment, the joy of complete fulfillment and the pleasure of anticipating the next revelation, the new touch, the deepening of relationship.  On this side of eternity, anticipation and fulfillment succeed one another, but in the kingdom of God, we shall have our cake and eat it too.  Isaiah tells us, "Come without paying and without cost".  All are invited!  See you there!

Coming back down to earth, we would like to share with you that we now anticipate the happiness of our Postulant Kathryn who will be receiving the Holy Habit of our Mother St. Clare on June 15th.  Pray for her as she prepares her soul and we prepare her habits!  Before that blessed event we will celebrate the Paschal Mysteries and will also be remembering you in our prayers.  May our Crucified and Risen Lord bless you with the gift of His Easter peace!