Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall Moves into Winter


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


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

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


Advent Prayer

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

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

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


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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cloud of Witnesses and a Garden Update

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

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

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

September Celebrations

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

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

Sister Veronica Mary and Sister Margaret Mary (novice mistress)

Sister Veronica Mary at the Mass of her Profession

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

Receiving the black veil of a professed nun

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

Sister Mary Joyce renews her vows for the 25th time

At Holy Mass


Sister Mary Joyce adorned with a traditional Indian garland

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Following Jesus

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

An Eventful July

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Introducing our New Novice...

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

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

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

Kathryn and Sister Laetitia exchanging the Pax.

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

Sister Margaret Mary and the Bride

Postulant Cecilia passing on the flame to her Sisters.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Video

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

Sister Veronica's Investiture

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