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!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent 2017

The picture above captures the moment of repose after we celebrated the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday one year.  Mother Abbess had the inspiration to position the cross we had venerated as is shown.  The relic of the True Cross is displayed with two red vigil lights, and the sanctuary is bereft of every other adornment.

Here we are at the beginning of this Lenten season.  But even now, our faces are set towards Jerusalem and a certain hill outside the city where the drama of Christ’s redemptive love will reach its culmination.  Those of us who are privileged to live by the liturgy and especially to sing the Church’s Gregorian Chant, are always energized with a new vitality.  Lent is not only about lamenting our sins and mourning the pain of our loving Savior.  It is that, to be sure.  But if this rather negative orientation is not to become moribund, it must be balanced with the confident assuredness of God’s tender mercy.  The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we should approach the throne of mercy with boldness.  On Ash Wednesday, we chanted:  “You have mercy on all, O Lord, and nothing do you hate of the things that you have made, dissimulating the sins of men for the sake of penance and sparing them, for you are the Lord our God” [my own translation of the Latin text].  These are not words of a slave trembling with fear before a harsh taskmaster.  Rather, these are declarations of a well beloved child before his Father.  They are audacious, considering that he is talking to God, after all!  He even says that God dissimulates when He is forced to regard our sins, because of our repentance.  The child has indeed been naughty, but he is sorry and he knows the Father will forgive him for love’s sake.

At the start of today’s Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, we have the Father speak:  “He will invoke me and I will listen to him.  I will rescue him and glorify him.  With length of days I will fulfill him”.  Jesus is the first object of the Father’s regard, and through Him we are included.  The price of our salvation was Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.  He, the well Beloved Son, was willing to suffer the seeming abandonment of the Father so that we could return to Him whom we had abandoned.  Our first parents sinned, breaking their love relationship with God; and we the children of Adam and Eve have followed in their footsteps.  But Jesus has come after us, taking our nakedness and death upon Himself, crying out with our voice and our dereliction.  The Father has listened.  He rescued Jesus from death by glorifying Him and raising Him from the dead.  If we are joined with Jesus in His death by faith, then we will rise with Him in His life.  We are children of God!  Length of days, even to eternity, is our destiny, if we but suffer a little while.  This is Lent.  Let us begin!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Presentation of the Lord, Candlemas Day

 In many ways, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a transitional day, coming as it does almost exactly midway between the Christmas and Lenten seasons. This feast encompasses elements of both celebrations; on the one hand, we contemplate once again the Child Jesus in the arms of His mother Mary, and on the other, we hear the prophetic utterance of the aged Simeone who foretells the future sufferings of the Messiah.  Joy and sorrow are mingled here as they always are in this life, all tending toward the glorious victory of Easter anticipated in faith and hope.
The poetic image that unites the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption is the candle.  How well it symbolizes Christ, the Word made flesh, shining meekly in the darkness which cannot overcome Him!

 Candles are everywhere in our monastery during Christmas, and are a major part of our decorations.  During Lent, they are almost the only d├ęcor around our altar while potted green plants soberly replace our usual floral arrangements.  Finally, nothing can surpass the climactic moment at the Easter Vigil, when we all follow the Paschal candle into our dark monastic choir to sing “Lumen Christi!” (Light of Christ!) to celebrate the definitive victory of Divine Light over the darkness of sin and death.

Today’s Gospel, when Jesus exhorts His followers to let their light shine for all to see, is often quoted against us who live hidden in the cloister.  Are we not putting our lamp under a bushel basket?  No!  Our light does shine, but like sunlight, it is invisible except for its effects.  Or it is like a lamp that is doing its job well and so does not call attention to itself.  You only notice a lamp when something is wrong with it; there is a flickering, or it is too bright or too dim.  When it is just right, you forget all about it and are just happy to be able to see what you are doing or whom you are loving.
We bless candles at the beginning of Mass on February 2nd and honor the Lord’s presentation with a candlelight procession into choir that recalls the Holy Family’s coming into the temple with Jesus for the first time.  It also prefigures the Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil procession.  We pray that we ourselves, may be true candles, alive with the light of faith, consumed in the fire of divine love, to be beacons of hope for a world that often seems lost in darkness, that all may find their way to Christ, their true home.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas Sharing

Those who recite the Liturgy of the Hours are very familiar with Ps. 95, as it is chanted each day at the beginning of Matins.  On Christmas, we sing it in Latin, just before the celebration of our Midnight Mass.  It felt especially appropriate, sung with the angels on the Holy Night.  Here is part of the psalm (English translation):

“Come, let us sing to the Lord
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us!
 Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord. 
The Lord is God, the mighty God,
the great King over all the gods. 
He holds in His hands the depths of the earth 
and the highest mountains as well,
He made the sea, it belongs to Him,
the dry land too, for it was formed by His hands. 
Come then, let us bow down and worship,
bending the knee before the Lord our Maker. 
For He is our God and we are His people the flock He shepherds. 
Today, listen to the voice of the Lord…
At this point in the psalm, while I continued to chant, my brain inserted a question:  What was the voice of the Lord on this Christmas night?  Answer:  an infant’s cry!  So, this has been my meditation during the Christmas Octave, culminating on this feast of the Motherhood of Mary.
The God whom we contemplate as “mighty”, is a weak baby crying for milk.
The “great King over all the gods” is least among men, an infant warmed in the arms of His mother.
He who “holds in His hands” all the world, reaches for His mother’s breast
The Infinite has become small.
The Boundless is wrapped in swathing bands.
The Eternal is born in time.

We who grasp at divinity in all the wrong ways, by being powerful, and independent, would do well to see what divinity  really is.  God is love.  And love is that which pours itself out in sacrifice for the sake of a beloved other.  “If God has loved us so, then we must have the same love for one another”.  Blessed New Year!  May it truly be a “year of the Lord” and a year under the protecting mantle of His Blessed Mother.

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