Sunday, December 31, 2006

Feast of the Holy Family

Finding the Saviour in the Temple by William Hollman Hunt

Redemptoristine Nuns Celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family

A couple of years ago Jaroslav Pelikan's The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries came into my hands. In viewing its pages a cascade of art depicting Jesus from various periods of history, various cultures and variety of artistic styles was a treat for the eyes. Among the works most attractive to me was Hunt's painting of the worried Mary and Joseph coming upon Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. Its meticulous detail invites one to linger. In my meditation on the picture, assisted by a detail of the figure of Jesus, I noticed Jesus's right hand working at the buckle of his belt. He is caught in the act of cinching it in. It seems to me that the effort to tighten ones belt suggests a movement to new readiness, preparation for the demands which lie ahead. In what ways will I tighten my belt to be ready for the challenges of the upcoming year?

Further commentary on this painting along with questions to ponder can be found at:

Here in our monastery today is a day of Recollection, a time of silence and solitude, in which to ponder the mystery of our Incarnate God; to review the closing year, and to anticipate with prayerful hope the advent of the new. During our Morning Prayer, immediately following the reading, we selected at random a patron, a practice, a title of Mary and an intention - all to help anchor us in the upcoming year. Our Prioress prepared all of this and placed them on the altar before a small etched image of the Holy Family illumined by a votive candle.

My patron (remember this is all random choice - little slips of paper and holy cards placed upside down) is St. Mary Magdalen. This is God-incident since my name in religion is Hildegard Magdalen of the Resurrection and I entered the monastery on her feast, July 22. The practice chosen (by custom a line or two from our Rule): "Like Mary and with Mary, we strive to live in constant communion with Christ. He is the light of our faith, the strength of our charity and the source of our hope." The title of Mary to guide me this year is Our Mother of Pertpetual Help (patroness of our monastery). The intention to hold in prayer is that of Pope Benedict XVI.

Today we will ponder these choices and tomorrow, following a festive New Year's Day dinner with our Redemptorist brothers as guests in our monastery, we will share with each other what we have received and a few words of the special meaning they may hold for us.

Tonight at 8pm we have the Vigil Office of Readings for tomorrow's Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed from the beginning of the Vigil until midnight when we will close our time of adoration with a prayer for world peace.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nuns and Christmas Season Feasts

Litany for the Feast
of the
Holy Innocents
For the children of Somalia, many of whom die by
the age of five from malnutrition,
Lord have mercy on us.
For the many innocent children maimed
by landmines that will never be removed because
they are too expensive to remove and too
dangerous to those who planted them,
Lord have mercy on us.
For the innocent who have been
killed in the womb,
Lord have mercy on us.
For those who have been deprived of the
innocenceof childhood by abuse,
Lord have mercy on us.
For children who have been forced to work
in gold mines and other on other dangerous
jobs because of the poverty of their families,
Lord have mercy on us.
For children who are enticed to be soldiers
because of the desire adults have for
dominion and power,
Lord have mercy on us.
For the children in our own country
who suffer from poverty, illness and crime,
Lord have mercy on us.
For the orphans and dispossessed children
throughout the world who suffer in
inhumane environments,
Lord have mercy on us.
For the forgotten children in so many homes,
deprived of love because of addictions,
Lord have mercy on us.
Adapted from original written by Rev. George Keaveney, CSsR

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Redemptoristine Nuns Christmas

Christ is Born for Us,
Come Let Us Adore Him
Christmas Invitatory Antiphon
The Redemptoristine Nuns of Esopus, NY were blessed to have a full range of liturgies for the Solemnity of Christmas. It must be said that the concurrence of the Fourth Sunday of Advent with the Eve of Christmas made the rubrics of proper celebration a bit of a challenge. A number of guests joined us for the mass of the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Later we began our evening office in a dark chapel for the last recitation of the Christmas Novena. This was followed by the Martyrology (The Proclamation of the Birth of Jesus) chanted by Sr. Mary Jane Stefanik. Then Vespers began, chanted by the community.
Following a quick supper, we welcomed guests arriving to join us in the Mass of Midnight which we began at 8pm in procession to the creche while singing "Silent Night, Holy Night." Our prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt placed the babe in the creche and we proceeded with the Invitatory beginning the Vigil Office of Readings. Once again in procession we entered the chapel where the Psalms and Readings were offered. We responded to the last reading by singing the "Gloria" accompanied by organ and handbells ringing joyfully. Father James Keaveney, CSsR, Rector of Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center and former Provincial of the Redemptorist Baltimore Province was presider. Our chapel was festively decorated with abundant poinsettias provided for us by a generous local nursery and other trimming creatively arranged by Sr. Moira Quinn. The singing at mass was much enjoyed and enhanced by the enthusiastic male voices of a contingent of Marist Brothers. Following Mass, our guests joined us in the refectory for holiday refreshments and exchange of good wishes.
On Christmas Day we celebrated the Christmas Mass of the Day at 10am. Later we joined the Redemptorist priests at Mt. St. Alphonsus for a festive dinner. Delicious food (prepared by many) and interesting conversation was enjoyed by all. It is a great blessing to share such wonderful occasions with our brothers. We are so grateful for their generosity and friendship.
During Vespers (Evening Prayer II of Christmas), as is our Redemptoristine custom on the 25th of every month, we were given a short but very inspirational talk by our Prioress. In Italian these devotion encouraging talks are called 'ferverinos'. Immediately following we renewed our religious vows of "poverty, chastity and obedience in the Church and in the world for the sake of humanity."
Our Order has many customs that follow through out the season to Epiphany. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 22, 2006

When Nuns are Grandmas

New arrival, Benjamin

Nicholas with his Nonna at the monastery '04

Redemptoristine Nun Welcomes a Grandchild

It is not uncommon these days to find grandmothers in convents and monasteries. The current frequency of 'late vocations' inevitably brings women who have been married, raised families and had a great variety of careers. The advent of an organization called Sister Moms attests to the significant number of nuns who are mothers.
It has been my joy to see my oldest son and his wife begin their family. Nicholas, who is now almost three years old, was joined on December 20th by his baby brother, Benjamin. These little ones have their own website cleverly managed by their mother. Now it even includes videos so I can really stay in touch.

These children are much loved by a full compliment of grandparents and five living great-grandparents. So while I am not as much a part of their lives as I might have been, I know that they get all the lovin' they need. Of course, visits are a pleasure, especially those occasions when I get to see them in their own home. But Nicholas has visited the monastery frequently enough that when he recently saw a monastery-like building he said, "Nonna's house?"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Novena - Tradition for Redemptoristine Nuns

Christmas Novena

Adore, O my soul,
in the bosom of Mary
the only begotten Son of God
who was made man
for love of you.

For nine days before Christmas, following the evening office of Vespers, in a darkened chapel illumined only by Advent wreath candle light, the contemplative monastic nuns of Mother Perpetual Help Monastery enter into a tradition of their Order, a tradition drawing them ever more deeply into mystery of expectation, the mystery of Incarnation, the mystery of our Redemption. One by one, with a silence the length of a Hail Mary in between, each sister recites the novena prayer. In our community we hear this plaintive appeal to the heart ten times. Invited by the darkness, we enter into both the warm and life-filled womb of Mary where Jesus waits to be born and into the depths of our own souls where his life also begs admittance. Then the first words of the "Salve Regina" are intoned, leading all to greet the pregnant Mary and request her companionship on the journey.
Intentions during this novena run the gamut - loved ones, friends, and benefactors; the most abandoned; peace in our relationships, families, nation and the entire world; the end of war; justice for all peoples; comfort for the dying; perservation of mother earth.

It is never too late to begin the novena. Join us today.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Full Day for Redemptoristine Nuns

We laugh at the frequency with which we are asked, "What do you do all day?" My own mother wonders why we have 'retreat days' each month, a ten-day personal retreat and ten-day community retreat each year. After all, aren't contemplative nuns in retreat every day? All we can say in answer to these questions is that regular days fly by and retreats become neccesities because our lives are filled with all the regular, tedious and energy demanding tasks of everyday life.

Here is our Regular Daily Schedule:

7:00am - Office of Readings and Morning Prayer

7:30am - Breakfast (make your own)

8:30am - Gospel Sharing (brief sharing on the Gospel of the day) or Work Assignment

9:00am - Work Assignment (sewing, book-keeping, cleaning, cooking, hospitality, administrative tasks, shopping, answering the door and phone, etc., etc.)

11:40am - Midday Office

12 noon - Dinner (prepared by us or by our cook)

12:30pm - Free Recreation

1:30 - 3:30pm - Little Silence (time for rest, prayer, spiritual reading)

3:30pm - Work Assignment

4:30pm - Prepare for Mass

5:00pm - Mass

6:00pm - Office of Vespers

6:15pm - Supper (a 'pick-up' meal in which we enjoy all the leftovers or make our own)

7:00pm - Free Recreation (watch the news, check e-mail, read the paper, etc., etc.)

8:15pm - Office of Compline (Night Prayer)

9:00pm - The Great Silence

That is the 'regular' schedule. But normal life - interruptions, visitors, special occasions, visits to the doctor, etc.) provide many variations on the theme. These variations require flexibility and maturity in the vocation in order that prayer remain our focus. Each sister is committed to a minimum of one and half hours of personal prayer a day in addition to the usual communal prayer times. She is also committed to a minimum of half an hour of spiritual reading each day. The challenges provided by circumstance require personal ingenuity and discipline in pursuit of the spiritual life.

Visitors to our monastery invariably comment on the silence and peace they find here. We may be busy but we manage to maintain that atmosphere by respecting each other's need for silence and solitude; by praying the Offices with ease of pace in a contemplative manner; and trying, at all times, to live out a paramount value expressed in our Rule, "charity and union of hearts."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Redemptoristine Nuns Open 50th Anniversary Year

Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery

Esopus, New York

1957 - 2007

Order of the Most Holy


In him there is plentiful redemption.

On December 7, 1957 six Redemptoristine Nuns arrived in Esopus, New York, one hundred miles north of New York City on the Hudson River. They had traveled by car from Toronto, Canada. Within two years they would occupy a large new monastery built for them by the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation on the grounds of Mount Saint Alphonsus Seminary. Four of the six were United States citizens who went to Canada to follow their contemplative vocation in the only English-speaking Redemptoristine Monastery in North America. They had entered without any expectation of ever returning to the country of their birth. The Canadian Redemptoristine monastery's response to the invitation of the Redemptorists in the United States brought an unexpected challenge to women not only young in age but also having few years of experience in vowed religious life. They met this challenge and even more. Within a few years of occupying a large monastery under papal enclosure they responded to the call of the Second Vatican Council to return to the roots of their foundress; to rediscover their charism; and to redesign a basically medieval life-style to allow for more effective proclamation of the charism in the modern world. Years of experimentation, reaching out within their own order and to other contemplatives, collaboration and self-examination had to be weathered - all to the accompaniment of the steady departure of nuns whose new understandings of the faith and the world led them back to secular life.

Three of those six nuns, Mary Anne Reed of Detroit, Margaret Banville of Toronto, and Paula Schmidt of Grand Rapids remain in the community today. These gold jubilarians are vital to the Esopus community, providing leadership, forming new members, and adding their vitality and their wisdom to a mix of woman ranging in age from 82 to 51.

The community will celebrate the opening of its 50th anniversary year at Midday Prayer. The theme will be 'remembering'; remembering the experiences of these nuns and also all of the many women who came, whether for a short time or many years, and helped to form what we celebrate, a contemplative monastic monastery whose members strive to be living witnesses of the love of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

We will also offer praise and thanksgiving at a celebration of the Vigil Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. We have invited local clergy and religious to join us for prayer and fellowship. We are rejoicing in the presence of three of our foundresses, in the life our community celebrates together and in our call to be 'living memories of Jesus.'

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What are Nuns Really All About by Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR

It is a very healthy exercise for monks and nuns (all monastics) to occasionally ask, "Why am I here?" The TIME MAGAZINE article (Nov. 20, 2006) previously commented upon prompted me to ask the question of myself yet again. If what I am about is not reflected in this article, how would I express my raison d'etre, my reason for being? Then I picked up a Cistercian Publication from its Monastic Wisdom Series entitled THE SECRET OF THE HEART: SPIRITUAL BEING by Sr. Jean-Marie Howe, OCSO (2005) In a retreat presented to Cistercian monks, she spoke of the divergent world view reflected in a life vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience as lived in monastic community within the reality of our times. I present them with slight revision.

Community challenging individualism
Simplicity challenging consumerism
Vigilance challenging distractions which high-jack attention
Obedience (inter-dependence) challenging independence
Self-sacrifice challenging narcissism
Asceticism challenging hedonism
Institutional membership challenging personal charisma

These are the ways in which contemplative monastics take a counter-cultural stance at the margins of our society. But all religious, by virtue of their vows, reflect this stance by living faithful lives in contrast to surrounding culture.