Friday, March 30, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Today is the first anniversary of my solemn profession in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. In this painting Mary is so poignantly depicted as totally awestruck, amazed and anxious at the appearance of the angel and the message delivered. On the occasion of my profession I was awed by the beauty of the rite and overwhelmed with profound sense of having been extraordinarily graced throughout my life and now in the gift of this vocation. Contemplative nuns rarely have such 'checkered' past lives; wife and mother, teacher, lay minister, community activist, librarian, needlewoman and life-long student. What could God possibly have had in mind when guiding this meandering path to deeper relationship with the Divine? And the rest of the story is yet to be revealed.
Order of the Most Holy Redeemer
March 25, 2006
Loved ones, dear sisters, Redemptorist brothers, faithful friends; let us rejoice. The age of miracles has not passed!
What a story! In Sicilian we would say, “che romanzu” – what a soap opera – seems I’ve had almost as many lives as Erica on "All My Children!" Some might use the Yiddish word “mishigas”, a craziness of the improbable proving that “truth is indeed stranger than fiction.” What else can it be other than pure miracle? And each of you, in one way or another, in large part or small, has been an instrument of God’s beneficent grace, a sustaining gift; a sign of love in some part of the story.
The ritual you witnessed today was suffused with spousal imagery. It is a ritual concerning a promise rooted in the baptismal promise shared by all Christians. In the limited vocabulary of human experience there is no better metaphor for the quality of these promises than that of a long, loving, joyful, mutually generous, faithful, and sometimes painful marriage. Perhaps no one here can better attest to the requirements of life-long promises of commitment than my own mother and father poised as they are to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of their spousal love.
The faithfulness and devotion to commitment that we prayed for today are meant for each and everyone here. It has been my hope that this celebration would be inspiration and encouragement for your own myriad promises and commitments; whether it is fidelity in marriage, dedication to nurturing children, perseverance in religious vows, faithfulness to honoring your true self, obligations in earning a living or the duties of citizenship and service. We need all the help we can get because as we know from first hand experience that none of it is easy. But remember, the age of miracles has not yet passed. So be stout-hearted in sure knowledge of God’s covenantal promise, “I am with you always.”
Gratitude can never be adequately expressed but one must try. First of all, to my sons, Jonathan, Matthew and Andrew; thank you for being who you are, for forgiving me and loving me, and for allowing me to be who I am.
To the elders of our community of women – those already in God’s embrace and those with whom I live who continue to be wise mentors, models of perseverance, wisdom, and charity; your lived promises have made this life available to me.
I look out now not on a sea of faces but at a panorama – the panorama of a lifetime of relationships. Beginning with my parents who gave me everything, each of you knows the part you played, the gifts you gave to me and those you continue to give.
Many are united with us in spirit whether by virtue of friendship, family ties or sisterhood in the Order; from British Columbia to Chulucanas, Peru; from Liguori, Missouri to Fort Erie, Canada, to Mason, New Hampshire; from Dublin, Ireland to Modena, Italy; from Merrivale, South Africa to Bielsko-Biala, Poland; from Kezmarok, Slovakia to Legazpi, in the Philippines. Isn’t that a wonder!
I feel very much also the presence of many who are now enjoying the embrace of God: the grandmothers I never knew, my grandfather and aunt who influenced my childhood, sisters from the community and friends, some of whom have only recently left us. They are together with us in the Communion of Saints.
I am, at least in part, the sum total of what they and you have been to me.
In a life centered on contemplative prayer one is joined to all people and to the world in ways that surpass the boundaries of time and space. Our foundress, Maria Celeste, heard Jesus say,
“I want you to be espoused to all souls and to experience
the same delight which I experience in them.”
Be assured of the faithfulness of my prayers for you and know that our loving creator God has truly delighted in you and in all the promises you’ve kept. May we continue on our way in covenant with God, as gift to each other, as witnesses to love, hope, fidelity and peace, in a challenging world.
Just as Robert Frost’s traveler in darkness stopped in the snowy wood to revel in beauty and be renewed by awe, we have stopped to connect with the wonder of God. Now we too have “promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.”
Monday, March 19, 2007
At Mass this evening Father Thomas Travers, CSsR (see link to his homilies in the sidebar) said that values are learned from those who surround us in childhood. Although we do not know much about Joseph, we can safely assume his values and character from those displayed by Jesus; his compassion, courage, prayerfulness, sense of justice and more. I prayed for all the young fathers who are exercising this influence today and asked that through the intercession of St. Joseph they receive the gifts of wisdom , love, and steadfastness and courage for their challenging responsibility.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
At the very heart of things, the charisms or spiritual philosophies of every contemplative order share a great deal in common. I am going to try to give you an over view of what may be thought of as the particular dialect in which we express our charism as Redemptoristine Nuns. Then I will try to focus in on what may be unique regarding our take on prayer, that is, what may be particular to how we emphasize the place of prayer in our vowed lives as contemplative religious.
“This is my Will and this is my good pleasure that you be a memorial of me and of the works of salvation performed by me, for love of you, during my life.” (Primitive Rule).
This one sentence uttered by Jesus in mystical conversation with the Venerable Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa sums up in the simplest of terms the charism of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. That charism is to be a viva memoria, a living memory of the Redeeming Christ. Maria Celeste, our foundress, was an 18th century mystic, very much a daughter of her time and culture and also a daughter of the Neapolitan sensibility and spirituality. She was born in 1696 in Naples and shares that place of birth and the year with St. Alphonsus de Liguori. To state her history briefly: she entered a Carmelite monastery at the age of 21. Upon the dissolution of that monastery she entered a community in Scala, a Neapolitan hill town. This community was living under the Visitation Rule but not formally affiliated with that Order. It was there that a new order foundation was revealed by Jesus to Maria Celeste. These revelations most often occurred during her post-Communion meditations and she described her recollections of them in terms of colloquies or conversations with God the Father and Jesus. The new order or institute was first revealed to her in 1725 and came to fruition in 1731. But, as it so often happened, the way of founders and foundresses rarely traveled a smooth road. Maria Celeste was expelled from this first foundation largely because of her insistence on what we now call the primitive rule, the rule revealed to her by Jesus. This rule is notable for its lack of austerity in favor of the primacy of God’s love for humanity and how that love is to be made visible in the Order. The conversion, the transformation to which we are all called by our baptism is to be sought not in harsh penances but in fully living the ordinary events and relationships of life. Celeste held out for this Rule in opposition to the version interpreted and edited by her spiritual director who was also the founder of the Scala monastery. The ultimate deciding issue was her refusal to bind herself to him as her spiritual director for her entire life. The Scala monastery survives to this day. But Maria Celeste eventually went on to establish a foundation in Foggia, another hill town closer to the Adriatic Sea. Needless to say, this was a period of great hardship, humiliation and, sometimes, spiritual desolation for Celeste. But her story reveals a personal strength and faith, which allowed her to trust her mystical experience, which she never doubted as coming from God. She remained there from 1738 to 1755, the year of her death. The community at Foggia was not united with the larger Redemptoristine Order until the 1933.
The first and foremost feature of the charism is the call to become the living memory of Christ. The second feature of our charism is the invitation to transformation via the life of the Institute. It is by transformation that we can become a living memory of Christ’s love for the world. In our current Constitution and Statutes we find, “The more we strive to live the love of Christ, the more the thoughts and feelings of Christ will fill our spirit and our heart, the more we will become His faithful images.” (C&S#6) At last count, the concept of being witness is either stated or implied at least seventeen times in our Rule. To be a living witness, to be a living memory, the viva memoria, is for us not merely a simple modeling or imitation of the virtues and attitudes of Jesus. Our very lives become “a recollection of the past”, in this case the person of Jesus, and that recollection “enlivens and empowers the present.” I have come to call this the ‘anamnetic character’ of our charism. This expression comes from the anamnesis of the Mass in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are made present in our time. [See " A Charism Illumined: Eucharistic Anamnesis etc. April, 2006]
You may have noted that Maria Celeste’s Rule indicates that it is not only the individuals of the Order that are to be living memories of Christ. The Institute as a whole, and each community is to be a corporate expression of the viva memoria. The section concerning the vows in our C&S is preceded by an important introductory section entitled “Union of Hearts and Mutual Charity”: “Mutual charity, lived according to the spirit of our community, has as its fruit, that gift of the Holy Spirit, paschal joy. It is in radiating this joy among ourselves and around us that we give witness to the Risen Christ.” (C&S#21) The Constitutions further state, “Community life is essentially a life in relationship. It must contribute to the development of the human person, foster relationships and establish a true unity of heart and spirit.” (C&S#61) Our Statutes begin with a paragraph of only one sentence: “Mutual charity is the supreme rule of our life in Community.” (#1) So there is an extraordinary emphasis on the nature and goal of our corporate life as community to be in its function and manifestation a living memory of the love of Jesus Christ. It is from this degree of emphasis on unity and charity in community that many conclude that the Redemptorstine Rule is most associated with the Rule of St. Augustine. His rule begins with Love of God which is immediately followed by an appeal for “oneness of mind and heart”: "First, that you dwell together in unity in the house and be of one mind and one heart in God, remembering that this is the end for which you are collected here." Accordingly, our Rule follows his directives toward unity and attainment of tranquility.
The Charism and Prayer
Now, we have to get to how this charismatic emphasis plays itself out in regard to our prayer life. In preparation for this I consulted the three versions of our Rule that have applied during the last one hundred years as well as the Primitive Rule of Maria Celeste. I also used as background the other written works of our foundress, especially her Dialogues. In every case, the umbrella term “prayer” is always understood to include first and foremost the Eucharistic Liturgy for which the Liturgy of the Hours and private prayer provide a daily setting. The following features of Redemptoristine prayer life emerged from this study:
· Stress on unceasing prayer
· Necessity of a climate of intimacy that is created by silence, solitude and mutual charity. These liberate the soul. The Primitive Rule states, “These conditions promote personal continuous prayer and purity of heart.
· It is in prayer that the seeds of our conversion must be planted – the place where the transformation into living memories of Jesus will begin. The Primitive Rule describes the fruits of prayer as: conversion (purification of impulses and bad habits; introduction in to angelic exercise which is the continuous prayer of the angelic choirs; and unity within the community which “transforms us into Godly love, thus contributing to the welfare of my neighbors.”
· The necessity of meditation particularly on the life and death of Jesus, the last things and on favors already received – gratitude.
· The Primitive Rule admonishes against striving for supernatural experiences and continues “but the Lord will introduce this to souls who really work at their profession.
· The Primitive Rule and all its successors stress daily intercessory prayer for souls, the Church and its leaders and those in civil authority.
These Rules of our Order and particularly the writings of Maria Celeste are pervaded by particular tone of intimacy, first with God and second with neighbor. Celeste’s mystical revelations most often occurred during her post-Communion prayer. She speaks of the sense of oneness with Jesus which transformed her into himself. She is very much in the line of St. Athanasius who said,“God became man in order that man might become divine." The message of Celeste is that our work as Redemptoristines is to cooperate in God’s will for that transformation. Our transitional 1978 Rule said, “By contemplating His whole life we allow Christ to re-live His mystery in us.” Our current rule begins the section on prayer this way: "God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of His Son crying: Abba, Father.’ The more we allow this Spirit to invade us with His transforming presence, the better will we exercise the Priesthood of our baptisms, by offering ourselves as living eucharist for the world. (C&S 5:35)
For me personally, I have always been drawn by the words spoken by Jesus in one of Celeste’s Dialogues: "Your life shall consist in performing the office of Magdalen in holy contemplation." They speak to me of the intimate character of the relationship in which we are invited to participate: to hold that necessary office of loving attentiveness to Jesus, a particular quality of our availability to Him. Another powerful image for me, another aspect of this very human Redemptorsitine way of being with God and with neighbor is the design of our solemn profession ring. It was the common wedding ring of Celeste’s time , a mani in fede ring, hands in faith, clasping each other in trust, promise and personal humility. These indicate the frame of mind and the disposition of soul we are to bring to prayer.
A collection of scripturally based talks written by Celeste has the title "Il Giardinetto", the “little garden”. It is significantly subtitled, “The Enclosed Garden of the Man-god Which is the Christian Soul”. This is an example of her frequent use of spousal love imagery influenced by the Song of Songs. In reading her works I am struck over and over again by the intimacy and vivid reality of her experience of God’s presence and love. Her imagery is intensely human and feminine. She suggests that we are nestled in the womb of Jesus who is at once our mother, lover and spouse urging us to be love wrapped in humility. Jesus said to her, “…My divine heart should be your cell. There pray to my heavenly Father continually with pure faith and love. Since I am in your heart and you are in mine…”
Our charism presents a trajectory leading from the mystery of the Incarnation to our participation in divine life, to our conversion and transformation by and through prayer via vowed life in this Order. In that transformation we can come to be, with the grace of God, the realization of Jesus Christ in this present moment by our person and our life in community. We bring to each other, to those around us, and to the larger Church the viva memoria, the living memory of Jesus our Redeemer. Our life, our attempt to be living memories of Jesus’ love, is to be an encouragement in the world and to all the baptized that lives of faithfulness and love in relation to God and each other are possible here and now.
Monday, March 05, 2007
On the very same day in 1933 the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, was democratically elected the majority party of the national German legislative body, the Bundestag. In 1928, my then eight-year-old German-born father, came to this country with his family to escape the post- World War I financial disaster of that country, a disaster which made the rise of Hitler possible.
Today is also the 150th anniversary of the famed Dred Scott Decision of the United States Supreme Court which upheld the institution of slavery and declared that no Negro could ever have the rights of a citizen in this country. Today, for the first time in our history, we have a serious and electable African-American candidate putting himself forward for election to the presidency of the United States.
These little bits of interesting information may seem out of place here. Contemplative nuns are all about prayer not finance, politics and race relations. Is that so? Someone once said, "You cannot pray for a world you do not know." Our community is very interested in what is happening in the world, the world for which we pray, the world for which we endeavor to pray constantly. While maintaining our center of gravity in silence and solitude, the home of contemplative prayer, we do find time to keep ourselves acquainted with the daily realities of our world - troubled, tortured, amazing, creative, and often seeming to be about to spin out of control.
In the last few days we made some special efforts in this direction. We were greatly rewarded by that effort and, more important, emerged even more highly motivated to pray without ceasing. Together we watched a tape we'd made of a one-hour Public Television documentary, "The Sisters of Selma." It focused on the startling participation of Roman Catholic Nuns in the civil rights demonstrations in Alabama in the early 1960s. Even for those of us familiar with the history, it was a shock to the system to see such anger and hatred poured out upon non-violent demonstrators. We were in awe of the courage displayed by the Sisters and their avowed support of voting rights for their Black "brothers and sisters." In discussion afterward we spoke of all that has changed and all that remains to be changed and how this human rights story is being played out in our own day and time, here and elsewhere. We spoke of the necessity of our prayers for those who have yet to obtain justice and for those prophets among us who support that movement forward and urge us to do so.
Former ABC anchorman, Bob Woodruff and his wife, are making the rounds of book publicity outlets to inform the public about his experience of being mortally wounded while on assignment in Iraq and his miraculous recovery from an astonishingly damaging brain injury. We'd been fans of his and were concerned about his progress. We taped a recent ABC feature program about his experience and that of the shockingly high number of brain injured soldiers returning from the Iraq war zone. Woodruff's dramatic recovery was affirmation of the power of prayer. The plight of wounded soldiers which he so compassionately communicated was a powerful motivator for our lives of intercessory prayer. The impressions made by this program on the sisters of our community were reflected in our spoken spontaneous intercessions at Liturgy of the Hours and at Mass for days afterward. We prayed for the soldiers, their families, their doctors, nurses and caretakers and for the powerful in our government to do all that can be done to ensure ample and correct rehabilitative treatment for the injured in this hour of extreme need. And we prayed for peace.
We find that we need to know. In this we are compellingly reminded of our responsibility as a prayerful presence in the troubled world. We are more highly motivated to be present in that prayer to those in need of healing and justice. We are made aware of the suffering of so many. We are reminded of our call as Redemptorsitines to be 'viva memoria', the living memory of Jesus in this world and with Him to offer our prayers to the Father.
Friday, March 02, 2007
we have acted out of whatever burdens us; the past, the tapes playing in our heads, our physical problems and disabilities, the wounds we all collect in our lifetimes. She warmly and touchingly encouraged us to remember that we strive to allow Jesus to live fully within us and to respond
to others in recognition that they too have Jesus living in them. In them is the Jesus whom we wish to know, to love and to serve.
In and examination of conscience we asked:
Friends, you may have noticed that this post presented me with many seemingly irredeemable difficulties in formatting. The joys of blogging!
Thursday, March 01, 2007
The Catholic tradition of special devotions on the first Friday of each month is especially dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Twice a year we consecrate ourselves to the Sacred Heart as a community of contemplative nuns with a special ritual and prayer. Each first Friday we observe a day of recollection, a day of limited work and activity, silence at meals and in the house generally, and ample time for prayer especially before the exposed Blessed Sacrament from Office of Readings and Morning Prayer 'til Midday.
In His Urbi et Orbi message of Easter 2005, Pope John Paul II left use a prayer for Eucharistic devotion so atuned to our world and its profound needs. He opened with the appeal made to Jesus by the disciples who encountered him on the raod to Emmaus, "Mane nobiscum, Domine!" - Stay with us, Lord.