Saturday, April 28, 2007

The 'Blogging' Experience of a Contemplative Nun

This blogger has just hit a few milestones. It was about one year ago that I made my first very timid and insecure steps into the world of blogging. I was, and remain, not terribly astute in matters technological but felt very strongly that the monastic way of contemplative spirituality and the existing possibilities of this vocation needed to be expressed in a new format. For me, it is not just a matter of the promotion of a particular religious vocation, but also an effort to meet the necessity of keeping within the sphere of general knowledge that our lives, expressed in whatever walk of life, can still be oriented to the transcendent, to the Other, to a power greater than ourselves, to the expression of all love. And, as a bit of an historian and a former educator, I believe that we have a responsibility to do our bit to promote, at the very least, cultural and historical literacy concerning the ageless traditions and contributions of monastic life. We Redemptoristines speak of the charism to be "living witnesses" to the love of our Redeemer God. There is the potential to witness at many levels and the Internet just broadens that spectrum.

This blog, at the address of MonasticMusingsOSsR, languished for lack of input for a number of months, due in part to intervening double knee replacement surgery last August. Once creative energy returned in the fall, I doubled my efforts, kept the address but changed the title to Contemplative Horizon because I had become more savvy regarding the 'flag' words that would get the blog noticed in Google searches. In January of this year I was able to install a 'hit counter'. That counter just provided another milestone. To my great amazement over 1,500 visits have been made to this blog in the last three months. It is chicken feed in the immensity of the WEB but consequential for us. To think that persons unknown have stopped to read something here 1,500 times! Wow!

Now I want to ask a few questions of those of you who are stopping by to visit. What are you looking for when you come to this blog? What attracts you? What more would you like to know about our way of life? How can contemplative monastic nuns assist you in your spiritual journey? What do you think it would be helpful for me to know about you? If you wish to answer just click on the word "comment" below and you will have your chance.

Thank you for visiting. I hope that your spirit is lifted by the things you see and read here. May God bless your journey and Happy Spring!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nuns Celebrate Monastic Foundation

Left to right: Sr. Lydia, Sr. Maria Paz, Sr. Mary

Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December, our hearts should remember
And follow.

from “The Fantastiks”

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery of the Redemptoristine Nuns in Esopus, New York. Six contemplative nuns arrived from Toronto, Canada on December 8, 1957 in response to an invitation from the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation. The Congregation was eager to provide a home for this praying presence on the grounds of their major seminary.
Today, for the second time during this anniversary year, we celebrated a special office of Midday Prayer in which three sisters had the opportunity to share their fondest, dearly held memories of their years here. Sr. Mary transferred to monastic life after ten years in a teaching congregation. She has been a religious for over fifty years. She recounted a moment of great trial during her first few months in the monastery. She told the Novice Mistress that it was time to throw in the towel. Then the Prioress gave her "a good talking to" - perhaps a bit of shock therapy - and it was all over. She never had another doubt. We are so grateful. Sr. Maria Paz, a native of the Philippines, recounted the numerous ways in which our Mother of Perpetual Help consistently guided her along the path bringing her to Redemptorist priests, seeing to her entrance into a Redemptoristine community in Canada and finally to the monastery established under her title. Sr. Maria Paz, over forty years a Redemptoristine, brings much grace and beauty into our lives. And Sr. Lydia who, legend has it, came north from her native Puerto Rico in January wearing high heels, a red coat and black pill box hat, reminisced about running out into snow she had never seen before with her Novice Mistress close on her heels begging her to put on a coat! Almost forty-five years in the Order, Sr. Lydia is outstandingly generous in her service to all and our recycling technician extraordinaire.
In between these touching testimonies of courage, perseverance, acceptance, joy and humor we heard the names of many others who came in faith and tried the life but found that it was not meant for them. Yet they too played a part in the life and development of the community as we know it today.

We remember how you loved us to your death,
and still we celebrate, for you are with us here;
and we believe that we will see you when you come in your glory Lord.
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.
Deo Gratias!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Reflection

Images - Jesus with the Laundry - Marion Lunt

"And who did this for you?"

by Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR

It is a mystery of our spiritual lives that at times we can report with certain clarity that God is calling us, beckoning us to come, to follow more closely, to dispose ourselves to a greater level of intimacy in our prayer. We seem to know that God wants more but often we do not have an inkling as to how to go there, or what the 'there' is supposed to be or look like or feel. Some would wonder that this could be the experience of those whose lives have long been committed to the spiritual way by religious vows. Let this be evidence of that truth. I came into Holy Week with a realization of this kind, gently but persistently flowing through me like the mist that rises from the river at dawn and just as illusive.

In its most lofty aspiration, the silence and solitude afforded to nuns by contemplative monastic life is to achieve an ambient atmosphere in which liturgy, work and meditation all flow into each other under the rubric of prayer. It becomes difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. This reality is felt when a thought, an insight, an inspiration appears when and where it is least expected.

I was recently assigned the task of making a white habit for a friend of our community. Habits are usually rather simple in design but constructed in ways that include rather tricky folds, demanding yokes and hidden pockets which challenge the modern seamstress. And for this one, there was no pattern, just an old habit to go by.

During the last week of Lent, I made the paper pattern and cut out the pieces carefully marking pleats and pocket placement, the right and wrong side of the fabric observing caution every step of the way. All the while, this meditative project was progressing in tandem with Jesus’ inexorable movement to Jerusalem and his passion. Jesus was very much on my mind.

We began our Holy Week retreat the day before the Sacred Triduum. That morning, I decided to cut out the ninety-six inch long cincture that is part of the habit. I began to sew this simple piece in order to get used to the feel of the fabric and see its reaction to the sewing machine needle before tackling the more challenging garment. Once it was sewn, I thought to put it aside for the next day, but instantly changed my mind and brought it to the pressing table in our workshop. In total silence I set about the tedious work of pressing the long seams of the cincture, being sure to keep the piece equal in width throughout its length.

While my eyes were intently focused upon inch after inch of the long cincture, I suddenly thought of Jesus and asked, “And who did this for you?” Absorbed by the meticulous handling of white fabric, of preparing a garment with religious significance, I was drawn to the person of the unknown someone who must have devoted such effort and energy to Jesus. By these thoughts, I felt closer to him and more intimately related to him than before. My eyes overflowed with tears as I stood alone at the pressing table looking at the white serge in my hands as if it was for Jesus himself.

The question, that sudden flash of graced insight, flew back and forth through my mind for the rest of the day leaving more questions with each passing. Who was it who wove the threads, and sewed his clothing? Who was the one who looked after his robe and tunic during the time of his preaching when he walked the dusty roads of Galilee? Who pounded the fabric at the river’s edge to wash it clean and spread it out to be whitened by sunlight? Who knew him so intimately that she took on this task? What did it mean to him and to her that she provided his garment or saw to its care or handed it to him in loving gesture? How did his gratefulness fall upon her? And then, most heartbreaking of all, how did she survive witnessing his arrest, torture and cruel death?

Creative imaginings tumbled out so rapidly and emotional associations surfaced so readily that I was compelled to recognize the grace of the moment and allow myself time to ponder the gifts being offered. Soon I had my own question to answer. Why such strong emotional association with these mundane tasks? In quiet recollection memories slowly made their way to consciousness and I realized how integral to my life such acts had become.

I was naturally drawn by my history to the human intimacy inherent in handling, caring for and creating the clothing of another. As a youngster, I learned how to iron clothes by following my mother’s directions and doing the best I could to neatly press my father’s boxer shorts in spite of their frustrating elastic waist bands. Much later, there was the act of washing, whitening, and properly folding for maximum absorbancy seven years worth of cloth diapers. There were, extended over many years, clothing sewn or knitted; pajamas, robes, vests, Halloween costumes, and sweaters, designed to be comforting, warm, cozy or funny reminders to the recipient that the maker loved them enough to create something especially for them. And above it all was the devotion and perseverance solidly represented by incalculable loads of family laundry collected, carted, sorted, washed, put in the dryer or carried wet and soggy to the clothesline, hung out for fresh air and bleaching sunlight, all pinned to the line in calculated arrangement to maximize use of space on the line but not bring it down entirely. At the other end of a constantly repeated cycle was the folding; piles of sweet baby things, piles of little boy jeans with reinforced knees, numerous white t-shirts, mountains of socks to match in pairs and all the sheets, towels, and linen handkerchiefs that kept dear ones happy, healthy and presentable.

To make, select, handle, or care for the clothing of another are acts rooted in devoted love, a love that permeates the daily and survives it. And who, out of this brand of devotion, cared for Jesus in the weekly round of things; who met this simple elemental need; who thereby touched his life so intimately? Who did it? How did it feel in the doing? How did this loving one survive at the foot of the Cross?

These images of service, drudgery, devotion and generous labor belong largely to women and because of my own life experience as daughter, wife, and mother, they brought me to a very deep and very sensitive place. I felt the love of the maker and caretaker of Jesus' garments. I could envision the silent yet deeply felt, both given and received, expressions of service and gratitude; the unspoken bond of intimate relationship. This was a small yet clear window through which I saw the undocumented but certain reality which was translated into the language of love at the Cross.

With the help of Wendy Wright in her book, "The Rising - Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter and Pentecost" (Upper Room Books, 1994), I saw too that in recognizing the intimacy and love present in these acts I connected in an unprecedented way to the implications of Jesus' act of service at the Last Supper. He became a slave, virtually synonymous with the place of a woman in Jewish culture, by touching and washing the feet of those who considered him their leader, teacher, inspiration, and Lord. Foot washing was an endlessly repeated task, as endlessly repetitive as caring for the laundry of a family and also virtually thankless. And it is this kind of act that Jesus chooses to communicate his radical love in that teachable moment. Wright points to Jesus' role here as that of nurturer. He feeds and bathes and gives a new command. "Love a new way. Love by care taking. Love by being available to one another. Love by serving." (Wright, 90)

So in the feel of the fabric, in the tedium of pressing a cincture, in the imagining of who it was that made and cared for the clothing of Jesus, I was drawn into an experience of that new place to which I was being called, that new level or quality of relationship. The intuition that had floated in and out of my consciousness, so ephemeral and illusive, was given substance by the grace of a work in the fertility of silence.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Your touch can call us back again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
John M.C. Crum

The first week of Easter is celebrated in the liturgy as a week of Easter Sundays replete with sung offices, Psalm antiphons of the Resurrection Feast, the Te Deum at Office of Readings, and Paschal candle alight in constant announcement that "The Lord has risen, alleluia, alleluia." It is also monastic tradition that nuns be allowed a period of solemn recreation in celebration of the great Easter feast. Therefore we enjoyed two full days of 'recreation'; that is free time to do some work, to write letters or e-mail, or to see a film; conversation at all meals (we usually eat our main noonday meal in silence but listening to a tape or some reading); and lots of goodies through the generosity of our friends.

Tonight, at the close of the Easter Octave, as we sang the Easter antiphons for Vespers (Evening Prayer), I was very aware that we would not be singing those beautiful and evocative melodies again for another year. But the season is not entirely over and we hold its mystery in our hearts as we anticipate the day of Pentecost. This is a particularly special day for us as it marks the founding of our Order in 1731.

On Saturday we hosted a meeting of over 50 contemplative nuns representing eight different orders. We are all members of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities which marks its fortieth anniversary this year. What began as a vehicle for discussion and education regarding the renewal of religious life called for by the Second Vatican Council has developed into an continuing source of mutual support, encouragement and on-going formation in contemplative religious life.

As for me, I have been busy making a habit in the Benedictine style for a friend of our community. Working in white and without a pattern was like tightrope walking without a net. But in the midst of this challenge, in the midst of working on this project alone and in silence, a graced intuition was given to me as gift for the Sacred Triduum and the Easter celebration. I hope to have more to say about this experience in the future.

Let us all follow the advice of Fr. Patrick Woods at the end of his Easter Vigil homily; just as you tried to devote yourself to your Lenten practices, be equally as diligent in praising and enjoying the gifts of fifty days of Easter. May you be blessed with Resurrection joy.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Lord is Risen, Alleluia!

Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Sing choirs of angels!

Exult all creation around God's throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shinning splendor,

radiant in the brightness of your King!

Christ has conquered, glory fills you!

Darkness vanishes forever!

Exultet of Easter Vigil Liturgy

It is a profound privilege for our community of contemplative nuns to have had a complete daily horarium of prayer and all of the liturgies of Holy Week in our monastery. We are deeply indebted to the Very Reverend Father Patrick Woods, Provincial of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation of the Holy Redeemer as the principal celebrant at our Triduum liturgies. His homilies speak words from his heart and they enter ours most touchingly, inspiring faith, encouraging perseverance, and always pointing to the incredible redeeming love of Jesus Christ. At this evening's Easter Vigil, Father Woods was joined by Father Dennis Billy, Professor at the Redemptorist Alphonisanum in Rome. Father Dennis is a great friend of our community. Tomorrow he will celebrate Easter morning mass for us and our guests.

Our days of Holy Week Retreat began on Wednesday. Days of limited work (but Holy week is always busy in a monastery as in a local parish), silent meals, ample time to sit with the Word, to ponder its meaning, to open oneself the words God wishes them to speak in our hearts - all of this prepares us for the wonder and mystery of this day of all days. We can truly say, "O Happy fault."

Father Woods' direction to us at the close of the Vigil was that just as we had tried to keep the forty days of Lent well, we should celebrate the fifty days of Easter tide with equal dedication. Alleluia!

Friday, April 06, 2007

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the
power of God.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,
and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 20

Listen to me on the Cathedral of the Cross, which I have
placed in your heart so that I may live my life in you as
a pilgrim, crucified in this world. You shall see me in your
Spirit, crucified on the bare cross of poverty, crucified in
your body with the weakness of sickness, crucified in your
spirit in your aridity, dereliction, and melancholy,
your weariness and bereft of any consolation.
And I shall bring this about in such a way that everything
will be for you both a cross and peace
as also for me, a pilgrim.

Jesus speaking to Maria Celeste Crostarosa
Dialogues #9

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Servant of the Servants of God

Monastic Holy

We have an example
of humility.In God's
name let each of us
humble our heart at
the sight of the high
majesty who washes
the feet of the fishermen.
The most honored among
us is the the most humble.

Italian Lauda - Fourteenth Century

Sr. Paula Schmidt, O.Ss.R, Prioress washing the feet of her sisters.

Contemplative nuns and monks have the option within their monasteries to have the superior be the person who acts as Christ in the Holy Thursday ritual foot washing, one of the most beautiful and evocative jestures of our sacred liturgies. Performed slowly, with great dignity and generosity, the ceremony touches one to the core, to the depths of the heart. Jesus wanted us to wash each others' feet without regard of all the ways we tend to categorize, label, and evaluate each other. None of that matters at all. Love is the only thing that matters and love changes everything. Last Sunday we meditated upon the Gospel pericope of the annointing at Bethany, so important to the early Christians that it appears in each of the four Gospels. The woman pre-figures Jesus' action in her own. She already gets his message of love. And now Jesus models it for all.

Do you know what I have done to you?
You call me Teacher and Lord
and you are right, for that is what I am.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you."

John 13:12-15

Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet.
Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch.

New Zealand Prayer Book

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Surrendering pride of place,
once omnipotent snow
now sun-kissed crystalline blue,
retreats from winter redoubt
powerless before silent encroachment;
spring's relentless heated embrace.

Resisting vulnerability,
icy shield gives way unevenly.
Soft edges rounded,
certain revelation of true terrain beneath,
bringing to day's light
every jagged rock and gnarled old-growth clump;
each faint memory of bloom long passed.

So too in silent seasons of the heart
a passionate kiss of the Sun
melts icy shield,
winter redoubt of delicate Self,
exposing features of fleshy terrain
wounded and scarred, defeated or crowned.

The Sun, finding all irresistible,
presses the human heart to eager lips.
The kiss of His mouth,
radiant, healing heat;
springtime of the Lover's ardor
for every war-torn soul.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest."
Luke 19: 38