Monday, May 28, 2007

We Honor the Brave Dead and Pray for Peace in Iraq

(Excerpt from Midday Prayer before our Memorial Day Picnic)

Lord of hope and compassion, Friend of Abraham who called our father in faith to journey to a new future, we remember before you the country of Iraq from which he was summoned, the ancient land of the Middle East, realm of the two rivers, birthplace of great cities and of civilization. May we who name ourselves children of Abraham, call to mind all the peoples of the Middle East who honor him as father; those who guard and celebrate the Torah; those for whom the Word has walked on earth and lived among us; those who follow their prophet, who listened for the word in the desert and shaped a community after what he heard.

Lord of reconciliation, God of the painful sacrifice uniting humankind, we long for the day when you will provide for all nations of the earth your blessing of peace. But now when strife and war are at hand, help us to see in each other a family likeness, our inheritance from our one father Abraham. Keep hatred from the threshold of our hearts, and preserve within us a generous spirit which recognizes in
both foe and friend a common humanity.
(Alan and Clare Amos -Iona Community – )

We praise and thank you, our loving God, for all those down through the ages and into our own time whose sacrifices made it possible for us to utter this prayer. For our peace and freedom and the feast laid before us make us truly grateful. This we ask in the name of the one who came to offer us the costly gift of abundant life, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tribute to Father Thomas Travers

Please do not miss the post of May 21, an effort to salute a great friend and Redemptoristist priest celebrating his 50th jubilee of religious profession on May 27. Father Tom has been a gift to this community of contemplative nuns. We are most grateful to him and to his generous Rector, Father George Keaveney, and the other priests at Mount St. Alphonsus for providing daily Eucharist in our chapel.

On this Pentecost Sunday, may the winds of the Holy Spirit blow mightily through our world bringing peace and justice to all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Pentecost Sequence
Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, Holy Spirit, come,
and from your celestial home
shed a ray of light divine.
Come, Father of the poor,
come, source of our store.
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters best;
you the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below.
In our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.
O most Blessed Light Divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost beings fill.
Where you are not, we have naught;
nothing good in deed or thought;
nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour your dew;
wash the stains of guilt away.
Bend the stubborn heart and will.
Melt the frozen, warm the chill.
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
and confess you, evermore
in Your sevenfold gift descend.
Give us virtue's sure reward.
Give us your salvation, Lord.
Give us joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

Pentecost is a great feast for our Order. It recalls the great mystery of the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus Christ to send His Spirit to be with us as wisdom and guide and companion. But for Redemptoristines it is the foundation day of the Order, the day of its birth on the Feast of Pentecost in Scala, Italy in 1731. In that small hillside town above Naples, Maria Celeste Crostarosa's vision, the inspiration received from Jesus himself, came to fruition. Shortly to be clothed in red, the color of love, they were to be imbued with the identity and virtuous nature of the Savior himself; to become his viva memoria, his living memory and witness to all of the immeasurable love of the redeeming Christ. By their way of life, their constancy in prayer their mutual charity they were to be flesh and blood illustrations of Jesus who had told Maria Celeste, "If they ask you who I am, tell them I am pure love."

This evening, with the close of Compline (Night Prayer) we will enter three days of retreat in preparation for Sunday's great solemnity. Daily we invoke the Holy Spirit to penetrate our world ever more deeply so that unity, peace, justice and the preservation of all God's creation will become our reality.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ad Multos Annos, Father Tom

Redemptorist Priest Father Thomas Travers

Celebrates the 50th Julilee


Professsion in Religious Life

on Sunday, May 27, 2007

Solemnity of Pentecost

Father Tom celebrating Mass on Easter Sunday 2007 at Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery of the Redemptoristine Nuns, Mount Saint Alphonsus, Esopus, New York

In these times, many monastic communities of nuns do not have the benefit of daily Mass because fewer priests are available to come to offer the Liturgy of the Eucharist with them. Our community has had the great benefit of close proximity to Redemptorists at Mount St. Alphonsus in its days as a seminary and now as a retreat center. In the seminary's hay day not only daily Mass was assured. Professors of Sacred Scripture, Theology and Psychology came to the monastery to offer their class lectures. The sisters report that this input was a real boon to them in the days of renewal after the Second Vatican Council. They speak too of many fond relationships forged in faith sharing and general discussion, not to mention the pleasure and laughter generated by groups of seminarians coming to the monastery to present their amateur theatricals. For some seminarians, the sisters both collectively and individually were sources of wisdom and encouragement by example and prayer.

Today we are privileged and blessed by he ministry and friendship of four priests in residence at the Mount. Father Thomas Travers offers mass here two to three times a week. He brings a lifetime of broad ministerial experience, the depth of a compassionate pastor, and personal knowledge of Jesus honed by prayer, service to the poorest of the poor, and academic study. He served as a missionary in Puerto Rice and the Dominican Republic and later as Provincial for Puerto Rico. In well-crafted homilies reflecting his commitment to mission, his love for the most abandoned, and the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime we are always touched in our hearts, stimulated in faith, and challenged to renew each day the Christian commitment to on-going transformation in Christ.

As if all of that was not enough, Father Tom likes to laugh and likes to make other people laugh. Being a born and bred Boston-Irish Red Sox fan contributes to the mix. A further contribution to his well-balanced approach to life is his pleasure in tinkering whether the object be a jeep engine (a skill learned in the seminary), a jury-rigged water filtration system, or construction of an intriguing bird house. And everything is shared with generosity - the faith, the ministry, the mechanical skills and the unassuming humor.

Father Tom has done us all the favor of creating a BLOG to which he publishes his homilies. I urge you to visit the site. Excerpts of his homily given on Sunday, May 20 appear below.

AD MULTOS ANNOS, Father Tom. Thank you for your faithfulness to your religious profession and for the gift you are to our community.


One of the greatest sermons that Jesus ever preached was not with words. It was the sermon he preached by his actions, specifically by the way he treated his apostles, his apostles who were power seeking, envious, and as he himself said “were slow to understand” (“slow learners”, as we would say today), his apostles who abandoned him when he needed them most… one denying him three times and the another betraying him for 30 pieces of silver.

And yet, after all that he suffered with them, and knowing all that he would suffer for them afterwards, Jesus still calls them, in today’s gospel, a GIFT, the gift that the Father gave him. They were often a burden, a stumbling block to his mission, slow to comprehend and yet he calls them a GIFT. Can you imagine! And then he does what you do with all gifts: first, he gives thanks for them to the Father and secondly, he cherishes them, he holds them in his hand and puts them in a special place in his heart.

It is a powerful sermon, perhaps one of his most powerful, and it should cause us to reflect on how we see and treat others… how we see our brothers and sisters in family and in community. Do we sometimes see each other as a burden around my neck, an obstacle to overcome in my personal path to salvation or as a necessary evil in community life? Do we sometimes long to be a hermit, or to live on an island, or be on a perpetual retreat where we don’t have to worry nor attend to our horizontal relationships to others and can have all the time we want to attend to our vertical relationship with God? We can dream of a life like that a life of just me and God, with no one else to get in the way.

The gospel today challenges us to reflect on how we see others who are part of our life or who come into our life. Sometimes we honestly see them as burden and they turn out to be a great gift.

I think it is good, every once in a while, to look around at the people in our life, or those who come into our life and ask ourselves how we see them, how we treat them. Do we see them as God’s gift to us, as a gift that we cherish? This is what Jesus did for his apostles and what he does for each of us today. He tells us that we are his gift from the Father and he gives thanks to the father for us and holds us in the special place in his heart. AMEN.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Universal Impulse to Contemplation

(not just for contemplative nuns!)
Jesus, sweetest name, be the daily music of my soul and the joy of my heart that when in the agony and pangs of death the last sigh of my soul may be "Jesus."

We have come across a comparatively new magazine entitled Spirituality & Health. The subtitle reads "the soul and body connection." It would be hard to find something more indicative of specific features of today's popular culture. First, it points to the distinction made these days between being 'religious' and being 'spiritual.' Two of my three sons, real Gen-Xers, have told me that when engaged in conversation with those curious about their mother's life choice, they find themselves speaking of me as not typically 'religious' (read as: institution-bound, conservative, narrow minded) but rather as 'spiritual' (read as: one following a contemplative path, searching for universal truth via the divine, open minded). These distinctions reflect an abhorrence for institutionalization of any kind which is perceived as automatically threatening to personal freedom.

The second value of current culture demonstrated here is the emphasis on the body; its appearance, its comfort; its general health. This focus includes at its extremes addiction to diet and exercise as well as drugs, an explosion of anorexia and bulimia, a preoccupation with fashion and generalized materialism.

However, when I open the magazine I wanted to cry out, "Me thinks they doth protest too much." The contents draw readers over and over again to philosophies and practices rooted in the world's great religious traditions. A sample of articles is revelatory: "Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?"; "Bead Here and Now" - How and why to make prayer beads; "Extreme Simplicity" - A theologian takes us on a guided tour of timeless lessons form the fourth-century desert dwellers. There seems little awareness that in rejecting the institutional, aka the established world religions, the very environments which gave birth to these traditions is being jettisoned. These traditions give testimony to the universal human impulse to contemplation; to the fact that human beings are innately spiritual and drawn to the transcendent.

A particular article especially drew my attention: "The Sufi Practice for Healing Your Heart - A crisis in the life of a cardiologist open him to the miraculous power of an ancient cure." The author describes a practice from the tradition of the Sufis, the mystical branch of Islam. This points to the fact lost to many, that each religious tradition has a mystical expression. Jewish mysticism is expressed in the Kabbalah. Perhaps the most well known expressions of Christian mysticism may be found in the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

The Sufi practice, as out lined by the author, can be summarized in this way:

Use meditation beads

Set aside at least 15 minutes a day initially

Sit comfortably erect

Breathe through the nose and exhale deeply and rhythmically

On the exhale speak the name "Allah" slowly

Allow the sound to resonate in the region of your heart

Aim for 500 repetitions

As I read, I thought immediately of the most ancient and honored Christian tradition of the Jesus Prayer. I must say that the article served a good purpose in bringing me back to this prayer in my own life. However, it seemed a pity that many nominal Christians reading this piece would not be aware of its roots in their own tradition, a tradition which came to birth within an institution.

I renewed my devotion to the practice of the Jesus prayer, rejecting the beads, but placing my right hand over my heart and slowly invoking the name of Jesus at exhaling each breath. In the healing context, utterance of The Name was, for me, an invocation, an appeal, for its healing power to enter into my heart and spread like a balm within every corpuscle. It is a prayer for healing and simultaneous conversion of heart.

The process drew me to a venerable text in our monastery library, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology (London: Faber and Faber, 1966) complied by Igumen Chariton of Valamo and edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware. The author was a Russian monk who, during the years between the two world wars, put together a volume of passages concerning prayer from sources dating from the 4th century Desert Fathers into the 20th century. It is a gold mine. These holy souls speak of the ancient tradition of the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

Here are two excerpts from the text, both from Theophane the Recluse(1815-94):

To raise up the mind towards the Lord, and to say with contrition: "Lord, have mercy! Lord, grant Thy blessing! Lord, help! - this is to cry out in prayer to God. But if feeling towards God is born and lives in your heart, then you will possess unceasing prayer, even though your lips recite no words and your body is not outwardly in a posture of prayer.

You regret that the Jesus Prayer is not unceasing, that you do not recite it constantly. But constant repetition is not required. What is required is a constant aliveness to god - an aliveness present when you talk, read, watch, or examine something. But since you are already practising the Jesus Prayer in the correct manner, continue as you are doing now, and in due course the prayer will widen its scope.

Quite an invitation! What a calling!

The little quote offered at the beginning of this essay is a pious ejaculation taught to my sophomore class in high school by a blessed Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York. It is one of the few things I remember verbatim from those years. But that invocation of The Name has stayed with me through the years, an example of the durability of ancient traditions in our Church, which are today being rediscovered in the most unlikely places. The Holy Spirit is, indeed, at work in our world.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Buzz Re: 20/20 Contemplative Nuns Segment Continues

Just received an interesting comment re: the 20/20 segment about cloistered contemplative Poor Clares in Rosewell, New Mexico and Trappistines in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Many thanks for the kind words.

Want to apologize for failing to post another comment - it got lost in cyper space. But I am grateful that it offered a correction. I mistakenly wrote that the young women interviewed were participating in a 'come and see' experience at the Poor Clares. That is not so. They were visiting the Trappistines

Today we rejoiced in the Ascension of Jesus Christ to His place at the right hand of the Father and anticipate the fulfillment of His promise, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Our Order was founded on the Feast of Pentecost so it is a special day for us.

These days I have been busy preparing our spring newsletter which contains an invitation to our annual Novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help June 19-27.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ABC "20/20" Special On Faith in America

Just a Comment……..

Cannot let pass an opportunity to add my ‘two cents worth’ to the current buzz concerning ABC Television’s 20/20 program on Friday, May 11. The topic of the two-hour special edition was religious faith and its various expressions and complications as seen in the United States.
In our monastery we watched the second hour of the program which we had video taped. I had visited the website of the program read some narration and watched a video clip, therefore I knew what to expect. The media is rarely interested in middle positions on any matter even though the center is broad and held by the majority. Rather, the media is interested in extremes at both ends. From the video clip I saw at the website, I concluded that the producers were interested more in titillating than inspiring. The sisters interviewed at the Poor Care Monastery in Roswell, New Mexico fairly oozed with over sweet spousal imagery. I do find this imagery privately appealing but to the general audience it must have seemed quite a perversion of human sexuality. There was excessive attention given to the superficial (straw mattresses, bare feet, restricted reading and family visitation, the 'cool' habit, etc.).

They also visited the Trappistine Monastery in Wrentham, Massachusetts which is much more forward thinking. But the differences between the two monasteries were not sufficiently brought out.

The segment about contemplative nuns was bracketed by stories which added to my unease. One concerned "Little Audrey" a young woman who, as a child, drowned in the family pool and was brought back to life but remained in a vegetative state. A cult gradually grew up around her and the holy images in her house that produced oils, etc. She died recently. The segment following the nun piece also ended the program and was concerned with Catholic exorcisms done in Europe and this country. Focusing on one case in Connecticut, they interviewed the priest exorcist and presented him as a regular Catholic priest. I later learned that he is a sedevacantist (the position that the last valid pope was Pius XII) and should never have been presented as a 'mainline' Catholic priest.

The contents of the segment on nuns and the nature of the stories bracketing it indicate the unfortunate sensationalist tone of the coverage. It was a great disappointment. Interviews with four young women considering entrance into the Roswell community were very real and honest but one wonders about the staying power of intense counter-cultural religious fervor and attraction to superficialities like ‘cool’ habits, routines and mannerisms. It seemed an isolationist spirituality with little depth and did not reflect in any way the call to deep interior conversion accomplished, at least in part, by the commitment to community life, the arena where the rubber hits the road.

In the meantime we look forward to viewing "Into Great Silence" in a local theater next month. Hopefully this beautiful silent documentary produced at the monastery of Grande Chartreuse will provide greater inspiration than ABC Television's misguided effort.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Spiritual 'Estate' of a Contemplative Nun

Sister Mary Catherine Parks, OSsR

"Put on the mind of Christ,
that is, his attitudes,
from which will flow
all his words and deeds.
Only then will we be able to say:
Now, not I, but Christ lives in me,
and Christ will say to us:
"Now I can make of you
a viva memoria of me."
from "A Pool in a Deep Forest" by
Sr. Mary Catherine Parks, OSsR

Sister Mary Catherine Parks was 'a late vocation'. She chose to follow her call to religious life and leave the exciting milieu of post-W.W.II Washington, D.C. where she met and worked with many who challenged and inspired her including Eleanor Roosevelt. In the early 50s she entered the Redemptoristine Monastery in Toronto, Canada - the place she expected to be her home for the rest of her life. But in a few short years she would be the superior of a group of six nuns commissioned with the task of responding to the Redemptorist invitation to establish a Redemptoristine foundation on the grounds of their seminary in Esopus, New York on the banks of the Hudson.

She was second oldest in the group. Her age, education, work experience, commitment to Jesus Christ and the contemplative life suited her for the endeavor. None of the sisters realized at the time that, hard on the heels of their adjustment to new surroundings and autonomy as an independent monastery, even greater challenges would come with the call to renewal of religious life following the Second Vatican Council.

Because she entered at an age well into her 30s, Sister Mary Catherine never expected to see the 50th anniversary of her profession of vows. But she arrived at that milestone and was joined in celebration by her sisters and members of her family. Upon her death, four years ago today, her beloved friend in community, Sister Peg Banville, found issues of the Redemptorist publication Spiritus Patris, in which there appeared some of Sister Mary Catherine's spiritual reflections. We have gathered those reflections together and published them in a small book entitled A Pool in a Deep Forest. I share here some excerpts, views into how one contemplative nun experienced moments of the spiritual journey and the graces with which she was most blessed throughout her life.
In the depth of my being, there has been, as it were, a maypole, and I have been indiscriminately pursuing the multiplicity of projects and activities swirling on its streamers: important and unimportant ones, personal and communal duties, and mere desires concerning myself, others, and my community, as though I must take care of all of them at one time. Now I must destroy this wild maypole and raise in its stead a tree of life, a Christ-pole, on which I will discover each day activities planned for me by the Lord, for there is no limit to the ambiance of his will; it touches the least thing in our lives.

To surrender self-autonomy and all our agendas to Christ so that he can establish his Kingdom within us is our only hope for inner peace, integration, and fulfillment as a person. The me that is thus fulfilled will then be another Christ. That me is then a shadow of Jesus and a prism of his love; yet it will not be I; it will be Christ living in me.

As I aged I hoped that I would be better. On the contrary, I find my lion, though weaker, still difficult to control. I thank God for his patience with me and pray he will continue to be patient, as I try in my community arena to make my lion and lamb lie down together, side by side, beside Jesus and my sisters. For nothing is impossible for God.

Friday, May 11, 2007

So Many Books, So Little Time

When I was in first grade I loved to walk around the house carrying under my arm what was probably an old high school history text left around by by uncle. I had underlined all the words I could read, mostly monosyllabic. It seemed absolutely natural to have a book as constant companion because there were lots of books in our house and my father was always reading them. Later on, an ideal summer day for my sister and I would be packing a lunch, biking to the new public library (formerly just two storefronts), loading up on biographies with a Louisa May Alcott thrown in and then riding down to the bike path running along Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn. Trees were rare but there was a cluster we aimed for, a place where we could spread out and read to our hearts content. We'd time our excursion with the arrival of huge ocean liners heading for the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island (where the Verrezano Bridge now stands). If time allowed we would venture farther to the Staten Island Ferry which we could board with our bikes and take the breezy trip across the Narrows and back for a mere five cents! Am I old, or what?

This is all by way of drawing your attention to some new books listed in the side bar. Scroll down and take a look. You'll see that this former librarian and always avid reader has rather eclectic tastes. The Jungians among you will love the James Hollis books. I happened upon the "Raising Boys" book in the public library. It looked like it might offer a good refresher course for me as I revamp my style for two grandsons. The book about the influenza epidemic (1918-1920) was recommended by the members of the reading group I started a few years before entering the monastery. They consider me their member emeritus and come to the monastery once a year for a meeting. I have kept on the list two books about monastic life. Since many people have seen or are waiting to see the German documentary "Into Great Silence" filmed in the Carthusian Monastery of Grande Chartreuse, I thought them still timely.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

When Mothers Become Contemplative Nuns - Part I

"Home" by Matthew Pleva (pencil drawing, original 2x3 inches)
Gift on the day of my entrance into the monastery

A mid-twentieth century experience of American Catholicism gives a rather distorted view of the history of religious life. It leaves little room for the reality of diversity and the ups, as well as the downs, of vowed life throughout the history of the Church. As illustration I offer my memory of those who became sisters when I was a teenager. At the end of my freshman year in a small private Catholic academy for girls in Brooklyn, New York, circa 1960, five graduating seniors entered the teaching congregation which staffed the school. Two years later, another student from that class entered a cloistered community. All of the sisters I knew at the time had entered as teenagers with the exception of one who was considered a 'late vocation', because she postponed entering until she graduated from college. I believe that this label stayed with her throughout religious life tagging her as somewhat the oddball. In hind sight, I see that it was not only age that separated her but also the natural difference in viewpoint and exposure she carried as a result of four years of higher education as a lay person. The experience of large annual (in some cases semi-annual) entrance classes persisted from the 1930s into the 1960s. For the average Catholic this was 'the' way people entered religious life. More rare but also possible were the sisters' juniorates, and preparatory levels of seminaries and brotherhoods that accepted young people in their early teens. While we viewed this a the norm, the homogeneity suggested here was a small blip in the historical time line. It is important to note here that the blip so described ended with the mid-1960s and the promulgation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Of the five young women I knew who entered the teaching congregation in 1960 only one remained a sister by 1970. The woman who entered the cloister remained for only five years.

Recently I have been doing some research concerning St. Hilda of Whitby (England, 614-680C.E) Venerable Bede recorded her achievements as the foundress and Abbess of a double monastery of both women and men. Double monasteries were not unusual at the time. The Council of Whitby (664) was held at her monastery and she participated in the discussions by which it was determined that the Northumbrian Celtic Church would give way to the practices of the Roman discipline. Hild (Celtic name) did not enter a monastery until the advanced age of 33. We have to remind ourselves that the average life span for a woman at that time was little more than forty years. My research also revealed that historians today think it probable that Hild had been married and widowed before making the decision to enter religious life. If this is so, it marks a continuation of more ancient tradition dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries in which it was common for widows, as well as virgins, to flee to the 'desert' to emulate the reclusion of the great monk, St. Anthony.

Closer to our own time, we have the example of St. Jeanne Frances De Chantal, widow, mother and co-foundress of he Order of the Visitation. In 1610, she and then Bishop of Geneva founded the Order of the Visitation of Mary, "a congregation dedicated to prayer and works of charity. Their original intention was that the order would be adapted for widows and other women who, for reasons of health or age, could not endure the rigors of enclosed life. But the plan met with such carping disapproval from ecclesiastical authorities that in the end Jeanne consented to accept enclosure. Jeanne's daughters were married by this time, but her fifteen-year-old son...resisted his mother's plan to enter religious life. He was the occasion of a melodramatic test, for which Jeanne is especially remembered. Laying his body across the threshold of their home, he implored her not to leave. Without hesitating she stepped over him and proceeded on her way." (from All Saints by Robert Ellsberg, Crossroads Books, 1997)

Fortunately I did not have to step over anyone's prostrate body. When I entered in 2000 my three sons were 28, 25 and 23 years old respectively. The oldest was married, middle one graduated from college and the third finishing up at a community college. Responding to the current phenomenon of young adults returning to their childhood homes I jokingly say, "They came home and I left." My oldest son was initially concerned about the fate of his brothers without benefit of my steady hand, not to mention the checkbook to cover expenses. Since our house carried an old, very affordable, and nearly paid off mortgage, these two have easily taken on the responsibility of home owners. Without a mother paying the the phone and AOL bills, etc., they have come into their own as mature, responsible young man. They feel fortunate to be living in the only home they have ever known. The drawing above is my artist son's rendering of that house. A light shines in only one window, the window of what was my bedroom. He said that is what they saw when they came home every night.

These three became my staunchest supporters. I like to think that the gift of freedom they gave to me was a sign of their gratitude for many gifts of freedom and respect I gave them as individuals and mature young men during my seventeen years as a single parent.

"So, what's a 'Dies Non'?"

Rose at 5am this morning to put ingredients into a crockpot for slow cooking real baked beans! I'm in charge of the kitchen right now and it is just like all those years of dealing with, "What's for dinner, Mom?" Yesterday included miles of walking through supermarkets, one of which is being completely reorganized and you all know what that means - time, time, time.

So, what is a 'dies non'? This too is an old monastic tradition continued by contemplative nuns and monks in some communities. This a 'no day' or 'non-day', a day off to do those many things that you have been wanting to do and not been able to get to doing; letter writing, taking your room apart for spring cleaning, hiking through the fields in your 'civvies', gardening, watching a special that was aired on public television and videotaped for future use, reading to your hearts content, working on a personal project, etc., etc.

At this moment the sun is rising over the eastern hills of Dutchess County revealing what promises to be a perfectly beautiful day. After Morning Prayer at 8am I plan to get comfortable, grab the camera and walk to an orchard on the property. It should be in full bloom. May post some photos later. Afterward some sewing on a patchwork wall-hanging featuring embroidered 'turkey work' blocks - a gift from a friend which I would like to return to her in gratitude for her great generosity to our community. Lunch, our main meal prepared by our cook, will be a talkative and relaxed affair. These days often see us lingering longer at table sharing stories and activities. We will have Mass at 5pm and then Vespers at 6pm with the rest of the evening free.

A 'dies non' also allows for prayer in different venues; in the blooming orchard, at the cometary where we may commune with our sisters and Redemptorist friends and ask for their intercession on our behalf, or while contemplating the beauty of all God's creation illustrated by trees greening before our eyes, eagles soaring above the river, a myriad of small birds visiting our feeder. All of nature becomes a chapel.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spring Springing

Wish it weren't so difficult to get photos up on the blog. Blogger defies placing them in an artistic fashion. Just hope they are enjoyed and communicate something of the great beauty washing over us here in the Hudson River Valley. As I write, these photos are moving on the 'page' in unanticipated ways. Such fun!

It is the fortunate contemplative nun who has such views surrounding her monastery. Our monastery shares acres and acres with Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat Center, formerly a Redemptoristist seminary (1907-1985). A short downhill walk can bring you to the banks of the beautiful Hudson River where we can find nesting Canadian geese, patient fishermen sounding the river, kayakers paddling along, and sail boats so lovely they take your breath away. I often think of the Hudson River School of painters who were enchanted with this scenic geography. This morning's sunrise was suitable subject for oils on canvas as is the chiaroscuro vision in morning mist.

Comments Indicate Much Interest in Contemplative Nuns

While I have not been innundated with responses to the inquires I made last week, I have been gratified by those answers. Apparantly there is a great deal of interest in our life, in prayer, and also in my personal story which seems quite a curiosity. Reading a post I put up back in March - remarks at my Solemn Profession in 2006 - will give you an idea of how miraculous it is that I am here at all. I plan to give attention to providing some answers to the questions posed. There was also some interest in what exactly is the Liturgy of the Hours. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Devotion of a Life Time - 55 Years as a Contemplative Nun

Sr. Paula Rae Schmidt - 2007 and c. 1957

Today we celebrated the

feast of the Apostle Saints Philip and James by singing from the Common of Apostles for the Office (Liturgy of the Hours). Another way in which we traditionally mark such feasts is by enjoying conversation at our typically silent noon day meal. Today there was another reason for our Easter joy. It was a day filled with especially meaningful memories for our Prioress, Sr. Paula, who marked the 55th anniversary of her profession of vows in Toronto, Canada. Sr. Paula is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the tender age of nineteen, in the middle of her college sophomore year, accompanied by her somewhat reluctant mother, she traveled by train to the only Redemptoristine monastery in North America at that time. She had not seen the monastery. Nor had she ever spoken to the sisters. A simple exchange of letters satisfied to gain her acceptance for entrance into the community. The decision may have been a foregone conclusion since she had four cousins who were Redemptorist priests.

Our table conversation was a feast of memories. Sr. Paula told of thinking that she had been told to bring enough regular clothing for one year (the sisters really meant underwear) and bringing a trunk full of lovely clothes which were promptly sent home. During their first conversation with a few sisters, Paula found that her mother was answering all of the questions really addressed to her as if her mother wanted to assure that the community would know they were receiving a prize. One accomplishment mentioned was that of being able to play the piano. The next evening, with mother now gone, Paula was asked to play the piano at recreation. She really did not know anything classical by heart so she played "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Gradually the memory sharing moved to the families left behind, how difficult it was to know that you would never be going home again and the sacrifices made by family members to come to the monastery to see their much-loved daughters and sisters. Sr. Peg spoke of her mother who visited her here in Esopus every year traveling by train from Toronto and staying overnight in Albany to wait for a suitable time of arrival according to the monastic schedule. In the end grandsons came along to carry the luggage of their 80-year old grandmother.

Sr. Lydia spoke of leaving mother and father and seven brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and how one brother visiting a year after her entrance tried to persuade her to quit it all and come home with him. She just laughed.

All of these sisters agreed that the reforms of religious life which followed the Second Vatican Council allowing them to leave the cloister upon the death of a parent, to assist in caring for a sick family member or to be present to families now expanding with nieces and nephews was a sound, compassionate and grace-giving change. Each visit was an occasion to consider again the nature of ones commitment, the needs of those in other demanding vocations, the realities of life 'in the world', and the necessity of prayer. Such trips away from the monastery are also opportunities for a loving exercise of generosity on the part of the contemplative monastic community whose memebers make it possible for a sister to be present to her family in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

Today were are exceedingly grateful for the perseverance of Sr. Paula and the other senior memebers of our community. And we are blessed to be given the gift of their sharing of memories. We are blessed also and encouraged by their model of faithfulness, charity and love for their Spouse, Jesus Christ.