Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Passion of Mother Teresa

Out of the effort to gather the writings of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in accord with the cause for her canonization has come a collection of her journal entries and correspondence with a variety of spiritual directors. They reveal the startling news of her lengthy and very deep 'dark night of the soul'. For forty to fifty years she lacked any felt sense of the presence of God or assurance of the intimacy of her Spouse, and questioned the existence of God.

This is the topic of the cover story in the August 23, 2007 issue of TIME MAGAZINE. One wonders not only at the profound mystery of God's work in the soul of such a servant as Teresa but also at the respectful and lengthy consideration of such revelations in the secular press.

This great woman who ministered to the most abandoned languishing in the streets of India has now become REAL to me, and her reality is both consolation and encouragement for all who struggle at the depths of the human condition - weakness, lack of courage, depression, and the struggle to maintain energy for perseverance in the journey.

With the help of one of a long line of spiritual advisers, Mother Teresa came finally to see that this stark and painful reality was the answer to the sincere desire she uttered in prayer, "I want to give all." With nothing material left to give and spending all of her energy on God's "little ones", the last gift she had to give was the consolation found in certainty. In another sense, as she experienced greater and greater success in her mission she was provided with the corrective to any tendency to cater to the ego.

With this in mind, I now experience Mother Teresa as a flesh and blood figure, no longer a one dimensional caricature of the perpetually joyous and perpetually certain. Out of this revelation of her truth she emerges as an even more heroic figure yet, at the same time, also more accessible. Is a fearless soldier ever truly brave? He has no inner struggle to conquer before stepping into the line of fire. How much greater the the bravery and achievement of the one who must acknowledge and overcome paralyzing fear and revulsion in the gut in order to enter into battle?

Mother Teresa, we now know, overcame more than we ever imagined and persevered in spite of harsh interior desolation. How much more heroic she appears in a three-dimensional portrait!
How does this news hit you?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Prayers for Vocations Answered in a Remote Diocese

On August 19th, my dear friend, Maria Paz Arnes, professed temporary vows as a hermit in the Diocese of Prince George, British Columbia, Canada in accord with Canon 603 of the Roman Catholic Church. Hers has been a long journey beginning in the Basque country of Spain, stopping in Mexico and the U.S. and now arriving in the very young city of Prince George, four hundred and fifty miles north of Vancouver. In the early 19th century it was a fur trading outpost. In the early 20th century it was in corporated and dominated by the logging industry. On the longest day of the year in June, the sun sets at 11pm and rises at 3am! Temperatures of 40 degrees below zero are not unusual. To get anywhere you must drive for a long time.

Sr. Maria Paz of Jesus and her hermit vocation has been welcomed by the People of God in Prince George. For more pictures of Maria, her Bishop Gerald Weisner, OMI and her profession at regular Sunday 11am Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral click on to this link to the diocesan website. http://pgdiocese.bc.ca/events/SrMaria.htm. May the Diocese be blessed in all its ministries to the poor and most abandoned. And may Sr. Maria receive every grace necessary to persevere in her vocation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Saints Remind of the Presence of Suffering

August 9 - St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Carmelite Martyr

August 14 - St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Long before the word "holocaust" came into popular use as reference to the Nazi killing machine which practically eradicated Eastern European Jewry and assorted "undesirable" others, the reality of that horror was known to me. The area of Brooklyn, New York in which I grew up was shared by Italian Catholics and Jews of mostly Russian or Eastern European heritage. While the former came to this country largely to escape poverty in the Mezzogiorno of southern Italy and Sicily, the later had come to escape military service in the army of the Russian tsar or lethal pogroms periodically declared to clear the countryside of a Jewish presence.

After World War II, many new immigrants began to arrive in the neighborhood. Many Italians came and along with them a smattering of young Jews from the displaced persons' camps of Europe. They had to be young because only they had the stamina to survive if survival was at all possible. Their young bodies had great resistance to deprivation; they could work hard; they could run and hide; or they could be hidden by some extraordinary non-Jew willing to risk life and limb. And some of these refugees had numbers tattooed on their arms. When asked about them by her observant daughter my mother replied in hushed tones, "They were in the camps." She gave no details but I intuited that this was a grave circumstance of which one did not speak.

Most of the history I know I learned from reading great historical novels as a teenager. From the fiction of Leon Uris (Exodus, Mila 18, Armageddon) I learned about the Warsaw Ghetto, the concentration camps and the refusal of the United States to wave immigration policies to receive more Jews into this country as the intentions of Hitler became undeniable. Later Elie Wiesel's memoir, Night, proved that the truth was even more horrid than the fiction.
The Saints Teresa Benedicta and Maximilian Kolbe are our Holocaust reminders in August of each year. Yes, we have the moving Diary of Anne Frank and the film Schindler's List to remind us. But as Catholics following the liturgical year these names and their stories come before us year after year to bring to our eyes the inhumanity of which we are capable. But they also speak of the heights of courage, fortitude and generosity of which human beings are still capable.

With such memories in mind, I thought today of the 'holocausts' of our own days in the streets of Baghdad, on the parched earth of Darfur in the Sudan, in the wee hours of the morning as four young people are gunned down execution style in Newark, New Jersey.

A few years ago I read an old book by Caryll Houselander, The Comforting of Christ. Houselander is best known for her book about the Blessed Mother, The Reed of God. The older book, published in 1947 in England, reflects the horrors of World War II. The author's bold suggestion is that by our lives, our prayer, our sacrifices, our attentiveness and availability we have the power within us to comfort Christ who suffered and continues to suffer for us. At the end of the book Houselander offers A Meditation on the Mass of Reparation. I have been using it as a preparation for receiving the Eucharist and find it very powerful. Houselander was a poet and a mystic and these affinities are expressed so well in this lengthy meditation. After speaking to each Person of the Blessed Trinity she follows the movements of the Rite of the Eucharist. Of the moment when the priest adds a drop of water into the wine-filled chalice she writes:

Receive the tears of the world, in the drop of water in the Chalice; receive the tears of old mothers who weep in the ruins of their homes, rifled nests of the little birds that were once their sons; receive the tears of frightened children, of homesick children. Receive the privileged tears of those who can weep for contrition; receive the tears that are not shed, that are hard as salt-water frozen in hearts that can weep no more; that ache in the throats of those who have no more tears to shed. Receive, O God, from my hands, who am not worthy to breathe the air He breaths, the tears of Christ in the Chalice of our salvation, the tears of the Infant in Bethlehem, the tears of the little foreign Child in Egypt, the tears shed over Jerusalem, the tears shed over Lazarus...O God, we offer Thee the tears of Christ in the tears of the world: "We offer Thee the Chalice of Salvation, humbly begging Thy mercy that it may ascend to Thee for our salvation and for that of the whole world."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sisters Retreating, More on the Liturgy of the Hours, and a Traveler's Blessing

Today three of our sisters drove to the Trappist Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts for five days of retreat. The horarium (daily schedule) of the Abbey includes these 'hours' of the Divine Office:

3:30am Vigils

6:30am Lauds, morning prayer, followed by Eucharist

10:00am Tierce

12:15am Sext, midday prayer

2:00pm None

5:40pm Vespers, evening prayer

7:40pm Compline, night prayer

Years ago I visited the Abbey and was so moved by the blessing at the end of Compline. The monks approached the Abbot two by two and received his blessing in dismissal as they entered into the Great Silence of the Night which ends at 8:00am in the morning. After all the monks were gone, the Abbot came to the visitors' section and solemnly blessed each of us. Here, in our monastery, we also receive this customary blessing from the prioress at the end of night prayer: May the Lord bless us, protect from all evil and lead us to everlasting life. Amen.

Protect us Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep

that awake we make keep watch with Christ

and asleep rest in His peace.

Antiphon for the canticle said every night during Compline, the Nunc Dimitis (Simeon's Prayer)


Here is the Blessing for Travelers we used today. You may want to adapt it for use in your family or parish.

Leader: May the Lord turn His face toward us and guide our feet into the way of peace, now and for ever.

Response: Blessed by God for ever.

Leader: Let us entrust our Sisters to the hand of the Lord. Let us pray that He will give them a prosperous journey and that as they travel, they will praise Him in all His creatures; that they will experience God's own goodness in the hospitality they receive and bring the Good News of salvation to all they meet; that they will be courteous toward all; that they will greet the poor and afflicted with kindness and know how to comfort and hep them.

All: All powerful and merciful God; you led the children of Israel on dry land, parting the waters of the sea; you guided the Magi to your Son by a star. Help our Sisters and give them a safe journey. Under your protection let them reach their destination and come at last to the eternal haven of salvation. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessing by the Prioress with holy water: In the paths of peace may the Lord guide you, and may He send His holy angel Raphael to accompany you on your way: that safe and sound, in peace and joy, you may return to those who love you. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.

Response: Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

With Loins Girt and Lamps Burning

A Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 12:32-48

My mother taught me to "suffer in silence." For her this concept was applied to two main spheres of life. The first was the silent suffering of being a woman - especially a beautiful woman (eyebrow plucking, tight girdles, electrolysis treatments for nasty facial hair, etc.). To any complaint she would reply, "You have to suffer to be beautiful." The second predominant application of the adage was for the personal suffering required in order not to offend people or not to indicate in any way that you thought too highly of yourself. In these contexts, silent suffering was a requirement for self-protection - an image thing.

Silent suffering always seemed unfair to me. It seemed that I got swallowed up by it - my feelings, desires, preferences and all concern for equity and mutuality in relationship were subsumed in favor of appearances and/or the desires of others.

In today's Gospel Jesus instructs:

Sell your belongings and give alms...Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like the servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks...Much will be required of the person who is given much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

What I hear in this teaching today is a call to silent suffering; the silent suffering of accepting what is, of doing ones duty, of the generous availability of the servant, of patience in a time of waiting. This call is naturally repugnant to me because, by virtue of my all too human history, I have been left with a bad taste in my mouth from force feeding in childhood. Rejection of such a call to self-sacrifice is also the product of cultural conditioning in an affluent society and exposure to the "me generation" as well as the high value Americans assign to rugged individualism. It is so necessary to recognize these sources of resistance in order to move along the way to conversion of heart.

Jesus's call to quiet, patient, waiting and service without the usual comforts ("Sell your belongings and give alms...") is an appeal for silent suffering - and I balk at it. What is required for conversion is a maturity that removes me from the resentments of childhood and allows for reinterpretation of honored familial, societal and cultural values. I must ask, "How can I wait for the Master with less self-assertion and less preoccupation with the needs of my ego?" "How can I reset the default position in my own psyche to accept personal deprivation or sacrifice (silent suffering) as a condition for establishing the reign of the Kingdom of God in my heart, in my family, in my community, in my nation and in my world?
Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be.
Luke 12:34

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Liturgy of the Hours

Official Public Prayer of the Church


The Heart of Contemplative Monastic Life

This last week has gone by rather quickly. In most monasteries each sister has a regular work assignment(s). These are formally given out after the election of a new prioress. In addition to this responsibility, each sister has other tasks to fulfill on a rotating basis with all the other nuns. These tasks include kitchen clean-up after meals, answering the door and the telephone, and fulfilling specific roles at the recitation of the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. One of those roles includes that of leader of prayer for the week. That was my assignment in this busy week - Transfiguration which we celebrated as a solemnity, the feast of the martyr St. Lawrence, memorials for St. Dominic and St. Clare and an optional memorial which I chose to incorporate on August 9, the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Without going into the endless details this meant picking out the hymns, selecting special prayers and following the guidance of the rubrics for the materials (psalms, intercessions, etc.) required for each. The community relies on the leader of prayer to set this up, post the information and conduct the Office in fitting fashion.

There are many websites which will give the history and details of the Liturgy of the Hours. But I will try to sum up here. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, and the celebrations of the Liturgical Year, AND the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office comprise the official public worship of the Church. At specific times of the day (most commonly morning, noon, evening and nightfall) a selection of psalms, a canticle, intercessions interspersed with antiphons (scripture verses) are read or recited. In the earliest days of the Church these 'offices' were public, often in a church or a cathedral. Over time they gradually moved more exclusively into the realm of the monastery and also given as a specific assignment for clerics. That was pretty much the situation before the Second Vatican Council. I remember seeing a priest walking up and down the rectory garden path reading his breviary (the book containing the prayers of the Divine Office) - it was all in Latin too. With the Council mandate for the reform of all Liturgy the Office was simplified, translated into the vernacular and highly recommended to ALL the faithful as "The People's Office". Today there are significant numbers of lay people who find that the Liturgy of the Hours 'grounds' their prayer life.

The Liturgy of the Hours, especially the 'hinge' hours of Morning and Evening Prayer, ideally provide the setting for daily participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The prayers of the Hours are both preparation for reception of the Eucharist and thanksgiving afterward. For contemplative nuns and any monastic, the Liturgy of the Hours along with the time of Mass provide the horarium or daily schedule around which everything else must center. In our monastery we pray the Office of Readings along with Morning Prayer at 7am; Midday Prayer at 11:40am; Evening Prayer or Vespers at 6pm; and Night Prayer or Compline at 8:15pm. During the summer our daily Mass is at 8am while during the rest of the year it is at 5pm. Some orders like the Trappists and the Carthusians rise at around 1 or 2am for a sung or recited Office in the middle of the night. Each monastery follows the Church's official design or rubrics for the Offices but variations will appear from place to place. At one time this community sang every Office, that is, they chanted the psalms. Today we chant the Offices from Saturday evening to Sunday night and on feasts or solemnities. On other days they are recited. But there is singing at every Office for the opening hymn and the gospel canticle (Benedictus at Morning Prayer, Magnificat at Evening Prayer and Nunc Dimitis at Night Prayer).

As a lay woman I found that private reading of Morning and Evening Prayer helped me to settle down, to put myself at a remove from the activities of the day, and then enter into a more contemplative mode of prayer. As a contemplative nun, these times of prayer with my community are very precious and very beautiful. They are not to become routine and automatic. At these times we stand together before the throne of God praying for the world, for the intentions coming to us constantly, and for our own great need and desire to remain faithful and persevere.

The illustration above is a page from a medieval Book of Hours, an illuminated manuscript of the psalms and prayers for the Liturgy of the Hours. This is King David, commonly thought of as the author of the Book of Psalms. Such lavishly illustrated prayer books hold honored places in many museum collections.

Monday, August 06, 2007

For Contemplative Redemptoristine Nuns Today is the Solemnity of the Transfiguration

This is a very special day for all Redemptoristines around the world. On this day in 1731 the newly born Order of the Most Holy Redeemer received their red habits. Yes, red. The color of charity, the color of the love which they were to 'put on', as they were to be 'robed' with Jesus Christ so as to be His "living memory."

We chose this day to have the final of three special versions of Midday Prayer which included the opportunity for the last group of three sisters to share special memories of their lives in community. These occasions are part of our celebration of the 50th Anniversary Year of the founding of this monastery.

Sister Mary Jane, the one with the computer keyboard in her lap, treated us to a slide show of shots from old photo albums beginning with her entrance in the late 1970s. Sister is our bursar and very adept at all things technical. She frequently pointed out how she used to have brown hair!

Sister Moira, who entered late in the 1980s, spoke of her very first visits to the monastery, of how quickly she recognized that it was "home", that this was the place where she would live out her contemplative vocation. Her first years here taught her flexibility in community as changes were explored and followed by the eventual decision to build a new monastery. She spoke very movingly of her privileged experiences in preparing for the funeral rites of two sisters. And she expressed her gratitude to the community for the unforgettable memory of support during her bout with cancer.

As for me, I spoke of how I hardly felt qualified for this memory sharing because I have been in community for only seven years. But when I gave it some thought I figured out that I have known the community for a total of seventeen years by including my ten years as a lay associate. This is over one third of the fifty years we are celebrating. All during those first ten years the community extended many invitations to join them for educational and spiritual experiences and I got to know a few of the sisters quite well. My mind was flooded with memories of our old monastery which, while rather institutional and much too large, had a beautiful chapel, a retreat hermitage in the old infirmary and many places to hide out and just be. There was a small oratory above the choir that looked down onto the sanctuary of the chapel. I called it a 'nest.' I spoke of fond memories of all the shared endeavors, working together to create prayerful liturgy, to imbibe the charism, to offer programs for religious and laity and to celebrate the blessings of God.

Lord, how good it is that we are here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

1943 Was a Very Good Year

On August 3rd, 1943 she was a few months passed 18 and he was just over 22. He wore his only Air Corps dress uniform - 100% wool - in the scorching heat of summertime Brooklyn. She wore a fitted floor-length white organdy dress with a long row of tiny buttons down the back. Her hair, swept up in a stylish pompadour, was crowned by a wreath of orange blossoms holding in place an heirloom Belgian lace veil forming a train behind her as she seemed to flow down the aisle of St. Finbar's Church on her father's arm.

Today my parents are celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary. Being true blue, faithful, loving and each other's best friend is their specialty. Although when asked what was the key to their successful marriage, my father responded, "Patience." They live in the house my father designed over thirty-five years ago and ;maintain it without any outside help - even to snow blowing and painting the eaves!

These days their generation is being called "the greatest generation." In the last installment of "my story" (July 2), I gave account of their childhoods during the Great Depression. Within a year of their marriage, my father learned that he would be going overseas. At that news my mother joined him in places like Coffeeville, Kansas and Meridian, Mississippi. When I was born in New York City in 1945, my father was serving on Guam in the Pacific Theater of World War II. We did not meet until I was eight months old.

I am not able to be with them today but have promised to celebrate with them on their 65th. May God continue to bless them with good health and reward them for their model of faithfulness.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Feast of S. Alphonsus de Liguori 1696-1787

Jubilee Celebration in the CSsR Baltimore Province
St. Clement Church, Saratoga Springs, New York
July 11, 2007
Redemptorists and Redemptoristines
Around the World
Celebrate the Feast Day
of St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Doctor of the Church
Founder of the Redemptorist Congregation
Here is the link to the website of the Baltimore Province of Redemptorists: