Friday, September 28, 2007

Contemplative Consciousness Necessary Foundation for Justice and Peace

This week the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities welcomed a presentation by Sr. Arlene Flaherty, OP of CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES entitled Sent to Heal a Brokenhearted World. Her first presentation to this group of contemplative nuns concerned Justice and Peace: God's Creative Design. The second talk focused on the issues of immigration and human trafficking. We were more than amply rewarded for our time and attention.

Sr. Arlene is a most effective, knowledgeable and impassioned voice for the cause of peace and justice. It may be wondered why nuns whose lives are centered on contemplative prayer would want to be informed concerning the particulars of these tremendous issues. Sr. Arlene immediately answered such a question. "The need for contemplative consciousness must be considered as the supportive underpinning for active apostolic work for justice and peace." Contemplative consciousness in daily living implies deep listening to and deep receiving of the Word of God. Contemplative nuns model this level of consciousness for the Church and the world. Contemplation and justice are interwoven with life in God and God's original design which is marked by justice and peace, which can be expressed as right relationship. Right relationship brings about the restoration of God's creative design. What is necessary for this restoration is not only change in human structures but also the conversion of hearts and minds to a condition beyond self-centeredness and self-interest. Monastic community life is the living representation of a spiritual consciousness of the reality that we are all one in God. Our practice of right relatedness is an expression of peace and Justice, the antidote for the suffering created in our world by a mistaken sense of unrelatedness. Sr. Arlene stated, "The mission of religious is to restore the memory of relatedness." Our capacity to sit in silence cultivates the ability to be in union with the One. This is a tenet of all major world religions.


1/2 of the population of the world lives on less than $2 per day
1 billion people live on less than $1 per day
96% of all cases of HIV Aids are in sub-Saharan Africa

Disease, armed conflict, immigration issues and the globalization of the economy play the largest part in creating the reality which leads to such statistics.

After a discussion of all these issues and viewing a very alarming video on human trafficking we spoke of the ways that even contemplative nuns and monks can promote the cause of peace and justice. Primary, of course, is the life of prayer and living a model of peace and justice in our communities. But we spoke too about the subtle but important influence we can have on those who come into our monasteries when we present them with coffee and tea purchased from a provider of 'fairly traded' goods. Equal Exchange is one such provider. Here is their commitment statement: "We pay a fair price to the farmer, trade directly with democratic co-ops, supply advance credit and support sustainable agriculture." Yes, these goods cost more but it is only these 'real' prices which provide a decent wage and profits to the poor. Placing the Equal Exchange sign next to your coffee pot makes a statement, may open a discussion, and lead to a deepened consciousness of right relatedness. We can participate in whatever way possible in World Aids Day, December 1, 2007. Catholic Relief Services can provide a complete Candlelight Vigil Service. We can also raise our level of consciousness in all of our purchasing decisions. Sr. Arlene said we were doing just the right thing by making our habits since the global economy is currently responsible for great in justices created by the apparel industry in manufactured abroad.

In a plan called Solidarity Will Transform the World, Sr. Arlene asked that each of communities agree to pray for a Catholic Relief Services in a particular area of the world. We gladly agreed. I urge you to consult their website for more information concerning immigration, the Iraqi humanitarian crisis and the hidden but growing traffic in human slaves.

"We are the consciousness of God."
Teillard de Chardin

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle 1918 - 2007 Author of Young Adult Fantasy and Personal Memoir

Photo L to R: Sr. Margaret Banville, OSsR, Madeleine L'Engle, Cornelia (from Seattle), Dorothy Wildhagen (Redemptoristine Postulant), Sr. Mary Catherine, OSsR, Sandy Johnston at Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery, 1984.

A number of religious congregations purchased of inherited property along the Hudson River around 1900. South of us the Marist Brothers maintained a novitiate in an impressive mansion. Further south the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross built their monastery. The well-known author of young adult literature, most famous for "A Wrinkle in Time", Madeleine L'Engle presented an annual writers workshop at Holy Cross through the 1980s and 90s. In 1984 two sisters from this monastery took part in her workshop and introduced her to the res of the community. It became her custom to plan for afternoon tea at our monastery during each of her workshops thereafter. On each occasion she brought along some of her students and all joined the community for Evening Prayer after a time of wonderful conversation. During the 90s I was a lay associate of the community here and was therefore able to wrangle an invitation to a couple of these most pleasant and illuminating conversations with the tall, elegant, very spiritual and very down to earth author and her interesting friends.

My introduction to Madeleine L'Engle's work did not come through the famous A Wrinkle in Time or other titles in her fantasy genre series. I met her in her autobiographical trilogy, The Crosswicks Journal, consisting of Circle of Quiet (Book 1), The Summer of the Great Grandmother (Book 2), and The Irrational Season (Book 3). The first is a reflection on the ordinary life and its extraordinary implications. The second caught me first as it told so movingly of the experience of caring for her mother and accompanying her in the process of her death. The last is probably the most overtly spiritual of the three as it explores the varied stages of her life and her roles as professional woman, wife, mother and grandmother.

Years later, following the death of her husband, she wrote another memorable and very personal book about her long marriage to Hugh Franklin, who, for many years, played the part of Dr. Tyler on the ABC soap opera "All My Children." The book, Two Part Invention, was a touching and realistic portrait of the marriage and all that was necessary in love and fidelity to keep it intact. Every married woman I recommend it to loved it.

During the 90s I had the great privilege to be invited by a friend to accompany her to a reading by Madeleine and her grand-daughter in her East Side Manhattan apartment. Her charm, her intelligence, her keen interest in every person was all the more evident in her own home.

When we learned of Madeleine's death Sr. Margaret said, "She was a great lady." Indeed. I can't help but think that the character Meg Murray of Wrinkle in Time fame paved the way for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

Friday, September 21, 2007

St. Matthew - The Call of the Common Man

Here is Michaelangelo's impression of Matthew, the tax collector. He is on the run, his account book still in his hand. His full attention has been drawn elsewhere as his muscular body strains to respond to the call of Jesus, "Follow me." There is no doubt about him at all. The Gospel says simply, "...and he got up and followed." Presumably he led the way to his home where he entertained Jesus and his followers giving his new teacher another venue in which to verbally spar with the Pharisees who watched his every move. On this occasion Jesus would also model in their sight his ideal of compassionate service to the other.

Matthew has been about the crass business of the world and has done what that world expected. Jesus presents a compelling alternative. Today I pray for all of the Matthew's of today's world, all going about the business of living in this society, in this culture, with its own Pharisees leading the way. The good looking guy at the top is my own son Matthew. He's an artist. The rendering at the right, the original no more than four by six inches, is his pencil drawing of an historic site in Kingston, New York, the Old Dutch Church. Matthew makes a living setting precious gems in rings of gold and serving as an I.D. inspector/bouncer at a local bar popular with young people. My youngest son tends bar at the same establishment. All on the up and up and in the good graces of the local police. Both have great women in their lives for which I am very grateful. But the 'world' is ever present to them. It leads crassly, demands much, and often presents stumbling blocks each step of the way. Matthew's greatest talents are being subsumed by the need for necessities. Perhaps that is what Jesus saw in Matthew. There was more to Matthew than keeping the account books and doing the dirty work for Roman oppressors. The power and energy for good that Jesus may have recognized were attested to by Matthew's eager response.

I pray that my son Mathew and all the young Matthew's of this world remain open to that other voice, one that calls them to their finest natures, to fulfillment in serving the true self, in contributing to the well-being of society. I pray that the loss of faith in time honored institutions and traditions implied in the oft quoted, "Oh, I'm spiritual. I'm just not religious." has not rendered them deaf to the voice of God speaking out to them in their busy world.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hildegard of Bingen - Medieval Mystic and Abbess 1098 - 1179 Feast Day September 17

The soul is like a wind that waves over herbs,
Is like the dew that moistens the grass,
Is like the rain-soaked air that lets things grow.

In the same way you should radiate kindness
To all who are filled with longing.

Be a wind, helping those in need.
Be a dew, consoling the abandoned.
Be the rain-soaked air, giving heart to the weary,
Filling their hunger with instruction
By giving them your soul.

When preparing for talks about Hildegard of Bingen, I have tried to think of a modern woman, or man for that matter, who could match Hildegard in the scope of her achievements. We must consider that by virtue of her correspondence with saints, popes, kings and emperors she was a politician; by virtue of her chant compositions for the Liturgy of the Hours she was a musician; by virtue of her vocation and her constant awareness of God's majestic presence she was a mystic; by virtue of the texts of her visionary experiences she becomes a theologian and cosmologist; by virtue of her works concerning medicine and natural history she becomes physician and scientist; and lastly, by virtue of her leadership in the establishment of new foundations of her Benedictine Order she becomes administrator; I could not come up with anyone, male or female, of recent history whose curriculum vitae included them all.
Any Google search will bring you to great sites for more information about this amazing woman.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Feast of the

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today is a great feast for the Redemptoristine/Redemptorist family or, as we refer to it, the double institute. It is the feast of the Redeemer, Christ Jesus, from whom our Order and the Redemptorist Congregation take their names. We say with Paul, "May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In addition, today is the feast of our foundress, the Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa, who died on this date in 1755, in Foggia, Italy. It is told that she had received Viaticum and then asked the priest to read aloud the Passion as described in the Gospel of John. At the words, "It is finished," uttered by Jesus from the cross Maria Celeste breathed her last.

With the joy of our celebration fresh in memory and with Jesus invitation, "Take up your cross and follow me," reverberating in the passage ways of the heart, our community enters into an eight-day retreat. You may ask, "How do contemplatives enter retreat time?" My prayer is to have it be different time, slower time, more carefree time, to contemplate the face of Jesus, to gaze upon the face of God.

(Should you be interested in how the friendship between our foundress, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa, and St. Alphonsus de Liguori founder of the Redemptorists played itself out just go to Archives in the side bar, click on 2006, and then scroll down to the entry for May 11, 2006.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


When we give death-dealing interpretation to your word of Grace,
Jesus, awaken justice.
When we bind up our own wounds only, and forget the suffering of strangers,
Jesus, awaken justice.
When in our fear we retreat and isolate,
Jesus, awaken justice.
When we seek security based only on military might and not on
right relationship among people,
Jesus, awaken justice.
That all who have suffered as a result of the tragedy of 9/11
may heal; that individuals, families, communities, and nations
may be restored to peace,
Jesus, awaken justice.

God of perfect peace,
violence and cruelty can have no part with you.
May those who are at peace with one another
hold fast to the good will that unites them;
may those who are enemies forget their hatred
and be healed.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Contemplative Nuns Welcome Lay Associates

For over twenty years the Redemptoristine Nuns of New York have welcomed Lay Associates to their communty. The group has always been rather intimate, fifteen to eighteen members - mothers and single woman, homemakers and professionals, and retirees who finally have the time to follow their longings. They meet here in the monastery on the second Sunday of each month to pray together, share input and discussion, participate in Sunday Vespers and enjoy a bit of refreshment afterward. They say that their time at the monastery whether only for meetings or sometimes for retreat are always golden times for them. The charism of our foundress, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa speaks to their hearts. To be a living memory of Christ puts words to what all of them have tried to be for a lifetime. They are so appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about scripture, spirituality, methods of prayer and to share their collective wisdom gained by their lives as woman; daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers and working people. There is great comfort in sharing worries and concerns, gains and losses. In addition, as adults in the Catholic Church they value this opportunity to share time and prayer with contemplative nuns, to get the feel of the contemplative monastic way of life and to grow in knowledge of their faith.

Some Associates choose to make a commitment to the community; to share in the life of prayer by praying the Liturgy of the Hours, to cultivate a contemplative dimension in their own lives and to assist our monastic community in whatever way possible. Associates have given valuable help in the library and the cape room, presented programs to their own membership and to larger audiences, and provided wonderful refreshments for any number of special occasions as they did in such an outstanding way for my solemn profession of vows in 2006.

Yesterday, after hearing Fr. Thomas Travers speak on the practice of keeping a "journal of thanksgiving", the associates joined us for Midday Prayer. Then we shared a delicious pot luck dinner which they had so generously provided. On this bounty we will feast for many days.

Fr. Travers was the presider at 2pm Mass in our chapel. After the homily four new associates made their commitment for the first time and eight renewed theirs. Many friends and family members were in attendance and refreshments were later enjoyed by all in the gathering space outside our chapel.

Pictured above: 1. Domenica Bellacicco, Carol Ann Menconeri and Carole Burton in conversation. 2.Our Prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR. 3. Sr. Mary Jane Stefanik, OSsR and grandchildren of one associate. 4. Associates renewing their commitment before the congregation and at the request of the Prioress.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Boys, Water and Deja Vu

The big guy in the photo is my oldest son Jonathan. The little guy is his son, my grandson Nicholas, who is just over three and half years old. Next week he will attend nursery school for the first time. The locale is the banks of the Hudson River, a section called the 'Esopus Flats'. From this pocket park one can see the Esopus Lighthouse, a little gem. Its picture graced the header of this blog during the summer months. In these few moments at riverside Nicholas was thoroughly absorbed in throwing rocks into the water, admiring his throw, noticing the splash of the rocks and ripple rings created by their plunges into the deep.

This bucolic scene brings Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to mind with an aura of summer adventures, packs of boys inventing their days as pirates, explorers, or Indian scouts. It also brings a sensation of deja vu, of having been there or done this before. Only back then it was with three of my own little boys, discovering the world, building sand castles, trying to dam up streams, designing the ideal tree house. It was a challenge to keep up with their energy, with their curiosity and their adventurous, fearless natures. What a blessing that was! What a dear time!

I can still see them practically naked beating a native dance with their feet in the street where a sudden summer storm created a river and rain poured down their supple bodies. I remember the day Jonathan, then about five years old, cut off a huge swath of hair right above his forehead just to see what he would look like. And there were summer evenings made for neighborhood games of hide and seek in which a whole crowd of little boys learned the ins and outs of backyards and every short cut through every hedge and also whose property was strictly verboten. Also carved into memory are the torchlight parades of boys, eleven to fourteen in age, along with their counselors, crossing the playing field of Camp Dudley in the Adirondacks. My younger sons, Matthew and Andrew, were lucky to be Dudley scholarship boys and I got to witness this throng of boys, this stream of emerging manhood with their ankle length unwashed t-shirts, muddy sneakers worn without laces, hair buzz cut or over grown or even dyed green, their skin brown as berries from the sun and bodies strengthened and lengthened by early morning nude dips into Lake Champlain!

Another blessing shared with many grandparents is the sheer pleasure of watching your child become a parent, seeing a son or daughter transformed into the total giver every good parent has to become. Many have agreed with me that within two generations, the level of involvement of fathers in the lives of their children has increased dramatically. Some of this has happened of necessity and two working parents became the norm to support a family and share in the work of raising children. But something else has also been at work here. The women's liberation movement has also liberated men to the point that it is now perfectly acceptable for a young father and husband to change a diaper, shop with babies and toddlers along for the educational experience and to be engaged with their children to an extent not often seen only 40 to 50 years ago.

Seeing your child become a parent and watching grandchildren grow almost from the moment of conception via the now common early ultra-sound image brings one to a new level of mothering. Old worries have gone and new worries take their place. But the love grows and grows and the awe expands a pace. What a blessing it is!

If anyone can tell me how get all the paragraphs to single or double space uniformly, I would be most grateful. I know I have to adjust the HTML but can never get it to work in my favor!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Have already allowed much too much time to go by without reporting a very special event. Back in July MACC celebrated its 40th anniversary by gathering at Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center. The members of twelve different contemplative communities from New York and Connecticut shared memories, rejoiced in their history, gave thanks to God for the bounty of vocation, community and monastic life. MACC began in 1967 as a place where contemplatives of various charisms could come together to educate themselves intellectually and spiritually in preparation for the work of renewal to which they had been called in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. There is no homogenization here. Each charism remains distinct and firmly intact. Each of us knows that in God's plan we belong in our respective communities. But, at the same time, by our association we have grown in appreciation for our vocation as contemplatives and become prepared to move into the 21st century.

Photos: Top - general membership on the front steps of Mt. St. Alphonsus. Bottom - Sr. Regina (Poor Clare), Vicar for Religious Sr. Helen Coldrick, Sr. Marjorie (Carmelite), Sr. Mary (Carmelite) and Sr. Moira (Redemptoristine)

That day we were challenged in three areas. The first was that of AUTHENTICITY as indicated in the quote, "With integrity, nothing else maters. Without integrity, nothing else matters. The second was to IDENTIFY AND RESPOND TO THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES. It was suggested that we ask ourselves: What are the signs of the times for my community; given its mission and charism? How are we responding to those signs? Where are the gaps? What more needs to be attempted? The third challenge was to ACTIVATE THE IMAGINATION. As we face new challenges, God is once again asking for the imagination of a Dominic or a Francis, a Clare or a Maria Celeste, a Benedict or a Scholastica, a Teresa of Avila - not to found new congregations, but to reach deep into our own charisms for new insights, new applications, new directions - not for our own sakes and legacy but for all our brothers and sisters on this fragile planet.

From A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry

Thank God our time is now
when wrong comes to face us everywhere,
never to leave us
till we take the longest stride of soul ever took.

Affairs are now soul size,
and the enterprise
is exploration unto God.