Friday, December 28, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
Dark and cold we may be, but this
“Thank God our time is now when wrong
“Affairs are now soul size
Is exploration into God. “Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake?”
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Trees used to be fresher. The pungent aroma of Christmas evergreen could be recognized upon entering the front door. In my girlhood home on 85th Street in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, the tree, always a prickly, short-needled spruce, stood in the living room corner in front of the door to the back porch my father built. He always picked the tree from a local lot or, more likely, a merchant who opportunistically added Christmas trees to his stock of fruits and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk under the elevated train along 86th Street’s commercial zone. He trundled it home in the cold and subjected it to evaluation by my mother who had an eye for empty places which could be hidden against the wall. Another option was Dad’s compensation by cutting off excess low branches and inserting them into holes drilled into the trunk where fillers were needed. A poorly balanced tree would be securely anchored by guy wires fastened to cup hooks hidden in door or window moldings.
My sister and I waited impatiently for Dad to hang stubborn strings of large light bulbs, an endless and vexing process punctuated by frustrated expletives. Finally decorating would be turned over to us except for placing the most dainty and delicate of ornaments at the top of the tree. We learned early on to graduate the weight and size of decorations, always leaving the heaviest and largest for the bottom of a well-decorated tree. From ancient yellowed tissue paper emerged curious ornaments: birds, pelicans and Santas of featherweight glass as fine as ribbon candy along with striped balls with colors resembling Depression era glass juice tumblers. Like icing on a cake, real lead tinsel was judiciously applied strand by strand an inch or so apart along each branch and shoot as ice would naturally coat a tree in the forest.
In the end, the tree was to be surveyed in darkness. We basked in the multi-colored glow of our masterpiece. Only then could we lie down on the floor, scoot along on our behinds to place head and shoulders under the tree and gaze upward through a wonderland of shinning lights, sparkling glass, and shimmering tinsel; a vision only made more glorious by viewing it through gently ‘squinched’ eyes. This kaleidoscopic sight, a surreal painting seen through a fringe of curly eyelashes, had the power to appease the heart of a child yearning for Christmas.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
A new book published this season for the holiday market is The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth, by two of today's most well known Jesus scholars, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, who joined forces to "show how history has biased our reading of the nativity story as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke." The book jacket continues, "they explore the beginning of the life of Christ, peeling away the sentimentalism that has built up over the last two thousand years around this most well known of all stories to reveal the truth of what the gospels actually say." Marcus J. Borg is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at De Paul University, is regarded by some as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time.
A brief radio interview of these two men drew a great contrast between their approach and that of the esteemed Raymond Brown. In short, they spoke of the stories of Jesus birth as parables, as teaching instruments used much in the same way that Jesus used parables to convey the meaning of his revolutionary concepts. They spoke of the Gospels as pointing to the "primordial sin of empire" which is the human tendency toward control and domination. I could not argue with them there. Further they spoke of the Gospels as not only focusing a spotlight on the sins of the empires of Jesus's time but also of their power reveal in bold print the primordial sin of our empires, most specifically the imperial behavior of the United States in the current world scene. I do not argue with them on this point either. But I do argue that on one hand they did not go far enough with their metaphor and on the other hand left something completely out of the picture.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
oh my soul,
in the bosom
Son of God
who was made man
for love of you. Print by Max Schmalzl, CSsR 1850-1930
Sunday, December 16, 2007
When freed to express such things within the understanding company of women of 'a certain age', I have been heard to say (quite frequently of late) "Our bodies betray us." The knowing ‘company of women’ all nod in agreement. They are acknowledging the assault of unwanted weight, the fortyish failure of the eyes, the sag of breast and jowl, the increased frequency of check-ups and medical tests which the magazines advise us to have, not to mention deliberations over drugs for hypertension, high cholesterol, and hormone replacement therapy.
The sense of body as enemy is not limited to older women. Adolescent girls seem to hate their bodies - either too developed or not developed enough - and always too fat. What could it possibly mean that girls and young women are so ready to tattoo, pierce, and in the extreme, mutilate bodies once lavished with adoring parental kisses?
This common feeling of alienation from the body which encases our minds and souls is sadly at odds with the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery which lies at the heart of jubilee celebration at the millennium. As Christians our spiritual jubilee arises from the utter joy of knowing that our God became incarnated, I in fleshed in the very same human body as our own in the person of Jesus. He became our brother in the human fleshy experience. This choice of God is the finally exclamation point added to the words of the creation story - "And God saw that it was very good." God entered into unity with all of creation and particularly the human creation because God so loved the world that Jesus, the Christ, took on human flesh so that all might become fully alive in God.
What interferes with our full appreciation of the wonder of creation and particularly our creation as incarnate beings? What interferes with a healthy, spiritual sense of our nature as soul and body?
Within our church we have inherited the effects of a long-held philosophy of dualism, the split between body and soul, and the resulting conflict between the evil and good that they separately represent. The effects are inherited in the emphasis on sexual sins of birth control, extra-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion. Do you remember from ancient times those teenage questions about petting and how far you could go before ......well you know.
Our culture too has cast the body as enemy. Too fat, too thin, too freckled, to hippy, too bosomy, not bosomy enough. It is difficult news, particularly for women, who from puberty on are uniquely and repeatedly reminded of their bodiliness. As a teenager I found my mother's assurance that my period was my best friend to be of little comfort. And now that they tell me I am peri-menopausal I feel that I am about to mourn that friend. As women, how our bodies work is critical to the survival of the species. Yet the very process of childbearing leaves those scorned tell-tale signs of stretch marks, the ever present belly, and spider veins marring once whistled at legs. On one hand we are idealized, and on the other we are loathed and in the extreme subjected to sexual abuse, battering, and rape. What is a woman to do?
Then, last but not least, comes the aging process, a time when we begin to feel that our bodies are letting us down; menstruation leaving us with the final punch of hot flashes and night sweats, a figure of changing proportions, faces that Joan Rivers tell us to do something about, and the inability to do many things that once were easy. And every bit of it flying in the face of the feminine ideal supported by our culture, a culture which finds it difficult to even imagine us as still sexual. Religious and cultural taboos have rendered female sexuality problematic throughout life, but even more so when women pass the age bearing children.
Yet the bells of jubilee, the bells declaring the entry of the divine into our human bodily milieu, must be calling us to a celebration of both that Incarnation and our own. What would flying in the face of ancient church influence, of culturally engrained negative body images mean for us as women, for our spirituality? What would it mean for our understanding and experience of these mysteries?
"A spirituality that celebrates the great web of connectedness among all created beings shows us how to honor both that earth and our own bodies." Our monthly cycles connect us to the moon and the tides of the earth. We describe our lives as metaphorically resembling the seasons of the year. "Our sense of this connection is fundamental to our sense of the sacred." Realizing we are made of the same stuff of the cosmos we cannot play the old game that separates us from nature and from our own bodies. We know that we are part of a living system, participants in a cosmic dance. Who of us has not experienced a touch of the transcendent when we have stopped and taken the time to allow our body to become a window, a doorway through which we experience the wonder of nature; to sit by the river; to observe a herd of deer graze their way through a meadow; to be transfixed by an awesome star studded night sky is to have an experience of nature that is sacramental.
The Christian dualism mentioned earlier combined with the trust in our time of the mind of man to solve every problem create the shadow under which we try to embrace our bodiliness. The mind has been considered a higher source of knowing reality. "However, the incarnation affirms the value of our bodies. Jesus connects God to the world for all time. Far from separating us from the divine, human bodies engage us in the human adventure in the way God chose to become physically connected to all that is human. In the incarnation the bodily becomes the sacramental bearer of the divine.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sunday, December 09, 2007
50th Anniversary Celebration of the Redemptoristine Monastery in Esopus & Feast of the Immaculate Conception – December 8, 2007
by Rev. Thomas Travers, CSsR
When I was a young priest I was sent to Puerto Rico to work as a missionary and, of course, the first task was to begin the life-long study of Spanish. So we were sent to Catholic University in Ponce to start the process. And as an important part of the course we assisted at a series of lectures in Sociology given by a young priest/professor from New York. He was Fr Ted Mc Carrick, now Cardinal Mc Carrick, and the former Archbishop of Washington, DC.
And I remember, especially, one of the talks that he gave us on seeing the blessings of an exodus. He was talking specifically about the Puerto Rican exodus to the US mainland which was at its peak at that time. And to make his point, he put this exodus in the context of other exoduses such as:
- That of Abraham from Ur of the Caldeans,
- The exodus the later exodus of Moses out of Egypt to the Promised Land,
- The exodus of the Jewish captives from Babylon,
- The exodus of the early Christians from Palestine, and so on.
Each exodus, painful though it may have been at the time, because sometimes it was a leaving behind of one’s native land and culture, turned out to be a great blessing in the long run, a blessing for the people themselves who made the exodus and a blessing for the place where they finally settled.
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of another exodus, the exodus of six Redemptoristine nuns from the Holy Redeemer Monastery in Barrie, Ontario, Canada to come to the United States, to Esopus New York, to what was to become the Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery.
(They were: Sister Mary Catherine Parks, the prioress; Sister Margaret Banville;, Sister Mary Anne Reed;, Sister Mary Bridget Kusmickus; Sister Gertrude Wilkinson, and Sister Paula Schmidt.)
It was an exodus, a leaving behind of the known for the unknown. It was a new venture and a new life. And like all other exoduses, it was a great blessing for them who made it, and it was a certainly a great blessing for this place where they settled, here at Esopus, New York, in the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Fathers.
And today is a fitting day to celebrate this exodus, this new beginning and this new life,
because today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And on this feast we celebrate the mystery that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother. We celebrate the beginning of Mary’s new life.
The New Testament tells us that as this life grew it was characterized by:
- A spirit of obedience to God’s will,
- A spirit of mission,
- And a spirit of prayer and contemplation.
Today’s gospel narrates what was perhaps the highpoint of this willing obedience to God’s will. The angel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God and she answers simply: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. I will always do what He wants.” With these words, she expressed her commitment to do the Lord’s will always.
Fifty years ago, our 6 pioneers did just the same when their angel, the prioress, announced to them at a community gathering that they were chosen to start the new monastery here at Esopus. There were no questions, no discussion. They answered simply, as Mary did, “We are the servants of the Lord. May His will be done.”
Mary’s life had a purpose, a mission. She gave birth to Jesus and cared for him in his early years and then later his mission became her mission. She was the first and the most faithful of his disciples. The gospel mentions that she was there for him when he needed her most during his public life;
- When he was accused of being crazy and told to go back home,
- And when he was dying on the cross.
Mary was there to encourage him and later to console him in his sorrow. She was present. And it was there, beneath the cross that she accepted her second vocation, to be the mother of the Christian community, the mother of the church. Jesus said to her “Behold your sons and daughters” and says to us, “Behold your Mother.”
Our Redemptoristine sisters, too, have a mission. And their mission is to be present with us in our apostolic work. They are very much a part of our ministry, a part of our community. We are brothers and sisters in a very real sense. We are a missionary team, each with a different function.
When St Alphonsus, our founder, gave parish missions, he would often gather a team of 18 to 20 missionaries. Each priest or brother had a specific task and the one who preached the major sermons was often considered the most important person on the team. But Alphonsus, to put things in their proper perspective, would often say “that the humble lay-brother sitting in the front pew under the pulpit often did more to convert sinners by his prayers than the chief missionary by his preaching.”
As Redemptorists, we are a preaching order. We go forth to preach and we go forth with confidence, knowing that the results of our preaching depend in a great part on the prayer and sacrifice of our Redemptoristine sisters, the other part of our pastoral team.
In this, too, they imitate Mary. The Book of Acts tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room and “they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus.” She was there for the primitive community, united with them in prayer just as our Sisters are here for us and united to us and to all the Christian community in prayer.
So we give thanks, today, for this exodus that happened 50 years ago. Cardinal Mc Carrick was right. All exoduses are great blessings.
And it is fitting that we celebrate this new life on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a feast that marks a new beginning, the beginning of Mary’s life, a life of committed obedience, a life dedicated to a mission of presence and a life of prayer and contemplation.
As we celebrate and we give thanks on this day, we ask Mary, on her feast, to continue to bless this work of her hands, for that is what this monastery truly is and has been for these last 50 years. May she grant it a long and fruitful history filled with many sisters and associates; cooperating with us Redemptorists and others in the one mission of spreading God’s Kingdom to the poor and most abandoned. And we ask Venerable Maria Celeste and St Alphonsus, who must be very happy today to see their sons and daughters gathered together with all their friends and associates to celebrate this great event, we ask them to bless us all. AMEN.
[Read more of Father Tom's great homilies at his blog: http://journals.aol.com/tjtrower/Reflections/
Saturday, December 08, 2007
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception Redemptoristines Celebrate Golden Jubilee
of the Esopus Monastery of
Mother of Perpetual Help
Today, with great joy, this community of contemplative nuns celebrated the end of our fiftieth anniversary year. Our only disappointment, and this ran deep, was the hospitalization two days ago of one of our founders Sr. Peg Banville. We pray for her speedy recovery and return to us.
Here I append the introductory remarks presented by our Prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR. They are beautifully self-explanatory. Further on, there are two slide shows. The first is a selection of images from today's celebration and the second a peak into our history.
Welcome! Thank you for coming to be with us for this special day in our history.
The Mass we are entering into now is being offered in Thanksgiving for God’s graciousness in our lives and in yours. Each of you could tell your own story of that graciousness of God. With Father Tom’s permission I want to share with you something of our blessed story, with its different themes for thankfulness.
First of all the significance of this day and this feast for our community - Fifty years ago December 6th , 1957,six Redemptoristine nuns, five Americans and one Canadian, left their monastery in Barrie, Ontario, Canada en route to Esopus. They travelled in two cars, driven by the parents and sister of one of the nuns, Sr. Mary Michael Wilkinson. I am happy to say that we have one of those drivers, Dorothy Wilkinson Yentz present with us today! After a night stopover in Rochester the two cars finally turned into the winding drive of Mount St. Alphonsus in the late afternoon of December 7th. Someone must have been up in the tower to spot us because immediately all the bells begin to ring of our arrival—we came to call these the “happy bells”. The Mount at that time was a seminary, bursting with vocations and those fine young men formed a gauntlet we had to pass through into the chapel for Solemn Benediction with Fr. Provincial James Connolly. Afterwards we were whisked away to our new home, a rented house in West Park, NY, where supper was awaiting us. The house which had been vacant for two years had been well prepared, scrubbed and painted for us by Fr. Albert Riesner and a team of seminarians. Nothing was missing. Providentially, one of those seminarians is our celebrant today, Fr. Tom Travers! The next morning, December 8th, we began our life of liturgy and love as a new community, celebrating the Divine Office and Mass of the Immaculate Conception. It all seemed so fitting to begin our presence as the first Monastery of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer in the USA on the feast of His Mother as patroness of the United States. This a long explanation of why today is so special: it all started here, on this date.
Since then, 50 years have gone by. And the blessings have only accumulated. There have been sorrows and hard times along the way, as in any life, but as we look back there are so many reasons to be grateful. Even difficulties teach us so much. Sixty-five women have passed through our doors, seeking God in our special way of life. Three are buried in our cemetery, one is buried in that of our monastery in Australia, nine form our community today, and the rest have gone on to serve our God in other life choices, enriched we pray by their time among us, as we have been enriched by them. We are very proud of our alumnae, some of whom are with us today! I need to mention a special courageous lady who would so love to be with us today, one of our foundresses, Sr. Peg, now ill in hospital. She is with us in another way, in our hearts and in her own desire and prayer.
A profound level of gratitude belongs to our Redemptorist family, our brothers, who unfailingly provide the most precious of gifts to us, through the daily Eucharist and the other sacraments. For fifty years they have enriched our lives by their homilies, theological courses, the news of their apostolic works for us to support in prayer, and a whole litany of spiritual and temporal benefactions. We need only to ask and they are there for us. During the seminary years we got to know many of them in a personal way, and now our work of making their habits is a precious way of keeping connected. They are truly our Brothers and we are grateful.
Over these years we have been blessed with the kindness and friendship of people like you gathered with us today and so many other lay-people and religious of the area: our own lay Associates, the Marist Brothers, Benedictine Sisters, Sisters of St. Ursula, Christian Brothers, Cabrini Sisters, Franciscans, Holy Cross monks, and so many others. We are grateful to you and grateful to God for you.
And what can I say of the beauty of the place where God has put us?! Even with our first home in West Park, where we lived for 2 ½ years until our new monastery was finished, it overlooked the Hudson River from three levels of porches, and everyday was a new revelation of the God of Beauty in the changing landscape and seasons. Esopus, and the Hudson Valley, must truly be an anticipation of paradise. Fifty years of exposure to this abundant loveliness of Nature has truly prepared us for the unseen blessings of Grace, always with us. For this too we are grateful.
And so now, with all the power of the Eucharist at our service, we continue our Thanksgiving.
Friday, December 07, 2007
St. Anselm of Canterbury, bishop : Proslogion, 1.
O God, You inspired St. Anselm with an ardent desire to find You in prayer and contemplation among the bustle of everyday occupations, help us to take time in the feverish rhythm of our days, among the worries and cares of modern life, for conversation with You, our only hope and salvation! We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Eph. 3: 17-20
What wonders God has done for us! What love that surpasses all understanding, at this Advent/ Christmastide, as we rejoice in our God who became man! This has been a very special year for us as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary of Foundation in Esopus. We began our celebration year on December 7, 2006 with our Foundresses, Sr. Paula, Sr. Mary Anne and Sr. Peg reminiscing about the early days of Esopus within the context of Midday Prayer. Each Sister spoke of their hopes and fears and joys of starting a new foundation in the United States. It was a beautiful, prayerful way to bring to mind our graced history and to thank God who has given us more than we could ever ask for or imagine. That evening we invited our friends to join us in a special Vigil of hymns, psalms and readings in preparation for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
We had two more special Midday Prayers with the rest of the Sisters sharing their memories. One was on April 25th, the day the Ven. Maria Celeste received the revelation regarding the Order. Sisters Mary, Lydia and Maria Paz shared memories that touched their hearts over the years. On the Feast of the Transfiguration, the day the first Sisters in Scala, Italy, put on the new red, blue and white habit of the Order, Sister Mary Jane showed a DVD she created featuring early pictures of the Sisters in Esopus, much to our delight. Then Sisters Moira and Hildegard shared their memories and impressions of life in the monastery in Esopus. All the recollections throughout the year have reminded us of how we have been blessed to be Viva Memorias of God’s love for the world by sharing the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love with all the holy ones in our own time and place.
As we conclude our Golden Jubilee Year of Foundation the Redemptoristine Nuns of Esopus invite you to a Eucharistic Celebration on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Saturday, December 8, 2007 - 1 p.m. , Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel Rev. Thomas Travers, CSsR, celebrant.
Our Christmas last year was overshadowed by sorrow when we learned that our former chaplain, Rev. John Kiwus, CSsR, died on December 27th. He suffered many years from depression and we pray with confidence and thanksgiving that he is now at peace in the arms of his beloved Redeemer.
Our Postulant, Mary Sommer, returned home after discerning God had something else in mind for her. She has kept in touch and still comes to share some quiet time in our community.
We were blessed with wonderful conferences this year. Fr. Kevin O’Neil, CSsR, gave us a very informative day on Bioethics, particularly on end of life issues. Fr. Jorge Colon, CSsR, shared with us for three days on his recent doctoral thesis on ‘The Mystery of Redemption.’ Fr. Quinn Conners, O. Carm., spoke to the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities, here, on ‘Growth in Body, Mind and Spirit: Integrating Sexuality as Celibates.’ Sr. Arlene Flaherty, OP, gave MACC a presentation on ‘Healing a Brokenhearted World’ where she addressed issues such as Fair Trade and human trafficking. All these issues we carry in our heart and pray for the most abandoned in our world. Before Sr. Arlene spoke to us about Fair Trade our community had already decided to buy Fair Trade coffee for all the coffee lovers in our monastery. It’s wonderful coffee! and it is good to be helping the working poor receive a just wage. We buy it online: http://www.equalexchange.com/interfaith.
Our old friend, Sr. Betty Finn, SC, who helped us in our discernment process when we were pondering whether to build new or renovate our old monastery, gave us our preached great retreat in September. It was a joy to welcome her into our new monastery and hear her share from her rich experience.
We saw the film ‘Into Great Silence’ and were moved by the stark beauty and simplicity of the lives of the monks at Chartreuse. Sr. Hildegard will be part of a panel discussion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie December 1, 2007.
One of the brightest highlights of our year was our Regional Association Meeting, October 22-30, 2007, with our Sisters from Liguori, Missouri and Fort Erie, Ontario. Representatives from our affiliate monasteries of St. Therese in Quebec and Merrivale in South Africa also joined us to add their unique perspective to our discussions. We were 25 Sisters in all. The Redemptorists at Mount St. Alphonsus generously hosted our entire time together. Thank you, brothers.
We began the meeting with a video address from Father General Tobin, CSsR. He echoed the challenge he made in his letter of April 2005 to the Order to work toward creative fidelity and look at our structure of governance of the Order, to work toward unity and the reorganizing of the monasteries themselves so that historically significant foundations will not close. With his words ringing in our hearts we spent a great deal of time pondering these important questions.
Fr. Ronnie McAinsh, CSsR, Formation Director and Rector in Zimbabwe, was with us for five days of the meeting before he had to return to Africa. He gave us a presentation on ‘From Ritual Purity to Purity of Heart’ challenging us to get rid of any hypocrisy in our lives and put on ‘purity of heart’ which ‘is openness and transparency in which God can clearly be seen in us.’ Fr. Ronnie facilitated all our other discussions and met personally with many Sisters.
Each Community gave a presentation: our Sr. Paula spoke on ‘Celeste and Community,’ Sr. Joan Calver of Liguori spoke on ‘Community with Fidelity and with a Sense of Humor,’ Sr. Margaret Ried of Fort Erie gave us a practical look at ‘The Challenge of Being a Viva Memoria in an Aging Community’ and Sr. Marie Veronique Neault of St. Therese presented a spiritual examination entitled ‘Thoughts on Our Vocation.’ We had another guest speaker, Sr. Kitty Hanley, CSJ, who used the image of the modern icon ‘The Road to Emmaus’ as a starting point to her presentation on ‘Community: Gift and Challenge.’ All the talks were followed by small and large group sharing which were very moving and enriching.
The night before the sisters departed to return to their own monasteries we were presented with the ‘Ratio Formationis’ in English! Thanks to Sr. Chantal Lussier. Our time together culminated with a joyful Mass of Thanksgiving with our Sisters from the Region and our Lay Associates for our Golden Jubilee of Foundation. Father Provincial Patrick Woods, CSsR, was our celebrant and during his homily thanked us saying our lives ‘…are shining lights to the world, a great witness to those seeking God in their lives.’ Mass was followed by a festive dinner in the Mount’s refectory and we were all gifted with a sky blue fleece vest with our monastery name and the date of the years of foundation stitched on them. Our Redemptorists are so thoughtful and wonderful to us!
Our year has been full of joys and we thank God for our fifty years of Redemptoristine Life in Esopus. May the Christ-child dwell in your hearts through faith always and may you experience his love now and in the year to come.
To all our Redemptoristine Sisters, Priests and Brothers, our Friends, Family and Benefactors,
Peace and Joy and Blessings, Good Health and Wisdom; you will be remembered nightly at our Evening prayer during our Novena before Christmas.
Adore, oh my soul, in the bosom of Mary,
the only Begotten Son of God,
who was made man for love of you.
Tel: 845-384-6533 Website: Google: Redemptoristine Nuns Esopus
Saturday, December 01, 2007
The Advent Call
- Not Just for
A story from the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the 3rd century:
In Scetis, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. And the old man said, “Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
Abba Moses directed the contemplative aspirant to an environment conducive to growth. “Growth” can make us think of gardens. Gardens take various forms: fields, raised beds, small urban patches, greenhouses or hydroponic labs. Whatever their form, soil additives are required to promote growth – some sort of “Miracle-Gro”.
Contemplative life can be “grown” in a monastic cell, in any kind of home, in a hermitage, in a service oriented mission, or on a mountain top in Greece. But in all cases a good dose of spiritual “Miracle-Gro” is required. Silence is the necessary additive.
Across the wide spectrum of religious experience, throughout the ages and in our time there is evidence of a universal call to withdrawal – some sort of remove to silence and solitude. I believe that this is the truth of human response to the transcendent to which Philip Groning points in his film "Into Great Silence.” The film is not really about the Carthusians per se, but about that universal religious impulse, to which the Carthusians, among others, give example.
Native Americans on the ‘vision quest’, Muslim Sufi mystics, Buddhist monks, Jewish Kabbalists, Hindu sannyasis, Orthodox Jews observing the Sabbath, as well as Christian nuns and monks all express this impulse by going apart.
Before proceeding, I must ‘fess up' with a bit of truth in advertising. I am not a Carthusian. I am solemnly professed in the contemplative Order of the Most Holy Redeemer, living in monastic papal enclosure. But don’t let the habit and the gray hair fool you. I am no spiritual sage with decades of cloistered life under my veil. I am a newbie, a once married mother of three sons and now a grandmother. My grasp of the silence and recollection is so tenuous as to be closer to the experience of any lay person on the spiritual journey than it is to that of the golden jubilarians in my community. By the late 1990s, seeking refuge from a house filled with young men and their large circle of friends, I had created a little kingdom in my bedroom. It was well appointed with a raft of electronic devices and my feet would hardly have hit the floor in the morning when one if not two or three of them would be turned on. I flooded my senses with input and could multi-task with the best of them. Things began to change slowly as I anticipated my entrance into the monastery in the year 2000. In the years since, my extroverted self as eased into what I find to be the pregnant atmosphere of silence and solitude.
The charism of our Order stresses the capacity of interdependent community life within the context of prayer and by the work of the Holy Spirit, to transform us into the image and likeness of God. We pursue what monastics refer to as conversatio morem, or conversion of manners, so as to become, in the words of our charism, ‘living memories’ of Jesus Christ. How is that for a tall order?
While we do not live the Carthusian heremitic life in community, we observe the Grand Silence from 9pm to 7am, what we call the Little Silence from 1:30 to 3:30pm each day and work very hard at creating an atmosphere of quiet recollection throughout the day. When we moved from a large old monastery into a new one just one third its size, we worried about maintaining the atmosphere of silence. We learned that it is not the size or nature of the surroundings that creates an ambiance of quiet and peace. Rather, it is the degree of desire in those who live there that makes the difference.
As a means of providing an answer to the WHY question about our life and that of the Carthusians, here is the pertinent section from our Rule:
Silence, being an essential value of monastic life, liberates the soul, and always brings with it a call of the desert to solitude and peace. It opens a person to the depths of the mystery of God and to intimacy with Him. It is not in the first place isolation or an absence of words but a loving presence to God as well as a delicate sensitivity to the presence of others by an attitude which allows them to be recollected and to pray. That is why we must love silence for ourselves and must strive to encourage it around us.
Our brothers and sisters …must be able to find in our monasteries the house of prayer and peace they need. ..The enclosure which cuts us off from the world is an open door for those seeking God. Our silence is a word of salvation and our contemplation is missionary activity.
The hidden life and the silence permit us to hear the divine Wisdom which teaches in solitude and in the secret of the heart. Without this, it is difficult to progress in virtue; to accept and to make fruitful the gifts and graces of the Lord.
The liturgies of Advent season call us to enter the silence; a silence reminiscent of Robert Frost’s snowy woods – “lovely, dark and deep,” Here we are invited to dwell in the presence of mystery. These days call us to ‘listen up’ – to withdraw, at least for a few moments, from the crowded market place. This season, like no other, begs for recollection and silence in the presence of the mystery of the Incarnation.
Once, a Jewish friend brought me up short with his insight. He told me with great respect, “If I believed that Christmas was the day on which the most high God came to earth to live among us, I would have to spend that day in the silence of a monastery.”
However, our resistances are so great; our preoccupations and distractions so alluring and only growing in number as I speak, that we respond:
· How could I just do nothing? I would feel so guilty.
· I am not worthy to aspire to the contemplative life of the saints.
· Oh, it is so selfish.
· I have no place and no time for such a thing.
Whatever our objections, in consideration of the possible fruits of even small remnants of time given to silent solitude, we must ask the question, “Can we, in this day and in these times, afford not to enter into that fearsome silence?”
What are the fruits that can be cultivated in the garden of silence?
1. There no doubt as to the development of greater conscious awareness of all reality – a contemplative seeing of colors, textures, patterns, movement and the sheer wonder of it all.
2. Silent solitude, being alone with the alone, fertilizes the soil in which humility grows – the sense of powerlessness and fragility, our dependence on a higher power, our gratitude for what has come not of our own doing but as gratuitous gift.
3. The state of conscious attention and availability to God opens us up to hear God’s word, to allow God’s action to work out our spiritual life. It readies us for the state of infused contemplation which is the work of God alone.
4. In psychological terms, this type of spiritual practice creates an axis of communication between the ego and the true self. In our lives we encounter limits, failures, wrongs, sins of omission and commission in our parents, in our families, in the world and in ourselves. In response we develop false aspects of ourselves, in the effort to protect our truest essence and enable us to live safely with others. Unfortunately, although we mature and circumstances change we usually do not drop the protective gear of the false self. Often we become weighted down and bound up in a false way of being though it has become very unsatisfying or even dysfunctional. Solitude and communion allow the inner work necessary for shedding the false self, for greater personal integration and living out of our truest selves with more freedom.
5. These new perspectives, the freedoms they cultivate, slowly and and gently seep out of our times of silent withdrawal and begin to water the garden that is the rest of our time lived in community, in family, the workplace, the monastery and personal relationships. “Solitude, like a compassionate surgeon, cuts away our defenses” revealing our hidden agendas. In our new consciousness, humility and perspective, the agendas become less and less compelling and we find ourselves surrendering to divine compassion.
6. For monastics, recollection, silence and solitude create the ambiance necessary for the apostolic work of prayer. Everything in the monastery is focused on living and preserving the communal and private prayer that is the core of the life. Our life does not really make any sense unless one believes in the power of prayer.
Today our understanding of the mystery and economy of prayer are being expanded in two ways. The first is attested to by the number of titles in the local book store concerning contemplative prayer, the mystical aspects of contemplation. Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or not at all.” The word mystic has, if you will, lost some of its mystique. We have come to appreciate in a healthy way that we are all mystics. The mystic heart is the deepest part of who we are. In silence and solitude we cultivate the ground of mystical prayer.
The second expansion of our understanding is coming out of the realm of quantum physics. As someone who failed high school chemistry and was thus deprived of senior physics I cannot do this subject justice. But the theologian, Barbara Fiand and others, speak today of prayer as transtemporal and transpacial. They tell us that all of creation is totally interconnected in a field of energy. Such talk provided new understanding of Karl Jung’s theory of collective consciousness. We are also being told that our very thoughts have energy which reverberates through the network backwards and forwards. Modern scientific discussion is giving new meaning to the work of solitary contemplation and prayer. Thomas Merton expressed this more poetically: "In the night of our technological barbarism, monks must be a tress which exist silently in the dark, and by their vital presence purify the air."
7. Finally, silence cultivates the prophetic voice. If the word prophet is too loaded, how about this? By our spiritual practice of silence and solitude we offer a counter-cultural statement concerning the nature of life, our work in the world, our human frailty and our dependence upon God. In seeking some distance we arrive at the margins and are rewarded for our effort by a broader view and different perspective. We return to community, family, workplace, monastery, holiday traffic, the line at the supermarket, the front page of the New York Times or the revelations of CNN. In all these places we encounter reality and act within that reality from a new perspective. It is the communal aspect of the examined life that keeps us honest. It is the place where the rubber must hit the road lest our spiritual practice be reduced to so much contemplative navel gazing.
Rather than a place of confinement, the figurative cell is the homestead of the liberated self, the place in which the true self is set free to live as a child of God. We never enter the cell alone. Believing this we can confidently surrender to the invitation which is the first line of St. Romuald’s brief rule for hermits: “Sit in your cell as in paradise.”