Wednesday, January 30, 2008

History Repeats Itself

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam"
April 4, 1967
Riverside Church
New York City

Was it Lord Acton who said, "Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it"? Perhaps I am brought back to that adage because I am a student of history and continue to be amazed by the lessons it can teach. We are about to come to end of the month in which tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King are often heard. Maybe in honor of the anniversary of his birth but even more so for the current context provided by the war in Iraq, the local public radio station chose recently to air his Vietnam War speech delivered to a large gathering in Riverside Church on the upper west side of Manhattan almost forty-one years ago. .

There is another adage that applies here: "Youth is wasted on the young." In the spring of 1967 I was busy student teaching, looking forward to June graduation from Hunter College in New York City and a few months after that my first move from home and marriage at the tender age of twenty-two! Nobody does that anymore! Even though I was a history major in college I have only vague memories of Dr. King's anti-Vietnam War position and the dismay it caused both to the African-American community and to the white population largely in favor of the war.

Why broadcast this speech now? I was struck, fairly mesmerized by how applicable everything he said was to our current situation. Just change the word Vietnam to Iraq and no time has gone by at all. He spoke of prophetic vision, of the poor who fight our wars, for our democracy's lack of respect for the self-determination of other peoples, of materialism, of the self-interest of big business in the mechanism of war, of how while we do all we can to eliminate violence from our streets, we put guns into the hands of young men to commit violent acts elsewhere. I could go on.

To say that I was moved and impressed would be gross understatement. I should not have been so surprised. A few years ago I re-read Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and offered part of it as the second reading for the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Reading on Martin Luther King Day. Years later, an even more mature, even deeper thinking, more commited and wise man chose to speak out about the war. And he was courageous. As I listened, I said to myself, "Is it any wonder that they killed him?" He said things most people did not want to hear. He said them from a place of deep faith and conviction. Would that he could speak to us today. However, this speech does still speak. Give it a listen.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another Little Christmas

Our Monthly Feast

of the


and the Conversion


St. Paul of Tarsus

As described in past posts, Redemptoristines keep the 25th of each month as the feast of "Little Christmas", a celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. On the 25th of each month at Midday Prayer the Prioress selects a special reading from scripture and follows it with an uplifting and usually challenging thought. The Italians call these talks "ferverinos." Here is the word that Sr. Paula offered us today. We were blessed.

Reflection for Midday Office, January 25, 2008

The Conversion of St. Paul, the Incarnation of the Word of God. What do these two faith events, these two realities have to do with one another? A lot!

The mystery of the Incarnation bridges the realms of eternity and time. The triune God, dwelling in light inaccessible, leaps down into our midst in the Person of the Word. Surely God’s presence infused all creation from the very beginning. But now God can be seen and touched and handled. The Word was made flesh and dwells amongst us. God’s love beats in a human heart.

St. Paul’s conversion took place totally in the realm of our earthly time. He was a passionate young man, deeply involved in and committed to his Hebrew faith. In the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus a radical transformation took place within Paul’s mind and heart—but a change wholly in this world of time and space. I wonder if we can ever comprehend what a struggle it was for Paul to come to faith in Jesus. It may well be that the three years he spent in the desert was what it required for his inner reorientation. I wonder if that may be why he saw himself as the apostle to the Gentiles? He knew too personally, too painfully, what it took for a good pious practicing Jew to come to the fullness of belief in WHO Jesus is, fully human, fully divine. Gerard Manley Hopkins, in one of his poems, speaks of the different ways of conversion comparing “once in a flash Paul” to that of Augustine: “God’s lingering out sweet skill”. I believe Paul kept running from and to God all of his life.

We are so blessed to have as part of our community charism this monthly celebration of the Incarnation. So that we can realize and experience it takes a lifetime of pondering for us to grow in our own faith and understanding of the Mystery, in our own whole-hearted conversion.

We are called to enter deeply into this mystery and to let it grab us totally, heart, mind and soul, and transform us as it did St. Paul. Why should we hold back anything?

In this spirit of total gift, of total surrender, let us renew our vows today.


Lea, posted a comment to the recommendation of Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth. She put in a well-deserved pitch for Lawrence Cunningham's Jesus - The Teacher Within. I have read it, liked it very much and thought it had very special appeal to those whose profession/vocation is teaching.

While we are on the subject of good books about the person of Jesus, I would also mention Michael Casey's Fully Human Fully Divine - An Interactive Christology. Casey is a Trappist monk in Australia and author of other great books including Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer, Sacred Reading - The Art of Lectio Divina and another on the Rule of St. Benedict.

By the way, for those of you who may not know how to leave a comment - Just go to the bottom of any post, click on the word "comment" and then enter your comment in the space provided. You can remain anonymous. I see the comment in my e-mail and get to say whether I want to appear on the blog or not. If you don't care to leave a comment but see that other comments have been left and want to read them, just click on the word "comment" and they will appear. I look forward to hearing from more of you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Read Anything Good Lately?

Since Lent is coming upon us so quickly this year, thought I'd make a recommendation for seasonal spiritual reading. Many far more qualified than I have reviewed Pope Benedict's new book Jesus of Nazareth so I will not attempt such commentary. However, I do want to encourage its consideration. This is not a book one breezes through. The author states over and over in his lengthy introduction that the work is the product of a great deal of study, intellectual reflection and prayerful contemplation. I would suggest that it is the result of his own personal response to Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am." This highly personal element is one of the features that makes this book a very interesting one.

Of course, the subject is the very first draw. But knowing Pope Benedict's reputation as a intellectual, a scholar and a teacher might be a bit intimidating. Prior to opening the cover I thought, "Can I really read this book and enjoy it." I have been very pleasantly surprised. The presentation is lucid, clear and inviting. This reflects the gifts of the author but also, I think, a great deal of credit must go to Adrian J. Walker who produced the English translation. It was no small task to present these deep thoughts in flowing, easily read and understood, everyday English. Walker's skill is to be admired.

So take a look at the book. It is not the type that can be quickly read from cover to cover. It is however, a great possibility as the focus for daily reflection in our Lenten practice. It might be helpful to keep your Bible nearby.

And Still We Celebrate - Last Visit to Some Old News

Our Archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York, sent a photographer to our 50th Anniversary celebration. These photographs were published in the December 20th issue. Unfortunately we just received that issue today! I guess my habit made it front and center in the first photo, much to my embarrassment. Starting with the first sister on the left those depicted are Sr. Maria Paz Suarez, Steven Katz (the architect for our monastery completed in 2001), Sr. Paula Schmidt, Prioress, myself and Sr. Moira Quinn, Sub-prioress.

The second photo is a great long shot of our chapel during the Mass. It is small chapel designed with a community of about 15 members along with 15-20 guests in mind. That day we managed to celebrate 75 strong! This was not the least of God's blessings for the occasion.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


January 13-18, 2008

Isn't this a great photo of our Sr. Maria Paz Suarez? She specializes in a particularly welcoming brand of hospitality and offers a wonderful example of contemplative life devoted to prayer and the conscious, on-going and all-encompassing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Her welcoming gesture is a visual expression of our desire to share this life with others who are drawn to a life of intimacy with our Redeemer facilitated by the silence and solitude as well as the communal life of contemplative monasticism. The Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa, our foundress, continues to invite women into the charism - to live in such union of hearts with Jesus and with each other in community that we become "living memories", ("viva memoria") of our Savior. By our lives we are to be witnesses of the totally gratuitous love of God for all humankind and all of creation - "For God so loved the world...."

The little heading above reads "Perfect Timing". This is Vocation Awareness Week and I have just become so much more aware of vocations in being appointed Vocation Director for this community. Is this divine synchronicity or what? Pray for the effort. Pray for all those who make inquiry with us, that God will illumine their minds and speak to their souls. Pray for this community, that we might be ready to welcome, to share, to teach, to guide, to inspire, and to model Redemptoristine contemplative life. The vocation to be a contemplative nun is a rare one. But we know that the call to this life is heard even in these times. May hearts respond with love and generosity and desire to the invitation to join in the apostolic work of maintaining a praying presence before the throne of God for the salvation of the world.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan

Baptism of Jesus by Giotto

On the cusp of the return to Ordinary Time we encounter the last of the three great Epiphanies - the first revelations of Jesus the Christ, Redeemer of humankind. Various rituals accompany the stories of the Magi following the star to the infant whose birth was foretold in the ancient texts; the unpremeditated manifestation of divine power in the transformation of water into wine at Cana in Galilee; and today Jesus' humble submission to the ministry of John the Baptizer confirmed by God the Father, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased."

Today the celebrant of our Mass was Father George Keaveney, CSsR, Rector of Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat Center. In his homily he asked us to spend some time thinking about our own baptism, the promises that were made for most of us by our godparents and the intensification of those promises by our vows in religious life.

I found myself thinking about the circumstances of my own baptism in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. My young mother did not come to the church. That simply was not done. My father was on the Pacific island of Guam serving in the U.S. Air Corps in the last days of World War II. I was only eight days old but it had to be done because my godmother was leaving for California with only $500 to her name to start her own designer dress business. (Yes, it became a great success.) The godfather was my thirteen year old uncle.

What did that sacrament mean for my life? What was begun in St. Mary Mother of Jesus Church those many years ago? Today Father Keaveney quoted St. Augustine who said that in baptism Jesus becomes closer to us than we are to ourselves. That is a good thought to have in mind each time I bless myself with holy water from the font.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

January 5 - St. John Neumann, CSsR

Immigrant bishop to the immigrants of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann's personal story reads as typically American. It has the flavor of rugged individualism dedicated to a true call, capable of overcoming all odds.

Given today's priest shortage it is amazing to find that upon completing his seminary training in Germany and although he had a exemplary record and a reputation as a linguist, he could not find bishop willing to ordain him since there were too many priests! Here is the link for his complete life story:

Undeterred, he came to the United States, was ordained by the bishop of New York and sent to minister to people at the very fringes of the Diocese in the area of Niagara Falls in the 1830s. He suffered from isolation in his diocesan assignment and upon discovering the communal style of missionary life promoted by the Redemptorists he applied for admission to the Congregation. He was a tireless missionary, traveling huge distances over arduous terrain and, at times, in fearsome weather conditions. His particular interest was that of the German immigrants, first in Baltimore and then Pittsburgh.

In 1852, at the age of 41, much to his dismay, he was named bishop of Philadelphia. As a foreigner, as man of physically small stature with a preference for simplicity, as an immigrant who spoke English with an accent (although he could by now speak six languages), he was not welcomed by the upper level of society. Yet in his 8 years as bishop he founded a model system of diocesan schools, began the Forty Hours practice of devotion to the Eucharist, founded a new religious institute: the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, and built 89 churches.

A worthy son of St. Alphonsus, like him, he made a vow never to lose a minute of time. As a bishop he was holy and indefatigable. Uninterruptedly he visited his vast diocese, on one occasion covering 40 kilometres of mountains by mule in order to confirm a young girl who was sick.

On January 5, 1860, at the age of 49, he died suddenly of a heart attack on a street in Philadelphia. He was beatified during the Second Vatican Council and canonized in 1977. In the homily on the occasion of his canonization Pope Paul VI summarized the activity of the new Saint in these words: "He was close to the sick; he loved to be with the poor; he was friend of sinners and now is the glory of all emigrants."

Friday, January 04, 2008


From The Comforting of Christ
by Caryll Houselander, 1947
A Meditation on the Mass of Reparation

"Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us Peace."

Give us the gentleness of lambs, give us the innocence of lambs, give us the meekness to be sacrificed. Lamb of God, receive the innocents who have been slain for You, or because of You, from the first-born sons slain by Herod to the little sons and daughters slain in our wars. Lamb of God, grant us peace; in the name of the children killed on the roads by carelessness, have mercy on us; in the names of the child-saints of the century, grant us peace. For the sake of the humble, the poor, the simple, the imprisoned, the shackled and bound, have mercy on us. For the sake of the patience of sick people, of cripples, of the old people sitting quietly in the workhouse. For the sake of poor relations, the dependents, those who are humiliated by being poor; for those uncomplaining poor who have nothing to give to their loved ones when they are sick and dying. For the love of the peasant people of little nations ruled by tyrants, have mercy on us, grant us peace.

"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem."

Another Redemptoristine Tradition for Contemplative Nuns

Instead of Resolutions:

A Patron

A Practice

An Intention

and a Title of Mary

for the New Year

Redemptoristines keep New Year's Eve Day as one of Recollection and Silence in preparation for the great feast of Mary the Mother of God and as orientation to the advent of another calendar year with its possibilities and challenges. Since the year 2000, we have ended the day with the Vigil Office of Readings for the Feast in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration until mid-night.

Early in the day, at the first Office, each sister was asked by the Prioress to pick at random, from cards arranged upside down on a tray, a patron, practice, prayer intention and title of Mary for the coming year. Often the patrons are depicted on lovely holy cards. I like to paste the practice, intention and title on the reverse of the card and put it into my copy of the Liturgy of the Hours where I am sure to see it every day as a reminder.

This year I drew St. John the Evangelist as my patron. Practices are usually a line or two from our Constitution and Statutes (the Rule). This was my selection:Offering our will to God through love, we are all the more in communion with the Mystery of Christ, obedient even to the cross, and in this way we become more disposed to seek the Kingdom of God in all and above all. (C&S 31) My chosen prayer intention is Father General Joseph Tobin, CSsR, his Council and the OSsR Secretariat. Fr. Tobin is a wonderful man with an awesome responsibility for the Redemptorist mission to the poor and most abandoned all over the world. The OSsR Secretariat is a committee of Redemptorist priests who make themselves available to help us, the Redemptoristine Nuns, as necessary. The title of Mary chosen was Health of the Sick.

Receiving these early on a day of recollection invites some meditation on the particular meaning of these selections made for me in what could be described as a 'Holy Spirit lottery'. I ask myself: What could the meaning of these assignments be for me me? Why this patron or this intention for me right now, this year? Each year's new choices brings an invitation or a direction or an inspiration.

The holy card I received is an icon of John the Evangelist. He is holding a pen; his hand is poised as if he is waiting for God to tell him what to write. I have been sitting on a writing project for a couple of years Something about the emotional life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospel of Mark. How's that for daring! In a new book about Hildegard of Bingen, the author reports that her research and writing are for her a form of lectio divina. I understand that experience and think that St. John is destined to guide me back to this writing project.

Yesterday a kind reader of this BLOG sent in a comment to an Advent post concerning the realities of our bodiliness, especially for women. Her comment illustrates one kind of Cross that comes with living a full life, one that we do not necessarily anticipate. The practice I received speaks of obedience to life's realities appearing in all realms - community, aging, the world scene, personal responsibilities, etc. The practice also speaks of a transcendent reality that flies above it all.

The prayer intention is an important one given the challenges being experienced by all religious congregations and orders: how to live the charism; how to fulfill the mission with fewer members; how to teach the way of Jesus Christ, using words only if necessary. Our leadership at all levels and in all configurations need the support of our prayers.

Help of the Sick is the title of Mary chosen for me by divine serendipity. In meditation I realized how easy it is for me to pray to Mary, our Mother, for the needs and healing of others. I tend not to ask for myself. Is this rooted in denial of my own bodiliness, my own physical dimension? Is it a refusal to acknowledge my own neediness? Is it a refusal to respond to Jesus's words from the cross, "Behold, your mother." As a mother myself, I am much more likely to act on behalf of others than on behalf of my own needs, desires, pains and sufferings. The invitation is to unite my own personal reality with that of Mary.

Why not avoid the New Year resolution routine and think more in terms of the invitation some, patron, practice, intention or title of Mary may issue for your spiritual journey?