Monday, April 28, 2008

A "State of the Union" for Religious Life - A Contemplative Nun Weighs In on the Issue

I am privileged to participate in a number of Internet List-servs which focus on the history of religious life and issues of interest to Catholic religious. Recently our cyber conversation has focused on the cover story of the April 6th issue of OUR SUNDAY VISITOR. The article, written by Ann Carey, was entitled "Disorder Among the Orders." I first saw this issue at the time it was hitting the homes of subscribers and the news stands at the back of parish churches. I picked it up at St. Mary's, a large, historic and very active Redemporist parish in Annapolis, MD. Oddly enough, I was there serving in my new capacity as vocation/formation director for our small community of contemplative nuns. As intended by the editors, my eyes were immediately drawn to the cover image - a photo of two traditionally dressed sisters walking down a path away from the viewer. Across the photo was splashed in large print the words "TURNING THEIR BACKS." The cover was eye-catching and, at least in my case, a bit stomach turning.

I have commented on the Internet discussion lists that I think religious get a bit myopic by virtue of our professionalism when examining such reportage. While I was galled by the misleading and opinion driven content of the piece, I was far more disturbed by the message being communicated to the faithful laity in such bold words and image. We tend to dissect this inflammatory writing from the insider's point of view, entirely rational, historically accurate with statistics to support our positions. The laity come at this from a totally different direction and experience.

It is a rather odd coincidence that that only a few weeks before the appearance of Carey's "state of the union" pronouncement regarding religious life I had written and presented my own "state of the union" message to a group of lay people gathered at our monastery. Regular readers of this blog will remember reports of our Lenten Contemplative Studies Series, three Monday night lectures on contemplative topics followed by prayer with our community.

Here is the entire text of the last of those lectures - my attempt to bring our lay friends up to date and give them a perspective concerning the current state of religious life. It was meant to give historical context, be reassuring and also to offer a bit of a challenge.

“To Pray Always” – Monastic Life into the 21st Century

After the London Times published his obituary, Mark Twain quipped to a lecture audience, “The report of my death was greatly exaggerated.

Tonight I would like to assure you that reports of the death of monasticism, indeed the death of religious life, have been greatly exaggerated. Both are alive and well, though diminished in number. Indeed, if the record of history and culture is predictive and if, as a result, artistic imagination keeps bringing monastic images to our cultural radar screen, they will never die.

Before proceeding, I want to say that this talk contains a lot more personal opinion than the others. Therefore please feel free to take what you want and leave the rest. I will also say that my opinions are not necessarily those of the management.

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. Native Americans on the ‘vision quest’, Muslim Sufi mystics we call whirling dervishes, 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. In the terms of Jungian psychology this human propensity is referred to as the monk-archetype, a contemplative dimension that is inborn, in every human being. In response to this innate dimension some seem to instinctively recognize the value of silence and solitude not only for personal well-being but for the well-being of their society. I did not see the recent public television documentary on the human brain, but my father did. He mentioned that researchers have found that a period of silence has a scientifically demonstrable beneficial effect on the brain. Perhaps this is the measurable physiological effect that some among us merely intuit.

Expressions of the tendency to withdraw in an effort to be more aware of, or commune with, the transcendent, mysterious other, or the numinous, pre-date Christianity by at least 600 years; appearing first in Hinduism and then Buddhism. In Jewish and Christian tradition, Elijah and Elisha are examples of hermits who inspired the Essenes in 1st and 2nd century BC Israel. There has been much speculation concerning the possible influence of this monastic sect on the lives of both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

Christian monasticism was born in the deserts of Egypt in the 3rd century AD. Hermits began to attract others gradually forming groups which developed into cenobitic or communal monastic life. By the 4th century there were Celtic hermits who were soon followed in the 5th and 6th centuries by full-fledged monasteries in what we call the British Isles and Ireland. This was also the case in Gaul, which is present-day France.

Although other seminal rules for monastic life preceded it, the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the 6th century was and continues to be most influential in terms of monastic spirituality and practice.

Any one who has studied European History or the History of Western Civilization or read Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization, knows how monasteries are credited with preserving classical knowledge while the Roman Empire collapsed and ravaging hordes invaded Europe during what is called the Dark Ages. Later, the 11th and 12th centuries were the monastic golden age in which an upswing in population and comparative peace allowed for monastic reform movements to thrive. By the 13th century which saw the rise of mendicant orders like the Franciscans, there were already hundreds of Benedictine and Carthusian monasteries in present day France and Germany.

However, if we hop, skip and jump a few hundred years to early modern Europe we come to a time when monasticism in western Europe was dealt an almost lethal blow. The Protestant Reformation of the late 15th and early 16th centuries had made things difficult enough. But during the French Revolution which began in 1789 and in the years that followed ALL but a handful of monasteries in France were closed, occupied or destroyed. At the time, with surviving monks and nuns seeking asylum in foreign countries or simply going home there seemed little hope for the future. Later political upheaval in most of the European countries often made monastic life difficult, if not impossible.

By the turn of the 20th century the pendulum began to swing the other way. And in our country it followed a particularly high arc. The great immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had brought millions of Catholics into the United States. Many elements combined to energize the swing. The local church was a natural focus for ethnic Catholic people. Religious and priest from their home countries were imported to minister to them. By the 1930s and 40s these groups, after surviving the Great Depression were treading the path of upward social mobility. Ethnic and religious prejudices still made the path arduous in the general culture but the Church provided a sure and respected avenue in which to move up the social ladder. It was a rare Catholic mother or father who would not support a religious vocation cropping up in their family.

Scholars of the history of women have also touched upon a factor in this mix which may have been, if not a stated motivation, than perhaps at least an unconscious one for many young women entering religious life. Although women had been granted the vote in 1921, generally speaking, their vocational choice remained exceedingly narrow. That narrowness prevailed well into the 1960s, the period of my own college education. It was considered acceptable that if a woman had to work or if she exhibited some intellectual ability meriting education beyond high school her choices were limited to teaching, nursing, social work, maybe pharmacy or advanced training in a secretarial school. For the middle class, it was understood that this work would end with marriage and children. Furthermore, it was understood that leadership in these fields would remain in the hands of men.

Considering those societal norms, it is almost startling to see how vowed Catholic religious women, as early as the 19th century, in the name of charity and service to the poor and needy, functioned in positions generally forbidden to lay women in the same time period. Beginning with the sisters whose service as nurses during the civil war was highly coveted by doctors; to those who engineered networks of missions in large congregations across the country if not the globe; to those to headed hospitals, colleges, and boards of directors; to those who were able to sit down with bankers and negotiate huge loans for building funds in the midst of the Depression; these women found outlet for their natural abilities as leaders and organizers which could not have be exercised outside of Catholic religious life.

With such leadership and example combined with the influence of the burgeoning Catholic school system and the general feeling that to be a priest or sister was a move up both in this world and in your hope for the next, it is no wonder that the numbers of those entering seminaries and novitiates swelled to an unprecedented high.

Some of us look back to that time with a nostalgic longing, a longing for a time of such affirmation and certainty. However, my friends, we have to remember that this was, in reality, just a blip on the radar screen, a brief moment in the history of religious life and a moment that was far from perfect in every detail.

In 1960, our own sisters moved into their newly built monastery here at Mt. St. Alphonsus. In its size alone, 45,000 square feet, was reflected the expectation of large numbers seeking entrance into the community. It could hold up to forty-three nuns, included a handsome chapel and insured both the enclosure and accommodations for women flocking to the monastery. However, that very period was the cusp of great change in society and the Church. The Second Vatican Council “opened windows” and declared “the universal call to holiness.” The Feminist Movement began to open up previously unheard of opportunities for women. At the same time, the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War Movements raised consciences in matters concerning justice and peace. Many factors contributed to a shrinking of the ranks in all religious communities. Women left religious life because they had to re-examine what they had considered a call in the light of a new societal, cultural and spiritual reality. This community itself remained small, never filling a huge building which could not meet the needs of an eventually aging community and was costly to maintain. Through the generosity of the Redemptorists, the community moved into this new home in 2001.

And where is contemplative monastic life today? What is the status of this life and religious life in general? We are alive and well. The invitation of the Second Vatican Council, (1962 to 1965) to revisit or, in some cases such as ours, to discover for the first time the original inspiration of the founder, was life-giving. The invitation to apply modern educational and psychological principles to the rule of life and the invitation to become more educated in the faith, to become ever more steeped in the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his Word, have brought religious to places they had never gone before to serve the poor and most abandoned. They have brought men and women into the silence and solitude of the monastery where the focus is clear, where the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience can be lived faithfully in an atmosphere which honors the dignity, maturity and gifts of the individual. Apostolic active religious are doing wonders everywhere in a manner and with a quality of such generous and sacrificial faithfulness that gives glory to God and honors the inspiration of their founders.

Unfortunately, and perhaps it is the fault of that Catholic nostalgia I referred to earlier, the general culture seems a bit schizophrenic in its attitude toward religious. On one hand, there is the play Nunsense (at which I laugh as raucously as anyone), the movie Sister Act which is and unbeatable mix of nuns and rock and roll tunes, and all manner of nun kitsch – boxing nuns, nuns having fun calendars, nun dolls, nun candles, and knick-knacks of all kinds. Out of genuine regard we want sisters or nuns to be there, to be on duty because of their generosity, their faith, their intelligence and their expertise but, at the same time, we think we have the right to tell them what they should be wearing, where they should live, and who we think they should be serving.

On the other hand, and in a very hopeful development, we admired the block-buster, Academy Award winning, Dead Man Walking. Although she dared to minister to a condemned murderer, although she wore a lay woman’s clothing, we loved how Susan Sarandon portrayed Sr. Helen Prejean. In spite of the distastefulness of it all Sarandon reminded us of the single minded dedication to the teachings of Jesus long admired in American religious women.

Last year a German documentary was shown at the Forum, an art movie theater in Manhattan. Titled Into Great Silence, the 240 minute film was a virtually silent record of the day to day life in the Carthusian monastery of the Grande Chartruese in the French Alps. The director, Philip Groning had first asked permission to make the film in 1984. But the Carthusians, the most austere Catholic order, responded that they were not ready. Sixteen years later they contacted Groning with the simple message, “Now we are ready.” The film took a jury price at the Sundance Film Festival and won best documentary at the European Film Awards. When it came to the Forum last year the lines went around the block and it was held over repeatedly. A.O. Scott, film critic for the New York Times wrote, “…You surrender to “Into Great Silence” as you would to a piece of music…but your sense of the world is nonetheless perceptibly altered…I hesitate, given the early date and the project’s modesty, to call “Into Great Silence” on of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others.”

So even in the popular culture we find hope. We also find hope in the slowly increasing numbers of applications to communities and in the establishments of new communities of monastic life not only in the Catholic tradition but even among Protestant evangelicals. And in the third world religious life is blooming. While the same factors may be at play there that contributed to the serge here during the 40s and 50s, great work is being done and large congregations have become truly international. The current superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame, a congregation well known in the United States, is a native of Kerala, India. She is responsible for 2,400 sisters ministering throughout the world.

Recently, in this country, there was a period when older women of a certain age predominated among candidates. One sister remarked that these women were about the age that all those who left in the 70s would have reached by this time. Perhaps the Spirit was filling in a vital gap. Unlike the active congregations contemplative orders never stopped accepting older women, an ancient precedent in the life.

To conclude this status report I would like to share some thought from the Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister. Her essay, Old Vision for a New Age, was published in one of the books listed in the bibliography, A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century – Where Do We God from Here? In considering Sr. Joan’s recommendations, we have to bear in mind that Sr. Joan is a monastic but not a contemplative. The difference may not be clear. The Benedictine congregation to which she belongs follows a monastic structure and is very dedicated to the monastic life of prayer. However, they are active religious, many with apostolates outside the monastery. The sisters behind Benedictine hospital are of this type. Yet Sr. Joan’s vision has validity even within the contemplative monastic setting. This is the job description she outlines:

1. Monastic communities must become centers of reflection on the faith, centers of conscience and centers of spiritual development.
2. The monastic community must be a center of public service and a model of interfaith interaction.
3. Monasticism must be a model of equality.

In the same book of essays, Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers a more poetic description. In his view, monastic men and woman are to be models of maturity and holiness as they respond to the call to community, service and generosity.

Just as each part of the human body serves a unique purpose geared to its specific function; just as only skin cells can encapsulate our organs, just as only lung cells can absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide; just as only heart cells can form the muscles necessary to pump blood throughout the body; contemplative monastics fulfill a vital and distinct work in the Body of Christ. All religious, but particularly contemplative monastics reside at the outskirts. We live at the margin, on the edge. As contemplative monastics we live far away from the center of the action, form the centers of power. We are like those whose restricted pocketbooks put them in the last row of Yankee Stadium or the Metropolitan Opera. We may not be at the center but we sure do have a great view. That gives us a perspective on things, a view of the total reality that is not distorted by the corruption of influence and power. And we are told this freedom is the source of our prophetic wisdom. It is also said that to the extent that we can persevere in living alone together with charity and with mutual compassion for our wounded-ness, our humanity and our diversity we offer a model for peace in our world.

Trappist Abbot Francis Kline concluded his essay To What Holiness? Monasticism and the Church Today with these words:

“The Church makes no spiritual sense without this hidden gift of total surrender to Christ and constant conversion to him. It is the Church’s wedding garment which it only partially wears when it forgets the monastic way. The Church is not its complete spiritual self without this total abandon to the love of God, this total joy of freedom of the children of God, this total sacrifice which is held us as a single ray of light, made up of all the other rays of light, which is the mystery of the Church.

Thankless, rootless, without a home here, unknown or derided, thought foolish and meaningless, the monks and nuns look out on the eastern horizon for Christ the Bridegroom of the Church, in a world still too busy with itself, still too taken up with its own seriousness. The monks and the nuns keep the Church on its toes in vigilant waiting for the Savior. The monk and nuns hold aloft the light of the mystery of the Church, still in this world, but well on its way to full communion with the mysterious God. The light shines on, but in a fog where only the intently gazing can see it.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

First Inspiration for Redemptoristine Order of Nuns

For Redemptoristine Nuns April 25th, the Feast of St. Mark, has a great deal of added significance. On this day in 1725, Sister Maria Celeste, a novice living under the Rule of the Visitation Order, received a mystical grace. Jesus revealed to her that he wanted to give her a new institute, an institute dedicated to his imitation. He explained the content of the rule for the new institute and appeared to her with the habit of new order. Each day, during her prayer of thanksgiving following reception of the Holy Eucharist, Maria Celeste would write the Rule which expressed the spirituality of the institute.

As the lives of most religious founders reveal, their God-given inspirations are rarely met with ready acceptance. Much disagreement, jealousy and misunderstanding arose among the sisters of the monastery and their advisers in Scala, Italy nestled in the hills above Naples. All of this was a source of great suffering and humiliation for Maria Celeste. It was not until 1731 that her inspiration came to fruition and then only by the grace of God worked through the endorsement of a Neapolitan priest, Alphonsus de Liguori. In turn, her support and encouragement contributed to his move to establish a congregation of priests (Redemptorists) who would minister to the poor and most abandoned.

On the 25th of each month we also re-new our vows at Midday Prayer. Our order's charism is briefly expressed as the effort to become "a living memory" of Jesus Christ. The spirituality of our order of nuns is very incarnational. As Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, put on human flesh to become one of us, we are to put on Christ. Thus each 25th of the month is for us a "Little Christmas", a bit of expression of the great feast of Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation. The 25th happens also to be the monthly anniversary of my own personal profession of vows. It is also the custom for the prioress to give a talk after the scripture reading at Midday Prayer. Today Sr. Paula Schmidt spoke of a number of experiences we have had in the last week or so, including the Pope's visit, and how we need to ponder their meaning for us in light of Benedict's consistent theme of HOPE. Be wise, be prudent, be compassionate, be generous, be fruitful, seek justice and peace all in the name of Jesus Christ and in vast and continuing, faith filled, hope.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Helpful and Interesting Blog Readership

Links to Videos of Pope's Visit

A number of readers have provided a link to video on MSNBC of Pope Benedict's remarks before the final blessing at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Here is the link:

Text of the Pope's Remarks

"At this moment I can only thank you for your love of the Church and Our Lord, and for the love which you show to the poor Successor of Saint Peter. I will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for this time, in virtue of the Lord’s grace, the Successor of Peter.

It is also your prayers and your love which give me the certainty that the Lord will help me in this my ministry. I am therefore deeply grateful for your love and for your prayers. My response now for all that you have given to me during this visit is my blessing, which I impart to you at the conclusion of this beautiful Celebration."

Reader in Jerusalem

Dina, an archaeologist in Jerusalem, has left a few comments. Her blog address:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pope's Pastoral Visit to New York

First Impressions

I have never met a Pope. Some of my sisters here in the monastery have had that privilege, however brief. Sister Lydia was present at a private mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II and speaks often of being impressed by his simplicity and evident deep spirituality and faith.

I have known our current Pope only by reputation, first as Cardinal Ratzinger and then as a rather distant figure in his televised public appearances and his written words. As a highly relational and intuitive person, I always need a bit more than is provided at a distance to gain a sense of the person beneath the title and office. I must admit too that my limited knowledge of languages, especially in this case, presents an additional barrier.

It may seem an oxymoron for me to say that viewing him on television and at a distance at Yankee Stadium provided a more more up close and personal view. However, that is what I seem to have acquired. Many others far better informed, far more knowledgeable, have analysed this man, his theological stance, his Papacy. I cannot pretend to match them. I can only share my personal impressions.

Pope Benedict's remarks at every venue rang as well considered, true, and compassionate. (See the Vatican website for the full text of all of the Pope's remarks during his visit to the United States.) It was important for me to hear his words regarding respect for individual gifts, the need for communication, reconciliation and consensus building. I seemed to hear that it was good for us to discuss differences in mutual charity so that wounds could be healed and forward momentum restored. In his talk to the Bishops he said, "In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well ass the responsibilities that we bear toward them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church, giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community." Certainly this inter-personal responsibility in communal charity was expressed in Pope Benedict's repeated references to the clergy sexual abuse scandal and the systemic lack of protection for the vulnerable and neglect of the pastoral needs of victims.

His remarks throughout reflected an understanding of causes and consequences at the grass roots level. One could say that speech writers and other assistants would be responsible for this. However, the grammatical and logical constructions evident in the English versions of his talks indicate that they were originally written in German therefore suggesting his personal authorship. Due to my new ministry as vocation director for this community, I took particular note of his response at the meeting with bishops to a question regarding vocations. He said, "To my mind, much is demanded of vocation directors and formators: candidates today, as much as ever, need to be given a sound intellectual and human formation which will enable them not only to respond to the real questions and needs of their contemporaries, but also to mature in their own conversion and to persevere in life-long commitment to their own vocation."

There is much controversy surrounding the United Nations. Some ask if its time has gone by, if it is as much an expression of a lost hope as the League of Nations was early in the last century. Support from the Catholic Church is invaluable to an organization that is our last best hope for world peace. Benedict clearly expressed that support and at the same time spoke for the God-given and inalienable rights of all persons, particularly the right to expressions of faith in God. His remarks were mercy mercifully short but abundantly clear. In addition, here and elsewhere, were numerous references to the impact of globalization, that the effect of this phenomenon should not be limited to financial aggrandisement of the few but extend to a greater sense of the interrelatedness of all people and a corresponding responsibility for mutual personal advancement.

My greatest sense of seeing the man up close and personal came in his brief, off the cuff remarks to the congregation at St. Patrick's Cathedral just before the final blessing of the Mass. I have searched the print media for reference to these few but powerful words and have found none. I wish I could quote directly but I cannot. Pope Benedict expressed in sometimes halting extemporaneous English that St. Peter was a man with faults, a man guilty of sin, and yet chosen by Jesus to be the Rock on upon which the Church would be built. He went on to say the he too was an imperfect man, a man guilty of sin but that he would make every effort to continue, as Peter, to be a rock for the Church and all of us with the assistance of our prayers. These unscripted remarks say a great deal about the man.

The language of the Pope's remarks to the young people gathered at St. Joseph's seminary at Dunwoodie were perfectly geared to their experience, their cultural milieu and their challenges. His awareness of realities at the grassroots level was also reflected here in his instruction to seminarians; " I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ...of whom you are to be living icons..."

Attending a papal mass at Yankee Stadium is indeed an experience to remember. My last time at the stadium was occasioned by the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul in 1979. That took place in the evening and our tickets placed us high up in the stands. While just as well attended as this Mass with Pope Benedict, it did not have the added complications of strict post 9/11 security. Everyone was most patient and cooperative. We had to be. It took an hour to negotiate a visit to the facilities and to purchase some food. We were not permitted to bring food or drink into the stadium. It also took two hours for our bus (one of perhaps a thousand) to get out of the parking lot. And this time, as religious, we found ourselves in the second section of box seats behind and to the right of home plate - seats my son, a rabid Yankee fan, could never afford.

I find it awesome to be in a massive crowd so united in faith. Each of us was given a plastic bag containing the program, vocation literature from the diocese, a commemorative edition of the Gospel of Luke published by the American Bible Society, a plastic poncho, and copies of Magnificat and Catholic Digest. Also included was a yellow or white cloth napkin for waving to the Pope. Everyone knew exactly when to use them.

In his homily, Benedict spoke as he had in his address to the Bishops in Washington, D.C. of "rejecting the false dichotomy between faith and political life." He emphasized the distinguished history of the Church in the United States and the Archdiocese of New York in service of the poor, the sick, and the uneducated and repeatedly urged all gathered there to be "prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst."

In the end, I have grown in the sense that Pope Benedict does know and understand the American Church, that he appreciates our stubborn clinging to religious sensibility unlike western Europeans, and that charity in imitation of Jesus, this the primary expression of our Christian faith. We were privileged to see the compassionate, tender, humble and generous attributes of a person more commonly known for his great intellectual capacity and his introverted, somewhat stoic Germanic persona. It was a privilege to be united in faith by virtue of his presence and to be affirmed as we strive together to more closely follow our loving Lord and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ.

Photos of Yankee Stadium Mass appear below.
If you find that the slide show is too fast for you,
click on the button at the lower left of the screen to
stop and then restart the show.

Pope Benedict XVI - Mass at Yankee Stadium

Saturday, April 19, 2008

With Pope Benedict XVI

Ticket to the Pope's Mass at Yankee Stadium

Great Excitement Prevails

These have been heady days for the Catholic Church in the Untied States but particularly heady for us here in the Archdiocese of New York. Our community of contemplative nuns has been keeping pace with the Pope every step of the way and listening with great interest to his messages. It is especially meaningful to see our Pope in places and with so many people familiar to us. St. Patrick's Cathedral is not a tourist attraction to those of us born and raised in the diocese. It is, rather, our home away from from home. Grand as it is we are comfortable there. Just two months ago a few of us were in the Cathedral along with 1200 religious to celebrate the Bi-centennial of of the Diocese of New York.

Today two of our sisters, Paula and Maria Paz, left the monastery at 4:45am to travel with a group of local priests and deacons to the Cathedral in Manhattan. We spotted them in the crowd at the Mass. Our red habits stick out just a bit. We look forward to their return late this afternoon and having them share their first hand experience with us. It was a perfect day to be walking up Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Tomorrow Sr. Lydia and I will board one of two buses traveling from a local parish to Yankee Stadium. Security is very tight. We cannot bring in a thing except a small purse and a still camera - no water, food, video cameras, etc. Your name is attached to your ticket and cannot be handed off to anyone else.

Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to share some photos and personal impressions.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Our Contemplative Nuns and Their Stories

Meet the Sisters Series #3

Sister Lydia Lojo-Cruz, OSsR

I am a Puerto Rican by birth and never wanted to leave my beautiful Island. But one day I was in a Carmelite Monastery in San Juan where I had taken a friend who thought she had a call to be a Carmelite. I went to their Church while she was talking with the Superior. While praying there, I heard a noise of people walking, and then the beautiful singing and recitation of prayer. I was moved interiorly. When I went back, to get my friend, the Superior embraced me, and said. “Your friend is not ready, but you are.” Wow! I laughed at this comment! What did she know that I didn’t?

Well, not too long after I learned about the Redemptoristines in New York! All along I was thinking of the Carmelites, but when Redemptorist Fr. John Schomber (a.k.a. Fr. Clemente in P.R. whom I used to go with to teach First Communion classes, visit homes and go to the beach with the children to have a good time) mentioned ‘their Sisters were contemplatives,’ I didn’t even have to think about it. That was all I needed to know: there were Redemptoristines! And I was going to be one! It took me about 3 months to come to Esopus! I had to resign my job in Social Security Administration. The most painful thing to do was to tell my family and friends about my decision. But the worst of all was telling my dearest Mom and Dad! But here I am, over 40 years away from my beloved Island and family! During that time I have been privileged to work on the Viva Memoria Magazine for our Order and help with the OSsR Secretariat. Wow! Those were exiting years where we did a lot of work to build unity in the Order

My special place in the Monastery now is to be in our Chapel close to Jesus at Mass and adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament and praying with Our Mother of Perpetual Help interceding for our world in war and for the most abandoned. I am so grateful to Jesus our Redeemer for each day that I have lived as a Redemptoristine, and grateful to all the Sisters that have been part of my religious life, and those who are with me in the present day as we continue this wonderful vocation to be one with our Redeemer and continue His work of salvation on earth.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Vocation Excusion to Points South

Visiting for Vocations

St. Mary's Elementary
and High School,
Annapolis, Maryland

Redemptorist Retreat
House, Hampton, Virginia

If you have been disappointed in not finding new posts to this blog for quite a number of days, no need to be concerned that things were amiss. Having recently been appointed Vocation/Formation Director for my community, I received an invitation to participate in a vocation weekend for young women at a Redemptorist Retreat House in Hampton, Virginia. In order to break up the travel and maximize benefit I stopped at the wonderful CSsR parish of St. Mary's in Annapolis, Virginia and my way down and on the way back. Below this post you will find a slide show including pictures of people and places.

Everyone I met was most welcoming and the hospitality was terrific. All the youngsters from the fourth grade in St. Mary's Elementary School to the Juniors and Seniors at the High School were attentive and interested. I found the young ladies on the retreat to be very mature and thoughtful although they were just about to complete their first year of high school. And the Hispanic Youth Group had the patience to listen even though I needed a translator!

This was an unusual enterprise for a contemplative nun. Although extroverted by nature and accustomed to dealing with children of all ages, I found myself craving time apart, the monastic routine, silence and solitude. After a day of visiting high school classes and speaking about our life, about listening to that little voice that may speak in the head or the heart and following its direction, and about the love of Jesus Christ, I fled to the beautiful Perpetual Adoration Chapel of St. Mary's Church.

ALL - students, teachers, administrators, directors of religious education, campus ministers and visitors to the school - were delighted to see a nun in their territory. The vocabulary of religious life, of vocation, of call is no longer common to these young people. They do not know the stories of the great founders and foundresses. I found a great lack of what might be called Catholic cultural literacy.

I came home determined to urge the priests and religious (especially apostolic active religious) to get out there, to make the connection by visiting schools, religious education programs, youth groups, parent organizations, etc. Your life may depend on it.

Vocation Excursion to Points South