Friday, May 23, 2008

Personal Reflection

Denial is Not a River in Egypt

This funny little play on words and wise adage is familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the Twelve Step movement. It came to mind as I pondered the recent death of a much loved friend. His illness played itself out before our very eyes. It was his experience, not ours. Yet we would have thought and certainly hoped he would make other choices.

In contemplating his steady diminishment and certainty of diagnosis, I found myself getting into the "if only" mode. Somewhere in the midst of the internal carping I realized that perhaps I had better turn my reasoning, my disbelief to focus a bit closer to home. Were there some questions I had to ask myself? Could I squeeze a positive, life-giving energy out of this sad event?

Then I thought of the adage. "Denial is not a river in Egypt." It is easy to imagine the Nile River running its long course in peaceful tranquility, flowing gently between grassy banks. That's the common picture, although not necessarily always true. Yet it is a nice, undisturbing image. On the other hand, real "denial", placid only on the surface, hides real danger. Roiling beneath the surface are the consequences of avoidance par excellence, with great potential for disaster.

So what am I in deep denial about? What am I choosing to ignore at my own risk and at the risk of others to whom I owe some consideration? What is going on in my life that I refuse to face? What am I refusing to deal with and thereby courting great peril? What is going on in my relationships that I sweep under the rug and choose to avoid? All of this began to sound like a very good new angle on the examination of conscience. Somehow the usual list of suggested questions to ponder before the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not get to this kind of thinking.

It was not easy to plumb the depths of this river. No wonder we decide not to go there at all. In doing so one is forced to look at unpleasant things, ugly truths, the side of yourself that you wouldn't show to the camera. As if the sight of these realities was not enough, once seen clearly they begin to demand attention. Worse yet, giving them attention reveals that CHANGE is necessary. Awful! Awful! Who wants to change? Who can change? What is the prospect for success?

It could all end there in self-defeat or rapid retreat to the redoubt of denial. Then, with God's grace doing the prompting, it is possible to move into contemplation of the consequences of denial. What is sure to happen if I do pursue change? What could happen between myself and others if I made a move? What would a change surely mean for my future, my well-being, physical, emotional or spiritual?

So in this way we move on, move along, and pray that our God will companion us on the difficult but necessary journey. Propelled by honesty, begging for courage, we do it one day at a time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A New Link on this Blog

A Great Liturgy Resource

The Internet is an amazing instrument of social and informational connection. If you check comments here you have noted that Dina in Jerusalem is a regular reader. That amazes me and I am grateful. Now an Anglican priest in New Zealand has tripped over this small site. He contacted me and brought me attention to his absolutely wonderful web page focusing on liturgy in general and the Liturgy of the Hours in particular. Here is the link: . Reverend Bosco Peters, married and father of two teenagers, is devoted not only to informing good liturgical practice but most particularly to encouraging praying of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) for all Christians. This is a cause I have believed in for a long time. Years ago I wrote a lengthy history of the Liturgy of the Hours for a graduate course. Its title was The People's Office. I have taught this material to parish groups and instructed them on use of the the breviary. Just recently I had began to think about offering a course here at the monastery as I am told that there is rising interest in this prayer among the laity.

Rev. Peters' site is truly comprehensive. Catholics, do not shy away because he is an Anglican priest. He is very attentive to ecumenical issues, has links to many Catholic sites, and provides a vast array of liturgical resources. In addition, Rev. Peters is fun. There is a segment on his site called "The Naked Liturgist". I think he assigned this provocative title because in regard to liturgy his believe is that 'less is more.' When I clicked on "The Naked Liturgist" last night I was treated to a very tongue in cheek bit about the placement of announcements in the Mass. Admittedly, I had to get in to the New Zealander speech patterns and the dry British-type humor, but then I had to laugh. I think you will too. Rev. Peters seems to have sound ideas about allowing the special moments of the Eucharistic Liturgy to have their full and potent effect by letting them stand alone - less is more.

So today I have added Bosco Peters' web site to the list in the side bar as Liturgy - Liturgy of the Hours Resources. Give yourself adequate time to explore the site. He tells me he has over 700 pages of information and links, not to mention photos of monasteries, slide shows and videos. Have fun!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Life in Relationship - Trinity Sunday

For a very long time the mystery of the Trinity seemed to be most commonly presented in terms first of its essential unity and second, of the work of the three divine persons which comprise that unity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now there is so much more being said about the relationship between and among these persons. Because we are created in the image and likeness of God, destined from all time to be one with God through the further mystery of the Incarnation ("God became man that man might become God." St. Athanatius), the characteristics of relationship within the Trinity are to me emulated by us. This is a model of perfect oneness and mutuality, giving and receiving, no distinctions although there is difference.

Recently I picked up a work by Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th century Cistercian monk, Treatises - Pastoral Prayer. It is pretty heavy going but I was moved by his words regarding how the monastic who takes a vow of poverty must fulfill the universal call to charity. What are they to do since they have nothing to give away? I hope you do not find it too much of a stretch to see how his answer to that question is an illustration of how praying people are called to emulate Trinitarian life in relationship.

What good then will you be able to do to your neighbor? Nothing is more valuable, a certain holy man has said, that good will. Let this be your offering. What is more useful that prayer. Let this be your largesse. What is more humane than pity? Let this be your alms. So embrace the whole world with the arms of your love and in that act at once consider and congratulate the good, contemplate and mourn over the wicked. In that act look upon the afflicted and the oppressed and feel compassion for them. In that act call to mind the wretchedness of the poor, the groans of orphans, the abandonment of widows, the gloom of the sorrowful, the needs of travelers, the prayers of virgins, the perils of those at sea, the temptations of monks, the responsibilities of prelates, the labors of those waging war. In your love take them to your heart, weep over them, offer your prayers for them. Such alms are more pleasing to God, more acceptable to Christ, more becoming to your profession, more fruitful to those who receive them. The performance of such good works as these help you to live out your profession instead of upsetting you; they increase the love you have for your neighbor instead of diminishing it; they are a safeguard, not an obstacle to tranquillity of mind.

The Rule of Life for a Recluse, Part 2, #28

Monday, May 12, 2008

Emerging from Retreat

This little family, mother fox and four kits, made their first home under a garage in an urban area of split ranch homes in southern Waterbury, Connecticut. It is in the backyard of my son's property, a property made that much more attractive to a mother fox about to give birth by the fencing my son installed for the safety of his children. He wanted the children to be kept in but mother fox probably saw this a means of keeping nasty dogs and other disturbing creatures out! When first spotted, the babies were tentatively venturing out in the dim light of dusk for a bit of rough housing in the grass then they would retreat to the cool protective darkness of the hole beneath the garage. But a few days ago mother led the whole crew on their way, their first outward journey into the big world and, presumably, to bigger new digs. (Pardon the pun.) Their independent departure was a great relief to my son who had been shuffled from one governmental agency to another is his effort to find a humane way to dispose of these uninvited guests. It seems no one could or would take responsibility and trapping is outlawed. How good it is that nature took its own course. Now to fill in the inviting hole.

Just as these creatures came out of a deep, hidden and protected space, our community of contemplative nuns has emerged from a hidden space for greater withdrawal, silence and solitude and more time to just "be" with God. It is hard to leave that place, but the Rule for our daily life does indicate that these times apart are just that. While days apart are necessary and valuable for spiritual enrichment, it is not our charism to stay in the "hermitage" for ever. Rather, especially as Redemptoristines, we are to be fully involved in the prayer, work, and play of communal life, a life that our Rule describes as being "primarily a life in relationship." It is this life of relationship, lived as Jesus and with Jesus, that is the place of our formation and conversion.

Our retreat director, a Trappist monk, provided theological reflection on the nature of the ultimate model for that "life in relationship," which is the dynamic life of the Blessed Trinity. He also has a great gift for distilling the core teachings contained in documents by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Here are just a few snippets I found memorable and valuable for personal reflection:

* At the Ascension Jesus went into God and brought humanity with him.

* According to Pope Benedict, salvation has already happened.

* All humanity is united with God through Jesus. The contemplative cultivates an awareness of this union - and it is worth "selling the field" to experience one moment of this union. We were created for true happiness through union with God.

* The Trinity is a cycle of total self-giving. God had to create because goodness is diffusive of the self.

* Two potent metaphors of Trinitarian self-giving are the ecstatic union of bride and bridegroom which eventual produces a child AND that of the nursing mother which illustrates the whole gamut of love from eros to agape. We are called to such self-giving.

* The reality of this kind of love proceeds from the union of the contemplative with Jesus in prayer. This is our gift of service to all of creation.

* The first Greek words used to describe the Trinity were procession and relationship.

* Pope Benedict has said, "Jesus is the face of God."

* The three most important gardens in the history of the world are Eden, Gethsemani and the garden of the tomb.

* A monastery is a true Gethsemani. Our suffering is part of the totality of human suffering. Through faith we find the meaning of human suffering. Suffering and redemption have not stopped. They continue to going on in each moment in the sacrifice of the Mass but also in human experience...The ultimate suffering of human kind is in one way or another a loss of control - a loss of self. Jesus lost himself in the Father.

* Jesus invites us into the garden of Gethsemani. This is the invitation to the surrender and the letting go that lead to freedom... All the losses are God telling me he is everything... You can ruin your day by dwelling in your inordinate desire. You can be imprisoned by clinging to desire.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost - Foundational Feast of Redemptoristine Nuns

Double Feast for Our Institute

For nine days of retreat we have prepared for this great feast of the Church and our contemplative order. As contemplative nuns we have tried to open ourselves to the flowing winds, the rushing water, the flow of the Divine Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son into our souls. We have also prayed that by the gifts of the Holy Spirit we may live ever more faithfully and lovingly the inspired vision of our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa. Today is the day on which, in 1731, the gifted inspiration which Jesus himself presented to her came to fruition.

At the request of her spiritual directors, Celeste, wrote her autobiography. Here is an excerpt from that work describing how her inspiration finally came to be.

From Chapters 37 and 38 of
The Autobiography

The nuns wanted him (their spiritual father, Bishop Falcoia) to come (to the Monastery in Scala) because of their spiritual needs, since they had been deprived of his help for so long a time, so they prayed to the Lord to hasten his arrival. But he wrote from Rome that he could not possibly come before the end of October or the beginning of November 1731… So he was going to send to Scala a servant of God called Alphonsus de Liguori, a priest and missionary from Naples, to give the spiritual exercises to the Monastery and be their extraordinary confessor, so all the nuns were at liberty to confess the things of their soul to him as if it was his own person.

So after the aforesaid spiritual Father wrote to Father Alphonsus, he immediately betook himself to Scala, and came to the Monastery. When he arrived, he had the Mother Superior and her companions called, and he told them that he was the one who had been sent by their spiritual Father, both to give the nuns their spiritual exercises and also as their extraordinary Confessor. But above all, he had been sent to their Monastery, because there was a deluded nun there (Maria Celeste Crostarosa), as was being said all over Naples; because, although the Lord had been pleased to give confirmation of the Work to six other nuns - He had so disposed things as to assist the nun who had received it, so as to be able to put it into effect at the proper time, seeing that the aforesaid was then still a novice when she received the revelation of the Work - but she alone had been declared deluded, just as the companion \and Superior/ of the spiritual Father had made known throughout the city of Naples. And so Father Alphonsus di Liguori had great fear through his zeal for the health of this soul.

He told the Superior he wanted the name of this deluded nun, as it was publicly known that she was there inside their Monastery. The Superior replied humbly that she was pleased that he would be directing the nuns in the true way of following Our Lord, and that all the nuns would cast themselves at his feet, to receive his advice as their spiritual Father had ordered.

Father Alphonsus was in no way satisfied with this vague reply and began to lay down the law to her about telling him what was the cause of all the things he had heard being said about this Monastery. So the Superior and her religious companions gave him a full account of everything that had happened, and how the demon had tried his best to prevent the aforesaid Work from being put into effect.

And when the said Father had heard it all, he replied all aflame with holy zeal that he would not be satisfied unless he first examined the aforesaid nun (Maria Celeste Crostarosa) who had received the Rules, and her six other companions to whom the Lord had afterwards confirmed His Work; and further, he wanted to examine all the nuns of the Community in the confessional, and hear what they all had to say: because either it was the work of the Lord and must not just be forgotten, or it was not the work of God and the aforesaid soul must be put back on the true road of solid perfection; and this is what happened.

The following day he sat in the confessional, and the first one he had called was the aforesaid nun who had received the new Rule, and he began his enquiry by telling her that he wanted her to shed clarity on her whole life: what God gave her as a child, and all the graces that she had received from God up to this point. So this is what the aforesaid nun did, telling him how the Lord called her to His service in a special way, when she was only about eleven years of age. When she made her First Communion, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her, and told her that He was washing her heart with His precious blood, and that he was choosing her for His spouse; and when He showed her the ugliness of sin, this vision caused her sorrow for all her sins and so great a contrition that she began weeping uncontrollably, and while she was there in the church hearing the Holy Mass, she let out a loud cry and said: “Oh how many sins have I committed!” without having any shame before the bystanders who looked at her and heard her. And by this grace the Lord called her to be His follower, and from then on new graces always kept coming; and God Himself led her in a special way. And she described to him all the graces she had received, and the course of her life until the time when the Work was made manifest and the new Rules received from the Lord, and all the fears and doubts that she had before she made it known, and the internal and external troubles she suffered up till this point.

And after this he dismissed the aforesaid nun, and he examined the six nuns who had received confirmation with lights of the Lord as evidence that the Work was His; then he examined the whole Community: including the previous Superior, who, now that she had been released from the office of Superior, no longer had any reason to oppose the Work of the Lord.

So Father Alphonsus swung right round and changed his opinion through the will of God, and began to say to all the nuns that the Work was of God, and was not the illusion that it had been judged; and with ardour and zeal he began to influence the whole Community to be disposed to implement in themselves the very great grace that God was giving them. And he gave a lecture to all those who had placed obstacles to it up till this time, causing them many pangs of conscience, because they had been the occasion of delaying the glory of the Lord.

At these words of his, the previous Superior replied and said that, since this was the will of God, she did not wish to hinder it, but that she would like to be the first to embrace it. So all the nuns, without even one of them creating obstacles, in total unity and with a holy joy seized each other in a mutual embrace, and rendered thanks to the Lord that, after so many troubles and wasted years, He had been pleased to make His Work clear, and put it into effect. And also the same Fr. Alphonsus was so fired by holy joy and zeal for the glory of the Lord, that he could not hold back his jubilation.

Father Alphonsus di Liguori went straight away to the local ordinary Bishop, called Mons. Nicholas Guerrieri, together with two of his missionary companions, one called Father Vincenzo Mannarini, and the other Father Giovanni Mazzini. The aforesaid Bishop heard him with pleasure, because he already knew everything that had previously happened in the Monastery, and he gave the aforesaid Father Alphonsus broad powers to do in the Monastery everything which he knew to be to the glory of God and the profit of its souls. And when the said Father returned from the Bishop he was very happy, then he arranged with the nuns to put the new Rules into effect at Pentecost in the following year. In the meantime, Father Alphonsus gave the spiritual exercises so that the nuns could prepare themselves for the observance of the new Rule, and to this effect he gave sermons on the life and virtues of our Lord Jesus Christ, and each one of the Sisters attempted to prepare herself for this feast.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

We beseech you, O Holy Spirit,

that we maybe filled, O Love, with your love,
in order to understand the canticle of love...
Draw us therefore unto yourself, O Holy Spirit;
O Holy Paraclete, O Holy Comforter, comfort the poverty of our
solitude which seeks no solace apart from you.
Enlighten and quicken the desire of of one who
tends toward you,
that it may become the love of one having fruition of you.
Come to us that we may truly love you,
that whatever we think and say may flow
from the fountainhead of your love.
May he canticle of your love be read by us in such a way
as to kindle in us love itself.
Yes, may love itself show us the meaning
of its own canticle.

From the Exposition on the Song of Songs
William of St. Thierry
Preface - 4

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Entering Community Retreat

Why should contemplative nuns living in a monastery need so much retreat time? Answer: We need this quality of time because we really are contemplatives. Ours is the prayer of conscious, attentive, awareness of the transcendent, of the nearness of the presence of God without and within. Tonight at the Grand Silence we enter nine days of community retreat, a nine day novena, if you will, in preparation for our foundational feast of Pentecost. Each sister also enjoys a ten day period of personal retreat each year and one day of personal retreat each month.

During these nine days our schedule is abbreviated, work limited, all meals in silence and conversation only when absolutely necessary. So I bid you farewell for these nine days. Hope we don't lose any of you along the way. Goodness only knows I have given you a great deal to ponder in the last few days.

Tonight our director, a Trappist, started us out with this notion of the meaning, really the earth shaking impact of the Ascension when "Jesus went into the Father and took all of humanity along with him." A contemplative craves the time to ponder the awesome mystery and wonder that speaks of universal salvation.

Please pray for our community during these days.

Ascension Thursday

Ascension by Salvator Dali

From the Letter to the Ephesians
Office of Readings for the Feast

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 2 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore, it says: "He ascended 3 on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men." What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended into the lower (regions) of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

4 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, 5 for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, 6 to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, 7 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love. 8 So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.

That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on
9 the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth. 10 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, 11 and do not leave room for the devil.

The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work
12 with his (own) hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need. No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
13 All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.