Thursday, August 28, 2008

A NEW "Gadget" ...

Sign up to get new posts
to this blog delivered to you
automatically as e-mail.

Hurray! Another opportunity to delve further into cyberspace and its wonders. Via the services of FeedBurner and Blogger and my own "by guess or by gosh" trial and error method of dealing with cyber technology, a new "gadget" (sometimes called a widget) has been added to the side bar. If you would like to automatically receive new posts to this blog in your regular e-mail, follow the instructions given and that is exactly what will happen. You will find new posts to Contemplative Horizon in your e-mail box. When you open the mail you will find the complete text of the article. If you don't see the pictures you may have to click on a button made available by your e-mail carrier to enable the pictures. The title of the post will appear in blue and you should be able to click on it if you wish to go to the blog itself to check for any changes or if you wish to leave a comment, which I wish more readers would do. To leave a comment just click on the word Comments at the end of the post and a box will appear in which to write your message. The comments come to me first via e-mail so I can moderate them and OK them for the blog. Have fun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Feast of St. Monica, Mother of St. Augustine

Mother's Day in August

Because I wear a veil and, most of the time, a simple red jumper and cross, I am always recognized as a nun. This, combined with the sight of gray hair at the forehead and whisping out at the temples, makes people think I am an old, very wise and, of course, holy nun. Occasionally I have the opportunity to tell them not to be fooled into the wise and holy part.

I have learned to curb my exuberance among strangers because I am apt to mention my sons in conversation. This always draws wide-eyed disbelief, if not shock. Many still have not caught up with the phenomenon of "sister moms." I do not wish to scandalize, only educate.

Being a mother; having a history of nurturing, encouraging, being patient with, providing a good example for and dedicating one's life to children is good preparation for life in community. Yet it is a mixed blessing because it is another in the long list of things which, if not left behind, are changed forever while remaining the same. Even those who have not entered religious life but have experienced seeing a child go off to college or move away and then encountered that empty nest syndrome will understand. They grow-up, marry, become adults, have families of their own but are still your children, forever entangled with the strings of your heart. During one of my pregnancies, my mother expressed her concern for me. I told her not to worry and she replied, "But you will always be my baby."

So today I still have my "babies", each a mature independent man, for whom I worry, for whom there is a tenderness that is as easily brought to life as on the day of their birth. St. Monica, patroness of all mothers, would understand. At this stage of the game the best advice is to keep your mouth shut and pray. Monica must have bit her tongue raw! The remove necessary in the maternal relationship required at this time is accentuated by my personal remove to a contemplative monastic community. For all of us mothers in religious life it is essential to discern the rightness of the vocational choice and the normal pangs of that motherly 'missing' of adult children. I have been told that the final test of a mother's vocation is the arrival of grandchildren, a storm of emotion I seem to have survived although it does bring one to new heights of trust and detachment, easier to attain at some times than others. Lay people whose grandchildren live across the country or beyond the ocean are also familiar with this detachment.

Monica had plenty to worry her and a husband who was not "with the program" either. But she knew the faithfulness of God and she knew her son, Augustine, far better than he knew himself. Would that all children could appreciate that gift in their mothers. It is Monica's brand of trust in the faithfulness of God on which I depend. And in spite of all the pains and aches, the sacrifices and the well-worn tongue, I am grateful beyond description for the gift of these sons, for the gift of receiving them to guide and form and love, and for the gifts they have, in turn, given to me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Comments of a Young Seeker and the Words of the Gospel

" But Who Do You Say I Am?"

It has been a while since I last posted. Perhaps just a bit of winding down from the family celebrations combined with any number of tasks here in the monastery. And it does not make sense to post unless there is something meaningful to say. One never knows where meaning is to be found. Interestingly, these thoughts were brought into motion by a pleasant surprise from someone outside the monastery.

I have been the vocation director for this community of contemplative nuns for only eight months or so. In that time I have responded to over 150 inquiries. I rarely receive a response of any kind. I can count on one hand the number of follow-up communications or just notes of thanks. One of the rare few came yesterday - from a young woman of only sixteen years. She thanked me for the information I sent and and for links to our web site and this blog, noted how much she liked them, but said that she believed she was called to minister "in the street." She also fairly gushed over contemplative life: "To be able to stare at Jesus all day long...Contemplative life is so beautiful...To just be locked away with your King forever...It makes me smile for you all :)." Although I kind of cringed at the notion of being "locked away" I was touched by the enthusiasm of the language of youthful crush and utter desire. I read this language on many of the websites and blogs dedicated to young seekers of the right place to live out their religious vocation. They speak in such romantic terms. It may seem saccharine but there is a love energy, a level of affect we cannot afford to ignore within ourselves and in vowed religious life.

Somehow this seems to fit in with contemplation of Jesus' question in today's Gospel (Matthew16: 13-20): "But who do you say I am?" Jesus seems to be asking Peter, "Now, after all of this time with me, what is our relationship, who am I to you? Am I getting through to you?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." With that Jesus declares Peter blessed because flesh and blood has not revealed this to him but the heavenly Father. By this I understand that knowing Jesus is more a case of affect, of mysterious interior response, of mystical insight or, can we say, the saccharine sensibility of the young woman who wrote to me. It is not the head but the "stony heart" replaced with a "natural heart" by God, the Father, that will truly know Jesus.

An enthusiastic spirit leaped out of a teenager's words, full of love and joy at the very thought of Jesus, and communicating an attachment to the person of Jesus Christ. It is that personal attachment, attachment leading to intimacy of mutual knowing, that I hear in Jesus' voice as he poses the direct question.

The spousal metaphor so frequently used to interpret the vowed life is to conjure the image of the ultimate in mutual human knowing; knowing each other inside and out; the intimacy of the marital relationship. At some time or another in its development or at any time in one of the myriad aspects of human relationship the energy of the teenage crush has its proper and vital place. Just as it pulses in so many seeking religious life today, it pulsed in the heart of each one of us here in the monastery at some time or even now, if we dare to let it surface. It was in my heart when I pronounce my first vows and when I pronounced my solemn vows, my voice filled with emotion, my hand fairly grabbing the hand of my Prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR and her eyes brimming over with the remembered gushing of her own heart. When Jesus asks me the question, "But who do you say I am?", it is in the context of all my experiences of Him in my life, of the degree of my daily intimacy with Him in contemplative life and in the context of that gushing relationship of intimate love that flowed out of me on the day of my solemn vows.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Some Enchanted Evening"

"Endurance is Everything"
65 Years of Marriage

Contemplative nuns and monks, indeed all those in vowed religious life, often speak of and pray for the gift of perseverance. The Redemptorist priests and brothers add a fourth vow to the usual poverty, chastity and obedience - a vow to persevere in the Congregation. These days another type of perseverance in vows has been the subject of my prayer and meditation. Today a group of family and friends came together to celebrate the 65th wedding anniversary of my parents. My father's motto is, "Endurance is everything." Surely they are a model of endurance.

Mom and Dad married on August 3, 1943 in the middle of World War II, a time of great personal and global uncertainty. Not only did they endure through the fears and separations caused by that war, they also persevered in uniting two very different cultures (Prussian and Sicilian), living in a multi-generational family, combining work and night school for professional advancement, raising two children, building a house, creating friendships and fulfilling commitments, and perfecting the art of retirement in mutual caring and support. What better example of perseverance can there be?

My father brought a recording of "Some Enchanted Evening" sung by Ezio Pinza to our celebration because it speaks to him of the night he met my mother totally by happen stance; he accompanying a friend to a going away party for someone called up in the draft and she attending with her father at his request to come along. Someone introduced them and at the end of the evening my father told his friend, "I am going to marry that girl."

They were married at St. Finbar's Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year. She wore and heirloom Belgian lace veil and a tailored floor-length dress made of parachute silk. He wore his wool Air Corps dress uniform. A reception followed in the nearby apartment of an aunt where all enjoyed sandwiches and lots of cold beer. Washington, D.C. was the site of their honeymoon. My Dad was shipped to Guam late in 1944 and returned early in 1946 to meet his six-month old daughter for the first time.

It is absolute truth that my parents are as in love today as on the day they married. They know how to be patient with each other's idiosyncrasies, how to support and encourage, how to fight well and eventually get over it. My father, in perfect health at the age of eighty-seven, is very attentive to my mother's medical needs. When he argues with doctors about her treatment he reminds them, "I am her best friend."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Feast of St. Alphonsus de Liguori

St. Alphonsus: Preacher of the Good News of God's Love and Redemption in Jesus Christ

* Founder
* Missionary
* Author
* Moral Theologian
* Doctor of the Church
* Lover of the Poor

Today Redemptoristines and Redemptorists and many other congregations which trace their roots to him celebrate the feast day of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787). He is the patron saint of moral theologians and those suffering from arthritis. In the history of the Italian language he is given large credit for helping to standardize the language by publishing over one hundred books in the 18th century, many of which have never been out of print like "The Glories of Mary" or "The True Spouse of Christ." He lived well into his ninetieth year but claimed to be dying from about the age of sixty because he suffered from many aliments, mainly due to a severely arthritic spine. In the end he was so bent that his chin created a wound in his chest and he was practically blind and deaf. Perhaps one of his greatest sufferings was to out live all his friends and associates. But, undoubtedly, it was a very great sorrow to find himself technically expelled from his own congregation due to the machinations between the Church and political forces at work as the Redemptorists sought approbation of their Rule. In his failing state he was deceived, tricked into signing a document, and later found that he was not a member of the congregation which had received approval from Rome. All because of what might be called political geography.

For many years, Redemptoristine Nuns considered St. Alphonsus their founder. Our Sister Maria Celeste was inspired by Jesus to create the Order and did so one year before Alphonsus began the Redemptorists (1731). He had been sent by a Bishop to examine Maria Celeste's inspiration. He was totally impressed, supported her and they became friends. She, in turn, encouraged a then very uncertain Alphonsus to follow his inspiration to begin a congregation dedicated to preaching the redeeming love of God to the poorest of the poor and the most abandoned. This effort began in 1732 in the guest house of Maria Celeste's monastery. However, when the Bishop began to edit the rule she had received from Jesus, Celeste protested, the sisters took sides, and she was given an ultimatum: accept the edited rule and accept the Bishop as your spiritual director for life. She agreed to the first provision but could not accept to the second. She and her blood sisters were expelled from the monastery. She served in a couple of other religious institutions at their behest to renew their practice while looking for a place she could begin a new monastic community. Finally she settled in Foggia, a long way from her original home in Naples. The Foggia monastery was not reunited with the Order until the 1930s.

St. Alphonsus was instrumental in getting the edited Rule approved by Rome. When he became bishop of St. Agata di Gotti, he requested that the original monastery in Scala, outside of Naples, make their first new foundation in his diocese. This is the history which dubbed him "founder" in Redemptoristine history.

The Redemptorists were long thought of as missionaries preaching a "hell fire and brimstone" version of salvation. This was probably a great exaggeration and it is not the reputation they enjoy today. But it seems odd that they should have been so labeled becasue their founder Alphonsus was noted and reviled in his time for a skillful theogical balance between two extremes of his time: the elitest, exclusionary and guilt-ridden Jansenist strand (alive in some circles to this day) then known a rigorists and, at the other end of the spectrum, the minimalists who preferred to think of salvation as assured by a minimum of religious effort. I am not capable of explaining his positions as a moral theologian. These position were expressed pastorally in his demand for simple but precise preaching, emphasis on the redeeming salvation of a God so in love with people that Alphonsus called God, "Iddio pazzo" the crazy God, crazy in love with creation. His preaching emphasized the Crib, the Cross and the Eucharist; the mystery of the Incarnation, the Redeeming Passion of Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Eucharistic meal and presence.

Alphonsus de Liguori was a very brilliant and accomplished man. He suffered the interior trials of scrupulosity and vacillation all his life. But he persevered, using every God-given gift at his command and clinging to the image of a loving God who made it all possible.

Those interested in learning more could consult an excellent biography of the saint by Fr. Jones, a Redemptorist.