Friday, October 31, 2008

Special Day for Contemplative Nuns

Maria Celeste


The Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa was born on this day in Naples, Italy in the year 1696 - the same year and same city as St. Alphonsus de Liguori who was to become her friend and support her mystical inspiration to found a new contemplative order 1730. At the request of a spiritual director, she wrote her autobiography and later on recorded her mystical colloquies with Jesus, her chapel talks to her monastic community in Foggia, and her poems. The core of her inspiration is centered upon the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. The Redemptoristine charism flows from the ancient theology first expressed by St. Athanasius, "God became man that man might become God." Just as Jesus became human in cooperation with the Father's loving plan for all creation, by our baptism into the life of Jesus we are to become "living memories" of Jesus Christ. This is not a mere imitation but a participation so that Jesus is living and active in us in the world right now. A very tall order!

For more about our foundress, Maria Celeste, just enter her name in the search box that appears if you scroll down the side bar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finally - The End of Campaign Season

Get Out and Vote

It has been a long campaign season, many say much too long. I would have to agree. Just want to add my two cents worth and say that all of us have to get out and exercise our civic duty to vote. It is a precious right.

Here in our contemplative monastery, our prioress suggested that we have a novena before election day in which we pray for the selection of good leadership in all the countries of the world. So we have added Sr. Joan Chittister's Prayer for Leadership to our Office of Evening Prayer.

I have been fine tuning our new website The learning curve is steep when you have to talk about dedicated IPs and meta tags! Yikes! Who'd a thunk it? But I do make progress, however slow. Do check out the site and pass on your comments.

Talking about comments - it has become a lot easier to post comments to this blog. Just click on the word "Comments" below any post and the next screen will give you a straight forward opportunity to write in your contribution.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Little Christmas' Reflection at Midday Prayer

The Cost of our Redemption
by Sister Paula Schmidt, OSsR - Prioress

“God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:17.

Jesus loved the Father, and the world so much that he gave us his very self, on Calvary, and in the Eucharist.

Recently I was sitting in the chapel, reflecting on the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. Yes, You are there Lord, but you are not limited or contained there, as I am, or any of us here are. We are here and nowhere else, even though our minds might be ranging around the world. The Jesus we adore is present here, and in our whole world, and in the whole universe. And in the Mystery of God.

And how is Jesus present? As love. As the Incarnation of God’s love. As God’s love in human form. This is the One who fills our chapel, and fills each of our hearts and lives.

I don’t know about you but I find that I can become so unaware of that mystery in which we live, unaware of the love that embraces and permeates us. That fact doesn’t seem to change things on God’s part. I don’t believe that Jesus asks us to understand, or comprehend his love. He does hope that we will believe and receive his love.

Jesus was on a Mission during his earthly life. And he is on a Mission still. Jesus set no bounds to what he would be willing to do during his earthly life to live and be God’s love among us. Now Jesus calls all his followers, each of us here, and everyone throughout the world, to live God’s love and be God’s love.

Each Eucharist we celebrate, each Communion we receive, links us with God’s love, and the mission of Jesus today. As individuals we may be very small, very frail, but we are invited into a community of people, and a universe networked in Love, God’s love made ours in Jesus.

Looking around us today we see a world that doesn’t seem to be a world infused with Love, founded on Love, created by Love. Yet our Christian faith, the Christian Story which we believe, assures us that a God of Love is in our midst.

We see a world filled with violence, greed, lust for power, selfishness. The world of Jesus’ time wasn’t much different. In the Incarnation God’s love was made so vulnerable to human indifference and callousness. All the evil in the world of Jesus did its best to destroy him. Ultimately it crucified him. But Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of the story. The Resurrection that followed is The Good News. Death is not the last word for any of us anymore.

Each of us here, as believers in Jesus, and even more as vowed religious, share the work of Jesus to transform our world through Love. We won’t be asked to literally die in the process, as Jesus was, but learning to love as God loves, as Jesus loves, will involve dying. Dying to selfishness, to prejudices, to convenience, to preferences, etc. etc. all in the service of promoting fuller life for all others, and ultimately for ourselves.

God has need of us. The work of Jesus has need of us. We each have a special place in the plan of God. Each 25th of the month, as we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation, we are reminded of why we are here, and what we are called to do, by the God who came among us and pitched his tent among us, that we might all one day enter fully into the mystery of Love that God is.

In the words of William Blake: “And we are put on earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love.” To bear the beams ourselves, and be bearers of those beams to others, if we let God use us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Back Home

Returning from Retreat
New and Improved, I Hope!

Perhaps you've been wondering if I'd dropped off the edge of the earth. No, I only dropped out for a while - ten days for my annual personal retreat. Does a contemplative nun need a private retreat? In a word, "Yes." Just as the Trappist, Thomas Merton, left the community of the monastery seeking solitude in his hermitage, all contemplatives need, crave, and desire time apart. It is a time of greater withdrawal and movement to a place of greater intimacy with God.

The place this year was a house in Vermont all to myself at the peak of the fall season. And it was glorious. The pastel drawing shown here was the result of an amateurish but very helpful effort to enter into recollection by concentrating my attention and being totally present to my surroundings. The result was a much deeper and more abiding sense of the total glory and immutable transcendence of God. All else just fell away. And what a relief that is! And what a sense of the freedom of the children of God comes with that blessed grace.

My time was further blessed by the availability of daily morning Mass nearby celebrated in a small parish worshipping community. A visiting priest from Nigeria offered short but intensely meaningful homilies so in tune with Redemptoristine spirituality that he became my retreat director without knowing it. I was in awe.

When I say the Divine Office privately, I like to use Psalms from Nan C. Merrill's book Psalms for Praying. In her translations, in accord with the spirit of the Gospel of John, she often gives God the name Love. Merrill's version of the Psalms is always a gift in retreat ime.

Another personal guide was a book by Robert Waldron, Thomas Merton - Master of Attention. Waldron reveals how Merton, influenced by Simon Weil, came to see pure attention as prayer. Jacques Cabaud, biographer of Weil explained, "...Attention is synonymous with contemplation...The mind remains in the state of suspension essential to contemplation. Attention is linked to desire. It is not linked to the will, but to desire."

Here are some snippets from my retreat pondering:

Sing with all the sons of glory, sing the Resurrection song!

The fruits of those who know LOVE are a blessing to all.
Nan C. Merrill

Let nothing disturb thee.
Let nothing afright thee.
All things are passing.
God alone sufficeth.
Teresa of Avila

Today is all I have and God is all I have in today.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Announcement and Revisiting the Crisis

Up and Running

Our new website has found its parking place on the world wide Internet. Here is the link:

Please check it out and leave a comment.

Now, back to the financial crisis at hand.

Since Sr. Julie Viera, IHM is happily busy and surrounded by nuns at the huge meeting of the National Religious Vocation Conference, I don't think she would mind if this contemplative nun spoke of her Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And, believe me, this is connected to the current financial crisis.

The IHMs of Monroe published in 1997 an absolutely wonderful history of their congregation entitled Building Sisterhood - A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. With the consultation of the historian Margaret Susan Thompson, the sisters themselves planned the process, did the research and wrote the essays.

One of the chapters is devoted to the building of the new motherhouse in Monroe, Michigan in the early 1930s, the heart of the depression. After a disastrous fire, the community and its leadership was determined to build anew, undeterred by the perilous financial times. They borrowed millions of dollars, a huge loan for the time and circumstances. In these financial transactions they gained the respect of the local banking community. When a bank was threatened with failure bankers prevailed upon the sisters to come to the bank frequently to make deposits as a public demonstration of their faith in the financial stability and security of the bank. The sisters demonstrated both their courage in a time of uncertainty and their faith in God to support their mission. In so doing, they supported stability and gave example of courage in trying times.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Give Us This Day...

Praying to Abba in the
Midst of Crisis

A while back I posted a piece entitled "What Do Contemplative Nuns Do Anyway?" My answer had a lot to do with prayer, the central activity of contemplative life. In today's Gospel Jesus responded to a request from his disciples about how they should pray. He told them to speak to the Almighty as if they were speaking to their daddy, in great trust and confidence, without embarrassment, knowing they are loved. Then he told them what they might ask for; the arrival of God's kingdom, the necessities of daily life and the ability to live well among those with whom they share the planet.

Months ago I began to get nervous about the news that was coming from Wall Street and the "Fed". I think perhaps my sisters thought me a bit pessimistic and negative. I told them that the Great Depression was like a ghost hanging around the house in my childhood. I was born only ten years after the deepest time of that inter-national disaster. My mother had suffered a great deal and I heard about waiting on line for shoes, food baskets left at the door, no money for Christmas and my grandfather picking up trash in the parks for his government stipend. My father game to this country in 1928. His parents were fleeing from an economy in which inflation brought the cost of a loaf of bread to a wagon full of almost worthless paper money. These are the things I remembered as the news got worse and worse.

Every day I have been praying that the Holy Spirit will shower those who have the power to make a difference with gifts of wisdom and compassion; that the better angels of our nature will come forward and reveal themselves; that the years of greed and extraordinary hubris are at an end; that compassionate and democratic capitalism will reign again.

Poverty can bring out terrible things in nations and people. We are at risk of more than becoming poor. We can become fractious, envious, punitive and eager for the blame game. But hard times, and they seem to be coming, can also be a corrective for a course that has veered in the wrong direction. Hard times can make for good or better neighbors. In bad times it is possible to hang together in ways that once seemed impossible.

So let's keep on praying for our daily bread, the necessities of life; for the protection of the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. And let us continue to pray that wisdom and compassion will prevail and that our hearts will grow bigger in the difficult time we share. At times the presidential election seems to have taken a backseat to more pressing matters. The reality is that the election has taken on even greater importance. May God preserve the man who wins.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Many tributes to Il Poverello (the poor one), that is St. Francis of Assisi, will appear today on blogs and websites. Reports of special services in which animals, a part of Francis' beloved world of God's creation, will be blessed in his name, will appear in local newspapers. Many, as part of their daily prayer practice, will repeat the well-known prayer of St. Francis saying, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred let me sow love; where there injury pardon...",

Here I would like to share a memory held since the summer of 1961; the summer in which my mother, father, younger sister and I drove through Europe for three months. I was sixteen years old, the perfect age to see and to grasp the meaning of other worlds, other cultures. My father, in his orderly German fashion, had meticulously planned each day of our trip. A stack of index cards marked the itinerary and what we simply could not miss at each stop along the way. Often we went to places far off the well-beaten tourist track; the small museum in a remote section of East Berlin where we was the famous bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Dante's tomb in Ravenna, and the catacombs of Palermo.

Assisi was, on the other hand, a popular tourist spot. Neither of my parents would have chosen it as a place to visit for only religious reasons. The motivation was to see the architecture and particularly to view the Giotto frescoes in the upper church of the Cathedral of Assisi. Just recently I spoke to my father about our visit and he commented, "We saw them before the earthquake." We also shared the same memory of our approach to Assisi by car. From the back seat, I was the navigator for my father during this trip. Each time we entered a city or town, I invariably had my nose in the AAA map book. On a number of occasions I would break my concentration and look up from the map only to find something unexpected and astonishing before my eyes. As we approached Assisi via a dusty road on the Perugian plain, I looked up to see the town rising before me, a Shangrila miraculously perched on on the prow of a hill. This is the steep side of Assisi which just seems to tower over the plain. My father and I agreed on the image and its breath taking effect.

We left Assisi on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Departure days always required an early start. My sister and I wanted to go to Mass on this holy day of obligation and our only option was a very early morning Mass in the crypt of St. Francis. As I recall, not many were present. I found it a very intimate experience of devotion combined with the significance of history and the aura created by the presence of the holy remains of the saint.

My grandmother's sister had a great devotion to St. Francis. When I was a young girl I asked her what prayer she would recommend that I memorize beyond the usual ones required. She thought for a while and then said, "Memorize the Prayer of St. Francis." In youth I did not appreciate the wisdom of that choice. I have come to treasure both the memory and the prayer.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Another Sister Blogger

Sister Julie Viera, IHM Features "Nun Photos"

Sr. Julie is a champion blogger who does her Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and all consecrated women religious a great service. She adds breath and depth to the image of religious life. She also facilitates networking among religious. One of her efforts is that off publishing "nun photos" with accompanying stories about real nuns. I think this idea was born in her fertile mind when the story broke about an Italian priest who was going to sponsor a nun beauty contest to counter the dominant negative image of women religious in his country. He got so much flack that he withdrew the plan. But Sr. Julie countered the preposterous with something very practical and real. Monday is the day of the week on which she publishes the photos. This last Monday, September 29, my grandson Nicholas and I made it to Sr. Julie's blog, A Nun's Life. Just click on the link to get to her site and in the side bar you will find mention of me. Click on that to see the article and the photo.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Religious Vocations in the Digital Age

What the Statistics

Last January I received two new assignments. The first was that of Vocation Director, the work of reaching out to encourage vocations for our community and working with those who approach us and need assistance in their discernment process. The second assignment was that of Formation Director, the person who facilitates the transition into contemplative monastic life in our community for new members and guides them as they consider the invitation to vows. To inform my efforts in these directions, I recently attended four meetings at the diocesesan and regional levels.

One occasion was the Bi-Annual Meeting of the Bishops of New York with Major Superiors sponsored by the New York Catholic Conference. This conference day was excellently organized and totally focused on vocaion development. The keynote speaker was Brother Paul Bednarcyk, CSC, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference. Brother Paul shared his personal experiences and viewpoints underscoring them with statistics gleaned from an on-line survey of young adults sponsored by the publishers of Vision , a vocation magazine. In the afternoon, a panel presented the results of their "Survey of Student Attitudes Toward Religious Vocations in New York City" sponsored by St. John's University.

This week I was able to hear Sister Rose Pacette, FSP speak about "The Digital Age and Religious Life: Call, Commitment and Community." This was sponsored by Region 1 of the National Religious Vocations Conference. Over 50 religious attended this presentation on a foggy Monday morning. Such was the level of interest among vocation directors and others. Sr. Rose is an expert on the social, cultural and spiritual impact of media in this digital age.

Here I would just like to share some statistics taken away from these experiences. They will give you food for thought and prayer.

* From the Vision Survey - What attracts you to religious life?

praying with community - 72%
devotional prayer 73%
ministry with others 63%
living in community 67%
habit 50%
justice and peace 64%
faithfulness to the Church 90%

* From the St. John's Survey

85% believe hat a religious vocation is a good thing

70% report that family never encouraged religious vocation and that friends are not supportive

9% believe that the Church tries to understand this group (young adults)

72% say they have never been approached to consider a religious vocation

89% say they have never participated in a recruitment program

Among all of the startling revelations about the ramifications of the digital revolution and the exponential increase in available information presented by Sr. Rose, came the following:

Current learners will have held 10 to 14 different jobs by the time they reach the age of 38 years.

Embedded in her PowerPoint presentation was Shift Happens, a six and a half minute presentation available on the Internet which shows how societal, cultural and intellectual shift (that is, change) is inevitable. Therefore we are preparing people for jobs, problems, situations, and cultural developments that are not even on the radar screen at this moment.

Among the Recommendations of the Speakers

* Communities need to ask themselves: Why do we want vocations? To have more workers; because we want to feel good; because the charism should survive, because we have something to offer?

* This is a moment for communal self-examination of the way we live our lives as consecrated religious.

* Reach out by every means possible to this generation in their milieu and their culture.