Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Tis the Season

Signs of the Times

The gourds, pumpkins and Pilgrim figurines have disappeared. No more green vestments; now the royal purple. The Advent wreath has taken is customary place in front of the ambo in our chapel. Among our Advent practices will be an added meatless day each week for a total of three; singing the Invitatory and its antiphon at Office each morning, and an ever more conscious effort to maintain a quiet, recollected atmosphere in our enclosure.

Tonight we have invited the public to join us for "An Advent Celebration of Evensong" - the Office of Vespers sung with the community and begun with a brief reflection by one of our sisters. We hope that people will find this a way to mark their path through the season in a more Christ-centered way each Sunday evening. Sr. Peg will begin our Evensong tonight. Hope to publish her remarks tomorrow.

Our community Christmas letter has gone out to all our families, to our friends and benefactors and our contemplative Redemptoristine monasteries all over the world. We have just translated the last of the Christmas letters received from our monasteries last year. We are very slow at this process. This is a standard difficulty for an international order which by definition does not have a general government. But we are getting better at international communication especially with Internet translators and Skype.

We have been blessed by the presence of two new faces among us. The first is a visitor enjoying a sabbath time of a few months in our community. She is a teaching sister in this country but a native of Zambia. We are learning a great deal more about the current situation in Africa. The second sister is already a Redemptoristine and considering applying to transfer into our community. This is precious discernment time for her. It has been a joy to have both of these sisters among us - a work and prayer, meals and recreation.

The darkness comes so early these days. This afternoon the grey sky yielded some pretty snowflakes. Yes, 'tis the season and we pray to enter it with the spirit of watchful, attentive expectation of Jesus appearance, not only at the end of these four weeks but each and every day if only we stay awake and train our eyes to see the light in the darkness.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Welcoming the New Liturgical Year

Reflections at Midday Prayer - November 25, 2008

It is our Redemptoristine custom to mark the 25th of each month as "Little Christmas", our monthly celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation. The remarks below were those of our Prioress, Sister Paula Schmidt. They were followed by a renewal of our vows.

This is the last 25th we will celebrate before Advent. The next one will be the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, on December 25th.

This morning I was reflecting on Advent, and tried to make a list of all the images that came to me. Many years ago a Redemptorist priest linked Advent to the English word Adventure…and the feelings that are roused by that. A certain excitement, some risk, a sense of mystery, something new, unexplored…

Advent is also a time of Promise---the Incarnation has already taken place and the Child is growing in Mary’s womb. One day soon, she and the world will see God’s human face.

So it is a time of fecundity…and not just out there!

The child of Mary has come to each of us, lives within each of us, wishes to take ever more concrete flesh in our hearts, minds, actions.

Nature at this time, at least in our hemisphere, is barren; the trees lose their leaves, the roots sink deeper into the earth. There is life but it is life reaching deep down into its source through the roots.

Advent in us is the same. There is a quietness both outside and inside. The light is less, the darkness is increasing and will continue to increase until the shortest day of the year, Christmas. Then the light will begin to increase again; light conquers darkness; Christ rises triumphant over all the powers of evil. This is what we celebrate in Advent and Christmas…

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sometimes I Just Get Carried Away

Appearing at the end of my last post was the following quote: "Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." I attributed that quote to St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese Benedictine monks. Shame on me. That is a quote from one of the Desert Fathers, his advice to a young aspirant to hermit life. The so-called Brief Rule of St. Romuald, only about one hundred words in length, begins with the line, "Sit in your cell as in paradise." This line has always attracted me because it reminds me of a collection of reflections written by our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa, entitled "The Precious Garden of the Lord Which is the Human Soul." All of this is just to keep the record straight.

Today I am putting aside a current project in order to enter into two days of personal retreat within our monastery - precious time to sit in my cell and let it teach me. The project being put on hold is creation of a new directory of the forty-five monasteries of our Order all over the world, the members of their communities and all necessary vital statistics and various addresses. How much easier it will be because thirty of those monasteries have access to the Internet. The rest will have to be reached the old fashioned way. Since we are an order in the Church, each of our monasteries is an autonomous entity. But we make every effort to maintain our unity under the umbrella of our shared charism and Constitution and Statutes. Currently we anticipate a General Meeting of representatives of all the monasteries in the year 2011. God willing!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Interesting Reading

Follow the Ecstasy -

Advice Not Just for

Contemplative Nuns

and Monks

My spiritual director recently recommended that I read a book now about twenty-five years old. It is a biographical work by John Howard Griffin, author of "Black Like Me", first published in 1961. It is the well-known record of his experiment living as a Black man in the United States in the 50s.

The book I am reading, Follow the Ecstasy - The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton, was published in 1983. It is only one Thomas Merton & John Griffin part of an official full biography which Griffin was never able to complete. Merton's hermitage years began in 1963 when he was finally relieved of his position as Master of Novices and therefore able to live full-time in his small cinder block cabin on the grounds of Trappist Gethsemani Abbey outside of Louisville, Kentucky. For those who do not know Merton, he became famous when his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain was published in 1949 and became an immediate bestseller. He was only thirty-five years old and and a monk for just seven years.

Merton consistently sought the ambiance of solitude, believing it to be the most conducive to conversion, especially his own conversatio morem or the conversion of manners, one of the Trappist vows. This is a two-fold conversion; both a shift to charity in love for his brother monks in community and all humankind, as well as, the gradual achievement of total abandonment to the will of God. This conversion is marked by the lack of struggle in the face of what is, the realities of everyday life.

As I read Follow the Ecstasy, which covers the years 1963-66, I am also reading Merton's own journal of the period 1947 to 1952 entitled The Sign of Jonas. This record begins just before Merton's profession of solemn vows. I t is interesting to see how the desire for greater solitude grown from the believe that silence would be the greatest help in his spiritual growth was with him so early in his religious life. It took sixteen years for his desire to live alone in a hermitage to be fully realized, only five short years before his death.

In relation to myself, I am not living alone in a hermitage but in a contemplative monastic community which cultivates silence and reveres the solitude provided by ones cell, thus, it can be said, we live together alone. The way we live re-enforces the enclosure of the heart, the enclosure in which one gradually sheds so many things and very gradually acquires the abandonment to God's will which Merton experiences in the silence of his holy hermit residence. This is the self-abandonment, the shedding of ego gratification and determination in which can be born, by the grace of God, that incredible lightness of being which is the freedom of the children of God. As St. Romuald says in the first line of his simple rule for Camaldolese monks, "Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Historic Day

Something Has Changed

The nature of the day demands even my small comment. During the coverage last night, Judy Woodruff of PBS, reported from Grant Park in Chicago that there was something more than joyous elation in victory making its way through the huge crowd gathered to hear President Elect Obama's speech. Ms. Woodruff identified the something more as a sense of AWE. I would add that it was awe born of the tremendous import of what happened in our nation yesterday. It was the result of recognizing the poignant meaning of the election results. They were the fruit of the long, hard fought campaign for civil rights in our country and, at long last, the interior conversion of many a heart. The thoughtfulness, dignity, intelligence and perfect pitch of voice and demeanor seem to have been the instruments of conversion. Unfortunately, our current financial crisis was also, I believe, instrumental in Obama's victory. There is nothing like being brought to ones knees, nothing like hitting bottom to propel movement to a new way of thinking. Barack Obama may be the man for our time. Let us pray that the gifts of wisdom and compassion be given him in abundance and that he and his family be protected as they serve our nation.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Pray Them Home:
Songs of
and Healing

Due to the combined talent of director, Robert Gaus, and an amazing collection of gifted musicians, singers, instrumentalists, young and old, a concert/prayer service for the feast of All Souls has become an annual event at St. Joseph's Church in Kingston, New York. This was my home parish for over twenty-five years. I have been asked to attend in this beautiful event many times, always refusing. But this time, I asked permission to take part, because my dearest friend died during the last year. Since she was buried from this parish, her name would be mentioned in the list of the recently departed. As it turned out, I was second narrator for the service along with a Deacon of the parish. He and I were asked to write a reflection to introduce one of the musical pieces.

It was made apparent by the number of people present that this has become a tradition for many. Everyone received a flower as they entered and could write the name/s of their beloved dead in a book provided. The flowers and the books were brought forward to the altar during as all the names were solemnly read out. The quality of the musicianship was outstanding - full age-range of voices, piano, cello, violin, flute, guitar and drums. The participation of a large well-prepared children's choir was really special and such wonderful exposure for these young people.

Here is my reflection/introduction for "Goin' Home."

Experts say that the memory of music is among the last to leave us. The melody you are about to hear may jog your memory to say, "I think I have heard that somewhere before." It is from the largo movement of Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony. The story is that during his long tour of the United States at the end of the 19th century, Dvorak who was a Czech, heard black men , former slaves, working in the fields and singing the tune, an expression of heir longing for a better place, their longing for home.

Most of us long for home all our lives; perhaps the idealized home of our childhood; perhaps the home of which were deprived by unfortunate circumstances; or our eternal home - our baptismal right - and the relief it brings from the trials of this temporary place. Some times we get stalled and need our internal GPS system to kick in and guide us in pursuit of our deepest longing; the Desire for our true home, union with God. Our beloved dead struggled with their longings and desires of every kind. Those longings have surely been satisfied for "eye has not seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined the things God had prepared for those who love Him."