Saturday, December 27, 2008

National Public Radio Feature

Oblate Sisters of Providence

Oldest African-American Congregation

Received this link today and pass it on to you; a twelve minute feature in NPR interviewing two Oblate Sisters of Providence. This congregation is about to celebrate its 180th anniversary of service to the people of the United States. It was long overlooked in the general culture and even by the Catholic Church. They carried the burden of prejudice both as females and women of color. How well these sisters speak of their experience, faith, and dedication. One sister interview has spent 63 years in religious life. The other is a younger member who brought considerable education and professional experience when she responded to God's call to vowed life and service to the world. Here is the link:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Message of Pope Benedict XVI

This excerpt is taken from the conclusion of the Pope's message. It is a poignant appeal for us to come away from the Bethlehem manger with the gifts of love and peace, determined to penetrate our own world with the light of Christ.

...Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, "the grace of God our Saviour has appeared" (cf. Tit 2:11) in this world of ours, with all its potential and its frailty, its advances and crises, its hopes and travails. Today, there shines forth the light of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High and the son of the Virgin Mary: "God from God, light from light, true God from true God. For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven". Let us adore him, this very day, in every corner of the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a lowly manger. Let us adore him in silence, while he, still a mere infant, seems to comfort us by saying: Do not be afraid, "I am God, and there is no other" (Is 45:22). Come to me, men and women, peoples and nations, come to me. Do not be afraid: I have come to bring you the love of the Father, and to show you the way of peace.

Let us go, then, brothers and sisters! Let us make haste, like the shepherds on that Bethlehem night. God has come to meet us; he has shown us his face, full of grace and mercy! May his coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to his light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!

Solemnity of the Birth of the Lord

Christmas in the Monastery

It is the great blessing of contemplative monastic life to have, through the privilege of time along with the talent and personal devotion of many, to fully celebrate the great feasts of our tradition. Through the faithfulness and generosity of our Redemptorist brothers who are just a few hundred yards away from our monastery at Mt. St. Alphonsus Pastoral and Retreat Center, we revel in all of the rituals of the feast, Liturgy of the Eucharist and homilies that never fail to inspire and enrich.

Yesterday we had morning Mass of December 24 and the Mass at Midnight, moving it to 8pm in favor of our older sisters. That Mass began with the Vigil of Reading for Christmas and ended with a procession to the creche. This morning we will have the Mass of Christmas Day at 11am. All of these Masses celebrated by different priests and concelebrants. What a blessing!

We shared a bounty of Christmas goodies with the Marist Brothers and other friends who joined us for evening Mass. All went very well considering that the day began with no water coming from our taps and water flowing into our kitchen from backed up ice on the roof! But we soldiered on and everything was beautiful. Both problems have been dealt with, at least for the moment.

After Mass today, we will have a great feast lovingly prepared by many hands. Some Redemptorist priests will join us as well as some of our lay associates. The phone keeps ringing and the door bell keeps sounding - well wishers and gifts galore. God is so very good.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

M. Schmalzl, C.Ss.R. (1850-1930)
Adoration of the Shepherds


Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created
the heavens and the earth and then formed
man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of
Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led
the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of
David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to
the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from
the foundation of the city of Rome.
In the one hundred and fifty-second year from
the foundation of the city of Rome.
In the forty-second year of the reign of
Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God
and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world
by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
according to the flesh.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beautiful and Unusual Weather Effect

Hoarfrost Sprinkles Its Glitter

Its been about eight years since we last saw this glorious phenomenon. It has been very cold here - 15 degrees at dawn - for a couple of days. Plants and objects are very cold, well below freezing. As moist warmer air rose from the Hudson and spread up the shoreline, crystal frost - hairy in appearance - formed on all surfaces. Here's a more technical definition: Radiation frost (also called hoar frost or hoarfrost) refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when radiation losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air.
The visual effect is magical and at dawn the light plays on the crystals. Enjoy the photos.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Jesus, a Fire Born Within
Evensong Reflection by
Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR

As a child, I remember sitting on our front porch steps on a sunny afternoon with a magnifying glass, focusing a ray of sunlight on a small piece of paper and watching the paper catch fire. Perhaps some of you have done the same. It is quite an amazing experience: that something so small, someone so small can harness a bit of the Sun’s power. Keep that image in mind. We will return to it.

All through Advent, until this week, the liturgy of the hours and the Eucharistic first Readings have focused on the promises of God through the centuries of waiting and expectation—promises recorded in the history and scriptures of the Jewish people, and living in the longing of the people for their fulfillment.

This past week, especially in the Gospels, we come to the immediate preparations for the fulfillment of those promises. We are no longer in the realm of symbolism and mystery—although mystery abounds—but now we are in history, in the concrete.

· We hear of the promise to the priest Zachariah of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the One to Come.

· We hear of the anguish of the good man Joseph when his betrothed is found to be with child before they come together as man and wife.

· And yesterday and today the Gospel is Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary. God is fulfilling the promises through and in this young slip of a girl, Mary.

To return to the image I began with: we could say that the God’s promises coalesce in fullness as they pass through Mary and Fire is born: the fire that is God’s love incarnate, Jesus. These last days of Advent are as the last days of Mary’s pregnancy: we sense her expectation, her desire, the longing, and perhaps also the fear of any young mother.

Well, what can this special focus of the liturgy say to us? Is it only an event of the past that we remember and are grateful for and celebrate? Or is there the ongoing mystery of God’s coming to you and me, knocking at the door of our hearts and lives, wanting to be born in you and me?

God is ever active and seeks a home in the womb of each of our lives. The liturgy is alive with power if we open ourselves to it in trust and hope. “Behold, here I am. Let it be done to me as you have said, as You desire.” What is born at Christmas is not just Mary’s son, but God’s child in each of us. It is our birthday too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Redemptoristine Nuns Send Christmas Greetings

Each year our contemplative community sends out a letter to the other monasteries of the Order, our families, friends and benefactors to share the blessings and spirit of this holy season, to share our joy in the mystery of the Incarnation celebrated at this time and to present a review of the year with its gifts and challenges. This letter was written by our Prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR.

Advent 2008

Dear Sisters, and Brother Redemptorists,
Dear Family and Friends,

Once again we approach the rich liturgical season of Advent and Christmas. For those who live close to us we want to invite you to join us for Advent Evensong at 5:30 pm on the four Sundays of Advent: November 30, December 7, 14 and 21. You are most welcome to come and join your voices with ours. It is a lovely way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of God among us in Jesus our Savior.

The past year has been a difficult year for our world, our country, our families, our communities. We are very united by prayer with all those who have suffered from the failing economy, for all affected adversely by the various natural disasters, for those who have experienced illness and death in their families and communities. Three of our Sisters lost a loved one in the course of the year: Sr. Peg’s sister Diana, Sr. Lydia’s sister Alicia, and Sr. Maria Paz’s step-mom, Estrella died. May they all be rejoicing now in the presence of our loving Creator. We also rejoice with the life that continues to spring up among us, new families being formed, babies being born, and in our religious communities new members who have joined us.

For us it has been a year for connections with our Redemptoristine Sisters. In January Sr. Paula attended the 100th birthday of her cousin, Sr. Mary Margaret Miller, of our monastery in Liguori, MO. Sr. Mary Anne traveled to Liguori in March to visit Sr. Mary Gerard, her novice companion of 1948, who has been quite ill. In May Sr. Maria Paz spent two weeks with our Sisters in Fort Erie helping with their Confirmation Gown work. In early October Sr. Paula travelled to our Dublin monastery to confer with Sr. Gabrielle on ways of Vocation Recruitment that have added three new members to that community in three years. Her visit included five days of retreat, and a brief but precious visit with our Sisters in Gillmoss, England, across the Irish Sea. We prayed for the OSSR Secretariate meeting in Rome in October and rejoice to know that plans are beginning for a General Assembly of the Order in 2011.

With our Redemptorists too there have been some special times together. During Holy Week the CSSR students from Whitestone and their directors came for retreat at Mount St. Alphonsus and celebrated the Paschal Triduum in our chapel. What a treat that was! We had wonderful homilies, with the different celebrants, and beautiful music. Brother Benedict’s singing of the Exsultet was truly memorable. It is a joy to accompany these men on their journey to the priesthood and brotherhood in the Alphonsian family. A great sadness for us and for the Redemptorist family was the death of our rector at the Mount, Fr. George Keaveney on May 23rd. We trust that his great heart is still watching over us and all the Redemptorists at Esopus. Daily Mass and fine homilies continue to be generously provided for us by our new rector, Fr. Tom Travers, and the other priests stationed here: Frs. Brinkmann, Deeley, Grohe and Bonneau. We offer a prayer each morning for all our Redemptorists and for their various ministries.

The New York Archdiocese, to which we belong, celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. On March 2, Srs. Lydia, Hildegard and Moira attended the Bicentennial Mass for Religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in which Cardinal Edward Egan noted the valuable contribution religious communities have made to the history of the Archdiocese. Another memorable occasion was the visit of Our Holy Father Benedict XVI. Srs. Maria Paz and Paula attended the Eucharist at the Cathedral in New York, while the next day Srs. Lydia and Hildegard were present for the gathering in Yankee Stadium. We felt so blessed.

A few days later we began our community retreat with Father Matthew Flynn, OCSO, from Spenser Abbey. Providentially, all the themes for the retreat were drawn from the writings of Our Holy Father, and focused on Benedict XVI’s concept of ‘universal salvation’. We are grateful for those days of prayer and pondering together.

One evening a week in Lent Sr. Hildegard gave presentations on Contemplation for the people of the area, followed by sung Compline. These were much appreciated by those who attended. Four Sisters prepared reflections for this Advent which can be found at the website of Rev. Daniel Francis, CSSR, . On the 2nd Sunday of each month we also share with our lay Associates of the Most Holy Redeemer some aspect of our charism. Fr. Phil Dabney gave them a morning of retreat on September 14th, when fifteen Associates renewed their annual commitment.

Sr. Mary Jane used her research skills to find an excellent program for us to create our own website: Do visit it sometime. Sr. Hildegard learned the program and, using the work that Sr. Moira had done, brought it to completion. Each Sister wrote her own vocation story so we have all played a part.

This year, along with all Americans, we followed closely the long process for choosing a new President. As a community we made a novena during the nine days prior to voting, asking God to help us and all the electorate to choose the person most qualified to lead us during these difficult times. Now we accompany President-elect Obama with our prayers for the important decisions he has to make as he prepares to take office in January. May God’s wisdom be with him, and with all world leaders.

Our 50th anniversary concluded last December with the promise from a friend of a very special gift. The gift arrived on November 17-18 when Sr. Janet Ruffing, RSM, came to give us presentations on “Love Mysticism”. Sr. Janet focused on the life and writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Gertrude the Great and the Sufi mystics Rumi and Hafiz. It was the occasion for a very deep sharing in the community. Thank you, Sr. Janet!

In the same spirit of gratitude we thank all of you for your friendship, your prayers, your support through the years. We ask your prayers as we prepare for our community elections at the end of January 2009. Please also pray along with us for the gift of new vocations to carry our precious charism into the future. All your intentions will be remembered in our community Christmas Novena.

Blessed Christmas and a New Year of True Joy and Peace for you and all your loved ones!

Your Redemptoristine Sisters of Esopus

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts in Community

Tonight Sr. Moira presented a gift to us. Her gift for liturgical dance and movement was placed at the service of the Divine Office where, instead of the usual hymn, she presented dramatic movement as accompaniment to the

Marian song Breath of Heaven as sung by Amy Grant. Both the song and Sr. Moira’s dramatic movement portray Mary’s prayer for the strength of the Spirit to be poured out upon her as she contemplates the mystery of the Annunciation. The music and dramatic movement combine to bring Mary’s awesome quandary into our understanding. It is also awesome to consider how the portrayal of Mary’s emotions and her plea is the product of Sr. Moira’s own deep contemplation.

And yesterday, Sr. Maria Linda, a Redemptoristine visitor to our monastery, presented me with the product of her talent at needlework. Not only is Sr. Maria Linda a skilled dressmaker, she can also tat. Now tatting is a finger art that one rarely sees these days, especially in a younger person. Although born in the Philippines, Sister spent many years in Italy where she learned the art from an older nun who believed that idle hands were the devil’s workshop. This little collar was given to me so that I could send it as a baptismal gift to the newborn grand-daughter of a very dear friend. I am so grateful. Sr. Maria Linda tells me that I am not too old to learn how to make this exquisite lace. Wonder if I should test her judgement.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Novena Begins

Redemptoristine Christmas Novena

Adore, oh my soul,
in the bosom of Mary,
the only begotten Son of God
who was made man
for love of you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Read Anything Good Lately?

Time for a Book Talk

It has been a long time since I last wrote about one of my favorite subjects - BOOKS. I just love 'em! One of the favorite activities of librarians is the "Book Talk", in which the books just get talked right off the shelves and into the hands of readers, especially the reluctant ones. As a former librarian, I find myself still doing the "book talk" bit to whoever will listen. And one of my favorite questions to ask when conversation lags is, "What are your reading these days?"

Today I put up a new list of recommended books in the sidebar of this blog. There is more variety than usual because my reading taste are very eclectic - non-fiction, good novels, mysteries, self-help, and psychology with spirituality and religion always topping the mix.

The first is another fine book by the Trappist monk, Michael Casey. Everything he writes is so fine. Living in the Truth explores the teachings of St. Benedict concerning the virtue of humility. Humility is defined as the total self-acceptance of our humanity. Here we find what may be said to be the under pining of a modern and very popular book entitled The Spirituality of Imperfection which is also well-worth reading.

Waldron's book, Thomas Merton - Master of Attention, accompanied me on my retreat last October. Interwoven with Merton's thoughts on prayer as attention are the reflections of the French writer Simone Weil and the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. To look, to see, to observe, to pay attention is to enter more deeply into the mystery of life, the mystery of God. Simone Weil said, "Looking is what saves us."

Your reaction to This Republic of Suffering - Death and the American Civil War may be, "Oh, how very depressing." I wouldn't say depressing. I would say sobering and necessarily sobering at that. More American lives were lost in the Civil War than in all the wars in which our country has been engaged from its beginning up to and including the Korean War combined. The author seems to have read every book, letter, journal, diary, or military report about or from the period and uses these primary sources to communicate, the psychological, sociological, cultural and religious ramifications of such horror. The chapter entitled "Killing" is a lesson in what must happen to the human person interiorly in order to engage in such slaughter. As I read it, I could not help but think of the men coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the horrors they bring with them and the life-long consequences of their experience.

In 2004, Maryilynn Robinson's novel Gilead received great applause and a Pulitzer Prize. I recommend it highly. Her new book. Home, is about one of the characters introduced in Gilead. A father is dying. His dutiful daughter has returned home to care for him. Also returning is the prodigal, alcoholic son. So this a family story about disappointment, forgiveness and healed relationships; things about which we all know only too well.

Given recent work concerning the life and poetry of my Sicilian grand-aunt, I have been reading a lot of books about Italy and Sicily in particular. Dacia Maraini, a well-known Italian author has drawn my attention. And now I have decided to pick up again a book I rejected as a college student. It has now become a classic of 20th century Italian literature. The Leopard, by Lampedusa, takes place in the middle of the 19th century and portrays the demise of Sicilian nobility in the midst of political and class reform. The novel's focus is the drama of one fading noble family, emblematic of a disappearing world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent

Waiting in Silence,
Waiting in Hope

"Celebration of Evensong"
Gaudate Sunday

Sr. Hildegard Pleva, OSsR

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Drivers who frequently navigate previously uncharted territory know well the experience of entering a complex traffic junction, seeing a myriad of route signs and directives and having a moment of indecision and sheer panic; then, in the face of information overload, making a decisive move based on gut intuition alone. The decision is entirely our own. We just tune out everything else, amazingly compute the evidence, and act.

The readings at Mass today told us of John the Baptist. The words of Isaiah anointed him to be proclaimer of the Good News of salvation. And the Gospel of John gives us the words of his proclamation, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’…There is one among you who you do not recognize.” The Baptizer acts like a GPS, a‘global positioning system’ helping us through a confusing intersection. And he begs his followers to listen up.

How can we listen up? How can we listen up in our current “confusing intersection?” This intersection is overloaded with anxiety about war, global warming, finances, and most touchingly, our ability and our desire to care for one another. Our media-filled, digitally dominated, television addicted age makes listening up as difficult as spotting the right sign at a confusing traffic circle. To assume the posture of listening requires the cultivation of silence. That is a lot to ask at any time but particularly so now – the most frantic days of our consumer-driven culture.

John’s directive today, his plea to pay attention and prepare, and the invitation of all the liturgies of the Advent season call us to enter the silence; a silence reminiscent of Robert Frost’s snowy woods – “lovely, dark and deep.” Here we are invited to sink into the darkness to dwell in the presence of mystery. These days call us to ‘listen up’ – to withdraw, at least for a few moments, from the crowded market place and the frenetic super highway. This season, like no other, begs for recollection and silence in the presence of the mystery of the Incarnation. Only then will the true light penetrate our darkness. How else can we hear and respond to the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent

"Birth into hope."
1 Peter 1:3
Art by Moira Quinn

Sr. Moira Quinn, O.Ss.R

Years ago I remember seeing a photo in a magazine of a Christmas tableau: In the foreground is Mary, a young mother, serenely holding her baby Jesus. Behind her on a scrim was a picture of an older Mary, full of grief, at the foot of the cross.

I thought, ‘How odd to have these two pictures juxtaposition so at Christmas time.’ Upon reflection, though, I realized many woman of the ancient world gave birth in poor conditions and many women in the ancient world saw their sons crucified. But we, anticipating the celebration of this particular birth, and death of this one man, Jesus, can make sense of it only because of the resurrection, and of Jesus’ promise to be Emmanuel ‘with us to the end of the age.’ Mt 28:20

But what about now? We are a people stuck in the middle time. During this season we recall Jesus first coming as a baby, the longed for Messiah, as we await his Second Coming as the King of Glory. Yet, being stuck in this middle time isn’t really bad because, in truth, not only has Jesus come and is coming, but Jesus, the Lord of all Hope, is here with us right now living among us.

Where? Where else, but in each and every heart!

Advent is a time to welcome Jesus more deeply, more dearly, into our hearts so to share Jesus’ love more clearly in all our words and actions thus making this middle time, this now, a visible witness of the kingdom of God active and alive in the present moment.

My friend, John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel invites us to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Mk 1:3 That made me think of that Spanish proverb, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines,’ and Isaiah voice crying out about the rugged land being made smooth. Top this off with something I read recently of an old wise black woman who said, ‘If the mountain is smooth you cannot climb it.’ Straight paths, crooked lines, rugged land, smooth mountains. How can we prepare the way to the Lord with such differing instructions and observations?

Our foundress, Venerable Maria Celeste, had the answer: the fixed gaze. With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will make a straight path for Emmanuel to come into our hearts where ‘he will guide us in the way of faith that is alive in hope, and charity, that leads directly to heaven.’ (Florilegium 19) With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will see, usually in retrospect, how the crooked lines of our life are leading us straight to God according to God’s Divine Love. Then we will be able to climb the rugged mountain, not the smooth, because we know the surest path is not the slippery slope, but rather the one we can hold on to; the rocks and boulders of our life: the highs and lows of our work-a-day life, the joys and sorrows, the challenges and struggles. All are means to climbing the heights to see clearer God’s action in our lives.

So, as we climb the rugged mountain along our crooked paths this Advent with our eyes fixed straight ahead on Jesus, let us sing praises to our God who is present to us in the here and now by our acts of faith, hope and love, as we strive to be visible witnesses of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and in us, to one another.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Great Advent Feast for So Many

Saint Nicholas Day

The Reform Church in Kingston, NY is fondly called "The Old Dutch Church". Before being taken by the British, it was first settled in the 17th century by the Dutch who called it Wiltwyck. The Old Dutch, the first Church in the town, still continues, has an active congregation, assists civic endeavors, presents a living Nativity every Christmas and hosts wonderful organ concerts and an annual joint Christmas concert of the Mendelssohn Club (male voices) and the Kingston High School choir. I am dipping way into nostalgia here. This last concert is one of the events I have missed since entering the monastery over eight years ago.

When my sons were young we could walk from our home up Main Street to the Old Dutch every December 6th and see St. Nicholas enter town astride his beautiful horse with loyal Black Peter at his side. St. Nicholas carried a huge bag from which he would repeatedly grab a fistful of candy to throw out to the many children crowding around him. Alas this tradition is no more. But it was an exciting occasion for the children, a connection with history and an Advent tradition which went along with the Advent wreath on the kitchen table and the Jesse Tree decorated with homemade biblical symbols and hung on a door. Sometimes I wonder how much of this they remember.

But here in our monastery we maintain our own tradition for this celebration of the great saint, patron of so many (children, sailors, pawn brokers, coopers, young unmarried woman, bankers and even prostitutes). His legends are many. Just google his name and find out. You will also find out how the remains of this Bishop of Smyrna in present day Turkey came to rest in Bari, southern Italy.

Today each of us found a little gift from St. Nicholas in our mail box. Every year, Sr. Moira, supervisor of our kitchen and cuisine, makes a most delicious, huge St. Nicholas cookie painted as the image of the saint. We love it. We are blessed to benefit from Sr. Moira's artistry and generosity which adds so much beauty to the life of our community of contemplative nuns.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Monastic Prayer - The Prayer of the Church

Bout Psalter

Immersed in the Advent Moment

The Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours together form the great, deeply rooted trunk of contemplative monastic life. This pillar of life nourishes perseverance in in the vows and devotion to private prayer. In addition, as is particularly evident in the Advent season, participation in the official public worship of the Church, provides penetrating connection with the Paschal mystery of Jesus' birth, life, death and Resurrection. To take part in these two expressions of the Church's official public worship is to be totally immersed in the meaning and invitation of these days.

The Roman Catholic breviary (The Liturgy of the Hours) currently in use was first published in 1970 by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy. Like the Sacramentary used for the celebration of Mass, its readings, antiphons, prayers, petitions and music are specific to the season and/or the feast of the day. It is amazing that these books of ritual and prayer so necessary for public worship were created and edited without the use of computers on which we so totally rely for organizational and editing assistance today.

In our monastery we are blessed to have Mass every day and we celebrate together The Office of Readings, Lauds (Morning Prayer), Midday Prayer (one of the "little hours", Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (NightPrayer). In these times of prayer and celebration the ambiance of the season, its deepest spiritual significance will plunge us into the mystery of the Incarnation over and over again.

The day begins with the antiphon for the Invitatory Psalm 95:
Come worship the Lord, the King who is to come.
The first hymn of the day began:
Lift up your heads you mighty gates; behold the King of glory waits.

The first selection for the Office of Readings told of Isaiah's prophecy of the conversion of Egypt and Assyria. The second reading was one of my all-time favorites, a selection from the Proslogion by St. Anselm. It begins:

Insignificant mortal, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

Enter into your mind's inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

The wise Bishop Anselm then speaks of how difficult this is and how hard it is to see God who is, after all, light inaccessible. But he ends with a beautiful plea, a prayer for all seekers.

Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. When the antiphons, readings, responses and prayers of the Office combine daily with the prayer texts and scripture readings provided for the celebration of the Liturgies of the Word and Eucharist at Mass, those who are blessed to participate are plunged into the life of prayer particular to this season. Every provision has been made to create the atmosphere necessary for the coming of Jesus within. We are not waiting for Jesus to be born 'out there'. He was born 'out there' over two thousand years ago. Rather, we ourselves are gestating the appearance of the Jesus within, the Jesus who is in us by virtue of his very birth in human flesh. Jesus is to come alive in us, to be unveiled for all to see.

How blessed we are in our contemplative monastic home to be surrounded by these gifts of the Church.

Monday, December 01, 2008

1st Sunday of Advent

Reflection at Evensong

by Sister Margaret Banville, O.Ss.R

When I entered religious life, almost 60 years ago, I already had the custom of attending daily Mass. I would leave home fasting and would seldom get any breakfast before starting work in an office in downtown Toronto. I made that kind of sacrifice to be able to go to Mass in Advent, but I didn’t have a clue to the liturgical richness of this beautiful season contained in the Divine Office. Here is a sample of what I mean:

In the vigil Office last night [1st Sunday of Advent], we read a catechetical instruction of Saint Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem. He speaks of two comings of Christ: (Remember that the word “Advent” means “coming”).

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels.

Advent is a time of longing and hope. We know our Savior has come and will come again. This is our faith. We also know that even though we may not live until his final coming at the end of time, he will come for each of us when our lifespan is complete.

Let our Advent prayer be: Come, Lord Jesus!