Monday, December 28, 2009

Elder Parenting Revisited

A couple of weeks ago I posted a reflection - "Elder Parenting in All Directions". In reference to parenting adult children, I had a good bit of advice about keeping ones mouth shut, not giving advice until very specifically requested to do so and being supportive. Posts like this about the illustration art of my middle son, Matthew, are just that kind of effort.

If considered side by side the two photos above show Matthew's first effort at window dressing. Normally his work is very small - dioramas in boxes  and images of historic buildings only 5 x 4 inches in size. However, after a recent show, he was approached by the owners of the BlueCashew Kitchen Pharmacy to dress up the window of their shop at its new Rhinebeck, NY location.

Photographing the window was quite a challenge because of reflections in the glass. Jonathan, my oldest son was most successful with the pictures above. Below is a slide show of shots I took to focus on the details of this window diorama (4 x 7 feet approx.)  

Slide Show - Matthew Pleva's Christmas Window

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Redemptoristine Nuns' Christmas

A child is born for us.
Come, let us adore Him.


It is the custom of Redemptoristine Nuns to place a creche or manger scene in each "charge", that is each area which a specific sister has the responsiblity to maintain. So almost every room in the house has a spot for some type of Nativity scene. We share many of them with you in this slide show and just threw in a few other photos for good measure. May the season continue to be a blessing to you and yours.

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Feast of the Holy Family

Finding the Savior in the Temple

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt is a recent discovery of mine. There is a wonderful  book by Jaroslav Pelikan featuring images of Jesus throughout history and across cultures (The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries) . This painting is a double page spread,  arresting in its colors, complexity and range of images. Each face seems to me a free standing portrait. Each depicts a particular emotion: Mary's relief, Joseph's preplexity, the curiosity of the young student of Torah with a scroll in his lap, the blatant stares of rubber-neckers at the back of the crowd. Jesus is the only one whose eyes gaze perhaps in the viewer's direction but more likely to the other world focus of his motivation; "Did you not know I must be about my Father's business?"

An aspect of the Ignatian method of prayer is use of the imagination. This painting enlivens my imagination, inviting me right into the middle of this incredulous crowd, into the feeling of knowing something new is present, something whose significance I can barely touch.

The work of gifted artists across history and cultures inspires prayer, even the prayer of contemplative nuns. The contemplative eye gazes quietly into the mystery and is drawn to rest within it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ is Born for Us, Come Let Us Adore Him

When the sun rises in the morning sky,
you will see the King of kings
coming forth from the Father
like a radiant bridegroom
from the bridal chamber.

Antiphon for the Magnificat of Evening Prayer I
Solemnity of Christmas

Brother Max Schmalzl, CSsR

At this late hour sisters are still awake in our monastery. They are tidying up after serving Christmas treats to guests who attended Christmas Eve Mass. We are always happy to share our liturgies with friends and neighbors. And this is such a special time for all of us.

What is Christmas like in a monastery of contemplative nuns? There has been great preparation for the feast in our offices of the Liturgy of the Hours. Attention given to the great "O Antiphons" of the last days of Advent is a sign of that focus.  This evening the solemnity of Christmas began with Vespers, Evening Prayer I of Christmas. The  antiphons, psalms and canticle were were intoned; antiphons echoing the flavor of the greats "Os".

He comes in splendor, the King who is our peace;
the whole world longs to see him.

He sends forth his word to the earth,
and his command spreads swiftly through the land.

The eternal Word, born of the Father before time began,
today emptied himself for our sake and became man.

At the end of the office, singing "What Child is This?", we processed to the creche so lovingly and beautifully prepared by our Sr. Maria Linda. There we paid homage to the newborn King and greeted each other with a holy kiss of Christmas peace. Following supper, last minute preparations were made for the Mass of Midnight scheduled like the Pope's Mass in Rome at a time easier for frazzled humans to bear. Our Liturgy began with the Office of Readings - psalms and two readings, one from Isaiah the Prophet and the other a sermon by Pope Leo the Great. This was immediately followed by the Proclamation of Jesus' Birth to which we responded by singing the Gloria accompanied by the joyous ringing of bells. In his homily, Fr. Thomas Deely, CSsR invited us to silently call to mind those we know who remain in darkness unlike the people spoken of in the first reading of the Mass who came to see a great light - the light of the Messiah. He also reminded us that this event, the birth of Jesus, is just the beginning of the complete round of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. It is a cylce that continues in our time and in our own lives but never in isolation for we have the companion ship of Emmanuel, God-with-Us, whose taking on of human nature, whose Incarnation, we celebrated today.

Tomorrow we will begin our day with Morning Prayer. The first antiphon sung is a question.

Tell us, shepherds, what have you seen?
Who has appeared on earth?
We have seen a newborn infant and a choir of angels
praising the Lord, alleluia.

We are so fortunate to have our Redemptorists close by to celebrate the Eucharist with us. At 11am we will have the Mass of Christmas Day. A festive dinner will follow with the company of three Redemptorist priests. And, just as it is in many homes on this day, the long after dinner clean up will be followed by relaxation; maybe the treat of a holiday movie our some TV special. The older sisters here are fond of reminding us that such a feast is a "solemn day of recreation" which means it is a day on which recreating is taken seriously. There will be carol singing after super in our community room.

Our day has been total gift - a monastery Christmas. May your day be gift too. And may every blessing of the feast - every blessing of the knowledge of our God-with-Us, our Emmanuel, be with you and those you love. Join us in praying for our needy world, for the poor and most abandoned, for the cause of peace and justice everywhere.

Come, Let Us Worship Him

you will know
the Lord is coming,
and in the morning
you will see his glory.

Invitatory Antiphon, Morning Office, December 24

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Come, Let Us Worship Him

Today, the last of the "O Antiphons" of the Advent Liturgy of the Hours uses the title "Emmanuel". The name Emmanuel means "God-with-us". We welcome the God who so loves humankind and all of creation, the God who choses to live with us and totally experience our humble condition. O, the wonder of the Incarnation! 

Our Sr. Moira Quinn created the images appearing here each of these last days. She explained the features of today's illumination. The hand is the hand of God with fingers parted as is the custom of a rabbi with hands raised in blessing over a congregation. The shape is like that of the "Y" in Yahweh. Two fingers bear a dove, sign of the Holy Spirit; two bear the tablets of the Ten Commandments; and the thumb has been fashioned into an image of Mother and the infant Jesus. The palm holds the Star of David - the lineage of Jesus. And on the wrist, a heart at the place where we commonly take our pulse, where we feel the ebb and flow of life within us. 

Scripture tells us that we are held in the palm of God's hand, a metaphor of the initimacy of God's love and presence with us. At Christmas we acknowledge this presence and welcome, yet again, our Incarnate God into our world.

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 7:14
                               Luke 1:69-70
                               Isaiah 32:22
                               Psalm 18:20
Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lord is Close at Hand...

The day is drawing near. Yesterday, during the long drive home from the funeral of a Redemptoristine sister who died in Canada, we listened to a wonderful recording of Handel's "Messiah." The oratorio is narrated completely by the words of Holy Scripture. It is the story of the Messiah's life; how He came forth from the Father out of love; how he was born of simple woman, lived with suffering and rejection, came to a tortured death and yet rose victorious. Handel presents him as truly the King of Kings. The "O Antiphon" for today pronounces Jesus the "King of all nations" and ends with the appeal, "Come make us one in you." We know too well the cause of our divisions, the cause of suffering, war, famine and disease. May we become one in the God who is Love.

Scripture Readings: Psalm 47:3
                               Isaiah 9:5-6
Draeing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Monday, December 21, 2009

Splendor of Eternal Light

The windows of our monastery offer us splendid views of the sun rising over the hills of Dutchess County opposite us along the Hudson River. The sun seems to pierce the darkness. Today's "O Antiphon" speaks of just that; the light of the Messiah piercing the darkness of our world and our lives. This year has brought darkness into so many lives. Many are struggling to make it through. The antiphon speaks of the "Sun of Justice". We pray that justice will reign for all people. "O Sun, pierce all hearts with your compassionate love so that justice will be poured forth upon the earth."

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:1
                               Malachi 3:20
                               Luke 1:78-79
Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Open Our Hearts

Sometimes my heart is as locked up as the door to a prison cell. It can seem impenetrable, not allowing any influence to worm its way inside to release some love,  compassion, understanding sympathy, or warmth of any kind. In this way I become like stone. In this petrified state I can love nothing and no one, not even myself. The Messiah is the key to our freedom of heart. We wait for his coming and pray that our relationship to Emmanuel, to God-with-us, will be heart to heart.

Scriture Readings: Isaiah 9:6
                             Isaiah 22:22
                             Isaiah 40:4-5
Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lo, How a Rose......

Singing in high school choir is one of the memorable experiences of my life. Under the demanding direction of Sr. Mary Cecilia, CSJ at Fontbonne Hall Academy in Brooklyn, New York we learned some of the most demanding choral pieces and also some difficult arrangements of standards. It was there that I fell in love with "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming". It still puts a lump in my throat. The second verse begins: "Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind." What Isaiah foretold was that "flower of Jesse", that child of the line of David who would bring salvation to his people. And so we too watch for the coming of our salvation. We grow inpatient for the day of his birth and beg, "Come, Lord do not delay."

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 33:14
                                Isaiah 11:1
                               Habakuk 2:3
                               Sirach 35:19a
Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Plea for Freedom - "O" Antiphons Continue

Ancient Israelites and modern African-Americans both whispered and shouted this plea for freedom - freedom from domination and oppression. Today we pray for this same freedom for those in our world who remain as victims of injustice. But we also pray for the freedom of which St. Paul spoke - the freedom of the children of God. This is a freedom that comes from knowing that you are totally loved by God, that Jesus brought redemption for all. I find that I pray also for those addicted to activities and substances that limit their freedom and deprive them of joy.

Some scripture readings to consider: Isaiah 11:4a,5
Isaiah 33:22, Jeremiah 32:21

Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moment Draws Nigh

Today the whole Church begins its special liturgical punctuation of the last days of Advent, the last days leading to the great Feast of the Incarnation. Each day, a new antiphon beginning with an "O" introduces the canticle in the Offfice Vespers. The canticle is Mary's Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior." The first "O Antiphon" was said today and began "O Wisdom of God..." Great musical settings in various forms of chant, particularly the Gregorian, have been composed over the centuries for these antiphons. Each antiphon is so powerful as to provide material for a day's meditation. May you find them a blessing.

Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Communique from the Sandwich Generation

Elder Parenting in All Directions

Blessings abound in my life; a contemplative vocation superimposed upon the experiences of family, marriage and career. At one time I thought I would never become a mother, that it was not possible for me. And then came three sons; the sheer gift of an adopted child and then the joyful bonus of two born to me. What miracles. Now there are two robust and happy grandsons to boot. Family also includes a sister, about to become a grandmother too, and my parents who still live in their own home without any help, paid or otherwise. Dad is 88 years old and Mom 85.

I am one of the fortunate ‘sandwich generation’. From this position elder parenting is required in many directions and subject to varied definitions. I myself have become an elder. I am officially retired. It is a shock that I can ask for a senior citizen’s discount. In every group I find myself in the older cadre. Recently I met family members and friends I had not seen in many years. My, they had all become so old. Did that mean that I too had become old? It sure did.

My sons, now 37, 34 and 32 have also begun to enter the category of ‘elder’. At least they are no longer teenagers whose raging testosterone requires clear limits, specific expectations, and real consequences. I am still their parent, their mother; still called when the chips are down. But now it is mostly just to be listened to unless my opinions are very explicitly requested. In most circumstances, my thoughts in the matter are not required. But ‘elder’ or older, the increase in chronological age does not necessarily mean they are any wiser. I see lack of wisdom a mile down the road but am prudent enough not to describe the vision. This self-control, while to hard to come by, is absolute necessity. When friends announce the marriage plans of their children and ask advice for negotiating the merger, my standard response is, “Just keep your mouth shut.” Perhaps, in the Wisdom of God, such discipline comes more easily and naturally when one’s own diminishment is becoming evident and energy sags.

The philosophy of prudent non-involvement has kept my sons and the women in their lives in happy relationship to me. I admire the ability of these young women to adjust to the notion of a mother-in-law who is a nun in a cloistered monastery. Their acceptance elicits my respect. Cultivating respect for them and my sons as adults who are making independent decisions has demanded much self-discipline. My heart, on the other hand, has yet to learn its lessons. After all, these are my children; the babies I tenderly nursed and smothered with kisses; the kids I saw through chicken-pox, rushed to the emergency room or sat by their side after surgery; the teens I ferried from soccer game to scouts to religious education; the young men whose achievements reduced me to tears of gratitude and admiration. I still want so much for them and worry so much for them. To hold those sweet memories, along with the concerns and worries, silently in my heart is truly an ascetical practice. This is the condition to which the parents of adult children must surrender. The heart of a mother remains just that.

Grown children, their spouses and significant others make up one slice of bread in the elder parenting sandwich. That slice seems as straight forward and as anticipated as white bread. The other slice is prone to alarming alterations in appearance and texture every day. My parents, my elders for so many years and source of support and wisdom, are slowly moving in another direction.

My father was born in Germany. He came to the United States in 1928 when he was eight years old. He served in World War II and earned an engineering degree on the G.I. Bill while supporting a wife and two children. He is a craftsman and builder. Intellectually, he is a Renaissance man, an avid reader and raconteur. His resume boasts a long professional career of varied accomplishments and an active professional engineering license. He may be the oldest P.E. license holder in the state.

My mother is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants. At the age of eight, she became little mother to a three month old brother upon the death of their mother. She is an accomplished home maker. Trained in fashion design, her artistic talent has been devoted to creating pleasing delicate water color paintings for over forty years. No holiday would be complete without her delicate home made manicotti and fruit tortes. Today my mother’s short term memory is almost gone. Her former pursuits no longer hold any interest.

My sister and I have begun to feel that the tables have turned; that we are increasingly parenting our elders. The juxtaposition is not configured the same way every day or in every situation. A quality of diplomacy usually applied to international relations is required here. How much do you insist on helping? When do you say the driving license has to go? Must you be present at the next visit to the doctor? Do you have to make the next appointment? All superimposed on life-long parent child relationships bearing scars of ancient grief and old resentments kept tender by resilient memory. Now the deck is shifting as each new wave of reality breaks over the bow. The clock is ticking and we do not know when the alarm will sound.

Life is all about relationships. No one remains exactly the same from one day to another. We are subject to an infinite variety of mutations and permutations of character and personality, expression and physicality. It is all so very interesting and all so vexing. I have learned to expect that all things will change sooner or later, for the good or the bad. Challenge and opportunity for growth are always around the corner. But the greatest learning has been to appreciate the necessity of continuing, day after day, in total faithfulness, to go on loving, no matter what.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


"Songs of the Beloved"

Advent music and
narration of a Christmas Novena
by Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 7pm
Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery Chapel
of the Redemptoristine Nuns

Route 9W, Esopus
north end of the grounds of Mount St. Alphonsus
(845) 384-6533

Come and begin your Christmas Novena with us.

Adore, O my soul, in the bosom of Mary
the only begotten Son of God
who became man for love of you.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent Time

On this day of the liturgical year, every first Friday of Advent, the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours offers a selection from St. Anselm's Proslogion. This is a favorite of mine. 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.

The passage ends:

Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for 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.

Today, however, the sister giving the second reading at the Office chose, as is an option, another reading. Her choice was taken from a very fine book written by a friend of ours Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette. Cooks may recognize Twleve Months of Monastery Soups as one of his recipe books. Todays reading was taken from his Blessings of the Daily - A Monastic Book of Days. It is a wonderful collection of daily readings. Todays' was titled "Fostering the Spirit of Advent" which offered some hint for keeping the season. Here is a summary.

1. Cultivate an attitude of stillness, silence and peace within you that will, in turn, foster prayer and recollection.
2. Place an icon of the Annunciation in a relevant spot at home to remind of Mary's presence.
3. Make time for Bible reading (Lectio Divina).
4. Listen to inspired music - Bach Advent Cantatas, Handel's Messiah.
5. Participate in the Liturgies of the Church.
6. Don't rush the season with a tree. Use and Advent wreath and pray with it. lighting candles at meal time.
7. Place a small creche in your dining area. Leave the crib empty and light a candle beside it when you eat your meals.
8. Be faithful to the daily Angelus - the great prayer of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Thank you, Brother Victor



Leader: The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:

Response: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Leader: Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Response: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary

Leader: And the Word was made Flesh:
Response: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary

Leader: Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
Response: that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Liturgical Year - First Sunday of Advent

Vigilant Waiting for the Lord

Advent is the beginning fo the new Liturgical Year. It is a season of spiritual preparation, a time of hope, a time of promise, marked by eager longing for the coming of the Savior through the grace of Christmas. God-Is-With-Us (Emmanuel) even now as we remember the days of old when the prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. What longing filled the Hearts of the Chosen People...and now that same longing to enjoy the fullness of salvation is ours. Let us pray that we may enter with ferevor into the new Church Year and with Mary sing the Praises of the Lord.

May the warm glow of our Advent candles remind us of Jesus who is the light of the world. We call upon Him whose coming we await, O Come Emmanuel..Come and save us!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vocations, Vocations, Vocations Part II

And Then Comes Joy

Not all comments concerning posts on this blog appear here. The posts are fed directly to my page on Facebook. Yes, I have a page on Facebook - lovely for networking with family and friends but also part of vocation outreach. When these posts appear on FB, readers can enter a comment immediately. One responder to my last post concerning the realities of monastic contemplative life said, "It sounds like being a nun is hard work." Yes, indeed. But I would not be providing a total picture if I did not speak of the other end of the spectrum.

I am not accustomed to publically sharing moments of surpassing contentment or joy. Generally, I tend to be a bit suspicious of those who would seem to float perennially on a cloud of sweet marshmallow fluff and describe every detail of the experience. But is it fair, or healthy for that matter, to offer a reflection on life's realities without speaking of joy? The human desire and capacity for joy is stubborn in survival. In the wisdom of unspoiled youth, Anne Frank, reduced to hiding in an Amsterdam attic as a persecuted Jew, could write of joy in contemplative viewing of the landscape. She wrote ecstatically of shinning sun and greening trees. From this was born resilent hope for a better future.

The joys of my religious vocation flash in memory, illuminating generalized sensations and specific experiences. On Christmas Eve, 1999 I received a phone call informing  me that I had been accepted for entrance into this community. As a school librarian I could not enter until the academic year was over. I simply did not know how I would make it through that busy time. I was so eager. On the day of my entrance, July 22 (Feast of St. Mary Magdalene), I had to wait until 5pm to knock at the door of the monastery for the entrance ritual. The day stretched long and anxious. It was so good to finally be here. Days later, I remember resting during the afternoon's silent time and thinking, with a Cheshire Cat smile on my face, "I was made for this." It was pure joy, however influenced it may have been by beginner's enthusiasm. 

As a working mother, retreat presenter, parish minister, library board member, etc., etc. it was hard to find time alone, quite time for sustained contemplation, for the journey to which I was being called. In the monastery those very things are the priority. It is entirely normal to stop, to put whatever is at hand aside, to move away from it all to chapel or one's room to just 'be', to be with God. Everything is ordered to that pursuit. And that is joy.

Advent was always such a hectic time out there. I remember dreaming once that instead of it being Advent it was Lent and I was so relieved because it didn't come with all those pre-Christmas demands - shopping, gifts to buy, food to cook, and social obligations. In contrast, Advent in the monastery IS a time of silent expectation, of waiting for the great mystery of the Incarnation to be revealed; for Jesus to be born again in my heart where I can welcome him extravagently. There is pure joy in the Christmas Novena tradition. After Vepsers, in a chapel illlumined only by Advent wreath candles, I hear each sister, one by one, and then my own voice speak, "Adore, O my soul, in the bosom of Mary, the only begotten Son of God, who became man for love of you." Together we trod, in joyful expectation, the path to Bethlehem.

Our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa, was a woman of her time; an effusive Neapolitan of the Baroque period. She wrote a great deal, much still not translated into modern English. Some find her reflections just too saccharine, like that of her friend St. Alphonsus Liguori. However, I found joy in her spirituality, its tremendous communication of affect, its unique insight into theology in tune with the Gospel of John. To her, Jesus declared, "If they ask you who I am, tell them I am pure love." I chose two other quotations from Mother Celeste's Dialogues for my solemn profession card seen to the left. "Consecrate yourself to the silence of pure love." and "I want you to espouse yourself to all souls and to experience the same delight which I experience in them." Indeed, for Celeste, her Beloved, her Jesus, is pure love. This is a spirituality of the loving Savior that brings joy to my heart. These writings are, for me, a treasure trove, the depths of which I will never be able to fully explore.

And community life - it is challenge and joy. Community life keeps you honest. It does not allow you to stay on the marshmallow cloud. It is the place where 'the rubber hits the road'; where you must 'put your money where your mouth is." It is the gift that keeps giving by demanding constant application to the process of one's own conversion. To be called to religous life is to be called to conversion. Conscious living leads to self-knowledge but "knowledge makes a bloody entry." Yet, as it crosses the threshold, as one moves from the dark valley of egoic struggle, the faithfulness of God is revealed and joy abounds. So too abounds "the liberty of the children of God."

When community life is alive, when everyone is 'with the program', when everyone recognizes the weakness of their own humanity, "union of hearts and mutual charity" can flourish. The Rule of Life comes alive. In the old days it was a supreme compliment to say of a sister, "She is a living Rule." The corporate community is to be a living Rule. And our Redemptoristine Rule declares that we must be "living memories" of Jesus Christ. This is the shorthand expression of our charism, lofty but very real.

There was perfect joy for me in profession of solemn vows, in total commitment. I felt so comfortable with all of the spousal imagery of the ritual. Years ago I learned that in Europe married women wore wedding rings on their right hand therefore religious with congregational roots in Europe continue, even in the USA, wear these rings on the right hand. When I received the ring of my solemn profession I deliberately held out my left hand. The ring is molded in a design called hands in faith, in common use as a wedding ring in the culture of our foundress. The ring expresses my spousal bond to the Beloved. In this country, a gold ring on the fourth finger of the left hand sends that message. For me to wear that emblem of love is perfect joy.

The last expression of joy to be shared came not in conscious mind but in a dream. Dreams are not real but they speak of the reality apprehended by our unconcious mind and can serve as correctives to the limitations of conscious thought. Dreams can speak of a deep reality to which we have been unable to give voice. In my dream I was serving as Eucharistic Minister at Mass in the monastery. I was standing beside the altar waiting for the priest to give me the Body of Christ. As I held out my hand to receive Communion, the host seemed to multiply so that even with two hands I could not contain the amount flowing into them.  What an image - overflowing Eucharist - overflowing thanksgiving - overflowing gift of Jesus - oveflowing love. That is an image of unsurpassed joy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vocations, Vocations, Vocations Part I

The Harvest is Plentiful
and the Laborers are Few

'Professionalese' has crept into religious life. The person in a monastery of nuns or a congregation of sisters who receives inquiries from those considering a vocation to religious life is called the 'vocation director'. The person who is responsible for the incorporation of new members into the community is called the 'formation director'. We tend these days not to speak in terms of novice mistresses giving training.

My community has entrusted me with both of these tasks. I can speak of firsthand experience as vocation director.

Concerning  formation
work, I have not been that fortunate since no one has entered our community since I took the job. However, I have gained some insight through my own experiences as postulant, novice and first professed while others were trying out their vocation here.

Religious vocations are rare and vocations to contemplative life even more so.  But I am convinced that there are mature woman out there who are hearing the invitation of God to come closer, to go deeper, to take the next step in the direction of their own longing. By mature I do not mean old. I mean women who have some education, who have life experience with people and with work, who have become conscious of their own motivations and behaviors and are willing to look at them honestly and with humilty. Mature women have experienced family life and relationships and know how much effort it takes to live in a 'community' whether at home, in the college dorm, in the workplace, in the parish or the neighborhood. Some have this maturity at 25 and some still lack it at 55. 

The women attracted to contemplative life are usually already women of prayer. They come wanting more prayer and deeper prayer. But often the realities of life consecrated to poverty, chastity and obedience are not what they anticipated. One sister here is fond of reminding, "When you choose, you lose." So there are losses. The women who come have already been on the spiritual journey for a long time. Often they have had ministries of service and/or prayer. But they believe God is calling them to go deeper. It only makes sense, I believe, that the going deeper will not happen without cost. And for each of us the 'cost' will differ, as we differ in life history, in personality type, in experience and in our relational ties outside community. And this last is a big factor for the considerable number of those with children who inquire about our life.

There are some misconceptions out there concerning contemplative life. Yes, it is a life centered on prayer - Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and personal prayer. But a considerable part of the day is also devoted to work - every kind of job you can think of that is required to keep any home clean, organized, repaired and financially solvent. Another misconception is that a contemplative monastery is the ideal place for a person who is having some sort of difficulty in dealing with the challenges of life outside; that the silence and solitude of monastic life is just what is necessary to keep them on an even keel. However, our life with God is lived in a community of people, people with whom we must interact on a daily basis in prayer, work, play and at the dining room table.

This is the life for the women who finds that she can do nothing else; that nothing else in her life makes sense; nothing else is possible, without her being anchored to her Beloved in silence and solitude lived within a likeminded and challenging community. Even if she finds the demands of charity, the subtle formation that takes place in community life at times vexing or painful, she perseveres. Then from somewhere (is it grace, perhaps) comes the willingness, the flexiblity, the painful stretching, the clinging to interior desire that makes it possible to take on  the commitment. From somewhere comes the assurance that the life in which everything is ordered to the will of God as expressed in the vows, the superior, and the community is worth everything. And truth be said, everything is just what it may require.

Please consider using the Prayer for Vocations at the top of the side bar
on a regular basis. It would be wonderful if you would mention our community
of Redemptoristines particularly in your prayer.
And one more thing, please tell others about the richness of
contemplative life and refer them to this blog and our website:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Art

When I Grow Up.....
by Matthew Pleva

At the end of this piece there's a link to a slide show of the most recent work of my son Matthew Pleva - my son the artist. Just click on the screen arrow. There's some music too, if you have your speakers on. I've shown some of Matt's work on this blog in the past. Just click on the word "art" in the side bar topics list to see more. He is a most inventive and talented guy. He gathered ideas for his current works buy asking friends to complete this sentence: When you were about 8 or 9 years old, how did you answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The current show features pencils drawings (about 14"x7") that depict the answers.

To the right is the large theme piece (approx. 30"x15")which shows Matt at his drawing table doing what he wanted to be when he grew up - an artist. He would draw the space shuttle with all the plates outlined and all the riviets holding each one in place. Precise then, precise now.

The exhibit and the slides here also show a few of his dioramas - watch for the ones in tiny matchboxes and pocket watches! Pocket watch dioramas depict a train station and a ballerina. Match boxes depict King Arthur with the sword in the stone and Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

There are also drawings of the historic buildings still in use at the intersection of John and Green Streets in uptown Kingston, NY.

All of these pieces are currently hanging at Keegan Ales, St. James St., Kingston, NY. Show will be up until November 30, 2009. Enjoy.
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: When I Grow Up
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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Another Great Redemptorist

Beloved Redemptorist
Father Joseph Tracy Hurley
is Buried at Mt. St. Alphonsus

This year sixteen Redemptorist priests of the Baltimore Province (most of northeastern US, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands) have died. Many of them had their funerals here at the Mount just next door to our monastery. Most, if not all, are well-known to our community. For the first 25 years of this foundation the Mount was a major seminary. The sisters had ample opportunity to get to know the priests who served on the staff and were its professors. They also encouraged and supported the seminarians as they made their way to ordination. So when the Redemptorists bury one of their confreres, we too mourn the loss of a friend. That was particularly the case today. What follows is excerpted from his obituary notice.

Father Joseph T. Hurley, C.Ss.R. the associate pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church Roman in Seaford, Delaware, died suddenly on Friday, Oct. 30. He was born in 1928, in Fall River, MA. His parents were the Hon. Joseph L. Hurley, former lieutenant governor of the State of Massachusetts and later Superior Court justice, and his mother Celeste (Tracy) Hurley. He is survived by his brothers, John and William. Father Hurley attended Monsignor Coyle High School in Taunton, MA. He was a student at Harvard University when he felt the call to priesthood. He attended the Redemptorists seminaries of Saint Mary's College in North East, PA, and theological studies at Mt. St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY. Father Hurley professed his first vows as a Redemptorist 60 years ago. He was ordained a priest on June 20, 1954, by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York at Mt. St. Alphonsus. He was assigned to the parish of Saint Mary s in Annapolis, MD. The parish was very large. He was in charge of a community that eventually grew into an independent parish in Cape Saint Claire, Anne Arundel County, MD. He worked as an assistant to the Novice Master for a brief time. He then did graduate school studies at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., earning a master s degree in sociology. Father Hurley spent many years of his life in the formation of future Redemptorist priests, teaching in the High School seminary. He was the president and rector of Saint Alphonsus College, Suffield, CT. He also was the Novice Master for the Interprovincial Novitiate in Glenview, Ill. for twelve years. Another important focus of his ministry was service as Vicar and then as Provincial of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists. He guided the Province that embraced, at that time, the entire east coast of the United States and extensive missionary work in Brazil, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States Virgin Islands. He then returned to parish ministry as the pastor of Saint Patrick's Church in Enfield, CT for six years.  In Our Lady of Lourdes parish, h was mentor to those entering the Church through the  Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He worked very closely with the extraordinary ministers of Communion in their pastoral care of the sick at Nanticoke Hospital and those who were homebound. His kindness and care of the sick was extraordinary. He was chaplain of the Legion of Mary. Father Hurley delighted in offering short courses in Scripture on different themes. The courses would run six weeks, offering a session in the morning for the retired and one in the evening for working people. He used the Year of Saint Paul to examine Paul s writings. Father Hurley was preparing classes for an examination of the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in preparation for the great feast of Christmas, when he died suddenly.

I have come to admire the Redemptorists so much in my 20 years of association with them. My affection and my respect grows constantly. So many of them model the devotion to the poor and most abandoned which is at the center of their charism. And they model devotion to vocation, to the congregation as a whole and to the pursuit of joyful and compassionate living within community. And none of it is easy.

I got to know Fr. Hurley a bit when he was serving as Novice Master, an ideal man for the job. He taught by his very person what is was to be priest and Redemptorist. But today I learned a lot more.

His family was very active in the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. His father served as Mayor of Fall River, Lieutenant Governor under the famous James Michael Curley in the 1930s, and later as a State Superior Court Judge. Following the Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942 in which almost 500 people died, he sat on the bench for the trial of those whose negligence caused so many deaths. As a son of this family young Joseph went to Harvard where, as a freshman he confided his desire for the priesthood to a priest on campus. The priest promptly encouraged him to head for the Jesuits. But quietly Joe quietly answered, "I wasn't thinking so much of teaching but about missionary work." The priest responded, "Then you just have to go up to Mission Church and talk to the Redemptorists." Ironically Fr. Hurley never got to be a missionary. In one way or another he taught most of his life or served in vital administrative positions during challenging times.

Today 36 Redemptorists, led by Provincial Vicar, Fr. Edmund Faliskie, celebrated Fr. Hurley's funeral Mass. It took place under the beautiful stained glass dome featured here on November 1, All Saints Day. During the Mass, on the walk to and from the cemetery, during the luncheon that followed we heard lots of stories about the gentle, contemplative, brilliant, wise and steady Joe Hurley. I learned that he liked to tell the story of how it was the custom in his day to have a reception at the family home of a newly ordained priests following his first Mass in his home parish. Imbedded as his family was in Massachusetts politics many Irish politicos attended. Fr. Joe reported that once James Michael Curley, legendary Mayor of Boston, arrived no one gave another thought to the newly ordained young priest in their midst..

The Provincial of the Baltimore Province regreted being unable to attend the Mass. He is in Rome at the Redemptorist General Chapter (more news about that later). He sent a moving letter in which he described Joseph Hurley as the consumate gentle-man.

A long time friend, a man named Mark, told me the story of how Fr. Joe officiated at his brother's wedding and within a year also officiated at his parents' funerals. All the while Mark was in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction. Fr. Joe supported him through is first futile attempts to regain sobriety. Today he reported, with great gratitude for the constant friendship of Fr. Joe, 20 years of sobriety.

We have lost too many this year. How many Harvard freshmen do you know who would leave those hallowed halls today to pursue the vowed life and priestly ordination?  Please pray that more will present themselves. Do you know a young man who has what it takes? Why not tell him and ask if he has ever considered it?