Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Holy Season of Lent

Re-orientation Time

An image that speaks to me of the Ash Wednesday commission is that of the Sargent of a squadron of parade marchers shouting the command, "Eyes Right!" There was probably a lot of that during the parade following the recent Presidential Inauguration. It is a call to re-orient, to shift focus and pay tribute to the one being honored. The image conjures up some questions for self-examination: In what direction has my attention wandered? Am I attentive only to what is right in front of me in my own little world? What kind of effort might I have to make to orient myself to another reality? To whom am I being called to pay homage?

For the next five days some men and women will participate in an online directed retreat focusing on Vocation Discernment, what God's call to them might be at this time in their lives. Each is trying to determine the directive for their re-orientation and answer the question, "Where shall my focus be?" This retreat is being sponsored by the Vocation Office of the Archdiocese of New York and is the combined effort of the director, Sr. Deanna Sabetta, and many vocation directors of various religious congregations and orders. We will provide the spiritual direction for these participants via e-mail.

You might find the daily meditations and reflection questions challenging. Here is the link:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Season of Lent

Last year we offered a Lenten Contemplative Studies Series: three Mondays in Lent beginning at 7pm with presentation, break at 8pm and Night Prayer with the community at 8:15pm. The topics were contemplative values for daily living, contemplative prayer and the contemplative monastic life in our time. We were amazed at the interest in this sessions.

This year we are going to offer material on the history, theology and practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. The main title is The People's Divine Office. Local parish bulletins and newspapers published announcements yesterday and registrations are already coming. There is a hunger out there! Hope we can help to satisfy it in our little way as contemplative nuns who would like their monastery to be a school of prayer for all the faithful.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vocation Development

Here is our ad that appears in this week's issue of National Catholic Reporter. We tried to make our advertising buck do double duty; announce our community, its website and this blog AND issue our invitation for Monastic Experience Weekends. They are acheduled for May 22-24 and October 16-18, 2009. We hope that women who have felt an urging toward contemplative prayer and perhaps its expression in monastic life will be drawn to 'come and see.' Monasteries of contemplative nuns never were part of the mainstream, even the mainstream of Catholic experience. Today that reality is even more true. However, people keep buying the Liturgy of the Hours and CDs of monastic chant, are enthralled with films like "Into Great Silence", "Agnes of God", and now, "Doubt." So something continues to be 'going on.' Oh, I forgot to mention the thousands of titles that a search for "contemplative life" would produce on

We are hoping that our effort will draw those who are curious or unsure, who do not want to commit yet but want to see. At the very least, we wish to educate and better yet, provide opportunity for an experience of God.

Help us in this effort by passing on this invitation. May you be blessed for your effort.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day - A Feast of Love

It's the Little Things that Count

A few days ago we celebrated the birthday of Sr. Mary Jane. As is the custom in our community, her place at the dinner table was decorated in a special way. Considering her love of nature, a few small pots of blooming crocuses and one of miniature jonquils adorned her place. Seeing their colors and the new life in them was a joy for all of us.

But also gracing the special place at table was a work of human creativity, ingenuity and love. Sr. Maria Linda created a small Japanese style doll. It was made entirely out of 'found' materials, bits and pieces of fabric and ribbon, shells and match sticks. Love and generosity created a thing of beauty out of the simplest of materials. In another life, Sr. Maria Linda was a Franciscan in a novitiate in Italy. In the simplicity of the Franciscan charism she learned how to produce such works of art.

The religious vow of poverty, especially the solemn vow of poverty which Redemptoristines take, leads us also into this realm of making gifts from virtually nothing. Sometimes these 'nothing gifts' take material form and sometimes they are not material at all. These fall into the category of those little books people still make with tear off coupons for special favors or treats which can be redeemed at will. The giver promises to follow through whenever asked - breakfast in bed, a trip to the store, the gift of a day free from household or family chores. I remember the spiritual bouquets we were taught to prepare as gifts for special family occasions. My father recently found at the bottom of a desk drawer the Father's Day spiritual bouquet (a Mass offered for his intention) that I gave him over fifty years ago.

We are all, in and out of monasteries, so busy these days. Parents are always busy. Husbands and wives are always busy. Friends lose touch with each other. Families become estranged. Communication deteriorates. Children find others to listen to them. Husbands and wives take each other for granted and marvel that when they were courting hours of conversation was the norm. The family community, nuclear and extended, and any religious or monastic community thrive in love where communication happens, when the gift of nothing is given regularly.

So consider the gift of nothing this Valentine's Day. Make something out of nothing. Make something out of the only thing readily at hand, that is yourself. The gift of self comes in the form of time to ask and time to listen. When speaking of getting to know people, someone once said, "If you don't know what an introvert is thinking, you haven't asked. If you don't know what an extrovert is thinking, you haven't listened." The business of taking time to ask and to listen isn't easy. I remember an occasion many years ago when, just as I was about to turn in after a long hard day, a teen aged son came home from being with his friends and wanted to talk. It was the last thing I wanted to do and the first thing I had to do.

There's the gift from the heart you might choose to give this Valentine's Day - a gift for child, spouse, parent, friend, fellow worker, sister or brother in community. Make something beautiful out of nothing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes - World Day for the Sick

Revisiting the Rosary -
One Mother to Another

In the last year I have read two books written by daughters of Senator Robert F. Kennedy who was murdered by an assassin while in the midst of his 1968 campaign for the presidency of the United States. In each case, I found their reminiscences of Catholic religious practice in their childhood home most revealing and inspiring. Daily mass, family Rosary in the evening, sacraments and sacramentals, plus parental models formed them in the faith.

Although a cradle Catholic, I do not have that deep familial formation in my background. I was taught to say the Rosary by Sisters of St. Joseph (Brentwood) in classes of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) on Sunday morning and later on Wednesday afternoons. The Rosary was part of Catholic culture as was the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Tuesday evening at church and, later on, May crownings at my Catholic high school. However, Marian devotion was not deeply embedded in the way the Kennedy women describe. Yet, I've always had a Rosary nearby - hanging on my bedpost, or in a small pouch at the bottom of my purse. I have never been admitted into the hospital without a Rosary in my possession. When my then fifteen year old son had an emergency appendectomy, I sat with him in the recovery room throughout the night slipping Rosary beads through my fingers. A desperately worried mother had no better place to register her plea, than to another mother.

When my three sons were teenagers, there were many occasions to commit them to the care of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. If I couldn't be there; if there was nothing I could do to help the situation; she would just have to step in and mother them for me. She has never failed.

Praying the Rosary, however, still remained on the periphery of my spiritual practice. Until now. The current challenges to our nation's well-being, to the capacity of families to support themselves and remain intact, to restoration of a compassionate democratic capitalism, can be said to have brought me to my knees. I find myself so concerned for all, so worried for the future of my sons and grandsons and that of my elderly parents that I have come face to face with my powerlessness. There is nothing I can DO. I have no words to find the solution. Prayer is my only recourse, and it seems, a particular kind of prayer.

As a mother with a very troubled heart, I am drawn to another mother who knows only too well the suffering of the maternal heart. Beads running through my fingers, I just sit with Mother Mary; together we contemplate the human condition and the desperate reality; together we plead for those we love and for a country and world in need of restoration.

My own helplessness has brought me to Mary, mother, sister, friend. I present myself wanting to join her in a spirit of utter abandonment to God's will and power, trusting that in her company our voices combine, mine receiving some of the power it lacks in solo. I sit quietly with her, our soul's magnifying the Lord, our maternal voices confiding and praising.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Big Freeze

This the view from my bedroom window looking northwest across the Hudson River. Yes, what you see beyond the tree tops is the river, frozen solid. These days, a Coast Guard vessel ploughs through the ice to keep the shipping channel open. Yes, again! The shipping channel is used by tankers hauling oil to depots in Albany. The Hudson River, celebrating the 400th anniversary of its discovery by Henry Hudson in 1609 is navigable well beyond Albany, the state capital (150 miles north of New York City). It is a tidal river, an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, so we have high tide and low tide and the water contains salt up to Poughkeepsie, just south of us. When the ice thaws in the spring I will be able to tell just by looking at the way the ice is moving whether the tide is coming in or going out.

Needless to say, the frozen river is both beautiful and treacherous. Ice was harvested from this river well into the 20th century. Ice, stored in huge barn like wooden buildings at river's side, was shipped throughout the year to New York city hotels and businesses via the river, super highway of its time. My Dad tells of Sunday afternoon rides aboard the Hudson River Line's huge passenger vessels during the 1930s.

Our monastery was built in 2001. Its large picture windows afford breath-taking views of the river and countryside. When we cannot stand the cold outdoors we can still commune with God in the wonder of all creation, a mystery of life and love.

The path down to the river's edge, an easy walk one way and not so easy on the way back up, has not been ploughed so getting there is out of the question for me. But when things begin to thaw (a welcome prospect since yesterday's 6am temperature was minus 3 degrees) and the sun is doing its bright early springtime thing, it is worth the walk to see the ice fighting its way down the river, bumping and crunching as example of the force of nature.

Stay warm and cozy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Feast of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr


Today's feast, accompanied as it is by the traditional blessing of throats, always brings me back to the Church of my youth. Vatican II or no Vatican II, this tradition clings. Why should that be? Why do we persist in the use of material things in our liturgies and rites? Why the incense, the water, the ashes, the palm, the oil, the rosaries, the scapulars and medals? For many I am more modern than most. But if it is possible to have modern and traditional side by side informing each other, that is my vision. Perhaps this is a reflection of the particular historical span of my own lifetime - one foot in the pre-Vatican II Church (for about 20 years) and the other foot firmly planted in the post-Vatican II era. I have the great blessing to know both.

However, as a former educator, it is easy for me to see the Church in her teaching capacity. And as a teacher, I can admire her appreciation, perhaps unconscious, of varied learning styles. In the Middle Ages, when few could learn through the written word, elaborate stained glass windows became the picture books teaching the mysteries, presenting role models, inspiring faith.

So today the Church persists in this teaching style, recognizing that while liturgy and rites offer praise, petition and thanksgiving to God, they must also teach, inspire and leave a lasting image. With this in mind, we can even enter into the theatrical. There is nothing which cannot be used to communicate God and God's love to all people.

So today, tactile and visual learners got a boost. A blessing was pronounced begging protection from diseases of the throat and all other illnesses invoking the intercession of good St. Blaise, 4th century bishop and martyr in present day Armenia. Crossed candles lightly embrace throats, one person at a time. No part of us escapes God's attention; each of us are known as individuals; our loving God is intimately aware of our needs. We were told today that in the past the candles would have been lit for the blessing and many a veil singed or worse. Fortunately, that visual effect has been rejected. But the use of the sacramental, a tool to encouragement faith and stimulate devotion continues.

We are beings possessing five senses and good teachers capitalize on all of them. We can use anything to make the light bulb go on, to stoke the fire of faith. In continuing to use the 'smells and the bells' we acknowledge our humanity, our frail and weak natures and humbly utilize all that will help us on the journey to God.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Anna, a New Testament Image of Contemplative Life

Presentation of Jesus - Fresco by Giotto

Today began with the blessing of all the candles will will use during this year. This used to be called Candlemas Day. It couldn't be more convenient because tomorrow is the Feast of St. Blaise with its traditional blessing of throats. Coming in the dead of winter as it does, this blessing seems a great idea. So far we have been very fortunate in not having some awful cold or flu bug invade our community.

For those who pray Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours the prayer of thanksgiving uttered by Simeon is embedded in our psyches. "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared insight of all the peoples, a a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."

But that is only half of the story because another figure lingers in the temple, waiting in constant prayer. This is Anna, well portrayed in Giotto's fresco; not half-hidden in the background but fully formed and present, bearing the scroll of God's promise to the people of Israel. "She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel." Happily, Fr. Ronald Bonneau, CSsR, the celebrant of our Mass this morning, chose to read the long form of the Gospel which includes the bit about Anna. She is a model for the life of unceasing prayer; the life of witnessing by virtue of presence and her very being to the Redemption brought by the person of Jesus; the life of any contemplative nun or monk.

Fr. Bonneau inspired us further by reminding us that Jesus was brought to the temple in the totally ordinary fashion of his time, culture and religion. He was revealed in the ordinary. Jesus was recognized in the ordinary by both Simeon and Anna. We too will find Jesus in the ordinary if we only take the time to look, to be present, to be available. To what? Whatever, or whoever, comes across our path. And where? Anywhere - family, home work, club, soccer field, church, garden, etc. but also in the agonies of our time, of our world. Trick is to be present and accounted for like Simeon and Anna.

May the candles blessed today be light for the way, piercing the darkness that limits our vision.