Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something Good from Sister Moira Quinn, OSsR

Celeste and the Wayfarer
by Sister Moira Quinn, OSsR,

The following piece was created as a presentation for our lay associates by Sr. Moira who guides them and currently serves as our sub-prioress or vicar. Our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa, was very fond of the image of Jesus as wayfarer, traveler through our world. Sr. Moira chose this topic for our last regular 2nd Sunday of the month associate meeting in our monastery.

Originally published a few days ago and deleted in effort to correct my 'technical' problem. Now republishing.

Follow Me by John Denver

It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done
To be so in love with you and so alone
Follow me where I go what I do and who I know
Make it part of you to be a part of me
Follow me up and down all the way and all around
Take my hand and say you’ll follow me
It’s long been on my mind
You know it’s been a long, long time
I’ve tried to find the way that I can make you understand
The way I feel about you and just how much I need you
To be there where I can talk to you
When there’s no one else around
Follow me where I go what I do and who I know
Make it part of you to be a part of me
Follow me up and down all the way and all around
Take my hand and say you’ll follow me
You see I’d like to share my life with you
And show you things I’ve seen
Places that I’m going to places where I’ve been
To have you there beside me and never be alone
And all the time that you’re with me
We will be at home
Follow me where I go what I do and who I know
Make it part of you to be a part of me
Follow me up and down all the way
Take my hand and I will follow you


Next Sunday is the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer: the Title of the Order of the Redemptoristines and the Congregation of the Redemptorists. So when I was thinking about a topic for this month’s meeting, naturally, the Redeemer came to mind. But what about him? I got further inspiration for the topic last month when I heard the John Denver song, ‘Follow Me’ on the radio. I loved that song. It took me back to my younger days. I found myself humming it the next few days. When I reflected on why it touched me so, I realized the refrain of the song: ‘Follow me, where I go, what I do, and who I know, make it part of you to be a part of me. Follow me up and down all the way and all around. Take my hand and say you’ll follow me,’ was an invitation to follow Jesus.Also touching is the introduction to that song. He sings, ‘It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to be so in love with you and so alone.’ I always thought he was saying, ‘for so long.’ But either way it gave me pause because it speaks to me of the call to fidelity in life. When I reflected on the song as a whole it seemed it could be a dialogue between two lovers. Which one is ‘so alone’?

To me, it sounds like both; it is hard for each one to be in love and longing for the other, wanting to ‘make it part of you to be a part of me’ and trying to figure out how, despite difficulties, to find a way to be together. The last line of the song resolves the situation by one surrendering to the other. Before, one was saying to the other ‘take my hand and say you’ll follow me’ but now the one says, ‘Take my hand and I will follow you.’

The invitation to follow in any relationship, including our relationship with God, always comes with a call to surrender. Even Jesus, the Man-God, surrendered his life to the Father – think of Jesus in the Garden saying, ‘Not as I will but as you will.’ Lk 22: 42 Jesus gave his all for love – love for God and love for you and me.Being visual person, an image came to my mind to illustrate this invitation to follow Jesus; the statue in front of our monastery in Foggia, Italy (which I love) entitled, ‘The Wayfarer;’ one of Celeste’s favorite titles for our Holy Redeemer. The statue of the Wayfarer portrays Jesus standing there with arms outstretched. What does his stance say to you?

To me it looks like he is about to place his hands around my shoulder, and on the shoulder of who ever is on the other side: you, you, you…each one of you. That made me think of a yoke; as in Jesus saying, ‘Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest, take up my yoke and learn for me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ Mt. 11:28 (When the image of the yoke came to me, I suddenly heard or read that Gospel passage over and over again. Synchronicity? A God-incidence? An invitation?

I reflected on the image of the yoke. I’ve only seen pictures of a yoke of oxen. The yoke is a curved piece of wood that fits over the shoulders of two draft animals so they can work together. That is what Jesus is like: He is the yoke that holds us together and guides our lives in a gentle manner; not by force but by love and an invitation to go with him, follow him.What is a Wayfarer? A wayfarer is one who travels by foot. Who is the Wayfarer? Jesus, the Man-God is the Wayfarer: the one who traveled the road of life ahead of us; inviting us to follow him. In the Gospel of Luke we read: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus replied to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Lk 9:57-58 That doesn’t sound very inviting. Why would one want to follow a Wayfarer? St. Paul writes about those who do follow Christ, ‘For here we have no lasting home, but are looking for the home that is to come. Heb 13:14 Remember the Gospel story of the rich good man who wanted to inherit eternal life? And Jesus told him, ‘You lack one thing: go sell what you own and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ And the man went away sad. Mk 10:17-21

This invitation to follow the Wayfarer didn’t intimidate our Foundress, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa. On the contrary, this aspect of Jesus as Wayfarer inspired Celeste to leave everything, to give her all, to follow the one she loved.When did Maria Celeste Crostarosa first receive the invitation to follow Jesus? In her autobiography Celeste tells us she was about five years old when Jesus first spoke to her heart. Celeste was baptized Julia on All Saints Day, the day after her birth, October 31, 1696. She was the tenth child of an even dozen siblings in Naples, Italy.From that early age on Julia enjoyed an interior dialogue with Jesus. As she matured in years the urge to follow Jesus led her to religious life where she offered her whole being to her Beloved Spouse. When she entered the Visitation monastery in Scala in the Kingdom of Naples at the age of 27 she was given the name Sr. Maria Celeste.As a novice Jesus continued to speak within her soul, particularly at Communion time. It was then that he planted in her heart the idea of following the Wayfarer when she came to understand the words of scripture, ‘I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.’ Jn 14:6 Jesus ‘showed her the stupendous work which he accomplished by the union of his divine and human natures as the Man-God, while here on earth as a Wayfarer.’ And how ‘He becomes again a Wayfarer on earth with those who are united to Him through true union and through love, holy works and through the grace of the Holy Spirit. (see MWR pg 24 *)

Here is the principal element of Maria Celeste’s spiritual message, ‘Christ lives again, today, as a Wayfarer in His believers…where there is a transformation of self involved at the very level of being.’ (MWR pg 25) From this Celeste developed her concept of being a Viva Memoria, a living image of Christ’s redemptive presence in this world. (MWR pg 67)
While still a novice Celeste received a ‘shattering revelation’ (MWR pg 26) on April 25, 1725, wherein Jesus made her understand that she was to be the instrument to bring about a new Institute ‘which would have for its laws and rules His very life.’ (MWR pg 27) Can you imagine going to your Novice Mistress, Prioress and ultimately the Bishop, with this astounding news? But she did it.

After initial interest on the part of the community to a new Rule trouble began when Bishop Falcoia, the Spiritual Father of the Nuns in Scala, heard of this, he called Celeste ‘a dreamer, a mad-woman.’ (MWR pg 30)*MWR= The Mystic Who Remembered by Fr. Joseph Opptiz, CSsRIt wasn’t until about five years later, that after much wrangling and travails and heartache in regards to the new Rule, and to Celeste herself, one of which being Celeste being banished to the monastery attic for a time, of the arrival of St. Alphonsus Liguori to Scala.After interviewing all the Nuns and repeatedly examining Celeste and her revelations, Alphonsus recognized the ‘authenticity of the revelations and the feasibility of a new Rule and Institute. Thanks to his powers of persuasion, all the Nuns finally agreed to accept the new Rule, and the Bishop of Scala’s good graces were won.’ (MWR pg 37) So, on May 13, 1730 the Nuns began to live spirit of the new Rule.But the heartache was not over because Celeste was still at odds with their Spiritual Father Falcoia over the letter of the Rule which, in turn, sent the whole community into turmoil. Throughout this time, Celeste followed the Wayfarer in humility and surrender, renouncing all: her visions, failures, desires… putting everything in God’s hands. Celeste says, ‘I shall follow him and glorify him, and he shall be content, and nothing that is his shall be taken away.’ (MWR pg 46) She is asserting here that this new Rule, if it be God’s will, will come about not by any action on her part but of that of Jesus, whom she saw at that time transfixed on the cross. He spoke to her, ‘... Listen to me on the Cathedral of the cross which I have placed in your heart so that I may live my life in you as a Pilgrim (Wayfarer) Crucified in this world. I shall bring this about in such a way that everything will be for you both a cross and peace. ... Gaze upon me with a look of the love Crucified in you. You shall always behold this sight for it is in this way that I give you my compassion. (Florilegium pg 138)In 1733.Celeste needed to feel this compassion; she and her two siblings who had entered with her found themselves true wayfarers after being expelled from the monastery in Scala. It wasn’t until 1738 when ‘Celeste felt herself completely healed and restored of all the wounds of the Scala tortures (MWR pg 51) that she was able to start afresh founding a new monastery in Foggia where ‘she was able to put into practice the full, regular observance of the complete and original Rule’ (MWR pg 52) revealed to her by the Wayfarer. It was there that she took her full name in religion, Sr. Maria Celeste of the Holy Redeemer.Here are a few examples of Maria Celeste’s understanding of the Wayfarer as found in her writings. In the introduction to the new Rule Maria Celeste wrote the Intent of the Father, God’s Loving Plan of Redemption and its salvific intent by means of on-going redemption. This is made possible by the continuing existence of Christ as Wayfarer in a real union between him and the soul.’ (MWR pg 67) This explains why Celeste writes about Jesus in the present tense: He is dying, he is rising, he is continually ascending. By our participation-union with his very being Christ can say of us, his followers, ‘I live through them, with them and in them.’ (see MWR pg 68)

Celeste was a prolific writer, especially during her years in Foggia. In the ‘Garden Enclosed’ she wrote out the three virtues the spiritual soul should exercise that ‘were the perpetual exercise of Jesus Christ, Man-God, while he was a Wayfarer on earth:

The first: to live among creatures only to help them to act well and to gain eternal salvation.

The second: to seek only the glory of God and the good of your neighbor in thought, word and deed.

The third: to live only in God.’ (Florilegium #35)

That third ‘perpetual exercise,’ ‘to live only in God,’ made me think of our conversations last month about Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth; letting go of ego, and Bro. Lawrence’s living in the now by ‘Practicing the Presence of God;’ to direct our entire mind, heart and will to doing what is loving in God’s sight. Celeste let go of her ego and lived in the now because she realized it wasn’t about her, so she could remain, at a deep level, at peace, despite the heartache, knowing she was loved by God. That was the fruit of her union with the Wayfarer.In the Spiritual Exercises for December she wrote: ‘Everything my divine Providence has ordained for you, both adverse and favorable, should be loved and accepted by you with love while you repose like a babe in its mother care; sleeping peacefully without any worry or preoccupation about itself and its interests.There is the Paradise of souls wayfaring on earth united by love to my beloved Son… Because by ceasing to be led by your own will in everything, you will enjoy an anticipated Paradise…and will not be disturbed by sufferings and crosses.’ (see Florilegium #68)That all seems to me like a strange juxtaposition: sufferings and crosses and anticipated paradise. But it reminded me of Good Luck Bad Luck!The Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

The next week, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?

Did Celeste have good luck or bad luck in following the Wayfarer? Both, to be sure; she was tremendously blest to have such an intimate relationship with her Redeemer throughout her life, yet it cost her dearly with all the struggle of implementing the new Rule and all the heartache that accompanied it in her attempt to follow the Wayfarer’s lead. Yet, all this she surrendered. In following the Wayfarer Celeste practiced the virtues of the Man-God ‘on his Pilgrim Way.’ God tells her, ‘All these (virtues of his) are transformed into your soul and become yours by your union with him; all your feelings and passions become sanctified by him and transformed into his feelings and your body transformed into his.’ (Florilegium #74. Spiritual Exercises for December, med. 18)

Think of the caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly and the metamorphosis that transpires; the surrender and dying to self that takes place throughout its life cycle. When any of us follow the Wayfarer, as Celeste did, we surrender our very lives to be transformed into ‘new creatures in Christ.’ 2 Cor.5:17 ‘to form that perfect being who is Christ come to full stature.’ Eph 4:13Celeste tells us when we are at prayer it is a special time of union with the Wayfarer. She was instructed by Jesus that when you pray, ‘… join that praise of yours to the Praises which I, while I was Wayfarer on earth, offered to God my Father, and live as though I, not you, lived in yourself. Thus all the graces, gifts, and spiritual consolations which you receive from my Love, receive them not in yourself but in me.’ (Florilegium pg 96 Garden Enclosed)Celeste spent many hours in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament and was always amazed at how the God-Man, with patience and mercy ‘stamped on himself’… ‘the humiliations and contempt of self’ which the Wayfarer displayed in not exalting his ‘divine perfections but kept them submerged’. She continues, ‘He submerged his divine immensities beneath an admirable hidden silence while on earth as a Wayfaring Man, and not only that, but now while hiding – in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar beneath the accidents of bread – his divine grandeurs… to unite us with him and transform us into God, he has made himself the real food of man.’ (Florilegium pg 29)

As followers of the Wayfarer we are called likewise to accept humiliations and have contempt for self. What does this mean? To me it means we are to be ‘living eucharists for the Church and for the world.’ (Associate Constitutions #6) We are to humble ourselves just as Jesus ‘humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave, (to become) human like one of us’ (Phil 2:7) so we might follow his example and empty ourselves of our ego so that God can fill us with divinity that we may, by our union, participate in Christ’s on-going redemption in the here and now.In Celeste’s Autobiography Jesus tells her, ‘You are my friend and my delight and, therefore, I keep you in my Kingdom of the Cross and of Glory, in the Kingdom of my Peace and Rest, in sufferings and afflictions, just the way I lived as a Wayfarer on this earth.‘Do not be troubled, you already know how much you have to destroy the self so that this Work (namely, this Work that is totally mine) may be carried out.’ (Florilegium pg 135)

‘This Work’ that Jesus was referring to is the foundation of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer – but he could well have been speaking to us about our life in him today. We are the Works of His hands. Christ has no hands on this earth but ours, no voice on earth but ours, no heart but ours… Therefore, we are his friends, his delight, at peace and rest in the Kingdom of the Cross and of Glory. And in turn ‘he is the light of our faith, the strength of our charity and the source of our hope.’ (Associate Constitution #13)

Jesus, the Wayfarer was the love of Celeste’s life! She followed him in her own time and place. Our call, as Redemptoristine Nuns and Associates, is the same. Our constitutions say, ‘The more we strive to live the love of Christ, the more the thoughts and feelings of Christ will fill our spirit and our heart, the more we will become His faithful images and the more also we will be able to be true witnesses of the love of Him who is our Beginning and our End, our Way and our Life.’ (Associate Constitutions #5)

Like Celeste, let us each be a ‘Viva Memoria,’ the living memory of Jesus the Wayfarer; a participant in God’s loving plan of redemption.Do you hear the Wayfarer’s invitation?

Follow me where I goWhat I do and who I know;
Make it part of you to be a part of me.
Follow me up and down all the way
Take my hand and I will follow you.

Questions for reflection:Celeste was called at a young age. Do you remember when you were called to follow the Wayfarer?How are you following Jesus, the Wayfarer, today?Have you ever felt deep peace in following the Wayfarer in times of humility and surrender?When have you experienced ‘Gook Luck’ being turned into ‘Bad Luck’, and vise versa, in your life? What graces did you receive?What has been ‘destroyed’ in you that a ‘new creation’ could be born for the on-going redemption of the world?

Sr. Moira Quinn
July 10, 2009

Be faithful and live by the divine life of your God
while you are still a wayfarer on earth.
Because by ceasing
to be led by your own will in everything,
and by following whatever I should arrange for you,
you will enjoy an anticipated Paradise.

The Father to Celeste

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Technical advice needed. I have lost the side bar to this blog. It appears below all the posts on this page. "HELP" tells me this is because something exceeded the column size limit. But it never happened before and I always use template provided by Blogger. I have deleted last two posts to try to correct it but to no avail. ANY SUGGESTIONS?

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

The Story of a Name

In the final days of my first long private ten day retreat in the monastery, a retreat in preparation for being received into the novitiate, a note was slipped under my door. Then prioress, Sr. Moira, was asking if I had a preference for my name in religion. In the past, sisters and nuns routinely had their named changed by their novice mistress or prioress sometimes with consultation and sometimes without. The names of saints, frequently of with significance for the charism, would be substituted for their baptismal names. In addition, particularly in contemplative monastic orders, a predicate would be added to the name. The Little Flower had two predicates - Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face! In the mid-1960s the documents of the Second Vatican Council reiterated the primacy of our baptismal call therefore many sisters and nuns returned to the use of their baptismal name, the name by which they were called into the life of Christ Jesus.

Sr. Moira's request to me was a very kind one. I had given the issue some thought. I wrote back to her, "As if the name of Hildegard is not long enough I would like to add Magdalen of the Resurrection to my name if the space offered on whatever document has room enough." On the last day of my ten day retreat my novice habit was blessed in the sacristy before Mass. The next morning I appeared in chapel wearing that habit (a burgundy jumper and white blouse) and the white veil of a novice (an option in our monastery) ready for Morning Prayer which was the setting for being received into the Novitiate. There followed a procession to the Formation Room (place for instruction during Novitiate) where a special blessing was given by the Prioress and the community.

Why Hildegard Magdalen of the Resurrection? I entered this monastery nine years ago today. I looked upon Mary Magdalene as the patroness of the process of my formation and integration into this company of women. Evidence indicates that Mary Magdalen was a mature woman when she joined the company of Jesus. Her past has been the subject of great conjecture. But surely it was varied and unlike that of the other women who followed Jesus. I imagined that it took her a while to fit in. She would help me to "fit in." I was also influenced by the image of the Magdalen presented in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar. There is such a haunting quality to her words, "I don't know how to love him..." I was learning the contemplative monastic way of loving Jesus. And one last thing. My baptismal godmother's name was Madeline. I was not given a middle name at baptism but when I entered a small Catholic girls academy for high school the sisters insisted that I have one and I chose Madeline. My godmother was a creative, joyful, generous women who had achieved a great deal in her life while overcoming poverty, lack of formal education and personal strife. She too was a role model.

Each year I marvel at the frequent mention of Mary Magdalene in the Easter liturgies and in the Mass readings of the Easter Octave. This is a major contribution to the transformation of her reputation from that of repentant prostitute to the Apostle to the Apostles. It is unfortunate that her person as been conflated with that of the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany and the woman caught in adultery. Today, scholars agree that these are probably three separate people. That makes it so much more interesting!

I pray that Mary Magdalene will intercede for all woman striving to make their way in the company of Jesus.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Blog Link

"Monastic and Liturgical"

While checking my 'hits and visits' statistics at Blogpatrol today, I discovered that Scott Knitter, another blogger about things monastic, has feeds to some things published here in the side bar of his blog. Turn about is fair play so I have decided to add Scott's blog "Monastic and Liturgical" to my links list on this page. His blog focuses on things monastic and liturgical in the Benedictine, Anglican, Episcopalian and Catholic traditions. I have a feeling that Scoot Knitter and I have mutual friends at Holy Cross Monastery (a male Anglican community) just a few miles down the road from us here in Esopus, New York.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Vow of Chastity in Contemplative Life - Part Two

“Love Changes Everything”
The Vow of Chastity: A Promise of Radical Availability

Part Two
Part One was published 7/11/09 and appears below
Photo: Sister Beatrice and Sister Maria Celeste

From the Constitutions and Statutes of the order of the Most Holy Redeemer:

“The mystery of love in consecrated virginity is not limited to the vow of chastity. It surpasses the love of self in order to love all in God.” #24 C

“Community life is essentially a life in relationship. It must contribute to the development of the human person, foster relationships and establish a true unity of heart and spirit.” #61 C

“..We ask constantly and humbly for the grace to deepen our understanding of religious chastity. We unite confidence in God’s help and the assistance of the Virgin Mary with the prudence of Christian asceticism and a healthy emotional balance. We take advantage of those natural means which favor physical and mental health. Everyone, especially the Prioress, should remember above all that chastity has stronger safeguards in a community where true fraternal love thrives.” #02 S

These excerpts from our Rule clearly emphasize the necessity of healthy mutually supportive loving relationships within the contemplative monastic community. These excerpts and other sections of the Rule along with my reading of wonderful new material concerning our form of religious life brought me to this notion of “Radical Availability” as the second vital component to the vow of chastity. This commitment we have made is not like that of a hermit or a Carthusian. We are Redemptoristines committed to a life with God lived in community with others. Not merely with cold indifference or toleration but in relationship. And we are committed to an on-going radical conversion. Living in “mutual charity and union of hearts” is the instrument of our conversion. After all “love will never let you be the same.”

Sr. Barbara Fiand, SNDdeN, has written a book entitled “Refocusing the Vision: Religious Life into the Future.” She suggests that for too long we have thought almost exclusively of our communities as work communities. She argues that these times, the culture of individualism that surrounds us, the prevailing inability to commit to faithful relationship, constant conflict between peoples and nations - these times demand that we no longer think in terms of work communities but in terms of relationship communities. Now it would be easy for us to say that active apostolic religious out there have been caught up in their work but not us. I don’t think we can shirk off the idea that easily. The way of monastic life is very work oriented with its rotation of tasks, work charges, timed daily horarium. We are to be interchangeable parts to keep the monastic machine in working order. Yes, the monastic household must be kept running as any household but is that all we are to do and to be? And isn’t it true that as we age, as we become fewer in number, and as the able-bodied take on more responsibility we need, all the more, to take Sr. Barbara’s admonition to heart? She asks us to take seriously the call of our Rule to healthy, mutually supportive, loving relationships.

And it is hard. And this is conversion. And this is how living in community becomes the instrument of our conversion. We can ignore it and just work.. We can claim the contemplative need for solitude. We can say, “I don’t go for that stuff.” But we do so at the risk of ignoring a call to the asceticism of relationship. It is hard to relate to others beyond the superficial. But, most of all, it is hard to relate to others beyond our own personal preferences, outside of our own basic personality type, outside our comfort zone, AND, this is the hardest of all, to relate to others in spite of the dark places of ancient wounds that scar our psyches. And we all have them. They are the dark places described for us in another presentation. These are the personal demons which I pray to exorcise.

Sr. Barbara Fiand calls this the asceticism of vulnerability. This is a counter-cultural stance to which Jesus, the vows and our Rule call us to bear witness. We witness from our liminal position on the fringe that offers a great view of the whole. This is the stuff that can, for some, make the issue of marriage and bearing children pale in comparison because it has to be lived every moment of every day among people who are not family and not necessarily bosom friends. It is a great challenge in a small contemplative community that lives a life of intense and exclusive togetherness in prayer, work, and recreation.

This is what invites the introverted to move out of their default position, their natural preference for solitude, working alone, and mulling things over in their own time and at their own pace. This person is asked to stretch, to be less of a ‘moving away from’ type of person and to exercise muscles for moving toward and relating. This is what invites the extrovert to stretch and respect the boundaries of those who are not naturally ‘moving toward types’; to give others a chance to think; to be patient with the natural solitaries. It has been said that if you do not know what an extrovert is thinking, you have not been listening. And if you do not know what an introvert is thinking, you have not asked! This demands the stretch to listen more and to ask more. The extrovert who seems to talk non-stop may continue that way because it is evident no one is listening and the introvert will continue to naturally remove herself from the fray into silence and solitude unless she is asked to enter into conversation.

It is only in the personal stretching to the opposite of the natural pole of our type that a bunch of unrelated individuals can become a community; the organized side by side with the unorganized; the highly motivated Enneagram One along side the fearful Six; the cautious crowd pleasing Two cheek to jowl with the flamboyant Four. In Enneagram typology, the healthy person is one who has stretched their personality envelope by moving toward their opposite.

In order to enter into intimate relationship with each other sometimes we have to find a way to jump over our differences, differences that are sometimes convenient barriers when we don’t want to relate. We have to jump over the separation created by the phrases, “in my family”, “in my day”, “in my country”, “in my novitiate, we did it this way.” To the degree that we succeed in avoiding this tendency, we create a growing open space, a safe place for self-disclosure without fear.

Community life should be characterized by an inclusiveness that fosters relationship and intimacy. It cannot be a matter of relationship on demand. We need to remember those attributes that assisted the development of friendships when we were not in the monastery. I would guess that some of those things would be availability, supportive presence in a pinch, attentiveness, thoughtfulness, listening, loyalty, and a myriad of little things. All of this applies in the monastic community.

One could go on with all kinds of examples, all illustrating the asceticism of vulnerability, of radical availability. But there is one other I would mention. The asceticism of accepting that there just might be another way of doing things, a way different than the way you have always done them or prefer to do them. If ones identity is ones work, than the thought of changing how you do something or what you will be doing is a direct challenge to ones sense of self. This can be the locus of an explosion in a community - something that shouts out the need for conversation, discussion, sharing of feelings and attitudes.

(Excerpt from Strangers to the City by Michael Casey, pg.67-68 and 125, 127, 128)

Where can we find the roots of this witnessing to relatedness in radical availability? What are our models for this mode of being? We have learned of the communio existing in the Godhead; of the perichorises, the dance of constant relationship and mutuality among the persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus himself danced two natures, one into the other and back again co-existing in each moment, each freely allowing the other to be, cooperating with the other in will and movement.

In an issue of Bulletin of the Internaional Union of Superiors General, (No. 137, 2008) Sr. Camilla Burns, Superior General of SNDdeN, wrote of the principles of the inner workings of the cosmos which are characteristics of living systems.

1. It is characteristic of all living systems to regenerate themselves.

2. Living systems are characterized by differences – diversity, complexity, variation, disparity and multiple forms. Diarmuid O’Murchu who has written a great deal about religious life using a new vocabulary, says that continuous innovation rather that consistent preservation is seen throughout the story of evolution.

3. And because all of nature, all of creation has a common origin, all created reality is relational.

We can conclude that if communities are to continue as living, surviving, witnessing organisms they too must be generative, highly tolerant of diversity, complexity and variation and surrender to their inherent nature to be in constant mobile and innovative relationship. How is that for a challenge?

O’Murchu writes “Commitment to this vow is a call to witness to authentic relationships at every level of life, and to challenge those systems and forces which undermine life-giving relationships…At all times, creativity must be mediated through structures capable of honoring the freedom, love and generativity which are central to our capacity for relating rightly.”

The invitation inherent in the vow of chastity is the call to a radical availability for relationship, relationship with God, with others and with all of creation. It calls us to a liminal place out on the fringe where we can see and hear clearly; a place where we can also be seen; where we give effective witnesses. We are called to witness to the necessity of a more intense relationship at all levels rather than an attitude of separateness and non-involvement. Tich Naht Han said, “We are here to outgrown the illusion of our separateness.” We must celebrate our diversity while fully appreciating our shared humanity.

How do we muster the courage and strength to respond to the demands of radical availability in community? It is only possible, if we see the call to contemplative life as the call to radical conversion, as the call to radical relationship with Jesus Christ.

In keeping with the theme that says, “Love Changes Everything” I would like to close with these often quoted words of Pedro Arupe now deceased former Superior General of the Jesuits.

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is,
than falling in love in a quiteabsolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

Questions for discussion in small groups:

1. What are the values and the difficulties of living together? Does physical proximity guarantee “presence”? Does life together in community empower you for the mission – for the life of prayer in silence and solitude within community? If not, what would have to happen for you to feel empowered?

2. “Our unwillingness to see our own faults and the projection of them onto others is the source of most quarrels, and the strongest guarantee that injustice, animosity, and persecution will not easily die out.” What so you think of this observation?
3. What has been your experience of “learning” intimacy? How do you see the connection between celibacy and freedom?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Vow of Chasity in Contemplative Life

Sr. Angela Liota, OSsR and Sr. Margaret Banville, OSsR

“Love Changes Everything”
The Vow of Chastity: A Promise of Radical Availability

Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR 2009 Part One

Back in April I posted some commentary and a slide show of our Region Formation Workshop which drew sisters from North America, Thailand, Philippines, Slovakia and Ireland. The following talk (published in two parts) is very much oriented to that audience but I thought tit might be of interest to others and have application to other types of groups trying to make a life together in accord with Gospel values.

The challenge of this topic has been roaming around inside of me for weeks. Books with little post-it notes sticking out at various places have been piling up in my room. I have filled scraps of paper with notes and ideas while waiting in doctors’ offices. I’ve pondered and meditated on the vow of chastity while lying in the tube of an MRI machine or just taking a shower. And I’ve prayed about it. I’ve prayed not just because I wanted to do you and the topic justice but also because thinking about it soon turned into my own examination of conscience and an examination of my consciousness. I began to think I had some nerve in trying to present this material to others.

Then the Spirit stepped in and by some divine synchronicity I came across notes of a presentation made here in 1991 by Sr. Vilma Seelaus, Carmelite of Barrington, RI. She began her presentation with the words, “Contemplation demands conversion; openness to radical conversion of heart. And the need for conversion is most felt in the Divine Presence.” I knew then that this assignment was gift because it called me to my own conversion. What I offer comes therefore from my own weaknesses and struggles. I hope that what I offer will put some flesh on the bones of the psychological and spiritual material that we have already received in this workshop.

The vows of obedience, poverty and chastity are usually associated with specific juridic or legal limitations. Obey lawful institutional authority. Put aside the right to ownership. Forswear the right to contract a marriage or engage in sexual intercourse. It is as simple as that, all very black and white, and legalistic. It is our blessing that the second chapter of our Rule, The Constitutions and Statutes, puts flesh on these stark legal admonitions. The opening section of the Chapter speaks immediately of our transformation in Jesus Christ, of incarnating the vows in the flesh of humanity. This section imparts all the relational meaning that brings the vows into the realm of our commitment to Jesus alone and in him to all of creation and to our fellow human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

Our Rule incarnates the vows and gives them human flesh by introducing them in the context of “union of hearts and mutual charity.” In this context of love and relationship the stark prohibitions present in a legalistic interpretation of the vows are translated into invitations to enter into the deep waters of relationship with Jesus Christ and through him to relate to others in such a way that our personal conversion is fostered.

By this application obedience becomes cooperation with the will of God, docility to the Spirit, loyalty to the common good, responsible conscious decision-making and the commitment to ongoing discernment and conversion.

The vow of poverty becomes a right attitude and relationship to the material world. It is about ‘living simply, so that others may simply live.’ It becomes a commitment to share, to care for the tools with which we work and the house in which we live, and to do all that we can to conserve the natural resources which bless our lives.

And by this incarnation of the vows into their human expression, chastity becomes, at least in my mind, a promise for radical availability to God and to others. It invites a capacity to cultivate relationship without attachment, without expectation, without a thought to the ‘quid pro quo’ or ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude so present in the surrounding culture. And it definitely denies any territory to the abusive use of power in our interpersonal relationships.

In this philosophy of the evangelical counsels, the vows are not merely promises to turn off natural human instincts – individual autonomy squelched by obedience; the instinct to promote personal well-being and survival trounced by rules of poverty; or the human instinct for life promoting intimacy and generativity completely turned off by the vow of chastity. Rather, as Sr. Barbara Fiand, SSNdeN said in her video talk on the vows, “celibacy is not freedom from but freedom for.” Following her lead, the philosophy I present today interprets the vows as instruments for both promoting and redirecting these instincts for the sake of the Kingdom, for personal conversion, for a return to the true self, our original goodness. The vows become the means by which we lower ourselves into the depths of the living water Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman.

Too often our culture sees these promises as destructive of the self. As religious in vows, we are called to see them as life-giving, life-promoting sources of light. I see them as opportunities for a great personal opening, for availability to God and our sisters and brothers, especially our sisters in community, in which we are true witnesses to the redeeming love of God, and through which we will gradually, very gradually, be transformed into the living memory of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this why we wear a red habit and put it on our bodies each day with the words, “Clothe me O Lord, with the robe of charity and by the merits of your holy and beloved Son, fill me with your divine Spirit.” It is an extremely counter-cultural understanding of vows which we express from a liminal position, a place at the edge, at the fringes of society. By our choices and our behavior we can create a model for another way of being with each other, another way in which cultures and religions may co-exist, another way in which countries may share the planet in peace. We witness to this way of being and relating for the love of God and in doing so we make a social, cultural and moral comment to the society surrounding us.

In the second part of this presentation I will further explore the vow of chastity as a promise for radical availability. However, we cannot ignore the component of the vow directly related to our human sexuality. While every vocational choice of the baptized person requires obedience to faithfulness and the poverty of simplicity, the call to celibacy is unique to religious vocation. Chastity appears first in the list of vows in our Rule. One of the most prominent scholars of religious life today, Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, sees this vow as primary to religious life, a symbol of the call to exclusive relationship to Jesus Christ. She defines consecrated celibacy as “the freely chosen response to a charismatically grounded, religiously motivated, sexually abstinent, lifelong commitment to Christ, externally symbolized by remaining unmarried.” So it is freely chosen. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a promise freely made because I choose to make the relationship with Jesus primary in my life.

But the kicker is that, even with the call, even with the freely chosen response and with years of living the celibate life, we remain sexual beings. The vow does not turn that off. Not only do our bodies continue to act and respond in ways appropriate to our sexuality and gender, our minds and our psyches may have to revisit, from time to time, the hard reality of saying “No,” to sexual intimacy and procreation. In our inter-novitiate class on the vows, Sr. Kitty Hanley, CSJ told us, “It is not a question of what you will do if you fall in love but rather what you will do WHEN you fall in love.” You might say, “Oh well, that doesn’t apply to us cloistered nuns. We don’t have the access to people that active religious do.” Well, I don’t believe that. We see priests, spiritual directors, doctors and physical therapists among others. We also live with other women on whom we can develop a teenage crush kind of thing. I have not had the experience of living with much younger new members but I imagine that adding them into the community mix can make for some interesting feelings in either direction – an older sister drawn to a younger one or a younger one idolizing her role model.

And then there is the physical reminder that can come now and then or more often; a physical sensation that serves to announce that I am still a female, a normal woman, embodied in the flesh and hard-wired for physical intimacy, mother nature’s way to preserve the species and give joy to the heart. Having the sensation does not sully my promise. Having the sensation is not a sin. It is as value neutral as any emotion. The real issue is “What do I do with this?” Is it an opportunity to put myself down or to feel guilty? Or is it an opportunity for awe and wonder at how beautifully we are made? And is it another chance to reverence my promise, the exclusivity of my relationship with Jesus Christ?
How can we help ourselves to remain committed to the promise, to that exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ? How can we avoid or, at least cope, with the sometimes feelings of loneliness or isolation? What kind of attitudes and action steps would be helpful?

(Discussion of SKILLS for CELIBATE LIVING Rev. Ray Carey, priest and psychologist adapted by Sr. Kitty Hanley, CSJ)

Earlier someone raised the issue of on-going connection with ones primary family. Since I am a woman who has been married and who has children one could say that the vow of chastity, in terms of its sexual implications doesn’t have much meaning. I have found, however, that although I am not giving up something I never had, the vow asks me to give up something I could have as a result of my marriage, that is, a particular kind of relationship with my children and now my grandchildren. When I hear that the children are sick; when I hear that my son and his wife are in a bind for child care, I think about how, if I were not a nun, I could jump right in and help out as all of my friends do who are grandparents. There is no doubt the relationship with your children is going to have to be different. Some people can do this and others cannot. We had a novice who could not understand why we felt that it should not be a necessity for her to speak with her grown daughter every day. We had a postulant who wisely realized very quickly that contemplative monastic life would not allow that kind of free wheeling, hanging out together quality of time she wanted to spend with her grown children. When I meet with vocation directors or formators I recommend that they explore the nature and texture of the relationship an applicant mother or father has with their children. Another novice we had was incredulous when we said that we did not give Christmas presents to our family members.

A new relationship with the pre-existing family has to be carved out and this is not done without pain. There may even come a time when one has to say to a family member, “I cannot help you with this matter but I will pray for you.” The incorporating community needs to appreciate that process going on in its new members. All of us have the continuing struggle of cultivating a manner of relationship with family members that allows us to be present to them but does not interfere with our ability to be present to our primary community which is now the monastic community. Doing this in a conscious way may mean that we have to consider how much time we spend on the phone with them or how much we become preoccupied by their ups and downs of which, in reality, we are not a part and cannot fix.

Break for discussion:

Questions for Novices:

What has challenged to you while living as if you had already taken this vow?
What has been your experience of friendship in community?
What has helped you to live the celibate life?
What is the relationship between solitude and creative relationship?

For Sisters in Vows:

How have you experienced the reality of living this vow?
What have been your challenges?
What has supported you along the way?

For Sisters in Vows for over 25 years:
How have you experienced the reality of living this vow?
How have the changes in the theology of this vow and changes in attitudes concerning sexuality affected you?

Part Two to follow.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Book Review

A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz
as a Young Boy

by Thomas Buergenthal

Forward by Elie Wiesel

Children liberated from Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1945

Recently had the great good fortune, really a blessing, to just happen upon a radio interview of Thomas Buergenthal, former judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, now serving on the bench of the Central American International Court. He spoke mainly of his work concerning international law, his judicial philosophy and his very impressive case experience. But he also spoke about this book, the expression of his childhood memories of of fleeing Nazi terror, entering the concentration camp of Auschwitz with his parents, being separated from them and how he survived the death camp as a truly "lucky child." I was most impressed with his moderate and compassionate tone, remarkably free of bitterness or hatred and the utter miracle of his survival.

Thomas Buergenthal, born to German-Jewish parents living in Czecchoslovakia, grew up in the Jewish ghetto of Kielce, Poland. He was sent to Auschwitz in August, 1944. As Russian troops approached in 1945, he was among those force-marched for days in freezing weather to the camp of Sachsenhausen from which he was liberated in the spring of 1945. He was eleven years old and did not know whether his parents were dead or alive. Over a year later he was miraculously reunited with his mother. In 1951 he emigrated to the United States where he studied at Bethany College in West Virginia graduating in 1957, received his J.D. at New York University in 1960, and his LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees in international law from Harvard Law School.

Justice Buergenthal has served as a judge for many years, including lengthy periods on various specialized international organization bodies. Between 1979 and 1991, he served as a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, including a stint as that court's president; from 1989 to 1994, he was a judge on the Inter-American Development Bank's Administrative Tribunal; in 1992 and 1993, he served on the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador; and from 1995 to 1999, he was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Justice Buergenthal wrote:

...I was drawn to international law and human rights law...because I believed...that these areas of the law, if developed and strengthened, could spare future generations the type of terribly human tragedies that Nazi Germany had visited on the world...Over time I also gradually concluded that I had an obligation to devote my professional activities to the international protection of human rights. This sense of obligation had its source in the belief, which grew stronger as the years passed, that those of us who had survived the Holocaust owe it to those who perished to try to improve, each in our own way, the lives of others.

He concludes:

Today it is...easier that it was in the 1930s to arouse the international community to act. That does not mean that such action will always be forthcoming. But it does mean that we now have better tools that we had in the past to stop massive violations of human rights. The task ahead is to strengthen these tools, not to despair, and to never believe that mankind is incapable of creating a world in which our grandchildren and their descendants can live in peace and enjoy the human right that were denied to so many of my generation.

Hearing Justice Buergenthal speak and reading his memoir were gift and inspiration.