Saturday, October 31, 2009

For All the Saints

Celebrating a Solemnity
All Saints' Day

This is the stained glass dome over the sanctuary of the chapel of Mount St. Aphonsus Pastoral Retreat Center. Our monastery of Mother of Perpetual Help is on the property of the Mount which opened in 1909 as the major seminary for the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer). It was transformed into a retreat house in the late 1980s. It is surrounded by hundreds of acres on the west shore of the Hudson River in Esopus, south of Kingston, NY.

Depicted here is the arrival of the soul of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, religious founder, moral theologian and Doctor of the Church, into the realm of heaven where the three persons of the Blessed Trinity and the Blessed Mother welcome him with all the angels. Below them is an array of saints; on the left martyrs and apostles and on the right well known saints like Teresa of Avila and St. Francis Xavier and also Redemptorist saints, most prominently St. Clement Hofbauer and St. Gerard Majella. Just below the dome are seen just the heads of twelve mosaic angels, each representing a virtue. It was the custom of Redemptorists and Redemptoristines to focus on one of these virtues each month of the year.

This work of art is an appropriate image for this great feast - "the saints in vast array." We all have our favorites, our patrons, our courts of last resort when the chips are down. Some may have a very particular devotion to a saint like Therese of Lisieux. Others have made a study of a saint like John of the Cross whose depths can never be fully plumbed.

But today I suggest that we think of the saints we ourselves have known, the saints we may have in our families, in our circles of friendship, in our church communities, or even in the larger culture around us. Those who have died are in the Communion of Saints. We do see and experience and benefit from the saintliness of others. We need to think about them, remember why we call them saints, what made them saints. Maybe in the thinking some of it will rub off on us. For them we owe a prayer of thanks to God. We owe thanks to the 'saints' who may live with us or befriend us or serve us in some way. The age of miracles has not passed. IF we think about it, we will remember some. If we look around we may see some in action.

WELCOME to All Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Oops! does that title date me. For the clueless, the "peanut gallery" was the place were little kids sat on stage to watch the Howdy Doody Show which was filmed live back in the early 1950s. Here's the Howdy Doody puppet with his friend Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring. How do I remember that? The host of the show was Buffalo Bob!

Anyway, this is to remind you of your ability to leave a comment after reading any posts to this blog. Just click on the word "comments" under the post. A drop down menu will appear. Type in your comment and e-mail address if your are asked for it. Then your are asked to choose an identity. Easiest is Name/URL or Annonymous. Don't worry about the URL business. You can leave it blank. Then click on Publish.

Another hint: Your comment will not show immediately. It gets sent to me so that I can read it and decide whether to publish to the blog or not. This feature protects me an you from potential embarrassment.

Did you know that you can subscribe to this blog and get every post sent directly to your e-mail address? Just check the directions in the sidebar of the blog to the right on your screen.

I look forward to hearing from more of you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Sun Appears on the Horizon

After two days of rain the sun appears as if to remind trees arrayed in red and gold
of its ultimate superiority.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Dark and Rainy Day

At this time of year differences in day time and night time temperatures often produce a morning landscape seemingly conjured for special effect in this 'spooky' season. Sometimes the mist literally rolls up the hillside from the river, passing across the meadow, around and over us, eventually leaving the sunshine a straight and clear path. But today was not one of those. The mist prevailed and rain came pouring down on and off throughout the day. But even grey sky is suitable contrast for the yellow and gold leaves that remain on the trees much longer than in years passed. Soon a shift in the weather and a brisk north wind will mean their downfall.

The masthead photo was taken just before dusk when grey clouds briefly moved away and, at least in some places, the sun could do its fancy work, playing over the colorful hillsides. Inspite of the raindrops that kissed the window, I could not resist trying the camera and using its zoom action to focus on the mighty river. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Peak of the Fall Season

As promised the masthead photo has changed. Wish I could line them up so the procession of the season would be obvious. In today's photo more of the trees are in full color. Yesterday's rain did not do them in. So today's glorious sunshine puts the spotlight on all the golds, oranges and reds. And how about that cloudless blue sky! 


Another 'Peak' Experience

In the 1880's a cantilever suspension railroad bridge was constructed spanning the Hudson River from Higland on the west bank to Poughkeepsie on the east.
It served commercial traffic in a mighty way especially during WWII when as many as 300 trains a day crossed its span. Gradually it fell out of use and its derelect fate was sealed by a fire in the 1970's that ravaged most of the track. Yet the structure was sound. I remember back in the late 1990s there was talk of a bungee jumping operation to take advantage of the bridge deck's 215 height from the surface of the river.

Then about six years ago a new idea began to percolate in the minds of some imaginative and highly motviated people. Why not construct a new deck across the entire length of the bridge exclusively for pedestrian and bicycle traffic linking extensive railtrails on the west bank with the city of Poughkeepsie on the east bank? The project ultimately required $39 million in grants from federal, state and local governments as well as grants from philanthropic and civic groups, private donors and organizations specific created to preserve our landscape patrimony. The final push came with a determination to open the Walkway in 2009, the year of the quadricentennial anniversary of the discovery of the river by Henry Hudson. With the deck, fencing, and banners in place a hge crowd made the first formal walk across the longest pedestrian brige in the world on October 3, 2009. There is no charge to cross the Walkway which will eventual be designated a state park site.

On Thursday, October 22, 2009, on the spur of the moment, eight members of our community decided to take advantage of perfect weather and follow the advice of an enthusiastic friend who said, “You must walk over that bridge.”

We were not disappointed. In fact we were over whelmed by the beauty of the project, the glorious experience of walking across the bridge and viewing from its height the river and landscape which we love.
We pray that the Walkway Over the Hudson Board of Directors and the friends of the Walkway will be rewarded, that continuing efforts to improve and promote the Walkway will be blessed, and that all who visit it will be called to greater reverence for the natural beauty and resources entrusted to our care. We hope that the ’Walkway experience’ will an inspire even greater service and dedication to land and natural resources preservation.

How to Get There:

Higland Side
From west, north, south - New York State Thruway to Exit 18 New Paltz. Make right at Rt. 299 east. At end left onto Rt. 9W south. Left onto Haviland Avenue inHighland. Proceed to entrance on left.

Poughkeesie Side
From east - Rt. 44-55 into Poughkeepsie to Parker Avenue (MetroNorth Railroad Station).
From north and south - use Rt. 9

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Procession of the Fall Season

One Picture at a Time

Perhaps this is the time of the year when I most appreciate our location in the Hudson River Valley. When I was a kid I did not believe the teachers in my elementary school who spoke of leaves turning red and gold in this season of the year. I never saw a red or gold leaf in Brooklyn! A perk of my religious vocation has been to live it out in this place, to view daily the procession of nature's annual round in this blessed territory. I will be posting new photos of the same view from a monastery window in the masthead of this blog every few days. I hope you will enjoy this representation of the movement of God's creating hand over the land and waters. By the way, the bit of blue seen top left in the masthead photograph is the mighty Hudson River. Gradually more and more of it will be revealed. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Conscious Living

Given and Received

In one of my past lives, as member of a parish liturgy committee, it was my task for a number of years to round up twelve people willing to participate in the foot washing ritual of the Holy Thursday Mass. It turned out to be a very difficult job. I can say without exaggeration, that it took months to find twelve souls, male or female, young or old, religious or lay person who would give their consent. The issue in many cases was that of their sense of unworthiness.

Here is a photo of that memorial of Jesus's last supper with his disciples; a remembrance of his last gesture; a striking visual representation of love and service. The ritual is being performed by the prioress of our monastery. Perhaps this picture moves me so because I know the personalities of those involved. Our superior is kneeling at the feet of her sister in community. One of the foundresses of this house has put on an apron and given herself to the task. She has been a Redemptoristine for over 55 years. We all look up to her. The sister whose foot is being so tenderly cared for is known for generous service in community; no task is too lowly or menial; the needs of the other are always considered first. The one whose rightful place is at the head of the table has come down to its foot as servant. And the one who naturally gravitates to the foot of the table is allowing herself to be served. Gratitude being given and received.

I have been impressed to hear my son and daughter-in-law say "Thank you" to their children so frequently. I don't know how often I thanked my son when he was a child. I do not remember hearing these words often in my own childhood. We've not talked about it but I gather that this new generation has adopted the practice as an effort to give good example and because they know the power of positive re-inforcement. But at an even deeper level this is most valuable communication heart to heart.

For some adults gratitude is hard to offer and hard to receive. I was taught a lesson years ago by a friend who brought me up short saying, "Do you realize that you never accept a compliment without responding with at least one reason, if not more, about why you do not deserve it? It is very rude because it tells me that my appreciation is really poor judgement." I still fail in this but most of the time I remember her well-taken point.

It is as if human gratitude, owed to or received from another is a realm into which some simply cannot enter. I have found it helpful to remember that it is a foreign country to them. Sincere, face to face, square in the eye gratitude is far too intimate an expression of emotion, far too connecting - too close for comfort.

Expression of human gratitude may also frighten due to the implication of personal indebtedness or obligation implied. It can offend stubborn adherence to a rugged individualism, that personal autonomy which is to be defended at all cost. To accept gratitude is also to suggest that one must take the needs of others into consideration. Conversely, to extend gratitude may imply a personal need which we cannot bear to admit. Reluctance on either part may also be due to a subtle fear of blurring the boundaries between levels of authority in families, in the workplace, within organizations and even religious communities. And sometimes the sheer emotion of profound gratitude can be a fearsome prospect to the highly controlled individual. Such emotion brings to the surface a swirling, living interior reality that they have been taught to keep at bay and learned to suppress.

All of this came to me today as I read the last pages of Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. He speaks of awakened doing, new vocabulary for what many have come to call contemplative action or conscious living. Tolle speaks of three modalities for awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm. He goes on to say, "Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to be sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all - from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others." It seems to me that conscious cultivation of the abiltiy to give and receive gratitude would go a long way to promote the presence of these modalities within me. Tolle would  say that these modalities have an energy of their own. Not only a positive energy for the person in whom they reside but a positive energy that flows out of the person into their environments and realtionships. This awareness, this consciousness, is an effort to love and to respond to love. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book Talking Again

One of  gifts of our recent community retreat was the recommendation by Fr. Philip Dabney, CSsR, our director, that I read Eckhart Tolle's 2005 book "A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose." Now some, I am sure, will scoff due to its designation as an Oprah Winfrey Book Club choice and dismiss it as just another new-agey kind of book. Others may dismiss it because it is not a 'religious book'. However, I found Tolle's insight regarding the ego constructed self and the roles we learn to play while disguised in this self extremely helpful. Traditional religious language describes conversion as an annihilation of the false self. This is exactly what Tolle reflects upon using a different vocabulary. He quotes Jesus very often but also spiritual wisdom figures of many other traditions. Tolle's name has become quite well known since his first book "The Power of Now" appeared on the New York Times best seller list. That book is really a new take on living in the present moment, a version of the "Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. In this Tolle follows the way of Thich Naht Hanh, the Vietnanese Buddhist spiritual teacher.

Most enlightening for me in "A New Earth was the nature of the ego-mind construction, the protective behaviors developed over time that keep us in the head, in the mind, and make us unhappy, angry, resentful, afraid, neurotic and narcissistic. Tolle writes that once we become conscious of this ego action-reaction tendency in ourselves and those around us, that realization alone can begin a kind of shedding (annihilation?) of ego-mind constructions and enable us to hestitate just a few seconds before reacting from our ego-bound position or reacting to another's ego-protective act which would normally send us over the edge.

The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer ego, but just an old, conditioned mind pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. The old mind-pattern or mental habit may still survive and reoccur for a while becasue it has the momentum of thousands of years of collective human unconsciousness behind it, but every time it is recognized, it is weakened.
It is difficult to do this material justice. I can only heartily recommend Tolle's book for adults aware of their own need for growth in more conscious living and relating . He also offers some very valuable advice on how parents may avoid some of their unconscious behaviors and words that propel children into ego-protective construction which they will only have to stuggle to dismantle when they reach their own adulthood.

The wonderful local public library just put this brand new book into my eager hands. The wonderful Tracy Kidder has been interview in all the media about his rendering of the riveting story of medical student and Burundian refugee Deogratias (yes, that is his first name) who flees the genocide is his country and neighboring Rwanda only to arrive in New York City with little money and no English language skills. He has fled one horror only to arrive in another version - homelessness and victimization. His suffering is great but the grace of God remains and is manifest in a chance meeting with a very good soul whose determination finds Deo a family who will 'adopt' him. It seems one mircle after another and sheer instinct for survival get him through Columbia University undergraduate school and then into medical school and finally back to Burundi. There he reconnects with the family he long thought dead and realizes the dream of his boyhood to create a medical clinic in his native land.

Both of these boooks can enrich your soul.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Feast of Redemptorist Saint

St. Gerard Majella, Religious

St. Gerard is the best-known of all the Redemptorist saints and blesseds. Those who pray for pregnant women and nursing mothers are familiar with this patron. He was a most devoted and determined follower of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and a loyal son of St. Alphonsus. He has always been a favorite of Redemptoristines because he was a great friend to our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa. St. Alphonsus gave express permission for Gerard to correspond with and visit Maria Celeste in Foggia, Italy. It is a long story which is covered elsewhere in the blog and at our website. Maria Celeste was forced to leave the community which was living under her inspire rule and eventually founded a new monastery in Foggia. It is testimony to the respect St. Alphonsus still held for her that he gave Gerard permission to continue his relationship with her.

For a more detailed biography and a wonderful video by Fr. Corriveau, a Redemptorist go to their website at http://ww.redemptorists,net/saints-gerard.cfm

Some Family News

New Exhibit

"When I Grow Up..."

Precise Art of Matthew Pleva

Ocotber 3 - November 30, 2009

Keegan Ales
20 St. James St, Kingston, NY

Long time readers of this blog may remember past postings about the work of my son, Matthew Pleva, an artist specializing in tiny, detailed, and precise renderings of mythological and folk tales, historic buildings and events and a variety of other things that inspire his creativity. Some of these come in the form of minute diorama's mounted in wooden boxes as small as 3" x 4'. The drawing posted here is a detail of one of the pieces developed for the theme of the body of work on exhibit, "When I Grow Up...". Inspiration for these works came via postcards sent to him by friends and and others who were asked to write about how they answered the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" when they are eight to ten years old. Visit Matt's website at If you visit the site you will find that if you click on any image it will open up to a larger view of the piece. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Check out the newly revised website of the Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province. Especially exciting is lots of new photography and the opportunity to listen to homilies and talks by fine Redemptorist preachers, including Father Philip Dabney who guided us through our recent retreat. Enjoy and may the site be a blessing for you.

Catch-up Time


God's Call to the Vows:
Evangelical Counsels
for Today's
Redemptoristine Nun

It has been much too long between posts. But contemplative monastic life demands times, short and long, when a further movement into silence and solitude is required, when it is imperative to re-visit earlier commitments, when the invitation to come apart is heard again and the response is given. For ten days stradling the end of September and the beginning of October, our community was blessed with such a time. The blessing came not only in the time set apart but in the presence of Father Philip Dabney, CSsR as our retreat director. Father Philip has served the poor and the most abandoned in a great variety of assignments for the Congregation. For fifteen years he was Vocation Director seeking out and working with young and not so young men as prospective candidates for the priesthood or brotherhood in the Alphonsian tradition of the Redemptorists. Most recently Father began a new assignment on the staff of the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) in Boston. That Church has now gained national reputation as the setting for the funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Father Dabney had lots to share about that occasion since he served as pointman for the media and Secret Service as they invaded Church and rectory.

Most important for us, however, was Fr. Philip's take on the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty as sources of liberation of spirit and soul for life in relationship with God and our fellow human beings. This interpretation converts poverty, chastity and obedience into invitations for all Christians: chastity as right relationship and availibility for relationship; poverty as an open-handed attitude toward things, askewing the tight grasp on things material and promoting a sharing of the abundance of God's creation; obedience as a right and free attitude toward authority and our commitments, an attitude rooted in conscious reflection and decision-making rather than blind observance of law.

Fr. Philip shared with us from the depths of his own spiritual journey and personal experience as son, brother, priest and community member. For all that he gave, we are most grateful.