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.
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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?

The Procession Continues

Yesterday's dawn was memorable but the camera was not at hand. With the clock change of last weekend, dawn is now just about 6am here. Today I took the camera to the breakfast table and ran out into the frosty air just at the right moment.

Later I came to the computer to view the photos and found among my e-mail messages the following prayer poem from Elizabeth Goral Makowski, Associate Director of the Redemptorist Office for Mission Advancement (ROMA). She has been watching the procession of the season in Esopus documented here. How serendipitous!

A Morning Prayer     

God of goodness and new life,
each day, your plentiful grace
pours a generous libation
upon a thirsty world.

You plant abundant
fields of colorful grace
whose wild array
greets my senses and my soul.

Encourage me
to recognize
your extravagant gift, and
to drink deeply
of the wisdom of
groans and joys
planted within grace.

Stir me to see, touch,
taste, smell, hear and proclaim --
and yes! -- to be a stream,
flowing Love from your side,
watering the earth

Give me fortitude
so I may give myself,
confidently, unreservedly,
and be a place of you
where souls may come
to rest a while,
to drink your sweetness,
and to grow
in you.                   Elizabeth Goral Makowski c2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Remarks on the Occasion of Profession of Monastic Vows

Romans 8: 18-27 Luke 11:9-13

The early twentieth century British writer W. Sommerset Maugham was a keen observer of human behavior. He was particularly astute concerning motivations of the mystical kind. “I have an idea,” he said, “ that some men are born out of their due place…they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not…this sense sends men far and wide in search of something permanent…sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs.” (1)

The great St. Paul and my friend seem to me to have had that nostalgia, that longing, for a place they knew not. Each began life with a sure desire for God. Each followed life’s circuitous and astonishing path – an exploration of longing and discovery – to an end surprising and yet familiar.

Paul did not know that his dual identity as an educated Greek-speaking Jew and citizen of Rome uniquely suited him to God’s purpose in the plan of salvation. Our friend did not know that the longing in his heart would best be satisfied not in the canyons of Wall Street but in the monastic cloister.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans spoke of “eager longing”, that desire of the heart to see the face of God. It is possible for the world to provide a trysting place for that desire. But the trick is to find the place, the best container for next stage of the journey to God; fertile ground for the process to which we are drawn, to find the home we long for but do not know.

To live out of that longing, to live out of the desire for God, demands the virtue of hope. All creation groans in its steadfast clinging to the hope of salvation in our brother, Jesus Christ.

In a few minutes, after the vows of stability, conversion to the ways of monastic life, and obedience to that life are made, we will hear an ancient and plaintive plea. It is a prayer rooted in Paul’s expression of longing and hope. “I have done what you asked, according to your promise, do not disappoint me in my hope.” How do we sustain such hope, hope in what cannot be seen?

Prayer sustains our hope. Paul sees it this way too but he knows his failures in courage and assumes that we will have ours. So he consoles himself and us. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

The vows we hear spoken today, the solemn promise to follow the monk’s path of interior silence and solitude lived in community; the promise to be available for conversion of heart and generosity in service; that promise is made public today. In its wisdom, the Church makes it public so that the promise is known to us. In this way his promise becomes a mirror for our promises, every promise represented here; fidelity in marriage and relationship, dedication to nurturing children, the promises of the sacrament of ordination, perseverance in religious vows, faithfulness in honoring the true self, the mundane obligations of earning a living, or the duties of citizenship and service.

Neither our friend’s pledge here at this altar nor the ones we have made are easy to keep. “But the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

And Jesus, our Savior, whose promise is the source of our hope today – our Jesus assures – “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Oh, blessed assurance.

And before all things, the monk is a person of prayer – a praying presence before the throne of God. One who, in the words of Thomas Merton, is “like the trees which exist silently in the dark and by their vital presence purify the air.” (2)

Many today question the need for any life long promises. They find the promise of religious vows particularly confounding. They do not appreciate the transformation and the joyful liberation made possible by the promise and its fulfillment. Such freedom is what St. Paul described as “the liberty of the children of God.”

In that spirit of freedom, grounded in the love of Jesus - grounded in the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection - in that freedom, our friend, our brother, makes his pledge today.

Inspired by that love and with confidence in God’s Word, let us revisit our own promises. Let us enter into our deepest longing. Let us recommit to the journey on our way to a home we have not seen, trusting that the Holy Spirit will be our guide.

Today we can pray with the poet T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning; ……..

Quick now, here, now, always –

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire.

And fire and the rose are one. (3)

(1) W. Sommerset Maugham, The Moon and Six Pence
(2) Merton, Thomas, The Basics of Monastic Spirituality
(3) Eliot, T.S., “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets

Monday, November 02, 2009

All Souls' Day

Before Heaven ---
a Graduate School of Love

The Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours provides opportunity to reflect upon some of the most powerful passages of scripture and some of the most inspiring literature of the Fathers of the Church. Every now and then wonderful sections from the documents of the Second Vatican Council appear. For the memorials of saints or feasts readers at Office are free to choose an appropriate alternative text. This morning we heard a reflection from a book we frequently use, Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts, 4th revised edition (ed. Leonard Foley, OFM and Pat McCloskey, OFM, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001. The editors comment for today:
Whether or not one should pray for the dead is one of the great arguments which divide Christians. Appalled by the abuse of indulgences in the Church of his day, Martin Luther rejected the concept of purgatory. Yet prayer for a loved one is, for the believer, a way of erasing any distance, even death. In prayer we stand in God's presence in the company of someone we love, even if that person has gone before us into death.

The article concludes with a quote from Fr. Leonard Foley, OFM - Believing in Jesus.

We must not make purgatory into a flaming concentration camp on the brink of hell - or even a 'hell for a short time.' It is blasphemous to think of it as a place where a petty God exacts final punishment...St. Catherine of Genoa, a mystic of the fifteenth century, wrote that the 'fire' of purgatory is God's love 'burning' the soul so that, at last, the soul is wholly aflame. It is the pain of wanting to be made totally worthy of One who is seen as infinitely lovable, the pain of desire for union that is now absolutely assured, but not yet fully tasted.

Procession Continues

Masthead photo was taken at dusk. Here are some others. Peak is gone. Some trees are bare. More of the river is visible. A full moon provided some additional special effects.