Monday, December 28, 2009

Elder Parenting Revisited

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

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

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

Slide Show - Matthew Pleva's Christmas Window

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Redemptoristine Nuns' Christmas

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


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

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Feast of the Holy Family

Finding the Savior in the Temple

William Holman Hunt

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ is Born for Us, Come Let Us Adore Him

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

Antiphon for the Magnificat of Evening Prayer I
Solemnity of Christmas

Brother Max Schmalzl, CSsR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, Let Us Worship Him

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

Invitatory Antiphon, Morning Office, December 24

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Come, Let Us Worship Him

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lord is Close at Hand...

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Splendor of Eternal Light

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Open Our Hearts

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lo, How a Rose......

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Plea for Freedom - "O" Antiphons Continue

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

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

Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moment Draws Nigh

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

Drawing by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Communique from the Sandwich Generation

Elder Parenting in All Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2009


"Songs of the Beloved"

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

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

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

Come and begin your Christmas Novena with us.

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent Time

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

Insignificant mortal, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

The passage ends:

Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you.

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

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

Thank you, Brother Victor



Leader: The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:

Response: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

Hail Mary

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

Hail Mary

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

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