Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of St. John the Evangelist

El Greco
the Beloved

The Gospel for the Mass of Christmas Day was the majestic and moving openning of the Gospel of John - "In the beginning was the Word..." Today the Church gives us the opportunity to celebrate the memory of the author of that work whoever he/she may be and the Apostle John for whom the Gospel was named, as was customary for authors wanting to give praise to their principal source.

This morning Fr. Thomas Deely, CSsR made his way over to our monastery, faithful as he is to his contemplative sisters, in spite of 18 inches of snow and higher drifts. In the course of his homily he reminded us of the custom of blessing wine on this day. I suspect that the legend mentioned in the first blessing is something from the Gospel of Thomas. This Gospel did not make the cut when the Gospel canon that we know today was decided upon.

Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of Blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Fr. Tom left a bottle of blessed wine with us which we will share at our dinner. We are very grateful for the attentiveness of all of the Redemptorists at Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center who are so faithful in providing us with daily Mass. Many contemplative nuns are not so fortunate.

Do you know someone named John who may appreciate a feastday greeting from you today? 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Blessed Christmas to All

A little child is born for us today;
little and yet called the mighty God, alleluia.

The Nativity (a detail)
engraving by Frater Max Schmalzl, CSsR

My, dear friends, on this day of great joy and hope, I just composed what I thought was a moving reflection on the on-going Christmas in our lives, the daily birth of Jesus in us every day. But the grinch of computers took it all away as I tried to embellish the piece with more of Brother Max Schmazl's great work. So be it. It was not meant to be my Christmas gift to you. Instead, now I remind that our prayers today have been for all that challenges our world, our country and our families. May the grace and blessing of this feast be with you in abundance.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Today you will know
the Lord is coming.
In the morning
you will see His glory.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Advent Season Progresses

Illustration of O Antiphon for December 17
by Sr. Moira Quinn
If one looks at the layout of the Liturgical Year of the Church from the viewpoint of a  film maker or stage director one must admire the keen sense of drama, the slow yet pointed build up to the major feasts of Christmas and Easter. The growing dramatic intensity appears in each of the public forms of official worship, that is the Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. Unfortunately, most Catholics never experience the Liturgy of the Hours except if they should attend Tenebrae services in their local parish during Holy Week or visit a monastery.  Communities of contemplative nuns are very aware of the unfolding drama because they are immersed in the Liturgy of Hours and all its fine details five or six times a day.

Today we begin a series of these dramatic additions, known as the Great 'O' Antiphons. From now until Christmas we will sing them along with the canticle at Vespers (Evening Prayer) which is Mary's Magnificat, her great prayer of praise at the moment of the Annunciation.

The Redemptoristine Monastery in Dublin, Ireland has posted a You Tube video of tomorrow's O Antiphon. 
The following is a complete explanation of the meaning of the 'O" Antiphons written by our subprioress, Sr. Moria Quinn.

Jewels of Advent - The Great O Antiphons

Advent is the most beautiful of liturgical seasons. It is a time of watching and preparing, of hopeful expectation and joyful anticipation. Advent is the season where we ponder the comings of Christ. The Mass readings of Advent begin with the Second Coming of Christ to earth, the Parousia. The word Parousia means ‘to be present.’ Isn’t that what Advent is about? To be present to the mystery of God: past, present and future. We remember with our ancestors of the past their longing for the coming of the Messiah. We rejoice and celebrate Jesus’ incarnation, his coming in the flesh 2000 years ago. In the present, we recognize Jesus, our Messiah, in our midst in the here and now where he is gracing us in every facet of our lives as we look to our reward at his ‘Second Coming.’

If you follow the daily readings at Mass during Advent you find they are filled with much imagery. Last year, it got to the point that I felt inspired to illustrate the Great O Antiphons.

Some of you may be scratching your head and saying, ‘The Great what?’ You know them, or at least one of them, by heart, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel… ’ It is probably the most beloved of all Advent hymns. In the monastery, for the final preparation before the coming of Christmas, we sing the ‘Jewels of Advent,’ the last 7 nights before Christmas Eve. For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours the Great O’s are sung during Evening Prayer just before the Magnificat beginning December 17 and then continue for the next 6 days with a different ‘O’ sung every night until December 23. They are also sung, or said, at the Gospel Alleluia at Mass during that time.

The exact origin of the ‘O Antiphons’ is not known. Boethius (480–524/5) a Christian philosopher in 6th century Rome made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. During the next century at the monastery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire of Fleury in central France, these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they were in wide use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The hymn, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel,’ dates back to the 9th century.

The original O Antiphons, of course, were in Latin. But over the years there have been many translations.

• December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
• December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
• December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
• December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
• December 21: O Oriens (O Morning Star)
• December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
• December 23: O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)

Whoever put together all the Latin Antiphons was having a good time because if you take the first letter of each invocation, then read it backwards, it forms an acrostic in Latin: ERO CRAS. This can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people's plea, “Tomorrow I will come."

You may say, ‘Wait a minute. Christmas is on the 25th not the 24th. Why end on the 23rd ?’ True enough, but thanks to the tradition handed down to us by our Jewish ancestors in the faith, we begin the liturgical day at sundown. So, the evening of the 23rd is Christmas Eve, and as a result, therefore, the Christmas liturgy begins at Evening Prayer on the 24th . I know it sounds confusing but that is the way it is.

To add to the mix, an alternative English medieval practice arose of moving all of the antiphons forward by one day so they began on December 16th. They added an antiphon involving Mary to the end on the 23rd.

O Virgo Virginum…
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before you, or after shall be.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me?
The thing you behold is divine mystery.

So they took the ‘V’ from O Virgo and added it to the acrostic so it became Vero Cras, "Truly, tomorrow."

This additional antiphon was only eliminated from the Church of England liturgy in the year 2000, thereby restoring the Great O Antiphons to their original form.

The O Antiphons are all scripture based, at least they are alluded to somewhere in the Jewish Testament. Each Antiphon has three parts:

◊ They all begin with an exclamation of a Messianic title: O Wisdom, O Root of Jesse, O Morning Star….

◊ They are followed by an attribute, a description of the power of God: Giver of Law, Sign of God’s Love, Source of Life, Promised Savior….

◊ And then conclude with an invocation to Come and: Come and teach us, Come and open the way, Come and Redeem us, Come and set us free…

Did you know the name Jesus, Jehoshua, means in Hebrew ‘Jehovah saves or sets free’? That is the underlying theme of all the O’ Antiphons: our longing for God to set us free.

In many cultures, to know the name of another gives you power over that person. Think of the power we have in knowing, in our limited way, some of the names for the ineffable God; and the awareness of some of the attributes of our incomprehensible God. Because of this power, we dare to cry out, to demand that God come to our aid to open our hearts and teach us, to hurry up and unite us to God’s self, to redeem us and set us free.

Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR

Last year I posted each day's antiphon with Sr. Moira's drawings. Just click on the word "Advent" in the index in the side par and you can see all of them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the Season of Preparation

 A Christmas Novena  

Adore, oh my soul,
in the bosom of Mary,
the only-begotten Son of God
who was made man
for love of you.

Our Redemptoristine community of contemplative nuns will begin offering this novena Christmas prayer on December 16th. We say it at the close of the Office of Vespers (evening prayer). There will be no lights in chapel except those of the Advent wreath. Each sister will say the prayer out loud in turn, leaving a little meditative pause between each one. At the end we will all sing the Salve Regina. For each of us, offering this novena, in this way, is a very moving experience. In addition, it serves to focus our preparations for the feast of Christmas on our prayers for the needs of our world, the sick and suffering, the unemployed, those affected by wars and a myriad of other intentions as well as the individual prayer requests we receive regularly.

I was introduced to novenas as a little girl. Our parish church was almost directly across the street from my Brooklyn home. My aunt went to novena there every Tuesday evening and I would often accompany her. Many would gather in the Church summer or winter. Each person had a collection of little novena booklets ready for the prayers to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the Infant Jesus of Prague, one right after the other. Prayers ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, incense and all! I still have all of my little booklets.

The practice of saying special prayers for nine days before a special feast of the Liturgical Year has been part of Catholic culture for hundreds of years. The word 'novena' comes from the Latin for number nine.

There are many prayer practices in addition to the novena that are connected with Advent and Christmas in the Catholic tradition. More to come on that topic.

Many people, not only Catholics, use this prayer practice before the feast of their favorite saints. I like to privately pray a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, before her feast in October each year. In some cultures a novena of prayers is said in preparation for the anniversary of a special event or the death of a loved one.

Consider adding our simple Christmas Novena to your Advent Wreath Prayers with your family. If you haven't set up a wreath, why not begin your Christmas preparation on the 16th with these few words of adoration at the beginning or end of your dinner each night. In may make a big difference in the way you meet the great feast of the Incarnation when it comes.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mother Mary Calls Again

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Tomie dePaola, in his picture book for children about Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, used the intimate native Mexican title for this appearance of Mary, "la morenita," the little brown one. Here on Juan Diego's tilma (cape) she left the image of herself as one of the indigenous people, one of their own.

This morning Father Thomas Deely, CSsR celebrated Mass for us at 8:00am. He asked us to think about how Mary had become real to us; how our relationship with her had been forged. Mary became real for me when I made the connection that she was one of our own, particularly that she was one of our own as a mother. Before I became a mother, I could not appreciate all of the meaning contained in that aspect of her life. Through common Catholic devotion I knew Mary well as the sweet young girl, pure as driven snow, who was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. I was also familiar with images of the end of her earthly life, especially those conjured by the dogma of the Assumption and her place beside her Son at the throne of God. But what came in between Annunciation and Assumption did not signify for me until I experienced motherhood.

For most of her life Mary was a mother. She had all the concerns that come with the job description. She fed, clothed, nursed, disciplined and educated her child. She worried over her child/teenager, young adult and fully grown son. She wondered about and marveled at his choices, what he thought about and what he said. And she feared for his future. She was sinless, but she was a fully human woman and mother in every other way. When I touched her experience in my own life, the bond between us began to form. It grows even now because once a mother, always a mother.  

Mary also lived out the life of wife, mother and daughter while in relationship to her community, her culture and her faith. She was neighbor and friend; listener and sympathizer; helper and support. She was fully integrated into a wide range of relationships and roles.

I feel connected to Mary the mother of Jesus in a very earthy and experiential way. The peoples of Latin America, especially Mexico, also know Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a very earthy and experiential way. She is real to them; one of them.

What is your connection with Mary? How does she speak to you today?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Always a Teacher

Father Louis
Thomas Merton in his hermitage at Gethsemani
Trappist Abbey - Tennessee

Thomas Merton: 
Ever the Teacher

During these last five days 25 spiritual directors in the Archdiocese of New York have been spiritual companions to 30 participants in an on-line discernment retreat. The retreat was sponsored by the Religious Vocation Office of the Archdiocese under the direction of Sr. Deanne Sabetta, SND. I had the previlege of providing accompaniment to two women seriously committed to discerning God's will for their lives. It is not difficult to imagine their inspiration and their love for God. It is also possible to imagine their fears and uncertainty.

On this last day of the retreat, I offered each woman the following prayer written by Thomas Merton.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will fear not, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Thomas Merton's death by accidental electrocution in Thailand, where he was participating in a meeting of representatives of the contemplative tradition from Western and Eastern faiths or philosophies. Just an hour or two before his death he had spoken to the group and ended his remarks with the words, "And now I will disappear." It is an irony that the mortal remains of this man, who had begun to feel the necessity of speaking out about the barbarism of war in relation to the conflict in Vietnam, was returned to the United States in a plane which also carried the bodies of American soldiers being returned to their families.

Merton was educated at Columbia University and always felt destined to teach and to write. He did not think that he would do either at the monastery he entered in the days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But God and his Abbot had other plans for him. Within ten years his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain would be a monumental best seller in the secular world. He would write many other books which today continue to influence those who wish to follow the way of contemplative prayer and see, as Merton did, that the way to God is also the way to the true self. For fifteen years he would serve in the second most important position in any monastery, that of novice master, the monk entrusted with the training of its newest members. Most of his talks to novices and some talks given to his community were recorded and are still available from Credence. An outstanding segment for me in these recordings is Merton reading to the novices a letter he'd received from a friend who was present at the funeral of Martin Luther King. I love his humor, his manner with these young men and the wisdom and scholarship he shared with them and now with us via technological magic.

Merton remains not only a guide to contemplative monks and nuns but to all who are seriously persuing the contemplative path. He knew his imperfections and sinfulness and wrote about them. He wanted simplicity but lived a complicated life. He wanted to be alone with the Alone but needed to tell people about it. Yet his brilliance, his desire for God, his gifts as a communicator, the quality of his intellect and the depth of his spirituality keep me enthralled and inspired.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery
Redemptoristine Nuns
Esopus, New York
Mother Mary
Calls to Me

In times of trouble Mother Mary calls to me. She reminds me of her presence, of her motherhood, of her human experience, of her presence at the foot of the cross and in the upper room. These days we have been asked by our Redemptorist brothers to join them in a novena to Mother Mary under her title of Mother of Perpetual Help. This is a special appeal to our Mother for the ravaged people and land of Haiti. Or Redemptorists and our Redemptoristine nuns report the devastation, disease and great hardship. Please join us in our appeal to Mother Mary on this her great feast.

Prayer for Haiti

O Mother of Perpetual Help.
your name inspires confidence.
We come to you in our need and ask your help.
You are the Patroness of the people of Haiti.
In this moment of affliction,
in solidarity with our brothers and sisters,
we pray for an end to the cholera epidemic
ravaging your children.
Bring them healing, comfort and peace.
Sustain them in this hour of darkness.
Help them to know the presence of
God-with-us, Emmanuel,
your Son and our Redeemer.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Egg tempera and gold leaf on gesso
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand"

Given the circumstances of their time, those who came to hear John the Baptist preach were eager for the prophetic word of their liberation, news of a Messiah who would rescue them from Roman oppression and restore self-rule. They thought that they knew what kind of Kingdom should be "at hand" and the changes that Kingdom would bring about in their lives. For many, these preconceived notions made it impossible for them to comprehend the Kingdom to which John was actually directing them. Their mindset prevented them from really listening to his message and from seeing it embodied in the person and preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. John's message and Jesus' radical invitation to the Kindgom of God in which peace and justice reigned supreme just did not compute.

John's voice cries out in the desert of my soul, a desert of my own making, limited by my own preconceptions and my own preferences. I know what the Kingdom should be. Do I really? How do I create my own "dry and weary land"? How do I pre-empt God by my own human limitations?

Is there a 'crookedness' in my thinking, my desires, my fixations which keeps me from seeing the 'Kingdom', the reign of goodness and truth preached by Jesus? Is there a 'Kingdom at hand' which 'eye has not seen and ear not heard' because I fail to allow God to be God and enter my life in ways I cannot now imagine?

Today I hear John speaking to me about opening the desert of my heart, expanding my imagination, being ready to receive what God has planned for me and for all of us out of an incomparable love.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

"...Escape from your everyday business for a short while..."

Yesterday at the Office of Readings the second selection was chosen in honor of the saint of the day St. Francis Xavier, great Jesuit missionary to India and Japan in the 16th century. Had it not been his feast we would have heard one of the most beautiful readings of the Advent season, a selection from the Proslogion by St. Anselm,  12th century bishop of Canterbury. This is a message for all of us not just communities of contemplative nuns.

Insignificant mortal, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms xxvii. 8). And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you...

But alas! wretched that I am, one of the sons of Eve, far removed from God! What have I undertaken? What have I accomplished? Whither was I striving? How far have I come? To what did I aspire? Amid what thoughts am I sighing? I sought blessings, and lo! confusion. I strove toward God, and I stumbled on myself. I sought calm in privacy, and I found tribulation and grief, in my inmost thoughts. I wished to smile in the joy of my mind, and I am compelled to frown by the sorrow of my heart. Gladness was hoped for, and lo! a source of frequent sighs!

And you too, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, do you forget us; how long do you turn your face from us? When will you look upon us, and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes, and show us your face? When will you restore yourself to us? Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal yourself to us. Restore yourself to us, that it may be well with us, --yourself, without whom it is so ill with us. Pity our toilings and strivings toward you since we can do nothing without you. You do invite us; do you help us. I beseech you, O Lord, that I may not lose hope in sighs, but may breathe anew in hope...

Lord, in hunger I began to seek you; I beseech you that I may not cease to hunger for you. In hunger I have come to you; let me not go unfed. I have come in poverty to the Rich, in misery to the Compassionate; let me not return empty and despised...

Be it mine to look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you, for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you...

Perhaps there will a moment today for that desiring, that seeking, that loving. Remember, all of that flows both ways. God desires, seeks, and loves. Can we find the time to be at God's disposal?

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Season of Advent

Contrary to what has been bombarding us since Halloween, the tempo, the ambiance and the liturgies in the monastery do not yet speak of Christmas, the great Feast of the Incarnation. Rather, we remain contemplatively focused on this season of desire and longing, patient waiting and personal spiritual preparation.

Many years ago, in another life time, when I was the much harried working single mother of three young sons I had a dream during the lead up time to Christmas. In the dream I experienced great relief because I was reminded that it really wasn't Advent. It was Lent. In my sleep I was reaching out for the relief presented by the idea of it being the pentitential season of Lent rather than in the hectic and endlessly demanding crazy pre-Christmas season. That my unconscious created such a dream  was sad commentary on the degree to which I had allowed this time of the Liturgical year to be distorted in meaning and focus.

So we take it slow here. The Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) keeps moving in the right direction and at a nice slow place. We are inspired to be prepared for our salvation is at hand. We are asked to look and see and listen to the signs of the times. We are asked to make ready for the arrival of our God who comes to dwell among us; in the same nitty-gritty of our lives of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, disappointment and achievement, success and failure, wins and losses. Truly, this is something to be fully prepared to receive when Christmas comes at the end of the month.