26 June 2006

The Master Cometh!

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as the use of the vernacular in the liturgy became the focus of many well-intentioned efforts at aggiornamento -- often at the expense of ressourcement -- the Order of the Visitation in the United States received a great gift: the work and expertise of Abbot Marcel Rooney, osb.

In the mid 1970's, Father Marcel (then novice master for Conception Abbey, later elected as its eighth abbot), was commissioned by our Federation President, the late Mother Anne Madeleine Ernstmann, vhm, to compose music for the English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours. Dedicating a decade to this magnum opus, Rooney composed music for every antiphon of every hour of the office. He captured the haunting tones of Gregorian chant in his modern musical compositions. In addition, he composed 16 psalm tones based upon the eight traditional Gregorian modes for use with the Grail translation of the psalms, currently in use in the United States. During this decade, Conception Abbey welcomed scores our sisters for six summers of music instruction in order to learn to sing the office using Rooney's music. His work gave us an extraordinary gift: an office that is dynamic, melodic, beautiful and "singable." Today, every monastery of the Visitation is united by his music. Nearly thirty years later, one can be visiting a monastery many miles from home and, closing her eyes in choir, be at home in her own monastery.

Periodically he visits our monasteries for a little "brush up" and "up date." This week we are privileged to have Abbot Marcel with us for a few days. Faithful readers can expect a short hiatus in blogposts while the master is here...we shall return in a few days.

23 June 2006

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart

On Friday 11 June 1611, (Friday in the Octave of Corpus Christi that year) St. Francis de Sales addressed a letter to (St.) Mother de Chantal, Sr. Jeanne Charlotte de Brechard and Sr. Jacqueline Favre. The content of this letter was a description of an inspiration which he received about the coat of arms for the Order of the Visitation. He suggested a heart pierced by two arrows, surrounded by a crown of thorns. This "inspiration" became the design for the seal of every monastery of the Visitation.

Well over 50 years later, St. Margaret Mary, a Visitation nun in our monastery of Paray-le-monial, received revelations of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The date later set for this Solemnity is currently the Second Friday after Trinity Sunday (which ends up being the Friday after Corpus Christi -- we just don't have an Octave of Corpus Christi any more.)

St. Francis de Sales spoke poignantly when he remarked, in that letter concerning our coat of arms, "...our little congregation is a work of the heart of Jesus and Mary. The dying savior gave birth to us through the wound of his Sacred Heart."

"But above all preserve peace of heart. This is more valuable than any treasure. In order to preserve it there is nothing more useful than renouncing your own will and substituting for it the will of the divine heart. In this way his will can carry out for us whatever contributes to his glory, and we will be happy to be his subjects and to trust entirely in him. "
St. Margaret Mary

22 June 2006

God's Honor Roll

Today's first reading from Sirach is a snippet from the "honor roll" -- of sorts -- that we find in the book of Sirach (Ecclesiastius). Jesus ben Sirach chronicles our fathers in faith, beginning with Enoch and Noah in chapter 44. If you haven't ever read the entire "Hymn to our Ancestors," it is a beautiful section of the Old Testament worth reading and praying.

The portions we hear today, praising the extraordinary gifts of Elijah and Elisha, make both men sound almost super-human. Of Elisha it is said, "Nothing was beyond his power." Truly indeed, both men were powerful instruments of the Lord and very worthy of our praise. The key, however, is that both men showed great dependence upon Lord's power. Neither one sought his own glory or honor. Both relied on the the Lord and his power at work in them -- and what wonders God worked through their willingness!

Let us take our cues from these great heroes of our faith and allow the Lord to work through us in the ordinary moments of our daily lives.

"I would inculcate in your deepest hearts this disposition to obey and to submit yourselves lovingly to all events and permissions of Holy Providence."
St. Jane de Chantal

20 June 2006

Home Base!

No, this is not a joke, honest. This sign is actually exists. Due to our current state of renovation (updated pictures forthcoming), we spend a great deal of time "commuting" between "refugee camps" and, as a consequence, our security staff has posted the above caution for drivers entering campus.

As promised, quite a few posts ago, this is a report from one of our three "refugee camps." Lalor House is serving as "home base" during our period of exile. Eight sisters live at Lalor House but all 18 of us pray, eat and recreate here. The picture below is our modest chapel which, believe it or not, fits all 18 of us, the celebrant and a guest or two (without a shoe horn!)

The picture below is a shot of Lalor House from 35th Street. The front door opens to 35th Street but the back entrances open up onto campus which makes getting to the school -- and the other two "refugee camps" -- very convenient. We promise future posts about the satellite refugee camps -- and maybe even a first-hand account from an exile!

This post would not be complete without a photo of a very special exile who lives at Lalor House: Nicholas the dog, whom some readers may remember from a previous post. Nick lives in a pen outside Lalor House and he announces every visitor who approaches. We hardly need a doorbell with a watch dog as alert as he. In fact, it used to be the bell ringing the Angelus which told the sisters that Father has arrived for Mass. Now, the dog announces it before sister has a chance to ring the bell. If only we could teach him to bark in syncopation with the Angelus!

18 June 2006

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi

In today’s first reading, Moses reminds us of a dimension of liturgy which is not always evident during Mass. He ratifies the covenant by sprinkling some of the blood on the altar and on the people. This is very much a foreshadowing of the sacred blood which, when sprinkled on the altar of the cross, won our redemption.

In recent decades, we have spoken often about the Eucharist as a meal; we refer to the altar as a “table.” Indeed, we do commemorate the Last Supper, but we also commemorate the sacrifice of the cross. When we consider the Mass as a sacrifice, we present to our hearts an invitation to unite our sufferings, our sacrifices with the most holy sacrifice on the altar.

Let’s be honest: the various elements of liturgy can introduce many opportunities for differences to arise among the most well-meaning of participants. Be they differences in taste or disagreements about style, attending or planning a liturgy amid such challenges can be difficult. It can be hard to pray under such circumstances.

Any number of situations can cause us unrest when we come to worship the Lord. We may come to Mass from a situation which was stressful and we are distracted; perhaps we come to Mass and find ourselves uncomfortable because of elements of preference beyond our control; it might be the case that we are responsible for some service during the Mass such as reading or singing; we may find ourselves sitting at Mass worrying about whether or not we turned off the stove. Any of these situations can cause our hearts to be distracted and minds to wander. Every one of these situations, however, is an opportunity to place our hearts on the altar. When, at Mass, we find ourselves in a situation where our souls are not at rest – for any reason – perhaps we could call to mind the sacrificial dimension of the Mass. When we are suffering, hurt, frustrated, or distracted, we have something to offer the Lord. Instead of gritting our teeth and allowing smoke to escape from our ears, perhaps we could unite our little sacrifice, the cause of our unrest, to the Lord's sacrifice. "Here it is, Lord. It may be small compared to your sacrifice, but it's all I have to offer right now." And may He look with favor on our offering.

"In the Eucharist, our Lord abases Himself, if we may so express it, and changes Himself into food, so that He may penetrate our souls and unite Himself most intimately to the heart and to the body of His faithful."
St. Francis de Sales

15 June 2006

Tough Love

It has been said of the late (and great) John Paul II that he challenged today's youth -- and all of us -- to pursue moral heroism. Instead of "lowering the bar," so to speak, on tough moral issues, he encouraged Catholics and men and women of faith to pursue virtues which are not esteemed in popular culture. In doing this, he was following closely in the footsteps of Christ who speaks bold words to us in today's Gospel.

For most of us, it is difficult to reconcile ourselves to another when we have been at fault. Yet, despite the discomfort, there is something natural and inherently good about being able to say, "I'm sorry I hurt you, that was never my intention." At times we need to say, "It was selfish of me to say that because I knew it would hurt you; I'm sorry." And even still, despite the shame we might feel, there is something natural about asking forgiveness when we have been at fault. Jesus calls us to something even greater in today's Gospel.

We are to pursue the brother - or sister - who has something against us. But why? Who has the problem? Throwing up our hands (or our hearts) and saying, "That's his problem if he doesn't like me" is exactly what Jesus does not want us to do. It is a lot easier to apologize to someone we like than it is to approach someone who does not like us.

Surely we can all think of a colleague, coworker, family member, etc., with whom we enjoy a "polite distance" because we sense that we are the object of an unspoken discomfort or dislike. This is not a reason for alarm; it is a reason for rejoicing. For when we have such a situation, we have an opportunity to love as Jesus has invited us to love. And this is the "tough love" to which the Lord calls us.

"We must consider our neighbor in God who wishes us to love and cherish him. . . . For having asked for the love of God, we must always ask for love of neighbor, and particularly of those for whom our will experiences no inclination."
St. Francis de Sales

13 June 2006

A Salty Claim

Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. Unfortunately, in the post-industrial revolution age of all things electric we have little experience of why this is so significant. We read labels, try to eat foods that boast of having "no preservatives," and refrigerate what is left over. In Jesus' day, salt was the only hope people had for preserving food. So, salt was a very essential and very valuable compound. (You've probably heard this before, but don't stop reading; this post is going to make an outrageous claim.)

At great risk of meddling in the work of professional linguists and etymologists, it seems reasonable to draw a few conclusions. Salt, in Latin, is sal, salis. It was a highly sought-after commodity in the ancient world. Roman soldiers were paid a salary so they could purchase salt for themselves. Although the adjective salvus (safe, well, alive, etc.) usually takes credit for being the root of our word, "salvation," it seems possible to argue that having salt made one well and healthy. Perhaps the root of the Roman notions of health (salus, salutis) and being alive (salvus) was linked to the precious seasoning we know as salt.

If the work of the Church on earth is truly the salvation of souls, then we should take as our marching orders Jesus' claim that we are the salt of the earth. Let us be "consumed" with all that is salubrious for the spiritual good of our neighbors. And let us be willing and gracious instruments who bear witness to the Lord's gift of salvation.

11 June 2006

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

One cannot do justice to the mystery of the Trinity in a blog post. One can only approach this mystery by living well the relationships and personal encounters that are provided by the Lord. (What follows are a few simple thoughts.)

In today's first reading, Moses reflects upon the unique relationship between Yahweh and Israel; he asks, ". . . ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before?" No. Nothing in the history of the world -- prior to the Incarnation -- can compare with the creation of man and God's delight in chosen people.

The first creation story in Genesis gives us a window into the mystery of the Trinity: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image'" (Gen 1:26a). God did not say, "Let me make man in my image." The Holy Trinity was present at creation and it is in the image of the Trinity that man was created. "Man" was created male and female. From the dawn of time, God has desired that his creatures, those created in his likeness, imitate him -- the mystery of the Trinity -- in their earthly life. As essential as it is to cultivate a deep relationship with the Trinity, it is never apart from or at the expense of our relationships with one another. For man was not created alone; he was created in the image of the Trinity.

As we reflect upon this grand mystery of the Trinity, let us examine the relationships in our daily lives. Let us consider how we participate in the mystery of the Trinity in our relationships -- those that delight us as well as those that challenge us. For when we are in relationship to one another, we approach this mystery and we have a small taste of the heavenly banquet.

"Our felicity will not stop at this (namely, at conversation with the angels and saints, with Mary and the incarnate Redeemer). It will pass further, for we will see face to face and very clearly the Divine Majesty, the essence God, and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity."
St. Francis de Sales

09 June 2006

Thinking and Acting Globally

Early yesterday morning, 12 of our students and two adults, Dr. Patrick Kelley (parent) and Sra. Giovanna Bello (Spanish teacher) gathered in the Chapel for a short prayer service with our sisters. Each person in the group was partnered with a sister prayer-partner who will “journey with them” in prayer as the group departs for a two-week trip to Peru. The students will spend some time in Machu Picchu and Cusco and then they will head to Ayacucho where they will spend most of their time working in an orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Ann, who care for 175 orphans up to age 18. In addition, they will be doing some repair work and cosmetic improvements at a local Jesuit school. We commend our students for their efforts and we look forward to hearing about their experiences when they return.

We have shared this quotation before, but it is very fitting for this occasion. When our early sisters in France set out for a new foundation, St. Francis de Sales had these words for the occasion:

“Those who go, stay. Those who stay, go.”

And that is exactly how we feel about our travelers. We go with them in prayer and we know that they remain here – in our hearts!

07 June 2006


At 11.00am, yesterday morning, 133 soon-to-be graduates processed two-by-two down the red carpet as the familiar notes of Elgar were performed by a brass ensemble. Our school's largest graduating class in its 207 year history was addressed by Ms. Gretchen Kane, president of the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.

Ms. Kane shared some of her experiences from the past year as the oldest girls' school in the country, ravaged by a hurricane, prepared to open its doors on 3 January 2006 -- just 4 months after the city of New Orleans was buried in water. Ursuline Academy, during the months of rebuilding and restoring, was committed to returning tuition dollars and continuing its payroll -- not because they could afford to, but because, in justice, they couldn't afford not to! In her speech, Ms. Kane referred to C.S. Lewis' characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She recalled how the raccoon family allowed their young to play in the mane of Aslan, the lion. When asked if it was safe to play in the lion's mane, the father replied, "It is not safe, but it is good." And so it is for those who choose Christ's way of love and gentleness in a world that does not value Christian virtues. It is not safe but it is good. In this vein, her parting words of wisdom to the class of 2006 were the very words she used in her own high school yearbook, "March to the beat of your own drum or don't march at all!"

Also in attendance at graduation was Ursuline Academy's recent graduate, Courtney Pratt, who spent the first semester of her senior year with us here at Georgetown Visitation. She received the signature "crescent pin," which our graduates receive with their diplomas, as well as a standing ovation from Visitation's class of 2006.

Beautiful weather. Beautiful young women. We and they have much for which to be grateful.

04 June 2006

Veni Creator Spiritus!

At first Vespers of the Solemnity of Pentecost, it is our community's custom to draw for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each sister draws a small card, shaped like a flame, and on the back of the card is written a gift and a fruit of the Spirit. This year's celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost was a little different than usual since it was a little more "cozy" now that we are in our make-shift chapel (pictures coming soon) ... the chapel of the exiles. It was also different from last year for another reason.

This is a true story (and could be sub-titled, "Life in the monastery is never boring part III") :

Pentecost 2005. We were gathered in choir for Office of Readings on the eve of Pentecost. In the middle of the second reading from St. Irenaeus -- just prior to the responsory which reads "...they had all gathered together in one place. Out of the heavens there came the sound of a great wind, which filled the whole house, alleluia" -- lightening struck the roof of the Monastery. There was a sound which filled the whole house; it was the fire alarm, triggered by the lightening. And yes, we were all gathered in one room. No one began speaking in tongues. There was a moment of calm, while everyone looked around to be sure she was not imagining the sound, before the choir emptied and we each proceeded to our "fire-alarm" responsibilities: some to the school, some to the infirmary, most to the assembly room. The fire department dutifully and promptly arrived and checked out the fourth floor roof-access ladder which we suspected was the manner by which the lightening was conducted into the building.

This year, we are most grateful that the Holy Spirit has decided to make his arrival in a quieter manner. And we leave our faithful readers with St. Francis de Sales' words to St. Jane de Chantal from Pentecost 1620:

"As long as we are in the world we can only love by doing good -- since our love must be active -- we have need of counsel in order to discern what we must practice and do for this love which urges us. And in order that we may know how we are to do good, what particular good we must prefer . . . the Holy Spirit gives us his gift of counsel."

02 June 2006

Baby Ducks!

A couple of weeks ago we mentioned the pair of ducks who have arrived on our lawn. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared for awhile, only to reappear with their new family!

At right, Mrs. Duck instructs the little ones to beware of nuns who toss pieces of bread at them.

Below, the ducklings wait by the P Street wall while Mrs. Duck takes a moment to scold the sisters for getting to close to her precious little ones. (We got the message, loudly and clearly!)

Although he was not out for a walk with the little critters, we caught a picture of the proud father. We promise not to bore our readers with too many duck photos, but these were too cute not to share.