31 July 2006

St. Ignatius

Our monastery of Georgetown has enjoyed a centuries-long friendship with the Society of Jesus. And so it is with a wink and a smile that we share this little gem:

Although we are unable to authenticate this statement, we have been told that Fr. Walter Burghardt, SJ once commented that St. Francis de Sales is - was - living proof that one could be educated by the Jesuits, have a Jesuit for a spiritual director and still be a good Catholic.

All kidding aside, we can think of no better tribute to our beloved chaplains, brothers, and friends in the Society of Jesus than St. Francis de Sales' own words of praise:

"If Geneva has worked such terrible ravage amongst us, it is because we were idle; while we were asleep the enemy set our house on fire and we should all of us have been lost if the Divine Goodness had not raised up the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, those powerful minds, those great men, possessed of such untiring courage, such intrepid zeal . . . who have re-established the true faith . . . and are filling the world with learned men and are destroying heresy in every direction."

29 July 2006

St. Martha the Hospitable

We are privileged to have this extraordinary oil on canvas of Jesus at Bethany hanging on the north wall of our chapel. It was commissioned by our second chaplain (and, more accurately, our second founder), Rev. Joseph Pierre Picot de Cloriviere as a gift from France to adorn our chapel. It was painted by Constance Blanchard (student of Girodot) in 1825 for a sum of 2,000 Francs.

On 8 July 1993 when our school building was consumed by a fire, this painting was rescued from the chapel (which connects the academy to the monastery building) by several of our chaplains who used rope cinctures from the sacristy to lower the massive framed picture. When the chapel was renovated and the picture restored, the cinctures were left in place as a reminder of the extraordinary event.

At risk of undermining the traditional homily for today's memorial about how Mary has chosen "the better part" and poor Martha is too busy, this is a little plug for moderation in our approach to today's Gospel. Please note that John's Gospel tells us that "when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home." And Luke, prior to the very familiar scene where Mary is seated at Jesus' feet, tells us that "Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him." Both Martha and Mary represent essential elements of our vocation as Christians: nurturing a relationship with the Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ -- as Mary did -- and welcoming others as Christ into our homes and our hearts -- as Martha did. And the Lord, as suggested in the painting, is found between the two: at the intersection of prayer and hospitality.

27 July 2006

Fidelity and Friendship

We are reminded, over and over again, of how the Lord would like us to cultivate the many different relationships in our lives. We are to honor our parents, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, love our enemies, etc. Most of us who have had the experience of negotiating these dyanmic exchanges know it can be difficult to be a faithful companion -- in any of the relationships in our lives -- when we feel that we have been betrayed. Our human experience of this challenge gives us some small indication of the boundlessness of Yahweh's unfailing love for Israel.

In today's first reading we are reminded of how the Israelites have betrayed Yahweh, worshipped idols, prophesied by Baal, forsaken the covenant. And despite their infidelity, the Lord continues to call them back to Himself; he continues to be faithful. For most of us, the experience of infidelity renders us (at best) cautious as we mend a relationship marred by this most painful of hurts. Let us ask for the grace to have hearts as generous and as loving as the Lord's eternal heart.

"Blessed are the hearts that can bend, for they shall never break."
St. Francis de Sales

25 July 2006

St. James the Greater

There is an adage that says, "If you pray for rain, you'd better bring an umbrella." Be careful what you ask for -- you just might get it!

In today's Gospel, we have the Mother of James and John asking Jesus to give them places of honor in his Kingdom. In his reply, Jesus hints at his suffering and death; he asks the two brothers if they can drink of his chalice and they both respond, "We can!" And tradition tells us that it was St. James who was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom under Herod around the year 42 A.D.

A cursory check of the letter of James demonstrates that he earned his name "Boanerges" (sons of thunder) for his firm and effective preaching. Although there is a great deal of legend that surrounds the devotion to this heroic saint, we can learn a powerful lesson from St. James: those who have left behind many things to follow Christ can be used by God as his instruments. In the call of the disciples, St. Peter leaves behind his nets, St. Matthew leaves behind his customs post and St. James, we learn, left behind his father. Each of us is called to leave behind something of his former life when we set out to follow Jesus. For some it is a lifestyle, for others it may be something material, and still others are called to leave behind family and friends. And just as the Lord used St. James to draw many people to himself, so we, too, can be available instruments in the hands of the Lord when we answer the call to follow him.

"We cannot continually have the presence of God; that belongs to the angels. When we do something for God, that is living in his presence."
St. Francis de Sales

23 July 2006

The "Rest" of the Summer

Much like the respite promised to the disciples in today's Gospel, the "rest" of the summer can seem thwarted - or elusive. For many the summer is a longed-for time to attack projects and plan time with family and friends: cleaning the garage, emptying the attic, visiting relatives, etc. And somehow, amid the tasks and plans, most of us imagine that the summer will also hold endless moments of leisure and relaxation. After a short time, we can begin to feel like the apostles must have felt when they arrived at the "deserted place" only to find that the crowds were awaiting them.

Sometimes we are called beyond the littleness of our own plans to attend to the circumstances which the Lord permits in our life. Surely Jesus was as tired as the disciples were when he invited them to take a rest; Jesus' reaction, however, to the crowd which filled the "deserted place" was one of compassion and "he began to teach them many things." Sometimes we are called to adjust our plans and our expectations to suit the needs of the present moment. Sometimes we are called to readjust our priorities and our schedule before we even have a chance to begin some of what we set out to accomplish. This takes great trust in the Lord's providential care for us. Jesus practiced this hidden virtue at every turn in his journey on earth.

The next time our plans to find a "deserted place" are frustrated, let us remember the example of Jesus and his disciples. Let us remember that the circumstances in which the Lord permits us to find ourselves contain countless opportunities for us to unite ourselves to His will. Embracing these circumstances is a great mark of virtue. When asked if a sister should miss Mass on a holy day of obligation in order to remain in the infirmary with a sick sister, St. Francis de Sales replied:

"You may and you should lose Mass to stay with her, even though no harm would come to her if she were left alone; for remember, charity and the holy sweet love of our dear Mother Church are above all things."

20 July 2006

Gospel Roots

It seems as though "spirituality" has become a very popular term, subject to a myriad of nuances. There are many schools of spirituality in the Catholic Church; some are associated with a particular founder or foundress, others are associated with a certain way of life. What all authentic spiritualities have in common, however, is that they are grounded in the Gospel. Each school of spirituality may have a different origin but all are rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

When we speak about our own "Salesian Spirituality" we refer to the legacy left to those of us who claim St. Francis de Sales as our spiritual father (and there are many of us in the Salesian family!) If one had to ground all the writings of St. Francis de Sales' in one passage of the Gospels, today's reading would represent our "spiritual roots."

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." (Mt 11:26)

St. Francis de Sales had the following to say about the importance of the "little virtue" of gentleness:

"An even temper, gentleness and sweetness are more rare than perfect chastity but no less desirable for that. I command these virtues to you because the flame of good example depends upon them as oil in a lamp; nothing edifies others more than a loving good temper."

17 July 2006

Nursery School Update

Faithful readers will remember that we featured our nursery school graduates as they were moving out into the garden in late May. Here we provide a little update on our transplants. Sister Earlene, faithful "waterer" of the tomato patch, is pictured here between two robust Brandywine tomato plants.

In addition to the transplants, we are still monitoring the squirrels' "gift" to us. Thanks to the overabundance of rain of the past few weeks, the squirrels' plant is flourishing. The tiny seedling we pictured in May is growing into a member of the melon/cucumber family. It is still to early to tell what fruit might emerge from the flowers which have begun to bud. We shall wait to see what surprises the Lord (and the squirrels) have in store for us.

"God's providence reaches all things, and reduces all things to His glory."
St. Francis de Sales

15 July 2006

A Word of Thanks

It seems that we have shared this gem of St. Francis de Sales in a previous blogpost, back in January. It is such an important aspect of our spirituality, however, that it bears repeating in a fitting moment such as this one:

We must neither ask anything nor refuse anything, but leave ourselves absolutely in the arms of divine Providence, without busying ourselves with any desires, except to will what God wills of us. Our whole perfection lies in the practice of this.

To begin to name the kindnesses of our family, friends and benefactors would be to run the inevitable risk of omitting too many. We are deeply grateful for all those whose generosity, creativity and thoughtfulness made the events of the past week smooth and successful. In a matter of days, hundreds of friends, family and alumnae were contacted, the performing arts center was transformed into a sacred space, programs were printed (folded and stuffed!), a reception was planned and there was an abiding peace amid these many details. Not only did our thoughtful benefactors help to make Sister's wake and funeral run smoothly, but they made sure that we stayed well-fed in the days that followed. We thank our faithful friends, alumnae and benefactors for being instruments in the "arms of divine Providence." You are great and we are grateful!

11 July 2006

...And The Humble Shall Be Exalted

Mother Philomena and pall bearers prepare for the entrance procession.

Yesterday morning at 11.00am the Rite of Christian burial was celebrated for our beloved Sister Anne Marie. In attendance were close to 400 of Sister's "closest friends," principal celebrant Rev. Jon O'Brien, sj, 12 concelebrants and her loving family and community.

At the conclusion of a beautiful homily about the raising of Lazarus, Fr. O'Brien shared with us "a mischievous fantasy" he has been entertaining:

Saint Peter approaches Jesus and says, "You'll never believe this, Lord, she called me 'dearie.'" Jesus looks at Saint Peter and replies, "She's been calling me 'dearie' for years!"

As a member of the monastery and vibrant presence in the school community for over 69 years, Sister leaves an inestimable loss. Mr. Daniel Kerns, jr remarked in one of the eulogies, "None of us here has ever known Georgetown Visitation without the presence of Sister Anne Marie." Well said.

The monastery community is deeply grateful for the many people who shared their time and resources with us in order to make Sister's wake and funeral such a profound experience for all present.

08 July 2006

Pushing Buttons?

Sister Anne Marie and Mother Philomena enjoy a laugh.

In keeping with Sister Anne Marie's loving embrace of everyone who crossed her path, we share the following excerpt from our local Catholic paper, The Catholic Standard, dated Friday 31 October 1952, which was written about Sister Anne Marie:

"Whether it's Eisenhower or Stevenson, the November 5 spirit should be something like one exemplified by a nun here in Washington, who shall remain nameless but who's gifted with an ample sense of humor.

Seems that ever since school started, this nun's been collecting campaign buttons from the students. Each day she's been sporting a different one, but generally it has been of the 'I like Ike' variety.

The other day, a Stevenson button adorned her habit. An aghast student exclaimed: 'Why Sister, don't tell me you've changed sides!' Sister didn't get it for an instant, then remembered the Stevenson button with an, 'Oh, you mean this.' She assured the student she hadn't changed sides and by way of emphasis, lifted a sort of cape-like effect at the top of her habit. She was wearing dozens of buttons, for both Stevenson and Eisenhower, under the cape.

But right in the middle there was an extra large one which bore this legend:
From the "Capital Sports" column in The Catholic Standard by Bill Ring, father of Hilde Graham (nee Ring) HS '51, JC '53.

It is a profound understatement to say that our dear Sister Anne Marie "liked everybody." Not only did she love every sister, student, guest and family member whom she encountered, she made sure that each one felt loved.
A word to our locals: the Mass of Christian Burial on Monday has been moved from the Chapel of the Sacred Heart to the Nolan Center to accommodate the number of guests anticipated. Those in need of an elevator may enter from the Canney Terrace; all else may enter via the north and south lobbies across from St. Joseph's Hall. Sunday's wake will remain in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

05 July 2006

The Face that Launched 1,000 Quips

At 1.10pm today the Lord came for our dear Sister Anne Marie. Sister became very ill just a few weeks ago and died very peacefully surrounded by her sisters. Sister was 97 years old and 69 years professed. Until just a few weeks ago she could be found working in the main office of our school at "Sister Anne Marie's Shredding Station," a popular spot for teachers and staff passing through the office.

Sister will be remembered for many things. She was a "Jane" of all trades whose various undertakings included music, art, pottery, and knitting. Sister was the among the first in our community to use a computer and generate greeting cards. More recently, she was known for the sale of her "famous poster" which hit the market 10 years ago in an effort to help raise money to rebuild our chapel. When asked about her poster she'd often wink and say, "Could you make $40,000 off your face?"

It is an understatement to say that sister leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of all who knew her. Those of us who were privileged to live with her will miss her outstanding example of fidelity in prayer. Sister spent so much time praying in the chapel that one might have mistaken her for a statue. We will miss her witty responses to daily conversations: If we called her name, we often received the following reply "She's not here dearie, can I give her a message when I see her?" Recently, Mother dared to ask, "How are you feeling today, sister?" and with a twinkle in her eye she replied, "If I told you the truth you'd put on your hat and leave town!"

For years Sister Anne Marie would greet our chaplains as they arrived each morning. As she would wait outside the chapel, she would also greet any guests who came for Mass. If it had been a long time since a guest's last visit, sister would use her stage-whisper to remark, "It's nice to see you back in the Church, dearie." She made every visitor and guest feel welcome and loved. Hospitality flowed through her veins and touched all who knew her. We know that she will find her place in the heavenly Visitation among our beloved sisters who have gone before her. Requiescat in pace.

For locals, the wake will be on Sunday night from 5-8pm and the funeral will be on Monday morning at 11.00am. Both will take place in our Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

03 July 2006

The Coming of the Fourth

Although the celebration of our independence as a nation is a secular holiday, there are far more religious undertones to it than most are willing to admit -- beginning with our national anthem. As a monastery located just a few blocks from the Francis Scott Key bridge, we thought we'd provide a little quiz about the author of our national anthem. The answers can be found by following the link to a superb article written by Dr. Isaac Asimov in 1991.

  • In what year was the anthem written?
  • What was Francis Scott Key's occupation?
  • Why was he aboard a British ship when he wrote our national anthem?
  • What other American was present when the poem was penned?
  • How many stanzas are in the original version of the national anthem?

As we celebrate our nation's freedom this week, we remain mindful of our responsibility as a powerful country with an abundance of resources. And we pray that we may always act justly and wisely. Click here to read Dr. Asimov's article.

01 July 2006

The Centurion's Sentiment

There has been a great amount of press concerning the proposed changes and adaptations to the Sacramentary, most notably where the responses of the assembly may be different. Today's Gospel gives us a gentle encouragement to be open to these minor (suggested) changes in translation (still pending approval for the proper parts), most of which favor a more accurate translation of the original Latin text.

When the priest elevates the host and says, "This is the Lamb of God, this is He who takes away the sins of the world . . ." our response, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed" is a very lose translation of what appears in the original text. In fact, the original text was intended to echo the sentiments -- if not the exact words -- of the centurion in today's Gospel: "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed."

To think of inviting the Lord "under our roof" is to entertain a powerful image. The Lord is eager to proceed to the house of the centurion to heal his servant but the centurion speaks a word of reluctance; he begs the Lord only to say a healing word for his servant. And it is his faith in the power of Jesus that permits his servant to be healed. We, too, are called to manifest the same faith in the Lord as we approach him in the Eucharist. We ask for his grace to heal our souls so that we may prepare a worthy place for him in our hearts as we receive him in the Eucharist and carry him with us in all we do.

"If, through Holy Communion, you become gentle, you will be drawing from it, the fruit which is proper to it, and thus you will be advancing." St. Francis de Sales