28 September 2006

Pearls of Wisdom

Yesterday evening we were treated to a wonderful conference by our faithful chaplain, friend and brother, Father Jim Greenfield, OSFS. Father gave a wonderful beginning-of-year retreat to our faculty and Mother invited him to share some of his insights, as they related to community life. The theme of Father's presentation was that of conversion examined through the lens of "holding on" and "letting go." In his usual manner, Father combined a serious spiritual challenge with his usual good humor and genuine enthusiasm for our shared Salesian tradition.

Father Greenfield is currently the local superior of the Oblate community at De Sales Hall hall and is director of formation for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province the Oblates. Click here to learn more about the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Click here to visit their vocation blog, (updated frequently!!)

26 September 2006

Road Trip!

This weekend, four of us took a road trip to our Monastery of Brooklyn where two of their sisters, Sister Judith Marguerite and Sister Damaris Ines, made their solemn profession. Above is a picture of their novitiate group, taken several years ago; we've indicated the two profitandae with some poorly drawn arrows. As soon as they are available, however, we'll post some pictures from the profession. It was too glorious an occasion not to share.

The solemn profession also marked the 151st anniversary of the foundation of our Brooklyn monastery. Bishop Thomas Daily, bishop emeritus of the diocese of Brooklyn, presided and Mother Susan Marie received the vows of the sisters. In attendance were numerous family and friends of the professed as well as friends of the community.

Those of us who traveled are still aglow from the beautiful ceremony and the gracious hospitality we experienced in Brooklyn. Click here for a link to information about our Monastery of Brooklyn.

"This is the way, my dear Sisters. Grace will never be wanting to us if we are faithful in seconding its attractions; thus will God bless us and our labors."
St. Jane de Chantal

23 September 2006

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

In 2002, Pope John Paul II declared the commemoration of St. Pio of Pietrelcina to be an obligatory memorial for the Roman Church. Surely St. Pio -- known affectionately to most as "Padre Pio" -- is a saint of our times, having died in 1968 at 81 years of age. But John Paul II might have had a more personal reason for elevating the Feast of this extraordinary saint. As a young bishop, John Paul II sent a very special prayer request to the monk who, at the time, was under scrutiny for his extraordinary gifts. Click here for an article about the relationship between John Paul II and Padre Pio.

There are many lessons to be learned from the life of St. Pio but perhaps one lesson that stands out is his fidelity to his vocation. Having become the subject of much scrutiny, Padre Pio was forbidden, for many years, to answer his mail. Amid the discomfort of being watched so closely, Padre Pio was unfailingly obedient to his superiors and unwavering in vocation. The grace of God which gifted Padre Pio with extraordinary gifts also provided him with the grace of perseverance amid the discomforts that he suffered. When we experience challenges in our daily life, when we feel that our actions or the work that we do are scrutinized unfairly or unjustly, let us follow the example of St. Pio and ask for the grace of perseverance.

"The Spirit of God makes us consider beginnings only so as to arrive at the end, and makes us rejoice in the flowers of the spring only in expectation of enjoying the fruits of summer and autumn."
St. Francis de Sales

21 September 2006

Archivist in Exile

As promised, some time ago, we have a little window into one of our refugee camps. (If you are wondering why we're living in exile, click here for a previous post.) Sister Archivist shows the entry way to "The Passage" which is guarded by an electronic lock (lest some of our new and -- at times -- lost freshman stumble into this "refugee camp"). This dormitory hallway was given its appellation by a guest a number of years ago and we have referred to it as "The Passage" ever since! Among the more challenging aspects of being an archivist in exile is locating items in the temporary storage areas provided. Currently, there are six sisters living in this "camp."

Sister Archivist discovers a "blocked staircase" on the Passage. It is protected by a zip-door reinforced with heavy-duty duct tape. Such discoveries are not altogether uncommon during this time of renovation. For although we are living (temporarily) in the school, we cannot seem to escape construction work. In fact, at times, it even seems to follow us!! Perhaps one of the perks, however, of life on the passage is the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for a quiet space for prayer amid the disruption of being out of the monastery for these 6 months. Despite the inconvenience of the construction, we maintain how fortunate we are to remain together and on campus!

18 September 2006

Coming Soon

Later this week we shall have a long-awaited expose on one of our "refugee camps" -- we will spotlight our "Archivist in Exile." Prior to that, however, we'd like to share one of the unexpected "fruits" of our time in exile: Since our "refectory" and our "recreation area" are almost the same room in the "home base camp" -- and since washing supper dishes is much faster while we're in exile, we are able to catch the end of the 6.30 news before 7.00 recreation. This past Friday night ABC news featured an incredible story about their "Person of the week." This young man, Ray Ray McELrathbey, is worth sharing with our readers. Click here for a few other links about this extraordinary story. And while you wait for the page to open, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the grace of God which allowed this young man to overcome his own struggles in order to be such a great "father."

15 September 2006

Mater Dolorosa

It is fitting that the day after we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross we honor Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows. She, who stood in the shadow of the cross, is remembered for the pain and sorrow that pierced her Immaculate Heart. This memorial dates back to the 13th century, when the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites devoted themselves to the suffering of Mary at the foot of the cross. This devotion was eventually extended to the entire Church in the 18th century by Pope Benedict XIII, under the name, "The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary." The seven sorrows which we honor are:

The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The "Losing" in the Temple (before the "finding")
The Encounter with Jesus Carrying His Cross
The Crucifixion
The Deposition from the Cross
The Burial of Christ

Perhaps one insight we can glean from this memorial is a ray of hope in the face of suffering -- especially the suffering of watching others suffer. It can be very difficult to feel helpless in the face of a loved one's illness and suffering. We do not have a God who stands aloof and removed from our pain. When we are overcome with grief and pain, let us remember that we have a God who suffers with us. He suffers with us because he became one of us and suffered physical, emotional and spiritual torment in his earthly life. Mary stood at the foot of the cross and experienced the most unnatural grief of watching her child die. Let us entrust our sufferings to Mary, whose Immaculate Heart was wounded with great love for her son.

Of all the sermons of St. Francis de Sales, we have none on Our Lady of Sorrows since its devotion was not extended to the entire Church until after his death. Click here for a good website with music and words for the traditional Stabat Mater.

13 September 2006

Face Lift

...or maybe we should call it an HTML-makeover! As of yesterday morning, our monastery website has a new look. There are several people to thank for this much-needed and long-overdue improvement. First and foremost, many thanks to Rick Lugari, author of the award-winning blog, De Civitate Dei, and charter member of the Amateur Catholic B-Team. Rick's skilled hand and creative mind produced neatly-coded templates for us to use during the "makeover process." Rick's generosity of time and talent provided excellent long-distance technical support -- and good humor along the way!

On the 'schoolfront', we must thank our very own IT director, Fred, whose creative approach to problem solving and kindness toward technologically-challenged nuns have distinguished him as a man of great patience. Thanks also to John, our AV coordinator, whose ingenuity and creativity are responsible for the "no plug-in-needed" slide shows on two of the pages. Bravo!

Finally, on the 'homefront' a word of thanks to Sister Mary Proofreader who read all the texts for the pages, corrected typos and untangled poor grammar. Thanks also to our sisters who were good sports about being photographed...again and again and again.

Click here to visit the new page.

10 September 2006

Our Very Own

From time to time our Monastery bestows the cross of affiliation on individuals who have distinguished themselves by their loyalty and devotion to our community. On Friday, 8 September, during Mass for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Philomena (pictured above) conferred the cross -- a smaller version of our Order's pectoral cross -- on David M. Gardiner. Locals will recognize David as our faithful master of ceremonies for special Masses and Feasts in our chapel. David's affiliation with us, however, dates back several decades.

David is one of the few men who can claim to be an alumnus of the Visitation. David attended the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation from 1967-1975 and continued his education at Loyola High School in Baltimore. When the Academy closed, David visited his beloved former-principal, the late Sister Christine (erstwhile Sister Marie de Chantal) who came to our community along with Sister Isabel de Sales and Sister Marie Louise (who was on a temporary "loan" to Baltimore from our monastery).

In 1993 our school burned and our chapel was badly damaged by the water used to extinguish the fire. At the first Triduum in the renovated chapel in 1996, Mother Philomena invited David to serve as master of ceremonies. Thus began David's more recent and very faithful (and faith-filled) service to our community.

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us that "We pray best before beauty." David understands this deeply. Over the years we have been the beneficiaries of David's humble generosity. Easter lilies and other floral deliveries simply arrive in time for seasonal decorating. Homemade desserts materalize on Saint Patrick's Day. New (and exquisite) vestments for our chaplains appear in the sacristy -- with a fresh supply of incense. David has adorned our chapel and choir with his generosity countless times. He senses a need for something and it appears (sometimes even before we know we need it!) David's friendship and loyalty, his good humor and kindness make him a gentleman after Saint Francis de Sales' own heart.

It is worthy of note that David is not the first member of his family to have received the cross of affiliation from our monastery. His maternal grandmother (nee Dwaayar) was a cousin of James Cardinal Gibbons who received the cross in 1914. The cross of affiliation entitles David, upon his death, to all the spiritual benefits of a member of our Order. We are sure that Sister Christine is saving him a seat in the choir of the heavenly Visitation -- for it was she who told him, as a fourth grader, that he had the Visitation in his blood.

08 September 2006

Yes Upon Yes

As we celebrate this Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Gospel reveals a subtle message about Mary's "Yes" to the Lord at the Annunciation. Matthew's account of the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary, lists several mothers among the generations of fathers who are named. We learn that Ruth, wife of Boaz, was the great-grandmother of King David, patriarch of the royal line in which Jesus' birth was foretold. Of what significance is a great-grandmother in an exhaustive list of the generations from which Joseph was descended? Of great significance, in fact.

Ruth, we learn, was a Moabite and the widow of an Ephrathite from Judah. Perhaps she is most well known for her fidelity to her mother-in-law, Naomi: "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." This fidelity brought her to Bethlehem where she won the favor of Boaz, who permitted her to glean his fields for food. When asked why she deserved his kindness, he replied that he heard of her fidelity to her mother-in-law and her willingness to leave her native land and take refuge in Yahweh. Ruth eventually married Boaz and from their lineage came David.

Ruth said, "Yes" to the Lord being her God when she promised to follow Naomi. Her "Yes" took her to a foreign land, led her into another marriage -- one which proved very significant for the future of Israel and the coming of the Messiah! For Mary, her "Yes" was very similar; it took her places she could not have anticipated and brought her sorrow she could not imagine. Ruth's "Yes" gave us the great king of Israel, a man after God's own heart; Mary's "Yes" gave us the King of Kings, the Savior of the world - from the very heart of the God himself.

As we celebrate the birth of Mary, let us reflect on our own "yeses" to God. Most of us are not asked for a "Yes" as extraordinary as Ruth's and Mary's -- but each day we are asked to say "Yes" to the little challenges which God permits us to experience. Let us ask for the grace to respond as Ruth and Mary did, trusting that our "Yes" can be a source of grace for others in ways we may never know.

"A privilege which Mary had above all creatures is that no one else ever gave himself so perfectly or so absolutely to the Divine Majesty as she did. She was more perfectly obedient to the word of God than any other creature."
St. Francis de Sales

05 September 2006

High-quality Labor!

Summer sang its swan song yesterday as Labor Day marked the last day of vacation before today's opening day of school. Living in exile, it is hard to have a Labor Day barbecue without a barbecue, but our Sister Mary Austin and her trusty helpers managed to produce a fine "indoor picnic" for dinner on our last day of summer break. Among the happy "cleaner-uppers" was our canon-lawyer-in-residence, Sister Rose, SSJ. Sister was enjoying a break from classes at the University and joined us for our "indoor picnic." She was assisted by expert "dry-cleaners" Sister Mary de Sales and Sister Jacqueline. (Not many folks can boast about having a canon lawyer wash their dishes!)

Newly-polished floors signal the beginning of school and the arrival of our students. As we begin another school year, today, we are grateful for the many hands that helped to get the school prepared for opening day: buildings cleaned, welcome signs hung, building repairs completed, parking passes issued, schedules printed, homeroom folders prepared, supply closets stocked, etc., and rumor has it that there is even a new coffee machine in the faculty room. Thanks to all who pitched in!

A little thought as we commence the school year:

"Let us have a thoroughly pure intention of willing the honor of God and His glory in all things; let us do the little we can for that end . . . and let us leave to God the care of all the rest."
St. Francis de Sales

01 September 2006

The Wise Virgins

It's easy to get lost in some of the details of today's Gospel. The wise virgins, for example, are not exactly exemplars of charity when they send the unwise out to purchase oil. Most readers and "pray-ers" who spend time with this passage will, no doubt, recognize that the Lord's focus is on the preparedness of the wise virgins -- and not their posture toward sharing. The parable itself, when considered in light of those that surround it in chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew's Gospel, indicates that the encounter with the Lord, the bridegroom, is symbolic for the day of judgment. Indeed, the parables of kingdom do point toward the day of judgment. This parable, however, also speaks to our daily life -- those many days between now and judgment day.

The wise virgins were ready for the bridegroom when he arrived. They heard the shout, they trimmed their lamps and went with him into the wedding banquet. This is an invitation for all of us to be ready to greet Christ when he comes into our daily life -- not only on the day of our judgment. We are called to be alert and attentive to his presence everyday. Sometimes it is easy to recognize the situations in which we need to be attentive to the Lord's coming: at Mass, at prayer, etc. Other times it is not so easy to hear the shout, "Look! Here is the bridegroom." In our daily comings and goings, we encounter Christ in those whom we meet. Often it is difficult to see him in a co-worker or colleague with whom we find it difficult to keep company; sometimes it is difficult to see Christ in members of our own family or among our friends. Still, the "shout" is there and we are called to "trim our lamps" and greet Christ in those around us. And when we recognize Christ in those around us, we have a foretaste of heaven, a foretaste of that banquet to which we shall someday, we pray, be invited.

"We must consider our neighbor in God who wishes us to love and cherish him."
St. Francis de Sales