31 May 2007

The Solemnity of the Visitation

Photo of the Chapel window -- Copyright: Michael Hoyt (used with permission and gratitude).

Most of us who are avowed Christians are good at giving. Generous sharing of time, talent and resources is an attractive and endearing quality which we are taught to practice from when we are children. What some of us "good givers" are not always so skilled at doing is receiving graciously. It is easy for most of us to be the generous giver and offer to do a favor, run an errand, etc. It is not always so easy for us to accept the kindness of others. Being a good recipient is a mark of virtue -- the little virtue of graciousness. There are many people who are very generous but who are not gracious in the face of others' generosity. The little virtue of graciousness is an attractive virtue to cultivate.

In today's Gospel for the Solemnity of the Visitation (Feast for the Church, Solemnity for our Order) we have an example of a gracious recipient in the person of Elizabeth. Scholars and historians help us to imagine the enormity of the journey that Mary undertook after the Annunciation; a three day walk into the hill country of Judah to Ein Karim. Perhaps some of us, in Elizabeth's sandals, might have responded differently: "Mary, what on earth are you doing here?" or "Do you know how dangerous it was for you to travel here? You shouldn't have!" Instead, Elizabeth responds, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy!" Elizabeth is the portrait of graciousness in her welcome to Mary. A lesson for all of us who seek to follow the Lord more closely. The next time someone offers to give us a ride, do a chore, pick up a check, let us remember that gracious gratitude is a virtuous way to meet the generosity of another.
Referring to the founding of our first Monastery -- but equally descriptive of the mystery for which it was named -- Saint Francis de Sales remarks:
"The spirit of the Visitation is one of humility towards God and gentleness and sweetness towards our neighbor."

28 May 2007

Return to the Ordinary

As we return to Ordinary Time today we are presented with the account of the rich young man. It is striking to be reminded that Jesus looked on him with love. Surely Jesus knew the plight of this young man; he knew his heart's attachment to his riches and he knew that this man was not able to answer the call to follow Him more closely; still, the Lord looked on him with love. It is very easy for us, in our daily interactions with others, to dismiss those whose actions we think we can predict. "Oh, all she ever does is complain!" "He never has anything nice to say," etc. We are challenged to look at those in our daily lives -- most especially those with whom we are most familiar -- with the same eyes of love that Jesus looked upon the rich young man. Let us ask for the grace to practice daily acts of kindness and gentleness toward all those we meet -- and especially toward those whom we are tempted to "dismiss."

Here we share a few thoughts on living the little virtues that make everyday life a little more pleasant for those around us. These virtues are based upon the teachings of St. Francis de Sales and were made popular in the literature of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. A number of years ago, our Sister Anne Marie made bookmarks out of them to disseminate the powerful -- yet albeit simple -- message:

To others' little acts of selfishness and unfairness:
Amid your shortcomings and limitations:
When others are curt with you:
At the tiresome tempers of others:
When someone turns you down:
If someone helps when you'd rather do it yourself:
When answering others:

24 May 2007

"D" is for Deciduous

In keeping with our monthly spotlight on St. Francis de Sales, we have a word of wisdom from our distinguished tree-grower, Sister Mary Bernardine. Sister B -- as the students call her -- delights in watching trees grow from tiny acorns or small shoots. Sister's tree-farm includes many deciduous types (we had to get the "D" in there somehow!) such as the ash tree she is examining in the picture.

Sister Bernardine is famous for telling jokes to her homeroom or passing cartoons around during recreation. Sister can make anyone laugh -- even without her "Squeaky Clean" joke book -- she's great for a wink or a smile or a witty word just when one least expects it. When asked for a favorite quotation of St. Francis de Sales, she shared the following:

"Friends practice a gentle and sincere courtesy which offends no one and obliges all, which seeks love rather than prestige."

Solid advice from a man who had many friends! Stay tuned for next month's focus on St. Francis de Sales from Sister Mary de Sales.

21 May 2007

Turning the Tables

It's time to turn the tables. Sister Anne E is always chasing the rest of the community around with a camera ... and, amid funny happenings, can be heard to say, "Don't move, let me get the camera, this will make a great photo for the blog." (Community members -- likewise -- when posing as subjects of a photograph, can be heard to say, "Please don't put this on the blog!")
Recently, Stone photography "caught" Sister in action as assistant coach to the JV softball team (which boasted a 14-2 record) this past spring season.

Warming up the pitcher between innings...

Coaching third base...

Nicholas, the monastery guard dog, sports his team uniform shirt and gets a high-five from Mother Philomena between innings.

17 May 2007

The Ascension

Many dioceses are still celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension today. So, this post will be our "Sunday" post -- just a few days early, in union with those who celebrate today.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a discrepancy between the apostles' vision and Jesus' vision of the kingdom. The disciples are asking when Jesus will restore the nation of Israel and Jesus is encouraging them to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the surrounding nations. Thankfully, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the will of God was carried out -- despite the limited vision of the apostles.

And so it is with us: very often our idea of how something might work out or how a conflict might be resolved is different from God's vision. Like the disciples, we, too, are invited to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our actions (and reactions!) Let us commend all that we undertake: small or great, certain or uncertain, work or leisure, to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the promised gift for which we wait.
"By a wondrous infusion of His grace into our hearts He makes our works become His . . . since we are members of a Head of which He is the Spirit and since we are engrafted on a tree of which He is the divine sap."
St. Francis de Sales

13 May 2007

Christmas in May?

Mothers' Day doesn't usually come during the Advent or Christmas seasons, but no so this year. (Well, not exactly, but almost.) St. Nicholas made a guest appearance at recreation last night as visiting Carmelite, Sister Ana, from the Port Tobacco Carmel showed us her latest icon. Sister has been with us for the past week while attending an intensive icon-writing workshop at a nearby Russian Orthodox church.

Sister shared with us that the icon of St. Nicholas was selected for this particular workshop because it allowed the instructors to teach nine different technical skills -- such as applying the gold leaf with vodka. (One could almost make a skit out of that, "Reverend Mother, may I have some money to buy vodka? I need it to finish an icon!")

The vestments of St. Nicholas reveal great attention to detail (not to mention vodka-laden gold!). Click on the picture for a closer look at this exquisite work. We have greatly enjoyed having sister with us for the past week and we hope that another workshop brings her to our home again soon!

To learn more about the Carmelite nuns of Port Tobacco, click here.

09 May 2007

Way to Grow!

It's that time of year again when the smell of spring is a welcome one as windows are open (and pollen is ubiquitous!?) We were a little late, this year, in getting our tomato seeds started but it is almost as if they knew they were late. In a record 4 days the seeds germinated and the first few began to break the surface. Below, sister prepares to give the transplants a drink (and below that, a shot of a satisfied customer!) Last year there were 24 successful nursery school graduates; stay tuned for updates on the progress of this year's baby tomatoes.

"The Church is a garden patterned with unlimited flowers."
St. Francis de Sales

05 May 2007

A Spiritual Work of Heart

In today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read how, even after they were persecuted, Paul and Barnabas were "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit." Such docility to the will of God indicates a great freedom of heart -- a grace and a gift. They probably didn't schedule a persecution into their speaking tour but they accepted it and continued their ministry in a spirit of joy that allowed them to "shake it off" -- as our students like to say -- and move on.

St. Francis de Sales, at the risk of being misunderstood, wrote a great deal about cultivating a liberty of spirit. Such a liberty, St. Francis de Sales tells us, is found between, "two opposite vices: instability and constraint." A person who is unstable might stray from something virtuous or good for an insignificant reason or simply for the sake of introducing variety into her life; a person who is constrained might step over a needy person to get to the chapel lest she be late for her meditation. Liberty of Spirit abides between these two extremes. Amid the busyness of daily obligations, it is easy to become inordinately attached to our routines, our spiritual devotions or our preferred way of carrying out our daily responsibilities. As Paul and Barnabas showed great detachment (and joy!) in the face of persecution, so we are invited to cultivate a freedom of heart, a liberty of spirit in our daily activities.
"The effects of this freedom are a great inner serenity, a great gentleness and willingness to yield . . . . Try interrupting the meditation of someone who is very attached to her spiritual exercises and you will see her upset, flustered, taken aback. A person who has this true freedom will leave her prayer, unruffled and gracious toward the person who has unexpectedly disturbed her."
St. Francis de Sales

01 May 2007

Children of Mary

This past weekend we welcomed over 300 alumnae for our annual alumnae reunion. Among the stories and anecdotes that were shared was a very humorous account from some students who attended our junior college in the 1960's. They recalled a classmate who, upon returning from a date with a boy, was exchanging a good-bye on the doorstep of the school building and just as he was about to give her a good-night kiss, their osculation was interrupted by the creek of the wicket and the voice of a sister who said, "You are a child of Mary, you owe that boy nothing!" Classmates recount the occasion with great laughter and fond memories of the ever-present eyes of the sister who was portress.

For those who have never seen a wicket (or who associate it with the British version of baseball) it is the small window in our front door which allows us to view a visitor before opening the door. (It is also the name of school's newspaper.) Below, Sister Mary de Sales peeks through the wicket of the monastery's front door. Fortunately, since the wicket through which Sister is looking is located at the monastery's entrance, we need not worry about ending such amorous encounters!

A happy and holy month of May to all our faithful readers. May Our Lady watch over all of her children as a loving Mother and a faithful protector!

"Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and glorious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Jesus Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother."
St. Francis de Sales