28 July 2007

Feline Feature!

There have been two "purrfectly" amazing stories about cats in the media recently. If you have not already seen them, do follow the links; they are wonderful stories.
  1. A man accidentally locked his cat in a room with two ducklings and when he realized this, he opened the door to find that his cat had adopted the ducklings. Click here for the story.

  2. Oscar the cat has been more accurate than doctors and nurses in "sensing" when patients in "his" hospice care unit are about to die. Click here for the story.

24 July 2007

F is for Father

This month's spotlight on St. Francis de Sales features our Sister Jacqueline who writes about three important men in her life ... and the "man in the middle" is St. Francis de Sales.

Sister's introduction to St. Francis de Sales came through her father, the late John Burke, Sr. who is the "first man" she credits with nourishing her spiritual life. Her father began attending daily Mass at the Visitation Monastery in St. Paul, Minnesota following the untimely death of her four-year-old brother James. Mr. Burke's attendance at daily Mass both inspired his daughter and led others -- mostly neighbors -- to follow his example. Several people returned to the Church and the sacraments thanks to Mr. Burke's witness. Little did he realize it, but his seat in the Monastery chapel found him right under a window of St. Francis de Sales. Just as St. Francis de Sales watched over Mr. Burke so the Sisters of the Visitation watched over his four daughters who were their students.

Our dear Sister Jacqueline began school at the Visitation at age five. Sister describes her life prior to the convent as one teeming with social events, parties and boys. From her bedroom window she could see the bell tower of the monastery and she reports that the tower was a meaningful -- if not "nagging" -- presence during those years. In the summer after her junior year after a visiting to a missionary community, Sister suspected that the Lord was calling her to what was in her front yard. So, she promptly went to the convent to meet with the superior Mother Jane Margaret Cullinan and confided her vocation to her. Mother told her to come back in a year and she enjoyed a carefree last year of high school: dances, parties and boyfriends galore. (Not altogether unlike her namesake, Sister Jacqueline Favre, one of St. Jane de Chantal's two companions in the foundation of our order.)
St. Francis de Sales, whom she came to know more intimately after entering the monastery was the first saint she "met" who really spoke to her. The miracle and grace of that relationship, Sister adds, is that he continues to be the saint of her life. He is the "man in the middle" as he was introduced to her by her Father and his devotion to daily Mass at the Monastery. The "third man" who has been an important companion for Sister joined the journey during her last years of novitiate: St. Augustine. She was first introduced to him in a reading of his Confessions and he has been a welcome companion ever since.
We share here one of Sister's favorite quotation from each of these three men.

"To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement."
St. Augustine
"Abide steadfastly in your determination to cling simply to God trusting in his eternal love for you."

St. Francis de Sales
"Stick with him (Jesus), kid and you'll wear diamonds."
John Burke, Sr.

Those of us who are privileged to live with Sister Jacqueline all know how closely she clings to the Lord and we're sure that her father is right ... the Lord will have a crown of diamonds awaiting her and their luster will be out of this world!

21 July 2007

On the Virtue of Gentleness

In Thursday's Gospel we heard Jesus invite us to imitate him who is "meek and humble of heart." And in today's Gospel we hear the words of prophet Isaiah describe the promised Messiah as one who will carry out his mission in gentleness: "He will not contend or cry out, / nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. / A bruised reed he will not break, / a smoldering wick he will not quench . . ."
It is quite possible to be generous and self-sacrificing without being kind and gentle. St. Francis de Sales had a great deal to say about even-tempered gentleness and the importance of practicing all virtues in a spirit of gentleness and kindness. In a letter to one of our early Mothers, he wrote the following, which serves as a "gentle reminder" to all of us!

"Almost everyone finds some virtues easy to practice and others harder, and everyone extols the virtue which they find easy and tried to exaggerate the difficulty of the others. . . . An even temper, gentleness and sweetness are more rare than perfect chastity but no less desirable for that. I command these virtues to you, my very dear daughter, because the flame of good example depends on them as on oil in lamp; nothing edifies others more than a loving good temper."

17 July 2007

Garden Party

The last few rainstorms we've had brought about a growth spurt for many of our flowering (and fruiting friends) in the garden -- to say nothing of the weeds! Sister Mada-anne visits the vegetable patch snips a few herbs in the process.

Sister checks out the growth of the watermelon -- called "termelon" for short. Click here to see its baby picture.

Some of the tomato plants are growing so vigorously that they needed extra support. (If there are a few 'stop signs' around campus missing their poles, they can be found in the garden!)

Last but not least, Sister snips some lavender and anise for a window arrangement in the Archive Office.

13 July 2007

Homespun Humor

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Henry, an 11th Century king (duke, then emperor) of Bavaria. While we do not have a particular devotion to St. Henry, his wife happens to be a household name in our monastery. ??!!
St. Henry was married to St. Cunegunda. There are several different accounts associated with the name "St. Cunegunda" -- sometimes spelled with a "K" and sometimes with a double "n." The wife of St. Henry is also sometimes confused with St. Kinga, the patroness of Poland whose name, in English is sometimes represented as "Cunegunda." For some reason, however, the name "Cunegunda" is used in our community when we anticipate a sister's first vows and the giving of her religious name. Although we do not have any "Sister Mary Cunegundas" in our cemetery, we often tease the soon-to-be-professed that "Sister Mary Cunegunda" would make a nice name -- second only, perhaps to Sister Mary Quodvultdeus.
Little is known about the saintly wife of "Good King Henry" but sources indicate that both she and her husband were devout and prayerful people who showed generosity to the poor -- a worthy reason to be remembered (and to be a household name!)

09 July 2007

Daily Diversions

In our community we have a rule of thumb regarding unplanned and unassigned works - for lack of a better explanation: "An act of charity is anything that takes less than 5 minutes." Note: the "five minute" time frame varies between three minutes and fifteen minutes, depending upon who is asked! If we are asked to do something that would take longer than "an act of charity" or which might preclude one of our daily responsibilities, it is appropriate for us to get permission. This rule of thumb is not to limit our generosity in responding to the needs of our sisters, but to protect, in a sense, the time needed for the chores or works assigned to each of us.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is "interrupted" by a man whose daughter has just died. Jesus responds promtly and immediately follows the official to his home -- while pausing along the way to encourage the woman who was healed by the touch of his cloak (a drive-by miracle?). In the exchange between Jesus and the official we see an example of Jesus' willingess to be interrupted and to respond to the needs of those around him.
Perhaps for us a big challenge is not only responding to the needs of those around us -- and especially the unforeseen requests that may come our way -- but responding in a way that does not betray our inconvenience. Sometimes we genuinely want to help someone who asks us but other times, perhaps, we want to help someone only becuase we know it is the right thing to do. In the case of the latter we can be tempted to communicate our frustration at being interrupted. If this pitfall seems familiar, we might take heart and listen to the timeless advice of St. Francis de Sales in his conference on obedience which he gave to our early sisters. His words speak not only to the one who is asked to do an act of charity but to the one who has asked:

"Supposing, however, that a sister should ask us to do something, and that we, being taken by surprise, should show some repugnance to doing it, the sister must not take umbrage, nor even seem to notice it; neither must she beg us not to do what she had asked, for it is not in our power to prevent our color, our eyes, our behavior, from betraying the struggle going on within us, even while our reason consents to do the thing; for these are messengers who come unsummoned, and who, even when we bid them to depart, seldom do anything of the sort. Why, then, should this sister be unwilling to let me do what she had asked, simply because I show some repugnance to doing it? She ought to be glad that I should gain this profit for my soul."

05 July 2007

One Year Later

"Come, let us worship the Lord, all things live for him."
Invitatory from the Office of the Dead

Today we commemorate the fist anniversary of death of our dear Sister Anne Marie. When a sister dies, we celebrate the Office of the Dead in her honor -- usually the day after she has died. We again celebrate the Office of the Dead for a sister on the first anniversary of her death. In addition to marking the death of a sister, a pope or our local archbishop, the Office of the Dead is sung on All Souls' Day, 2 November, every year.
Every year after her first anniversary, sister will be remembered as part of our necrology. We commemorate the deaths of the sisters who have lived and died in our community at Morning Prayer (or sometimes Evening Prayer).
Our local readers will all be familiar with these remarks, but for the benefit of others, we share here a few of Sister Anne Marie's ten famous words of wisdom. They are featured on the poster which helped her to raise money when the Chapel needed to be restored after the fire of 1993:

"Never tell your age, or they'll put you on a shelf; besides, a woman who will tell her age can't keep a secret."

"Moderation in all things . . . including moderation."

"Never volunteer dearie, you'll get the job for life."
(Actually, Sister Anne Marie would qualify this even further, telling our sisters in formation that an act of charity done three times becomes an obligation!)

"The answer is no. Now, what's the question, Sister?"

01 July 2007

Comic Relief

This is not a joke. This really happened.
This past weekend, two of our sisters took our postulants to rural West Virginia for a weekend in our retreat cabin. They report having had good weather and having seen lots of beautiful wildlife including a deer family who came very close to the cabin to graze providing quite a show for the group during supper (this was cleverly named "dinner theater" by one of the postulants). In addition, there were a number of birds who snacked on dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds and chirped songs of gratitude after eating.
Despite their accounts of these lovely sightings, upon returning they had only the following two pictures to share. The first one is of the back of a truck that was (apparently) four cars in front of them on I-70 during their trip home. (Click on the picture if you can't read the name on the truck.) This picture raises a question which is perhaps best left unanswered: who was driving the car? ... or, who was steering the car while the driver was taking pictures?

This second picture was taken in the closest pocket of civilization to the retreat cabin: a metropolis called Great Cacapon: population 1,379 according to the 2000 census. The United Methodist Church that posted the sign in the second picture is about 35 minutes closer to our retreat cabin than the nearest Catholic Church. We are relived to learn, however, that our sisters stopped only long enough to take a picture of the sign!