31 August 2008

Carrying Our Crosses

In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus tell the apostles the cost of discipleship: the weight of the cross. There were no options presented, Jesus made clear that the road that leads to His kingdom is the way of the cross. Without making light of the sufferings of those who are afflicted with serious illness or those who struggle with addiction, it is important to note that crosses come in many shapes and sizes and not all crosses are equal -- but all crosses are fit for for the shoulders which bear them.

For those of us who may not be burdened with immense crosses, let us bear well those which come our way -- the little inconveniences of traffic jams and jammed copiers, irritable coworkers and tension-filled relationships -- the small but often painful trials of day-to-day life. As we bear these (relatively) minor crosses, let us imitate Simon of Cyrene who helped Our Lord bear his cross. Perhaps there is someone in our life whose cross is visibly larger than ours. Like Simon, let us lighten the burden by being attentive and solicitous. Sometimes the realization that someone cares enough to notice a neighbor's cross -- and to offer assistance -- is, in itself, a healing balm. Few words are as disarming and as endearing as, "May I help you?"

"Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you well—it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires us with ardent desires for unattainable things, in order to divert our attention from present duties . . . . Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to meet them bravely, and to resist them when they come."
St. Francis de Sales

27 August 2008

Mother's Day

It's not the traditional Mothers' Day we celebrate in May, but one may think of this memorial of St. Monica as a Mother's Day of sorts. St. Monica, mother of the doctor of grace, surely earned her heavenly crown in bearing the trials of her wayward son. Many a mother, no doubt, can relate to her plight: begging the Lord to touch the heart of her son. She wanted to give him the one thing that we cannot give to each other, the One Thing necessary for a life of happiness: a relationship with the Lord. And so she entrusted him to the Lord in prayer -- again and again.

We can sometimes feel helpless when faced with friends or family members whose lifestyles seem to be self-destructive or harmful to those around them. Let us be consoled to know that even the saints have wrestled with this same feeling of frustration. In fact, trusting our loved ones (and those we wish we could love more) to the Lord is a wonderful way to imitate the saints, whose trust in the Lord's ways was, at times, their only consolation on the pilgrim journey toward eternity.

"Before giving birth to St. Augustine, St. Monica offered him repeatedly to God’s Glory, as he himself tells us; and it is a good lesson for Christian women how to offer the fruit of their womb to God, Who accepts the free oblations of loving hearts, and promotes the desires of such faithful mothers: witness Samuel, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Andrea di Fiesole, and others."
St. Francis de Sales

23 August 2008

Practicing What We Preach

It can be very easy to observe the deeds of another person and begin to fix our scales for a weigh-in. Perhaps our thought process might tempt us to say, "Well, who is he to say that? He never does what he asks other people to do." Or, perhaps we see someone doing something and we may be tempted to think, "Gee, she's got a lot of nerve raising her voice at him ... after all, she's the one who is always reminding us not to lose our temper with our coworkers." It is almost impossible not to be tempted in this way when we observe the behaviors of those around us. There are, perhaps, a couple of practices which may help us to resist these temptations.

When we feel affection or sympathy for a person, we are much more likely to make excuses for behaviors which might provoke unkind remarks or thoughts when we observe them in another person. We cannot like everyone to the same degree. We are human and we are naturally going to be more attracted to some people than to others. Practice making excuses, in your mind, for everyone: friends, acquaintances, and even our "enemies" -- those people in our lives who disturb our sense of peace. This practice of "making excuses" -- or giving the benefit of the doubt -- does not mean that we have to condone or support things which may be wrong or harmful but only that we seek to curb our tendency to speculate about the motives of our neighbors.

The second practice which may help us to resist the temptation to judge the actions of others is to recall the many instances in our own lives when our actions and our words may not be as commensurate as we might wish they were. This may serve to remind us to be as gentle with our neighbors as we would like others to be when looking upon us.

In today's Gospel, Jesus warns people about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Let us take seriously the virtue of practicing what we preach. If we say that we are Christians who seek Lord's will for our lives we cannot help but to be aware that critical thoughts and a sharp tongue do not mix well with the exhortation that we do not judge our neighbor. Let us be attentive to the actions of those around us so that we may be aware of their needs but let us ask for the grace to develop the habit of not considering the motives for our neighbors' actions.

"Be who you are and be that well
that you may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are."
St. Francis de Sales

19 August 2008

The Prayer of a Saint

Despite the fact that yesterday was "officially not" the Solemnity St. Jane de Chantal, we did observe the feast since we had not enough time to prepare for the new date. At the end of Mass, our celebrant read us the responsorial psalm as a reminder of the words that our Holy Mother held dear as her favorite psalm:

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes
Neither do I aspire after great things or matters above me.

Indeed I have behaved and calmed myself,

As a little child on the lap of its mother,
as a little child, so is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord, both now and for ever.

It may not at first strike us as the most inspiring verses of the psalter but a cursory look at St. Jane de Chantal's life provides insight as to why she was so attracted to these words. The lap that held her children also held the dying body of her husband, as she was widowed at age 28. Ultimately, she outlived all but one of her children, her beloved spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales and the three sisters with whom she founded our Order in 1610. She knew great loss and great suffering but, more important, she knew the Lord. Surely one who held a child on her lap was touched by the image of being held close to the Lord whom she trusted. The words of one whose soul knew great sadness but whose heart was very closely united to him who loved her:

"Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves. . . . love is strong as death. For the martyrs of love suffer infinitely more in remaining in this life so as to serve God, than if they died a thousand times over in testimony to their faith and love and fidelity."
St. Jane de Chantal

15 August 2008

Joy Comes With Dawn

Some of us around here never turn down free help (or good company). Wednesday afternoon found Dawn Eden helping in the monastery vegetable garden. On her way over, Dawn had just received a package with her book, "The Thrill of the Chaste" hot off the press from the Polish Dominicans. It's exciting to think that readers worldwide will profit from Dawn's powerful work!
In addition to providing quality weed-pulling (and vine-untangling) skills, Dawn brought a cheerful perspective about the cycle of life that one finds in the garden. It it sad to evict the (albeit) fruitless squash vines which seem to serve as appetizers for the tomato-sampling squirrels but in the long-run, it just might benefit the rest of the garden. Quiet, reflective time in a garden -- even amid marauding squirrels -- can provide a wealth of opportunities to reflect on both the beauty of creation and the countless miracles of nature which surround us daily. When one considers that man was created in a garden, it should come as no surprise that man cannot help but to find God in a garden.

"Besides all this, I bade you gather a little bouquet of devotion, and what I mean is this: when walking in a beautiful garden most people are wont to gather a few flowers as they go, which they keep, and enjoy their scent during the day. So, when the mind explores some mystery in meditation, it is well to pick out one or more points that have specially arrested the attention, and are most likely to be helpful to you through the day."
St. Francis de Sales

11 August 2008

We Are What We Love

As we commemorate the Memorial of St. Clare today we call to mind the manner in which history tells us that she realized her vocation. St. Francis of Assisi came to preach during Lent 1212 and when St. Clare heard his words, she was so moved that she desired to follow his manner of life. Something touched her heart and she left all that she knew and all that awaited her as the daughter of a prominent count.
Life-changing sermons do not come our way everyday but heart-stirring sentiments may cross our path in a spiritual book, in a Gospel passage, in a homily, in an encounter with a friend etc. Let us follow the example of St. Clare and allow our actions and our lives to be changed when our hearts are moved. Let us allow what attracts us to affect how we live.

A few words from (the other) St. Francis on the great St. Clare:

"Behold, I beseech you, the heart of St. Clare: it so delighted in our Savior's passion and in meditating on the most holy Trinity, that it drew into itself all the marks of the passion, and an admirable representation of the Trinity, being made such as the things it loved."
St. Francis de Sales

07 August 2008

Shocking News!

This is not an April Fools' joke, it is true!

Yesterday, we placed a phone call to the editor of the Ordo which is published for the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and the diocese of Wilmington. It seemed that they made a mistake about the date of St. Jane de Chantal's commemoration (an optional memorial for the Church and a Solemnity for us) which is listed as 12 August in this year's edition of the Ordo. When our faithful librarian inquired about the matter, she was told that it is a very confusing situation and that the editor would send along an explanation via email. Thinking, of course, that already-confusing changes made to this feast might have caused the publishing company to make a very understandable mistake, we waited patiently for the email which (we imagined) might offer an apology for the mix-up and the misprint. For surely any change to the feast of our Foundress would have come to the attention of our monasteries before it was put into effect ... or, at least, shortly thereafter!

Alas, the email arrived -- a gracious and informative one, at that -- and, to our surprise, we learned that the Solemnity of our Holy Mother, St. Jane de Chantal, has, in fact, been moved to 12 August. Not only has it been moved, but it was moved -- it seems -- almost 6 years ago and this is the first time we have heard the news. Pass the whipped cream, this humble pie needs a little topping!

It seems that when the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe became more popular in Europe (as it did many years sooner in the Americas), the universal church moved the date to 12 August for the whole Church in the 2002 publication of the "Roman Missal" -- still not available in English. After the 2002 change was made, the USCCB wisely decided not to move this traveling feast of St. Jane de Chantal immediately (especially when our current liturgical books do not reflect this change.) In 2007, however, the USCCB decided to bring the Liturgical Calendar for the United States into closer conformity with the General Roman Calendar, hence the change.

Many thanks to the good folks at Paulist Press for their time and (shocking!) information. :)

03 August 2008

Asking the Impossible

Sometimes it may seem as though God asks us to do something impossible. It might have seemed that way to the disciples when Jesus told them to feed the hungry crowd. When we are faced with a challenge, it is easy to forget that the Lord does not ask us to do more than we are able to do but he does ask us to trust Him. He took the five loaves and two fish from the disciples and multiplied them to feed a crowd. He will take our humble gifts and stretch them to do His work if we are willing to hand them over to Him. Handing over the loaves and fishes was not a "big" deed; the Lord worked the miracle out of the "littleness" of the disciples' offering.

This notion of offering our small actions can be applied to our daily life. Perhaps there is a coworker with whom we would like to cultivate a better relationship. At first we may not feel able to have a meaningful conversation or even a polite conversation, for that matter. Reaching out in small ways such as smiling, showing courtesy with a simple greeting, making eye contact, etc., can have a deeper and more profound effect than we realize. The Lord can use our good will and our sincere intentions for His good purpose. Sometimes small kindnesses are enough, over time, to unlock a strained relationship. We do not have to do great deeds if we are willing to trust the Lord with the small deeds we are able to offer.

"While I am busy with little things,
I am not required to do greater things.
St. Francis de Sales