30 May 2009

Transferred Solemnity

Due to the Celebration of Pentecost on Sunday, our celebration of the Solemnity of the Visitation is today, 30 May. As we reflect on the exchange between Mary and Elizabeth, it seems fitting to celebrate their embrace on the eve of the coming of the Holy Spirit. For, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."

Mary responded with generosity by going "in haste" to be with her cousin Elizabeth. When we respond generously to the invitations to be generous that come our way each day, we share in Mary's journey to Ain Karem. Just as Mary's visit to Elizabeth brought the blessing of the Holy Spirit to her cousin, so our acts of charity and kindness to those around us also bring the blessing of the Holy Spirit to those whom we serve. For it is remarked that the kindest of people are those who themselves have received many kindnesses. And so when we respond generously to the needs of others and show compassion, kindness, patience, etc., we invite them to open their hearts to the many gifts of the Holy Spirit.

We turn our thoughts and prayers to this beautiful exchange between a young maiden, soon to be the Mother of God and her cousin, soon to give birth to the voice that will announce the coming of our salvation. How joyous must have been that first Visitation. As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Visitation and the eve of Pentecost, we pray to be open and willing instruments of the Lord so that we, like Mary and Elizabeth, may be filled with the Holy Spirit. What better a place to find ourselves than awaiting the gifts of the Spirit. And so we pray with our Holy Mother, Saint Jane de Chantal, "Truly, this is the place of our delight and rest."

26 May 2009

All is His

In today's Gospel Our Lord, in his prayer, acknowledges that all he has been given has been given to him by the Father. This window into an intimate communication between the Our Lord and his heavenly Father calls us to consider our own lives. All that we have is a gift from the Father. Even our good works are gifts; for the ability to do good works for others is itself a gift in response to the very desire, given by God, to do a good work.

In a culture that rewards independence and praises individualism, we can be tempted to take ownership for many of our gifts. One sign that we may have begun to stake a claim on things which do not "belong" to us is when we feel an attachment to the outcome of tasks or responsibilities entrusted to us. It is natural to want to see our undertakings turn out well: for us and for those whom we serve. But the "turn out" is not ours to control. We will only be held responsible for how we have set about to do our work -- be it our "job" or the duties proper to our state in life such as raising a family, etc. The means we have of doing our work is a gift from the Lord and so the success -- or lack thereof -- belongs entirely to the Lord, as well. Let us ask for the grace to be good stewards of the gifts which the Lord has given to us ... and for the grace to acknowledge that every good gift belongs to Him who created us.

"Oh how blessed are such souls, bold and strong in the undertakings God proposes to them, and also tractable and flexible in giving them over when God so disposes! These are marks of virtue, to leave off doing a good when God pleases, and to return from half way when God's will, which is our guide, ordains it."
St. Francis de Sales

22 May 2009

The Good News

"When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world."

Would that more people in our world might feel inclined to agree with the woman in today's Gospel. But perhaps more people do. Check out this encouraging "Good News" from a May 15th Gallup poll. Deo gratias!

18 May 2009

Gardenin' Angels

It's that time of year again ... dirty fingernails, waist-high weeds and fruit punch Gatorade: all essential ingredients for a successful garden party! Sister Leonie Therese, pictured above, makes short work of some stubborn weeds.

Every family has an over-achiever. Meet Sister Rosemarie. The weeds see her coming and they flee. Sister covers more ground (pun intended!) as all the rest of the gardenin' angels put together. And when someone comments on her pace she asks, "Don't you see the host of angels who come down and help me when I work?"

Sister Anne Francis and our helpful vocational retreatant make headway in the south west corner of the vegetable garden. Although there are no "pretty flowers" in the vegetable garden, several other gardenin' angels have been beautifying other areas of the monastery garden with splashes of color and bursts of beauty at every turn.

"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, and this should be done at once before quitting the subject of your meditation."
St. Francis de Sales

14 May 2009

A Funny (true) Story

In light of today's Feast of St. Matthias, we'd like to share an amusing (and true) conversation that was (over)heard in the monastery -- several years ago -- between one of our sisters and a great friend of our community who is a devout Baptist.  

Our Baptist friend was asking interesting and insightful questions about the Catholic Church. One question she asked was, "I don't understand, if Jesus says, 'You shall not make my Father's house a marketplace,' and he chased out the money changers, why you Catholics have Bingo in some of your Churches."  Since we don't have Bingo here at the monastery, sister tried to reply in a general (and humorous manner).  With a twinkle in her eye, sister said,  "Well, you see, gambling actually has its roots in the Bible."  Our Baptist friend, who knew her bible well, looked her up and down and said, "Just where does gambling come from in the Bible?"  Trying hard to choke back a smile, sister replied, "In the Acts of the Apostles."  Our Baptist friend didn't know whether to laugh or to take out her bible and take on sister.  She didn't have a chance to decide. Sister continued, "Do you remember -- in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles -- where the they have to replace Judas, so they 'cast lots' and the 'lot fell to Matthias' ... well, that's the root of the word 'lottery' in English ... so you see, the Apostles had a LOTTERY to choose the successor to Judas ... so having Bingo isn't so bad after all."  Our friend looked at sister with a big smile and repeated, "Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple and said not to make his Father's house a marketplace.  I don't have a problem with Bingo ... or the lottery ... I just don't understand why you Catholics have it in Church.  Why don't you all just hold it in the parish hall?"  

We must keep in mind that St. Francis de Sales was writing during the 17th century when "games of chance" were, perhaps, not as harmless as today's parish bingo; his remarks, however, are as amusing as they are insightful:

"Such games are unreasonable:—the winner often has neither skill nor industry to boast of, which is contrary to reason. You reply that this is understood by those who play. But though that may prove that you are not wronging anybody, it does not prove that the game is in accordance with reason, as victory ought to be the reward of skill or labor, which it cannot be in mere games of chance. Moreover, though such games may be called a recreation, and are intended as such, they are practically an intense occupation. Is it not an occupation, when a man’s mind is kept on the stretch of close attention, and disturbed by endless anxieties, fears and agitations? Who exercises a more dismal, painful attention than the gambler?"

10 May 2009

A Time to Pick, A Time to Prune

With spring well underway and summer quickly approaching, the monastery garden grows ever more colorful each day (thanks, in no small part, to our gardenin' angels: the sisters who plant a flower here, a bulb there and lovely trios of colorful delights that Sister Mary Blogger couldn't begin to pronounce!) Above, Sister Mada-anne prunes a rosebush while Nick, the monastery watchdog , takes a moment from his snoopervising to pose for the camera.

Today's Gospel speaks a very uncomfortable truth in "garden lingo." Our Lord tells us that the Heavenly Vine-grower will discard any branch that does not bear fruit (sound fair enough) and will prune those that do bear fruit (ouch) so that they may bear more fruit. Anyone who has gardened can attest to these maxims. Pumpkin growers who yield fruit that weigh hundreds of pounds are able to do so only because they pinched off all other fruit bearing flowers from their vine. Strawberry farmers who plant a new crop know the importance of pinching the first fruit-bearing flowers so as to ensure a hearty crop for future years.

And so it is very similar in our own lives. We may feel as though we have made progress in a particular area of our spiritual life or that we have been involved in a worthwhile and fruitful ministry and all of a sudden we find ourselves facing an unexpected impasse. We may feel discouraged or hurt; it can be tempting to ask why God would permit such good "progress" to be frustrated. Sometimes this pruning can take the form of ridicule or unjust accusations; other times it can be experienced as tension in some of our relationships. Whatever form it takes, if we stop and look carefully at our situation, we just might find that it is a call to go deeper into our relationship with the Lord -- to trust Him and to depend on Him more than we have in the past. It is these moments of pruning, of being "cut back", that serve as gateways into fertile fields of growth. We need only to trust the Vine-grower as He clips and trims us.

"Be sure that, if they should succeed in rousing any evil impression against you (clipping the beard of your reputation, as it were), your good name will soon revive, and the razor of slander will strengthen your honour, just as the pruning-knife strengthens the vine and causes it to bring forth more abundant fruit."
St. Francis de Sales

06 May 2009

Thou Shalt Not Judge

How often we might find ourselves described by today's Gospel: "If anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn them . . ." Our Lord speaks mercifully about those who listen to him but are unable to live out the Gospel virtues. Another translation reads, "I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them." Surely, when we heard the words of the Lord, we do not intend not to keep them, but sometimes we do not always respond to the grace offered us and we fail to follow the Lord as closely as we had intended. It is important to note that the Lord, in the face of our failings, offers us his mercy and he withholds judgment.

For most of us perhaps we can say that the challenge is not only the places in our own lives where we do not keep the Lord's words but actions of those around us: the opportunities we have to judge -- or to refrain from judging -- those in our midst who appear to us to have fallen short of keeping the Lord's words. When we observe the actions of another person -- at home, at work, in school -- we naturally tend to ascribe to him the motives we might have if we were in his shoes. Sometimes these motives are good and other times, if we are honest, they are not as pure as we might like them to be. The catch, however, is that while we can be certain about the motives we might have in a similar situation, we can never know the many factors which contributed to our neighbor's actions. For all we know, our neighbor may have been heroic in overcoming some other temptation and has fallen short in this other way which is visible to us. In all her humility, our neighbor does not share her "victory" over this or that temptation and all we know is what we have observed. The next time we are tempted to judge the actions of our neighbor, let us pray for the grace to respond in the gentle manner of Our Lord.

"Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbor, whether your heart is right towards him, as you would have his towards you, were things reversed—this is the true test of reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for making the Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, 'Does it not behoove me to strive to be such an emperor towards my subjects as I should wish to meet with were I a subject?'”
St. Francis de Sales

02 May 2009

The Grace to be Changed

In today's Gospel, the Lord speaks haunting words to some of his early followers, "Do you also want to leave?" It is easy to forget that not all of the Lord's followers persevered in their new lifestyle. For just before this question, the evangelist tells us that "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him." This is a very sad but often overlooked aspect of discipleship: not all those who set out to follow the Lord respond to the grace of perseverance.

As is the case in many new undertakings, the beginning steps of following the Lord closely are not always difficult ones and, often, they are lined with consolations and tangible graces. At some point, however, we discover that following the Lord is hard work -- and heart work. We come to realize that if we are going to follow Him seriously, we must make changes in our lives. It is not easy to be open to changing the ways we behave, respond, react, think etc. but we learn quickly that the road to discipleship is lined with opportunities to conform our lives ever more closely to the Lord's gentle and humble manner. For the grace to recognize and embrace these opportunities, let us pray. For the grace to resist the temptation to return to our "former way of life" -- be it in how we act, think or spend our time -- let us pray.

"Perseverance is the most desirable gift we can hope for in this life, and the one which, as the Council of Trent says, we cannot have but from the hand of God, who alone can assure him that stands, and help him up that falls."
St. Francis de Sales