30 July 2009

Each Stage of the Journey

We hear in today's first reading about the cloud and fire which marked the Lord's presence to the Israelites at "each stage of their journey." These words are the final words in the book of Exodus; it is a fitting conclusion for a book whose title means, literally, "the road out." The Israelites undertook their journey in light of the Lord's guidance. They watched for the cloud to lift in order to proceed and when the cloud did not lift, they stayed in place.

It may strike us today as silly to think of stopping and waiting -- during a long journey -- when proceeding consistently would seem to ensure a more expeditious arrival. We might, however, learn something from the attentiveness of the Israelites. Sometimes we get stuck in traffic and are frustrated as to why we are held up on our way. Perhaps we are planning a trip with our family and the dates we desire are not convenient. We may never know, on this side of eternity, what troubles the Lord spares us or what delights he prepares for us as he permits our own "plans" to be subject to circumstances which are beyond our control. If we begin each day, each task, each event, each "stage" of our journey with a prayer to God, dedicating our work and our rest, our praying and playing and our every effort to His glory, we will be less likely to see "stopping and waiting" as a nuisance. We may not get a cloud by day and a fire by night to guide us, but we will have the assurance that every moment of our day is offered as a prayer to our loving God.

Here we share a prayer of St. Francis de Sales which he used to consecrate his daily life to the Lord. To this day Visitation Sisters, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and their friends, alumnae and alumni -- and many other members of the Salesian family -- begin their days with this prayer.

"My God, I give you this day. I offer you, now, all of the good that I shall do and I promise to accept, for love of you, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to you. Amen."
St. Francis de Sales' "Direction of Intention"

25 July 2009

Service and Sisterhood

Last week some of our sisters helped to cook for the students participating in the week-long service program called "Vistory." (Despite what it looks like, it's not a compound of "Visitation" and "History" ... it's an acronym that includes some of the following words: Visitation, service, responsive, youth, etc., and Sister Mary Blogger can't quite put all the words together in the correct order!) Above, some of the students pose with sisters in the parking lot: a mid-point between the gym (sleeping quarters) and the student dining room (the feedbox). The week-long program focuses on service, Salesian spirituality and sisterhood.

Above, students install drywall at DC's Habitat for Humanity site. Below, a group of "Vistorians" flexes their muscles after some intense walking on an afternoon scavenger hunt. We were sorry to see our Vistory visitors leave us, but we look forward to staying in touch with them until the next Vistory service week. Next stop for Vistory: St. Paul, MN.

"The essence of prayer is not to be found in always being on our knees but in keeping our wills clearly united to God's will in all events. The soul which holds itself ready and open to yield itself obediently on any occasion ... can do this even while sweeping the floor." (or installing dry wall!)
St. Francis de Sales

20 July 2009

Beyond Bondage

Today's first reading provides a wonderful metaphor for the spiritual life: Moses trusted the Lord and risked losing the "status quo" -- staying in Egypt as slaves -- for an opportunity to pursue freedom from slavery. In our own lives, we sometimes need to move beyond what has become "routine" in order to grow in virtue.

One can almost hear the Israelites clamoring as "they complained to Moses,'Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, 'Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.'" The Israelites would have preferred to stay in bondage as slaves of the Egyptians than to risk the life they knew in order to pursue freedom.

Perhaps there is some area in our own lives where we are reluctant to change what is "comfortable." Maybe there is a coworker or fellow parishioner whose company we find tiresome or irritating. It may be comfortable to avoid his company on a regular basis. We may have developed a habit of successfully avoiding this person. We might, however, consider risking our comfort to reach out in charity to someone we would much prefer to avoid. If what is "comfortable" does not lead us toward virtue, we must be on our guard that it does not tempt us to be uncharitable to our neighbors. These little daily opportunities may seem small compared to the plight of the Israelites; on the contrary, they are not small when we consider the long-lasting effects of remaining "comfortable" when virtue may be calling us forth.

When we leave behind our comfort and trust the in the Lord's providence, may we hear Moses' words in our hearts: "Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the LORD will win for you today."

"A trifling inaccuracy, a little hastiness in word or action, some small excess in mirth, in dress, in gaiety, may not be very important, if these are heeded immediately and swept out as spiritual cobwebs;—but if they are permitted to linger in the heart, or, worse still, if we take pleasure in them and indulge them, our honey will soon be spoilt, and the hive of our conscience will be cumbered and damaged. But I ask again, how can a generous heart take delight in anything it knows to be displeasing to its God, or wish to do what offends Him?"

St. Francis de Sales

15 July 2009

Vistory Visitors

This week our campus hosts 49 students -- 33 from our other Visitation schools -- who, together with some of our own students, spend a week doing Christian service in Washington DC. Above, our Sister Mary de Sales prepares Tuesday's supper with visiting Sister Sharon Elizabeth from our monastery in Toledo. We've been a little quiet on the push-button publishing front ... making meatballs is hard work!

While the students are here on campus, they sleep on the floor of our gymnasium and spend their evenings doing activities which complement their service with "sisterhood and spirituality." They pray and play, have discussion groups, large group activities and relax together. Above is an aerial shot of their tie-dyed tee-shirts. We'll chalk that up to a "sisterhood" activity!

09 July 2009

Family Reunion

Perhaps the waiting area outside the pearly gates will have movies, scenes from the bible, -- as only heaven could have witnessed them -- for the souls waiting to be called to judgment. And maybe -- one can only dream -- there will be a marquis that reads: "Genesis 43-45. " If there is, this blogger will be waiting in the front row for the feature presentation!

If you've never read the entirety of the "family reunion" in Genesis, it's worth starting in chapter 43. If you have time, you can go all the way back to chapter 37 when Joseph is 17 years old or -- better still -- to chapter 30, where Joseph is born; he is the first of Jacob's two sons born to Rachel. (Rachel later died after giving birth to Benjamin, Joseph's brother.)

Today's first reading, of necessity, edits out a great deal of the story of Joseph's reunion with his brothers and -- most poignantly -- with his brother Benjamin. It is well worth a read through the previous chapter(s) -- a Hollywood screenwriter would be hard-pressed to find a better script for a family drama: sibling rivalry, deception, abandonment, an unlikely rise to power, and forgiveness ... to name just a few themes! Treat yourself to a read ... or view this 9 minute clip, courtesy of You Tube.

05 July 2009

Vermiculture and Leftover Veggies

A couple of years ago, we decided to add "cold composting" to our already fruitful process of outdoor composting. In the hallway just off the porch we have been hosting a "worm chalet" where hundreds (and probably thousands) of Redworms (red wigglers) live. Unlike the worms found in the gardens and woodlands of North America, these earthworms are not earthmovers they are composting worms. They eat leftover (cooked) vegetables, leftover rice and pasta, coffee grounds and tea bags and -- since everyone needs fiber in their diet -- shredded paper and cardboard, too. After several months of eating and digesting, the worms produce "black gold" ... know in gardening shops as "worm castings" and, more descriptively as "worm poop." Ever few months it is necessary to separate the worms from their castings and locate them in a tray of fresh "food-n-fiber." Above, Sister Philomena sorts through a pile of worm castings.

South American Redworms are not nearly as big as their North American cousins, so a mature worm does not look impressively big -- but they sure do work hard!

Above is a tray ready for some worms. In the center looks like the leftovers from mashed carrots and around the carrots are paper shreddings from the business office shredding machine. After the worms are deposited in the tray and before the "chalet" roof is placed on top, a little peat moss is sprinkled on top to absorb any excess moisture.

A few months later, the above tray is ready for sorting. The worms have worked hard: eat, sleep, digest, have baby-worms, eat, sleep, digest, have baby-worms. We realize that an apiary might be a more "Salesian" hobby, given St. Francis de Sales' fondness for bees ... but it might be important to note that earthworms have 5 hearts. St. Francis de Sales, had he known that, would no doubt have had some spiritual metaphors concerning our hard-working wigglers!

01 July 2009

Don't Eat the Flowers!

As promised, a few posts ago, we are delighted to share some pictures of the non-edible (and very beautiful) plantings that our sisters have been tending this summer. Above is a close-up of flowers in a pot which will decorate the path leading up to our soon-to-arrive statue of Our Lady.

At the crossroads of the paths in the garden are splashes of color such as the group pictured above. Sister Mary Blogger couldn't begin to name all the beautiful flowers which are springing up, but she sure does enjoy the variety of colors and sizes.

Sister Mary Flower-Gardener has designed a "prairie planting" with some beautiful and delicate additions. Enlarged to the left of the photo is "Gaura" and to the right of the photo a desert flower which requires little water. The magnolia tree in the right side of the photo provides shade for St. Joseph and gainful employment for many a sister looking to help in the garden!

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