29 January 2010

Blog the Good News

Most folks have probably already read that on Sunday 24 January the Holy Father, during his message for 44th World Communications Day, told priests to witness to the Gospel using the latest digital resources available. He did qualify, however, that priests who use the latest in social communications should be recognized for their Christ-like qualities more so than for their technological savvy. Striking a balance between an attractive medium in which to present one's message and keeping the message focused on Christ is a reasonable goal -- one which is met by many of the informative and spiritually enriching blogs already being published by priests.

It is quite fitting that this year's World Communications Day fell on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists (and that this post is published on his former feast day.) It is hardly an accident that he is named the patron saint of journalists. During his time in the Chablais, St. Francis de Sales copied, by hand, many of his sermons and distributed them widely by slipping them under the doors of those who had strayed from the faith. These sermons later became known as "The Controversies" and, more recently, (and more "politically correct") as "Meditations on the Church." His creativity in dissemination of information won him the patronage of journalists. It seems likely then that our Holy Founder would smile upon Pope Benedict's recent exhortation that the clergy use the multi-media available to them to show that "God has a rightful place in every age, including our own."

25 January 2010

Jubilee Year Commences!

On Sunday morning at 10.00am, we joined Visitation Monasteries around the world in beginning the 400th anniversary year of the Order of the Visitation. From Annecy, France to Burundi, Rwanda and from Canada to Korea, Visitation monasteries the world over opened this jubilee year with a Mass to honor St. Francis de Sales.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl paid his second visit to our campus and celebrated Mass for the occasion. His homily was a masterful and didactic explanation of our charism, our history and our dual apostolate of prayer and education. His grasp of Salesian monastic life was so extraordinary, one might wonder whether he lived among us here in the monastery! The full text of his homily will be available on our school website in a few days. In the meantime, we invite you to share a few minutes of our opening Mass in the video below.

21 January 2010

Being Green

Nowadays we hear a lot about how good it is to "go green." Indeed, it is always a good thing to make environmentally-sound choices. Today's first reading, however, reveals a different way to "go green" which is much less desirable.

Many people are rather embarrassed when they notice jealousy -- or envy -- rising in their hearts. And with good reason. If envy is a kind of sadness at the good-fortune of another person, then jealousy might be thought of as a kind of envy which runs a bit deeper in that it seeks to guard possessively that which we already have. We may be jealous when a friend of ours spends time with other friends: in that case, we guard the friendship as though we owned it. Envy, on the other hand, usually has to do with what someone else has, rather than something we already have. We might be envious of the gifted singing voice of another person: in this case, we are sad that we do not have what we admire in another person.

In today's first reading we are told that Saul is jealous of David. Saul, no doubt, was jealous because he feared that David would take his place on the throne. It is likely, too, that Saul was also envious of how the women praised David in their song. Jealousy and envy are very difficult vices to uproot. Brute force alone cannot tear out the long-winding roots of these afflictions. Love, however, can free us from their power. If we are honest enough to recognize when we sense jealousy or envy springing up in our souls, we can make an effort to be kind to the person of whom we are jealous. This can be difficult, but it is a powerful remedy for an age-old affliction. Small acts of kindness -- beginning with a smile and maybe a courteous greeting -- can stop the spread of jealousy or envy in the heart of one who sincerely desires to be rid of this affliction. Like weeds after a rainstorm, the ugly and unwanted thoughts of jealousy and envy will be dislodged easily if we treat the object of our jealousy with kindness. This is not easy, but it is good. Very good.

"Very few people are free of envy, however spiritual they may be. And the more spiritual they are, so much more the subtle and imperceptible is the envy."
St. Francis de Sales

17 January 2010

Christmas Video

As promised a few posts ago, we have some highlights from our Advent and Christmas seasons to share. Our Epiphany Queen, Sister Philomena, can be seen in her earmuff-like crown. Cranberry juice and ginger-ale were used to toast the queen (they make for some high spirits!) Following the toast one should note that Mother read her charming cinquain from a piece of recycled paper (note the typing on the back of the paper from which she was reading her composition!) Enjoy a four minute window into our Christmas celebrations at the monastery!

13 January 2010

Perfect Timing!

During this "Vocations Awareness Week" we could hardly ask for better readings! Today's account of young Samuel who hears the voice of the Lord calling him during the night is a beautiful vocation story of one who -- with some help from his "wise elder" -- responded to the Lord's voice.

Samuel's story is a familiar one: The boy awakens to the sound of his name. He approaches Eli and asks him what he wants. Only after waking Eli the third time does the old man realize what is happening; it is the Lord who is calling the young man. Eli points Samuel toward the Lord and instructs him to answer, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" when he hears his name the next time.

How often is Samuel's story lived out in our own lives. How often do we need the experienced ear of another's heart to be able to discern which whispers are from the Lord and which are not from the Lord. Sometimes we can be torn between two seemingly good choices and we ask "what does God want me to do?" The answer does not always come as clearly as it did to Samuel but if we listen, it will come. The prayerful consideration of important decisions -- vocational discernment as well as other major decisions -- can sometimes require some assistance. Talking to a "wise elder" who has walked with the Lord for many years can be a helpful step when seeking to discern God's will in our lives. Just as Eli was able to point Samuel toward the Lord who was calling him, men and women who have said "yes" to the Lord and have cultivated lives of prayer and good works can serve to help us listen for the Lord's voice in our own lives.

Over four centuries ago, a young man who was discerning a call to the priesthood sought out a "wise-elder" and wrote to his bishop about how he should proceed. This was part of the letter he received in reply:

"Pray earnestly to our Lord to illuminate you, and say often to Him the words of St. Paul, 'Lord, what would you have me to do?' . . . If you feel the inspiration toward religious life gather strength and your heart urged by it, take counsel with your confessor . . . gradually dispose your [family] toward it, so that the annoyance and pain caused by your leaving may fall as little as possible on religion . . . . May God grant you his peace, His grace, His light and His most holy consolation."

St. Francis de Sales

09 January 2010

The School of the Baptist

As we read in today's Gospel about John's ministry of baptizing and look ahead to the account of Jesus' own baptism tomorrow, one must wonder how the saintly precursor of our Lord might have felt about baptizing the Messiah. St. John the Baptist, as we heard today, understood well his role of preparing the way of the Lord. His famous imperative, "He must increase; I must decrease" tells volumes about how the Lord's cousin understood his role.

Yet when Jesus arrives to be baptized it is only in Matthew's Gospel that we read a hesitation: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" What is so significant is what follows this question. Jesus answers him that this is how it needs to be to "fulfill all righteousness" and his cousin consents to baptize him. Immediately following the baptism of the Lord, the heavens open and a voice is heard, identifying Jesus as the Son of the Almighty God. John's consent to perform an act of which he deemed himself unworthy led to a manifestation from God. How many countless onlookers and bystanders, believers and skeptics, Sadducees and Pharisees were strengthened in their faith because of the manner in which God manifested himself after Our Lord's baptism.

Sometimes we may be hesitant to do something which is asked of us. Perhaps we are asked to be the godmother or godfather of a friend's child; maybe we've been asked to visit some of our homebound parishioners and pray with them. Whatever it is we are challenged to grow into, we might profit from being a disciple of St. John the Baptist. For if we believe that He must increase and we must decrease then we, like the Baptist, will consent to what the Lord asks of us and we will trust that our consent has the potential to lead many others to Christ. If we follow his holy cousin, he will lead us -- and those with whom we interact -- to the Lord.

"We must go to the school of the glorious St. John the Baptist and place ourselves ... among his disciples. For do you not see that this great saint sent his disciples to the Savior to be instructed by Him personally ... and our Savior kept them. If the glorious precursor receives us, he will surely place us in the hands of our Savior, who will in turn place us in the hands of the Eternal Father."
St. Francis de Sales

05 January 2010

New Queen ... on the Kings' Feast

Our annual custom of drawing a BEAN in a slice of fruitcake on Epiphany eve took a new shape this year: we used a farfalle ... a piece of butterfly (or bow-tie) shaped macaroni. (Maybe one of the wise men was from Italy!) Above, Sister Philomena selects the cake which contains the butterfly-bean.

A very surprised Sister Philomena holds up the pink butterfly just moments before being seated on the Queen's throne. (To see pictures of sister wearing her earmuff-shaped tiara, you'll have to wait for the Christmas video ...) Toasts to the Queen included an epic future-foretelling poem by Sister Mada-anne, a Cinquain by Mother and a very inspiring impromptu display of homage by Sister Rose. A forthcoming Christmas highlight video will feature snippets of the first hour of the new Queen's reign (which, of course, included ice cream!) Below, Sister Rose begins her performance while Sister Mary de Sales adjusts the decorations on the throne. Stay tuned for our Christmas video!

01 January 2010

Jubilee Year and a Disputed Antiphon

With today's Solemnity of Mary, the mother of God, we welcome the year about which we Visitandines -- and our friends -- have been talking for a decade. Later this month we will open our jubilee year with the Solemnity of Saint Francis de Sales and it will conclude on the death date of Saint Jane de Chantal, 12 December.

As we reflect on today's Solemnity, we share a *disputed* antiphon which is no longer included in the Roman breviary but used to follow O Emmanuel in previous incarnations of the Liturgy of the Hours:

O Virgo Virginum quomodo fiet istud: quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem: filiae hierusalem quid me admiraninimi divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was there any like you nor will there be any to follow after: daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me? That which you believe is a divine mystery.

Although this antiphon points toward Mary in that is addressed to her, it is striking how it points away from her as well: "Why marvel at me?" It points toward Jesus, the divine mystery which she and Joseph were privileged to carry in their arms. As we begin another year and look ahead toward all things new, let us follow Mary's example and let our words and our actions point away from ourselves and toward Jesus. For we may never know how our kind words or our good example can affect those around us.

A happy and healthy new year to all our faithful readers!