30 July 2010

Sister Mary Compostina

We have a little update on our monastery vegetable garden. Sister Philomena, our backyard biologist, holds the monastery's first fruits of the season. Those big fruits have come a long way from their humble beginnings!

Carefully hidden in a patch of leaves is a baby sugar pumpkin. Hopefully the leaves and the prickly vine will discourage our furry four-footed friends from sampling the growing fruit.
The vegetables might not be so healthy if it were not for the rich compost which is added to the soil. The remains of raw fruits and vegetables become a source of nutrients for the next gardening season.

Last, but not least, there would be no compost if there were no Sister Mary Compostina! St. Francis de Sales said that we should desire the most humble of jobs. Our faithful Sister Mary Compostina carries out buckets of kitchen waste and coffee grounds to the compost bins twice a day ... and that surely counts as a very humble job. Not to be missed, however, is Sister's smile. It's not just for the camera, it's there everyday when she collects the compost and sets out on her pilgrimage to the north west corner of the garden: a sterling example of doing small things with great love!

26 July 2010

The Power of an Example

There is an African proverb that reads: if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito. The mustard seed and the measure of yeast about which we hear in today's Gospel are both very small entities which produce effects that seem disproportionate to their size. That appears to be a common characteristic of the kingdom of God. A fisherman from Galilee, a tax collector, a virgin from the house of David and a carpenter from Nazareth: all instruments used by God for the glory of his Kingdom; none, at first glance, seem likely candidates to help change the world.

What does this have to do with most of us: the ordinary Jane and Joe? The power of a good example is, perhaps, one way in which we can live out this Gospel. Doing a good deed with sincerity and love is something that can have a tremendous effect, far beyond the deed itself. When we see someone who responds to the need of another with kindness and loving attention, it stirs something in our hearts. (If it doesn't, we should have our pulse checked.) The next time we have an opportunity to perform an act of kindness -- and one which might require a sacrifice of time, convenience, comfort, etc. -- we might be more likely to say "Yes" to the opportunity because our heart was moved by the example of another.

Imagine how many good deeds are left undone and how many kind words are left unsaid because no one was there to encourage the doer of the good deed or the speaker of the kind words with the power of a good example. Taking the time to respond gently to a tiresome neighbor, making polite conversation with a coworker who may be difficult company, inviting a lonley-looking colleague to join our lunchtable, stopping to help a senior citizen cross the street, helping a stranger pick up groceries she dropped in a busy parking lot: all of these small acts can have a profound impact on both the beneficiary and all those who are privileged to witness the good deed. We will never know, on this side of eternity, how many other good deeds were done because of one small gesture performed with love. Kindness is contagious: spread it far and wide!

"Great occasions for serving God come seldom but little ones surround us daily."
St. Francis de Sales

22 July 2010

Seeking the Lord Everywhere

How many times a day do we respond to the needs of another and then step back and wonder if, possibly, we could have been more attentive, more patient, more loving, more sensitive? How might we feel if we were to revisit the encounter and imagine that the person who sought our help was Jesus. Most of us would probably be eager to meet whatever need Jesus presented to us and we, very likely, would be quick to inquire as to whether there might be anything else we could do to assist him.

How often we share the same fate as St. Mary Magdalen in today's Gospel: we are looking at Jesus and we do not recognize him. Mary was weeping and so preoccupied with finding the body of Jesus that she failed to recognize him speaking to her. How often are we so preoccupied with the task at hand, our own work, our plans for the day, etc., that we fail to see the Lord's presence in those around us?

The great Carmelite St. John of the Cross is said to have been washing the feet of a beggar when the wounds of the stigmata appeared on his feet. Instead of being surprised, the holy man looked up at the beggar and said, "So, it is you my Lord." Perhaps our encounters with those around us -- especially those who need our help or ask for our time -- would be more fruitful experiences if we asked for the grace to see the Lord's presence in our neighbor.

Sometimes our broken, sinful nature can conceal the presence of the Lord in us and in those around us. Performing an act of charity for someone who is suffering may be difficult because it may not be received graciously. From time to time we reach out to someone in the hope of being thoughtful and anticipating a need only to find that our generosity is neither welcome nor appreciated. In these moments it can be difficult to find the Lord in those whom we serve. The wall of our humanity can veil the gentle features of Lord's presence. Earnestly seeking the Lord in those around us can mean the difference between doing a chore and performing an act of love.

"Blessed are the hearts that seek the Lord in all things for they will find Him everywhere and everywhere they will seek what they have found."
St. Jane de Chantal

18 July 2010

Both are One

On December 21st the Church addresses Christ as King of the Nations and sings the ancient O Antiphon which tells us that Christ makes "both to be one" -- utraque unum. In many ways our Lord makes "both to be one." Today's Gospel is often the vehicle for assigning a higher value to a life of contemplation over one which involves the busyness which Martha symbolized. A closer look at the Gospel, however might suggest that the real virtue toward which we might do well to strive is a healthy balance between the two.

When Jesus entered the village, it was Martha who welcomed him. We have been told elsewhere in scripture about the importance of being hospitable and surely it is no accident that this detail was included. Other translations even render the passage as "Martha welcomed him into her home." Later in the Gospel account, Martha's preoccupation with serving brought out what might well have been a cranky remark -- not unlike things we might say around our own homes when we are frustrated: "Am I the only one who ever takes in the newspaper?" or "How is it that no one else washes their dirty dishes?" or maybe "Please don't leave just ONE ice cube in the tray? Am I the only one in this house who knows how to fill it?" Our modern-day frustrations may seem to be an exaggeration but on a day when we are tired and burdened, we can sound a bit like dear Martha of today's Gospel.

Mary, on the other hand, keeps her eyes on the Lord and does not leave his presence. And it is she who is praised for choosing the better part. Indeed, most of us would agree that sitting at the feet of our Lord is preferable to leaning over a hot stove! We might wonder, however, if Mary would have had the opportunity to be with the Lord had Martha not welcomed him when he entered the village. Hospitality and contemplation are two sides of the same coin. Both are one.

When we are hospitable, we cannot offer anything which is spiritually nourishing if we have not spent time -- in one form or another -- at the feet of the Lord. By the same token, when we spend time in prayer and contemplation, we should question the quality of that time if it does not, in some way, lead us ever more toward a loving service of our neighbors -- be they our neighbors who are homeless on the street whom we serve at a shelter, our colleagues at work, our peers in school, the members of our family, or our sisters in community with whom we live. Hospitality is the fruit of a rich relationship with Christ. For only when we see Christ in our neighbor does our act of kindness toward another become an act of divine love. Hospitality is the fruit of prayer for both are one in Christ.

"Many approach our Savior: some to hear him as Mary; some to be cured by him, as she that had the issue of blood; others to adore him, as the three kings; others to serve him, as Martha, others to overcome their unbelief, as St. Thomas . . . but his divine Sulamitess seeks him to find him, and having found him, desires no other thing than to hold him fast, and holding him, never to quit him. I held him, says she, and will not let him go."
St. Francis de Sales

14 July 2010

Childlike or Childish?

There is a subtle difference between being childlike and being childish. In today's Gospel we hear that the hidden treasures of the Gospel are revealed to the childlike and not to the "wise and the learned" whom we might expect to be likely candidates for such knowledge.

What is it that makes one childlike as opposed to childish? One very simple, approach might be to sift through the characteristics of children and separate the endearing qualities of a child (which many of us adults would do well to cultivate) from those which are unbecoming of grown-up members of our species. To name a few, we might list selfishness as a characteristic of one who is childish and curious as a quality of a child. Think how often children ask "Why? or How?" We might do well to ask some of these questions in our hearts as we ponder the immensity of the Lord's love for us. We could speculate that one who is childish lacks direction in his life and one who is childlike is "coachable" and takes direction easily and willingly. How easily and how gratefully a child will follow the encouragement of an adult whom he loves and respects. How much more readily ought we to follow the gentle tug of the Lord as He calls us -- each day -- to align our lives with His will for us.

St. Francis de Sales had a few suggestions of his own as to how we might imitate the more positive qualities of a child. This excerpt is from his "Treatise on the Love of God."

"Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world’s goods with one hand, always let the other be fast in your Heavenly Father’s Hand, and look round from time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad. Beware of letting go, under the idea of making or receiving more—if He forsakes you, you will fall to the ground at the first step. When your ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God."
St. Francis de Sales

10 July 2010

From the Comment-box!

We had a recent request to say a bit more about our dear Sister Anne Marie, of happy memory, and her famous poster with its ten words of wisdom. Above is a picture of the poster and here we share sister's sage advice:

1. 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.

2. Always walk with a purpose, dearie.

3. Moderation in all things ... including moderation.

4. To keep fit and healthy, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper and never eat before going to bed.

5. Mother is the Superior, I am the acting Superior.

6. Never volunteer, dearie, you'll get the job for life.

7. The answer is no. Now, what's the question, sister?

8. No vacation in the woods for me. I want pavement under my feet and lights over my head.

9. I don't go to meetings; they can almost always be described in two words -- mass confusion.

10. Darling, if you're going to make excuses, make them good.

Sister Anne Marie's departure from this life was marked with three posts on our blog. You may visit them here, here and here if you would like to read more about this remarkable sister whom so many of us were privileged to know and love.

07 July 2010

Lifestyle Adjustment

When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, whose names we hear in today's Gospel, he called them to leave behind all that they knew: their livelihood, their families and their own plans and to embark on a mission to preach the kingdom of God. Their lives would never be the same again.

And so it is with us, when we seek to take the Gospel message seriously and try to align our lives carefully to the Lord's will for us: our lives change dramatically, too. The life of an apostle is one which is filled with a tension of opposites at every turn. The security of knowing the Lord's abiding presence is contrasted with the uncertainty of how the Gospel message will be received. The road is neither easy nor smooth for one who seeks to follow the Lord closely but the road -- when traversed mindfully, carefully, and prayerfully -- is always lined with the deep joy that comes with uniting our will to the Lord's will. And most will agree that the company, along this pilgrim road, is a priceless perk.

"Take notice, I pray you, Theotimus, how the life of the Apostles was filled with afflictions: in the body by wounds, in the heart by anguish, according to the world by infamy and prisons, and in all these,—O God! what Indifference they had! Their sorrow is joyous, their poverty rich, their death life-giving, their dishonor honorable, that is, they are joyful for being sad, content to be poor, strengthened with life amid the dangers of death, and glorious in being made vile, because—such was the will of God."
St. Francis de Sales

03 July 2010

Sister Sighting!

In 1993 when our school building burned to the ground and our chapel suffered devastating water damage, our dear Sister Anne Marie set out to help raise money to restore the chapel. She sold posters which featured her ramrod straight pose and ten pearls of wisdom which frequently peppered her daily conversations.

As the sale of posters took off and alumnae, friends and family of our sisters began giving them as gifts, we would often hear people remark that "Sister Anne Marie was spotted" in this or that location. Sometimes halfway around the world, sometimes in a local doctor's office. It was a bit like "Where's Waldo" without the red-and-white hat!

In recent weeks, alumnae and friends have been sending us copies of the Memorial Day Weekend edition of the NY Region "New York Times" where our dear Sister Anne Marie made a posthumous appearance. Although she is probably turning over in her grave at the thought that she appears in an article whose second paragraph beings with the query, "When was the last time you had sex?" we might all enjoy a chuckle at the irony since those of us who were privileged to live with her know that her modesty was rivaled only by her sense of humor. When asked about the sale of her posters, Sister used to wink affectionately and say, "Hey, could you make $30,000 selling pictures of your face?"

If you are interested in reading the complete article, it may be found here for a limited period of time.