01 March 2013

Reflections on Lent and The Baltimore Visitation Academy

In 1837, a band of Visitandines from Georgetown established a new monastery in Baltimore along with an academy for young women. Some eighty plus years later, the nuns moved their monastery and academy to Roland Park, a pleasant suburb, in fact one of the first planned suburban communities in the United States.

Unlike many of the Visitation academies in the United States, the nuns decided to take advantage of the country-like campus and re-order their apostolate as a coeducational day school.

Following the example of the community, the rhythm of the school was the rhythm of the liturgical year. Seasons, feasts, processions, etc. punctuated the calendar as regularly as mid-terms, athletics, plays, etc. Lent was especially memorable. The nuns always encouraged us to do more than giving something up (although even in the turbulent 60s, that noble discipline wasn't abandoned). There was at the heart of the Visitation Lent, the commitment to engage in some kind of transforming activity that would make us better Christians and live lives pleasing to Christ.

One particular Lenten exercise was the distribution of holy cards with sentences from the sermons of St. Francis de Sales. I still have several of those cards, and one is dated Lent 1967.

"Even the persecutions wrought by His enemies were not powerful enough to vanquish the incomparable solidity and constancy of the love with which He loved us. Such ought to be our love for the neighbor: firm, ardent, solid and persevering"

The above sentence can become an excellent nightly Lenten examen for all of us. Was was my love for my neighbor firm, ardent, solid and persevering today? Did I waver in my love of neighbor? Is my love for my neighbor cooling or withering in its vigor? Did I even notice my neighbor and his or her own worries, cares, struggles? How do I amend my life and persevere in the Lord's service?

I still trust in the gentle example of the Baltimore sisters -- all now gone home to God - especially in their example of how to observe a good Lent.

God be praised.

David M. Gardiner

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