Journey with us...

Journey with us...

Friday, September 30, 2016

Love of God

"If you have the love of God, do not be troubled or anxious about the exercise of the other virtues.  For you will not fail to practice them when the opportunity presents itself."

- St. Francis de Sales

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Carcasonne

Perhaps it is time to take a break from deep theology and just share a little story with you.  On some holidays and other feast days we have the opportunity to play games together and recreate for longer periods.  These opportunities open up a whole new group of games (since we don't need to be finished within a 45 minute time span)

When I entered I brought with me a game entitled "Carcasonne".  It is a German game in which the playing board is built piece-by-piece as you play.  The tiles match sort of like a puzzle and then there is the opportunity to "claim" a road, farmland, a city, or a monastery.  I must admit that one of my favorite tiles to pick up is the monastery because then I get to be a nun!  There are a number of different strategies and the points can get a little confusing, but nothing is settled until the very end of the game.

When I was first in discernment I had gotten to know a few communities who were not permitted to play any games that had winners and losers as there was a fear of vices coming through with competitiveness.  As Visitandines we are permitted to play these games in hopes that a gentle spirit of sisterly love will be the first goal in the game and winning or loosing only a secondary objective to help create that fun atmosphere.  That being said, this game can be played either way!

With my experience of these other communities, we created new rules to Carcasonne in which each
color player belongs to a particular religious order instead of to a player.  When "claiming" a city, you can then decided either to give it some Dominicans to teach or some Sisters of Charity to care for the sick. You can give the grasslands to the Trappists to farm or to the Little Sisters of the Poor for their begging.  The Monasteries.. well I must admit they always seem to be populated by Visitandines!

One of the sisters played this game with me and the rules (the regular rules) state that once an area is claimed it cannot be shared by another player.  We were a bit troubled that a large city could only take care of either the poor OR the sick!  And then there was the retreat houses?  How could those be established?  As we played with our new rules, things became more flexible.  A small city might actually be an area of hermitages for retreat and could be populated by as many different religious as tiles (still maintaining the rule that only one playing piece could be placed on the board each turn).  And so the game became a joyful exercise in charity!  How could we get as many religious on the board as possible, allow them all time for retreats, AND help all the little towns to be cared for!  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Little Virtues: Simplicity

Here we are!  Simplicity.  the last of the three "little virtues" which St. Francis de Sales speaks of as so important to a Salesian spirit.  In my own prayer, as I mentioned in the first 'little virtues' post, this one seems to tie the first two together.  You present yourself in honesty and openness (now that you have the humility to accept yourself as you are and as God sees you) and interact with others by seeing them the same way.

Father Dailey, in his book Live Today Well, also noted three main areas of simplicity: our dress (or exteriors), our speech, and our thought.

Dress: I should hope this speaks for itself.  Try to dress in what speaks of who you are.  If you are a princess, then it is right that you should dress in nicer clothes (while not going over the top).  And if you are not, well then dress more to your current state.  It would seem absurd to go on a hike in an evening gown or to a ball in your hiking clothes, yet we often do this in little ways when we try to impress through our clothes or show a "humility" by dressing in a way that is less.

St. Francis de Sales was very practical.  One story which I love to share in this matter was a very early meeting of Jane and Francis.  They were at dinner at St. Jane's brother's house.  She had on a lovely black dress with tassels.  Francis knew of her intention not to re-marry and so commented that the "advertisements" were not necessary.  She promptly took our her scissors and cut them off!  She was a lady of means, but had a little more excess than was needed in her dress, something which might attract the attention of men, while stating that she wished to belong to God alone!

Speech: I often think of children when thinking of simplicity.  They do not analyze how a sentence or thought will be perceived before they speak (often to the embarrassment of their parents).  When I worked in a nursing home we used to comment that if you want the truth about something ask either a child or one of the elderly.  One has not reached the phase of hiding or over-analyzing and the second is past that.  So, to try to speak with simplicity, honesty, and openness in the years between is key to being simple.  We speak what we know God would wish us to say, are able to laugh at ourselves, and help others by seeing them as God sees them.

Jesus never refrained from speaking even when He knew this might turn people away or cause them to dislike Him.  Just think of the Bread of Life discourse!  He could have apologized or clarified His teaching to keep people from leaving at the boldness of His statements, but instead He turns to His disciples, "Will you also leave?".

Thought: Simplicity also dives into our prayer life.  St. Francis de Sales says here too we must be realistic and try not to over-react (or under-react).  He says, "Often one lets himself be knocked down by a gnat when he combats monsters by imagination" (Oevres, vol 26, p 36) This saying points to how often in prayer we can conjure up these ideas of doing wonderful things for God, big projects, sacrifices, works of charity... but all these are actually not within our reach and not practical for our state of life.  We think we are doing something great by having these aspirations, while in the meantime a little inconvenience sends us into an angry rage or a look from another brings our mind where we would rather not go.  True holiness lies in not getting upset during the traffic jam or giving time to a friend in need when you have 12 other pressing items on your plate.  St. Francis de Sales says that we should first battle in the arena of our every day lives for here are the opportunities God has provided for our holiness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Little Virtues: Gentleness

Last week one of the Gospels was the story of Jesus expelling demons from a possessed man.  The priest who came that day, Fr. Cambra, MIC, proclaimed the Gospel with such clarity that it highlighted our Lord's gentleness.  I thought of St. Francis de Sales' quote:
"Nothing so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength".
 How did he do this?  Father always proclaims the Gospel with inflection and, when appropriate, enough variation in his voice to signify the different speakers.  As he proclaimed the section in which the demons were speaking, his voice was louder and angry sounding.  He even sounded as if accusing Jesus negatively of "know[ing] who He [is], the Holy One of God".  Jesus rebukes the demons.  Here I expected a sharp response.  A rebuke seems to demand that same forceful punch, and yet father did something completely different.  His voice changed to a soft, gentle tone, that same calm peacefulness you would use when instructing a 4 year-old. Slowly and quietly, but directly and firmly, he spoke, "Quiet.  Come out of him".

This gentle firmness is that real strength our Holy Father (St. Francis de Sales) speaks of...for it even expels demons!  Jesus first knows who He is, the Son of God, and calmly responds to who these demons are and what their proper place is.  He also shows love and care for the soul of the man who is possessed.  This gentle strength shows that gentleness is not being a push-over, or hiding in the midst of contradiction, but remaining calm in the face of difficulties and challenges.  It is loving others as they are and helping them to see who God has called them to be, AND helping them to be that person.  This is true love of neighbor.

When one enters the Visitation, one of the first things to learn is the new language.  This is a language of gentleness.  When a "command" is given, it is generally phrased as a gentle nudge..
"Would you mind..." 
or 
"I noticed that..."  
In other orders those same directive would likely be given in a much more direct manner:
"You need to..."  or    "We do not..."
 These simple differences in phrasing show the underlying charism of gentleness.  A correction is given through a gentle nudge, and a "command" is given which sounds like a little question.

In the world, it might be challenging to use this "gentle phrasing" as it could easily be blown off as unimportant or lacking firmness, but I would say that if you use them with love, it is not the force of the command, but the tug upon the heart which will move a soul to do any particular action.  This is what we are all called to do.  To respond to the movements of our heart and the gentle tug of the Lord who often speaks, even direct and strong commands, in a gentle, peaceful and unassuming manner.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Little Virtues: Humility

Another aspect of Salesian Spirituality which we are amazingly challenging are the "Little Virtues".  The little virtues are humility, gentleness, and simplicity.  These three virtues form a sort of basic groundwork for our charism and our way of life. In reflecting on these virtues, I found myself thinking of them as three basic relational steps:

  1. Embrace your true self (humility)
  2. Embrace others as they are (gentleness)
  3. Interact with genuineness (simplicity


Each of these little virtues has great deal of depth and so I would like to simply focus on one at a time.


Humility

Might as well get this tough one tackled first!

So many of the saints speak of this virtue and each one highlights a particular way of looking at it.  It can be seen as looking at all your bad points, or interpreted as being sure you are never thought well of.  But these ideas are not the truth of what any of the saints is saying!  St. Francis de Sales speaks very clearly of our need to know our faults and failings, but also to know our gifts and talents.  Humility, as St. Vincent de Paul (a close contemporary of Holy Father) says, "is nothing but truth and pride is nothing but lying".  Our Holy Father would certainly agree as he encourages us to see ourselves as God sees us.  Humility for St. Francis de Salesis (in my own words): To see ourselves, both the good and the bad within us, as God sees us and to embrace it! 

While beginning to prepare this post, I was amazed to hear what was being read in the refectory about this (now past) Sunday's Gospel (Luke 14:1,7-14):
"We often say that we are nothing, the worst of men, the world's refuse.  But we would be sorry to have someone take us at our word or spread our own account of ourselves.  On the contrary we make a show of retreating and hiding, so that someone may run after us and seek us out; we pretend to want to be the last, seated at the foot of the table, but only in order to move 'humbly' to the head.  True humility makes no pretense and speaks no tone of humility.  For it desires not merely to hide the other virtues, but first and foremost to hide itself... let us not cast down our eyes without humbling our hearts, let us only seem to wish to be last if we have the real desire for it."
I thought to myself, boy! This sounds perfect for the post I am writing.  It is just what St. Francis de Sales would say.... then the reader said "And that was taken from Introduction to a Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales" (Book III, ch 5).   So the Lord really seems to wish this little post to come to you now and Holy Father has even provided us with his own words to sit with.  What could I possibly add to that?!

Just one thing, an oft-quoted phrase of our dear St. Francis de Sales:
"Be who you are and be that well" 
AMEN


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Meditation

In looking through some papers in my cell (the monastic term for your bedroom), I came across a few notes from the book, Live Today Well, by Fr. Thomas Dailey, O.S.F.S.  (See the video below to learn from Fr. Dailey himself about this book)

These notes, I thought, would be perfect for a blog post!  We will see how the Lord leads... but perhaps more than one blog post will stem from his insights!

First, I want to share a simple way to approach meditation, Salesian style!! Father has broken the process down into 5 main steps: Presence, Imagination, Consideration, Affection, Resolution.

Presence
This is a brief period to put your mind in the correct place.  Think about the reality that God is everywhere... God is within you!  Yes, God is really and truly there with you as you begin your time of prayer.  It can be helpful to picture Him sitting beside you, sitting in your heart, or gazing upon you from Heaven.  Find an image that helps you to simply place yourself in the presence of God.

Imagination
Now that you have God with you, enter into a scene with Him.  Perhaps this is a Bible story or something going on in your own life.  It really is easiest to place yourself into a Biblical story and take note of what is happening. This will encourage an encounter with God, which is the main goal of meditation.

Consideration
Now that you are in the scene with God, consider more deeply your surroundings.  How are people reacting?  What is God doing? What are you doing? What sounds do you hear?  Sights do you see? How do you react to the situation?

Affection
In your own reaction, look more deeply at how the scene is affecting you.  Are you inspired?  In what way?  Do you have an emotional response?  What does this response teach you about God or about yourself?

Resolution
Finally, how can you make this interaction with God into something concrete to take through your day?  Perhaps you were standing there as Jesus raised the little girl from the dead.  What things in your life will you allow Jesus to resurrect today?  How can you act in such a manner as to help someone else "get up"?

While this is a very abbreviated version of how to meditate, I find it quite helpful.  Depending on how much time you have to pause for prayer, each of these "steps" can be shorter or longer.  You may find that even in a 10 minute space of time the Lord will speak and show you a little "flower" (remember our spiritual bouquets?) you can carry through your day.




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Behold

Behold!!

What do you think of when you hear this word?  Behold the Lamb of God... Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world...

I am currently looking more in depth at the Gospel of St. Matthew from a Visitandine lens.  This little interjection caught my attention because Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary, "Behold this Heart". In Matthew it is first used to introduce the appearances of the angel to Mary and to Joseph. These moments were huge!  Mary becomes the Mother of God, Joseph allows his heart to be moved to take Mary into his home and to be the foster-father of Christ, to take his family to Egypt, and to bring his family home to Nazareth.

Joseph respond to these "behold" moments immediately.  It brought me to think of the movement of my heart when Jesus says, "Behold this Heart"  this Heart which "has so loved men".  One of our sisters was given an opportunity to go the Paray le Moniel for a conference on the Guard of Honor (a few years ago) and one of the speakers highlighted the depth of this phrase.  Jesus, your Love, your God, has come before you holding out His Heart and begging you to love Him because His Heart is burning with Love and burning with desire to be loved in return.

Imagine, if you will, your spouse (or someone with whom you are very close) coming to you with a pleading look in his or her eyes.  They look at you with an intensity of suffering and desire.  They say to you,
"[your name] I love you!  Look!  Look at my heart (at this they reach into their chest and pull out their heart, beating visibly before your eyes), Look at my heart which does so love you!  Will you love me in return?"   
How would you respond to this?  Of course you love them, so why such a deep plea?  Why?  Because for Jesus so many to whom He pours out his love do not love Him in return.

Therefore, for a Visitandine, for any lover of the Sacred Heart, each time we see this word, "Behold", our hearts should see that beating Heart of Christ, longing for our love in return, longing for that immediate response to His call just as Joseph responded to the message of the angel and Mary respond with her famous "Fiat".  So too shall we respond with that immediate love.