Journey with us...

Journey with us...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Feel like your life is upside-down? Let God speak to you through Nature.

Did you ever have a time in your life where you felt like you were hanging by your last thread?  Everything around you seems to be upside down and you are stuck with no way out? 
These times can come and go in our lives, even in the spiritual life.  We feel like we are making no progress in prayer or it seems useless and so very confusing.  So what can we do when these situations are upon us? 

Recently, I have been learning about St. Ignatius of Loyola’s rules for discernment.  These rules are based upon 2 basic “states”: Consolation and Desolation.  Without getting into too much detail, consolation is when our emotions, reactions, and prayer feel peaceful and productive.  Its when we “enjoy” the spiritual life, it feels fruitful, and we experience the goodness of God.  Desolation is just the opposite: prayer and God seem very far away and our spiritual state can sometimes feel like that first sentence… upside down and unproductive. 

So, what can you do when you feel this way?  When everything in you seems to want to avoid prayer and God?  Or you are simply so confused that you feel helpless? 

You wait.

Over the past two months I have had the opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream from my childhood.  While I was taking my afternoon walk in the meadow, I observed a monarch butterfly carefully scanning the plants and leaves.  This little monarch then stopped briefly on a small sapling.  Ah!  Delight of my heart, I had just witnessed the laying of an egg! 

I received permission (to my jubilant surprise) to collect a few of these eggs and raise them!  Each one received its own little habitat (ok, I placed the plant clipping into a plastic water bottle) and off we went!  I watched them grow and provided fresh milkweed as necessary.  They grew very quickly into happy, healthy caterpillars. 


Once they were full grown they ventured off (to the edges of my protective netting) to affix themselves for the next stage of their journey.  This means they made a small silken thread, held on with their back pseudo-feet, and hung upside-down!  Perhaps you can see why they form the perfect example for us to examine.  Hanging upside-down by a thread.  Within about 24 hours, a green chrysalis forms and they shed their skin.  Then they wait again in this little green sac for a good 2 weeks.

Our waiting can mimic this natural process of nature.  It is a hidden waiting, a hoping for a sense of Presence; an experience of Light.  These hidden graces come in quite disguised ways: some sudden knowledge of one’s weaknesses revealed; a quiet peace that flows through the heart, letting one know that all is well, all is good.  Our final emergence, hopefully, will be as beautiful as the monarchs’, but we are still waiting for that final blossoming.  While we may go in and out of more intense periods of waiting during our life.  Some of which may feel peaceful and others feel upside-down and filled with tension, we must continue to wait in expectation.  To accept the hidden graces quietly slipped into our souls at each moment. 

Yes, at the end of our waiting and expectant hope, we too can emerge like the beautiful butterfly.  So, the next time you find yourself upside-down and inside-out, have hope. Let us together focus on the reality that a spiritual butterfly is in process. 






Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Finding the graces hidden in your life

When I was a child we had a book entitled, The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base.  It is a wonderful story of an elephant named Horace who was celebrating his 11th birthday and had invited all his animal friends.  When the time came to eat, all the food was gone!  The book is written in creative poetry and each page is also a puzzle/ mystery to be solved.  Hidden in the pages of the book and in the drawings was the animal (100 of them) who was the culprit.  After solving the mystery, the next step was to go back and find all 100!  The book sat on our dining room table for a few weeks with a little packet of post-its and a pair of scissors.  When a creature was found, the post-it was cut into a tiny arrow and placed into the book. 

While out hiking this week (we are blessed with a good amount of woods on the property), I was reminded of these hidden critters.  Every place I looked I kept finding little white and black caterpillars.  As an insect-lover, my joy increased as I found each one.  There were so many of them and all hidden in plain sight!  It’s just a hickory tussock caterpillar, a common little fellow who is native to the US, yet it really made me think.  Here they were, maybe hundreds of little caterpillars all hidden right at my feet!

Grace!  Yes, as I was finding these little creatures all over the forest floor, and even along the tree bark and elsewhere, I thought of how God’s graces are hidden everywhere!  We simply have to open our eyes to see them, just like the culprits in our book as children.  All we have to do is open our eyes and look around.  The world is full of little gifts, just waiting to be seen or little graces just waiting to be received.  We can train the eyes of our hearts just as our physical eyes can be trained to find caterpillars and hidden images.  We often find that once we know what we are looking for in these later cases, the objects begin to appear rapidly.  The same can be true for our spiritual life.

So, that begs the question: How can we train the eyes of our hearts to spot grace?  Many of the spiritual masters have given us hints as to the answer and really there is no clear method for doing this.  Since we are Salesians, I must beg St. Francis de Sales for advice.  In his Spiritual Directory, he speaks of the importance of staying in the presence of God.  He notes that this practice is to 
“prepare [us] to endure with patience and gentleness all the troubles and mortifications [we] meet [as coming from the fatherly hand of God, whose intention is] to make [us] merit [so that He may recompense us with an abundance of love]”. 
 This one sentence, while perhaps focusing on the struggles encountered in a particular task points to the fact that the simple act of putting oneself in the presence of God can open our eyes to His gifts (even when they look like mortifications). 

To go back to our first example, I learned a great deal from my brothers and father as we searched together for our hidden culprits.  Jesus is an expert at seeing and identifying graces, so if you ask Him to be with you and place yourself in His presence with intentionality, this is one giant step in noticing the gifts God is sending your way at each moment.  Another step would be to then thank Him each time you do see a gift or a grace.  This simple act of thanksgiving is like the post-it which helps us find this grace again and better recognize it later.  

Try then to place yourself in His presence, speak to Him as you do each task, and offer the task to God.  This can be easy to remember when we have a hard task ahead, but is equally important for those easy or simply tasks like eating, sleeping, playing…  Ask and you shall receive… why not take the Master with you to your daily duties and ask Him to show you all the hidden graces before your eyes. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy Feast Day!

Dear friends it is already late and so I must write briefly, but how could I allow the Feast of the Sacred Heart to pass without at least a short note.  We concluded our Triduum this evening and Fr. Pierz gave a wonderful homily which spoke of the Love of the Heart of Christ.  Most importantly, the need to be vulnerable with others and with the Lord.  He used a quote from GK Chesterton in which Chesterton speaks of how to keep a heart from breaking... never give it away in love.  Yet in this "protected" state, the heart becomes hardened and cold and alone in the middle of a dark castle.

Jesus' Sacred Heart is depicted with a crown of thorns around it.  Father pointed out that this means each beat, each expansion of His Heart also means that the thorns pierce deeper, they pierce more fully into the Heart of Our Lord.

Let us not be afraid to Love, to imitate that Heart which desires to beat for us, even if this means a perpetual piercing of His tenderness.

I will leave you with another thought from a book we recently read in the refectory, The Illustrious Friends of the Sacred Heart (paraphrased): The love of Christ is so immense that the sufferings of His passion put a limit on the expression of His Love.  Yes, His sufferings, due to their connection with His humanity had to be finite (although beyond anything we can imagine), yet His Love is INFINITE!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pray for us!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sacred Heart Triduum!

Today was the first day of our Sacred Heart Triduum!  I just love the evening Mass and ALL DAY Adoration!  This year we have Fr. Michael Pierz with us and he is a delight and a joy.

Ok, for those of you who may be wondering, we have a tradition of 3 special evening Masses at 7pm to anticipate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  We still have our regular morning Mass and so this extra Mass is a treat!  (The only other day we have Mass more than once is Christmas!)  We generally invite a guest priest to give a series of homilies on the Sacred Heart.  Father has chosen to speak on how to be in the world, but not of the world.

If you are close-by we invite you to join us the next two nights!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Sacred Heart is coming....

One week from today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart!  
May your hearts be open and ready for His!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

What do Vocation, Formation, Strawberries have in common?


Growing up, we always played games that required lots of brain power.  There was never a dull moment in the household when learning was not in the forefront.  One of the games we played at my grandparent's house was Tribond.  Today I want to expand on my own "tribond" experience.

Well, its finally planting season!  AND... this year I have permission to try my hand at strawberries!  I was so excited when another sister brought home plants with flowers and runners and even a few budding berries!  We will have a bumper crop ASAP I thought!

Then I began my research.  Plant them 12" apart... don't bend the roots, give them lots of nutrients, prep the soil before you start. don't let strawberries touch the dirt.... and on and on!

So many rules and so much to do even before you can put them in the ground!  But I tilled the soil, added compost, measured my plot, and finally.... planting time!  But then came the hard part.  It says, "cut off all flowers and runners for the first growing season to allow the plant to put its energy into the roots".  WHAT!!!

While it made sense it was a very hard thing to convince myself to do.  I would have to wait even longer and even remove perfectly good fruit and flowers and potential future plants!
Goodbye for now
little flowers!

So I sat with this for, well longer than I probably should have, before I could understand it in a spiritual context and then finally make the plunge and do the cutting.  What was my Tribond discovery? 

First of all it deals with Vocation:  When one is in discernment it is a lot of hard work which often seems to get you nowhere.  Researching communities, speaking with spiritual guides, reading books, and most of all LOTS of prayer.  This was my prep stage... read up on how to care for strawberries, till the soil, add lots of compost.  It is hard work, but the skills and tools acquired during discernment are ones that you will use for the rest of your life, tools that you can fall back on for small decisions in the future and those big decisions that come up as well.  Time to go back to the books, back to the experts, and back to your knees.

But here is my "big" insight that finally gave me the courage to take that step of cutting off those beautiful, healthy flowers and runners: Formation.  When one enters the monastery, she is ready to put all her gifts out there to be used, ready to assist everywhere possible and ready to let her "flowers" bloom in this wonderful garden.  Often it can be the case that instead she finds these very flowers being removed, prevented, shadowed.  Why?  It is because we must first learn to root ourselves in the spirit of the community and learn the ways of this new "soil" before the flowers can be produced without doing damage to our long-term formation.  It is a very hard lesson to learn and one that hurts a great deal, but as our strawberry plants know.... a good set of roots means even more fruit in the future and a healthier, longer-lasting plant.
Hang in there little plants!  You can produce fruit next season!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Feast of the Visitation!

Happy Feast Day!  


Its a beautiful day here at the Monastery as we have permission for Adoration all day and we close our Adoration with a procession in honor of Our Lady.  Each year our names are placed in a box and a lucky sister is chosen to crown the Blessed Virgin.  She is free to choose any statue in the house and this year our sister has chosen Our Lady of Fatima outside!  Happy Anniversary dear Lady!

We also have a wonderful benefactor who brings us a beautiful picture cake with the Visitation on it!

But most of all we spend the day in prayer and in joy, walking with Our Lady as each moment of the day passes.  Inviting her to "make haste" and walk with us as we go enjoy the outdoors, or to inspire within us that same amazement with Elizabeth felt when Mary came to visit her.  Yes, let us cultivate this amazement at the mercy and gift of God today.  He has come down to us AND is RISEN!  Alleluia!

Happy feast day dear friends!