Journey with us...

Journey with us...

Monday, February 29, 2016

Consecration to Divine Mercy

Live + Jesus

For those of  you who do not know, we are fortunate to have as our chaplains the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (MIC) who run the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge.  This is a very special year for them as we continue our Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, one of our dear friends, has written a special book for the consecration of many souls to Divine Mercy using the simplicity and tenderness of the teachings of St. Therese of Lisieux to guide us along the way.

There are 33 days of short reflections and readings to pray with and prepare us for divine Mercy Sunday (the suggested date for the consecration).  If you would like to read the introduction, it is posted in full on their website (click the image below) and the first week will also be posted for those who are still awaiting their books.  The suggested start date is March 1 (but if you are reading this and it is already "too late" be assured that Jesus is outside of time and if your heart feels moved to make this consecration I would suggest still trying to do it, perhaps one or more days can be combined.... not the ideal situation, but we have a MERCIFUL GOD who certainly understands!)

God be Praised!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Taking Lent Deeper

We wanted to share a reflection from our "ghost-writer" (A family member of one of the sisters).  He composed this after speaking with one of our Oblate Fathers (Oblates of St. Francis de Sales) about how to make the fruits of Lent penetrate into your everyday life:

Many of us, when we think about Lent, think of it as preparing us spiritually.  For sure, that is correct.  What is incorrect is thinking that somehow our spiritual life is distinct from our life.  It’s not.  When we consider the three duties that we call ourselves to in Lent, there is again, some amazingly deep wisdom.

Prayer - this is truly most connected to what we may call our spiritual life, but then again, we are very wrong to limit our appreciation for that.  While we may have a more explicit attention to prayer and think that this is only about spiritual conditioning, as Lent goes on, we see how our   increased intensity of our focus on prayer has its carryover into how we see our chores, our recreation and even how we see those things like bills that are hard to pay.  The spiritual conditioning is changing our secular attitude as well.

Alms giving - this is a very social aspect of Lent and therefore, it should be obvious that this is about changing how we interact with the world.  Interestingly, you could make the case that this is not about spiritual improvement at all but rather about social improvement.  It provides for us a chance to look at the world in a new light, one where we stop asking ‘what’s in it for me’ and start asking ‘how can I help you’.  Definitely a wonderful chance to practice the virtues that are being emphasized in our Year of Mercy.  So, again, we can’t differentiate it’s spiritual dimension from its social dimension.

Fasting - everyone’s favorite, this is a very personal aspect of Lent.  Facing the voice of our body, our lusts and our cravings, and practicing how to redirect them is a key to psychological health.  Yet, we also use this very personal physiological and psychological process of fasting to also bring better health to our spiritual self.  Yet again, differentiating our spiritual life from any of our other lives is not possible.

We are essentially a cake…and thinking that we can separately consider the flour, salt and sugar is just crazy talk.  Our lives are a wonderfully mysterious muddle of secular, spiritual, physical and meta-physical ingredients.  So, Lent is not just for spiritual health.  It’s for true health for both individuals and communities, in the chapel and in the kitchen, with the prayerbook and with the checkbook.

And why in the world did I use a cake metaphor in Lent?

God be Praised!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stations of the Cross: A reflection

Live + Jesus

One of our sisters wanted to share this reflection with you on the Stations of the Cross. We hope you will find it helpful for praying the stations more intimately:

While praying the stations, I am often struck by the Three stations where Our Lord falls.  Why does He fall?  In praying the stations the other day, I found my heart moved to see the stations as a reflection of my own spiritual journey and desires.

I began by saying “yes”, by accepting what the Lord desired to give me and really finding in my heart a true desire for the Cross.  Jesus longed for the Cross and knew even more fully than we do what that Cross meant and how heavy it would be but He also knew it was the Father’s Will and that Will was what He desired most of all.  And so too we are ready and eager, desirous of embracing the cross, wanting to give our all for Jesus and for the Father.  We stand ready and eager, reaching up to grab the cross and place it on our shoulders (2nd Station), but it is VERY HEAVY!  And (3rd Station) we fall. Don’t be discouraged, Look to Jesus.  He firmly places the Cross on His shoulders.  Those very shoulders that longed for this cross since before Creation and yet, as its full weight is felt, Jesus falls.  It IS hard, and He knows it from experience.

So, what does He do?  Well, let us look at the next three Stations: Mary comes to greet Jesus, Simon helps Jesus, Veronica wipes His face. All three are Stations of assistance and aid for Our Lord.  We see in His Mother that deep spiritual help and union which we all need as we first begin to carry the cross.  Then physical help from Simon, yes, like it or not we all need some form of physical help from time to time and that is all part of the journey!  It was part of Jesus’ journey and therefore is also part of ours. And third Veronica, I see here emotional help, she wipes away His tears and His blood, the very blood which came forth as sweat through His great anguish.  But what does Jesus do after being given spiritual, physical, and emotional aid?  He still falls! (7th Station)  He wants us to know He sees and has experienced how hard it is, even with help.  We can look to Him in this Station when we don’t understand why we are falling.  We seem to be given all we need and yet we still fall! 

Having received aid and having still fallen, He gets up and gives His last ounce of strength to comfort the women.  Often this Station can be understood as women comforting Jesus, but Jesus sees them weeping, not knowing how to help Him, sorrowful at His pain and He reaches out to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children.”(Luke 23:28) He encourages them and helps them.  He, in a sense takes their pity and sorrow and gives it to others and comforts the women.  And so, teaches us that after we have received consolation and assistance, and we see ourselves still fallen and weak, we must turn to others and give.

But this giving costs… Jesus falls the Third time.  This final fall I often imagine as being at the end of the road.  The cross is now on the ground and Jesus is stripped.  Once you have come to this point of your journey it is time to give all.  To strip away whatever little is left and then let the cross that you have carried, carry you to the Father. 

We may not be there yet, but please God by uniting ourselves to Christ and looking at His example We will get there one day.

God be Praised!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lenten Homily Gems

A few thoughts from our priests about this Lenten season:

Lent is all about Mercy.  A time of year designated to remind us of our sinfulness and to encourage us to look to the Father for forgiveness and to the Son for an example of how to turn to the Father.  We rely on the sacrifices of Jesus and try to unite ourselves in a special way by having certain sacrifices ourselves (something to give up).  But Fr. Séan O’Mannion in his homilies this Lent has reminded us: This is a very special LentThis is a Lent in the Year of Mercy! So as we enter into this season which centers us in a particular way on God’s Mercy and our need to ask for it, we remember the particular graces available this year of jubilee.  So, go ahead, don’t just give something up.  Ask for something... Ask for Mercy!  (Of course as Father also reminded us, this means we are called to extend that mercy as well.)

Hiking and Lent
   On another note one of our Marian Fathers, Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, gave a beautiful homily using a hike as an analogy for the Lenten season.  I am a hiker and love to be outdoors and go on long hikes (Ok so I live in the cloister, but we still have a good deal of wooded property to wander through when there is a little free time!) So what does hiking have to do with Lent?
    Lent is a journey.  A time to travel to Calvary with Jesus, looking at what we need to do to be more united with Him.  So, it is a hiking path.  As we begin, we look up to the top of the mountain and think, “I’ll never make it!” or perhaps, “I’m so ready to go!”  For Father Anthony, starting the hike is the most difficult, one has to get the creaks and aches out of the body as it begins to move in ways it perhaps hasn’t for a while.  Just so with Lent, some start with groaning and perhaps even fear that they won’t be able to make it all 40 days.  So, what do you need to help you persevere?  A walking stick?  Extra granola bars? A hiking companion? Father noted that he likes to carry a walking stick in one hand and a Rosary in the other so that he can ask “Mama Mary” for help along the way.

Looking at the 3 main tenants of Lent (Prayer, Almsgiving, and Penance) how do these compare in our hiking analogy? 
  • Prayer-This is our food.  Granola bars, water.  We need this conversation with God to give us the nourishment to sustain us along the journey.
  • Fasting- This is our union with the poor.  Father compared this to feeling the stretch in the very start of your hike and to the perseverance necessary to finish.
  • Almsgiving- Good works.  On a hike this can be sharing your water or food with the passers-by or encouraging someone who looks tired.

We need to be prepared for our journey.  So, what do you have in your spiritual backpack?  Are you going to start off at a running pace?  Try to be so “efficient” that you pack less food than will be necessary? We often do this for Lent: set big goals, start off real strong, try to leave the whole backpack behind… But will that help us to reach the top?  At the top is Calvary. At the top is the Resurrection.

   Father ended his homily by reminding us that Lent is not a time for us to show God what we can do for Him, but rather a time to see how much God loves us.  Just like the hike, the best part is getting to the top of the mountain and seeing the beautiful view or even just enjoying nature as you journey.  It’s not about how fast or how much distance you can cover, it’s about being one with nature and rejoicing in the gift given.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sundays during Lent?

One of our sisters during her last phone call with her father before Lent had an interesting discussion on the very popular question: Are Sundays part of Lent or do you get the day off?  This article is a little insight into what her father took out of the conversation:

For those of you who really know your Church history, you'll know that we actually just finished up the Lenten 'warm-up' days.  For a lot of us, this may be just another one of those things that confuse us about Lent.  So many of us grew up in a whirl of rules and customs about what to give up, what didn't count to give up, whether Sundays were part of Lent of not…and for those of us who are Irish, what about that St. Patrick's day?

To which we'd like to suggest a simple answer.  Think of Lent as a sort of spiritual pre-season training.  The father of one of our sisters is always vocal that 'he hates Lent'.  But he hates it like he hated all pre-season training for the sports he played.  All those drills and laps;  Yuk!  But he also knew that he didn't want to start a season without that training and he also knew that his teammates wouldn't appreciate someone who skipped that pre-season ritual.

Using that metaphor, let's reconsider the Lenten regimen of  prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

Prayer is always good, and in keeping with our metaphor, it's the necessary pre-season conversation that builds the team, getting to know the minds of our fellow players and our coach so well that when it's buzzer time in the game, we are ready to be amazing together.  This is the easy part of pre-season training; even the dad of our sister likes this part.

Alms-giving is realizing that we aren't the only team in the league, the only player on the team. It's our way to get everyone in the game.  In some ways, it's our way to include everyone in the sport, even if it means giving up some of our own precious playing time.  Doing this in Lent helps build our selfless muscle of outreach.

Fasting.  Whoa, this is literally hitting us in the gut.  But our pre-season training metaphor works really well in helping us to use Lent as the best program to get in shape.  Fasting is about mortification. Fasting is like the weight room, the speed drills, the laps.  Face it…few of us like this stuff.  So, our advice is to approach it like you would those events.  If you are doing serious fasting, then be smart.  Just like you may not want to do speed drills everyday and let your muscles recover, maybe you can think of Sunday as your recovery day.  If you are doing a type of fasting such as giving up just one type of food, then maybe staying the course for all 40 days is a better conditioner…sort of like just doing at least some aerobic workout each day in pre-season to keep your wind.

If you're sweating Lent by focusing on the rules and only doing it for the rules, then you're sort of like the player that does only what the coach says, and probably not really being the player you can really be.  If you want Lent to get you in super spiritual shape, it's going to first start as a desire of the heart.  Let that desire fuel your passion and your decisions.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent is here!

As we wait upon the "porch" of Lent, I wanted to share a few reflections on Lent itself.

What do the sisters do for Lent... What do they NOT do?

First: what do we not do?
As we already stated there are no games or candy on Sunday and Feast Days.  There is also no music in the refectory (music is played at supper for a Sunday or Solemnity), No personal phone calls or visits, no letter writing, no personal e-mails... basically we go deeper into the desert and into the silence to be united more with Jesus as He prepares for that final act of gift at the Crucifixion.

So what then DO we do?
Well, have extra silence even in the house.  This may seem to be a strange comment about a cloistered community of nuns who really only have 2 "talking" periods during the day (Click here for our schedule), but it can be easy to relay messages in the halls or to go into another sister's office ("office" is the term we use for any area of work: kitchen, business, superior, assistant, etc) just to share a little story or incident.  During Lent we try much harder to decrease these little "chats" and reserve our messages and stories for our two periods of recreation.

Some sisters may try to work on their bad habits or add little penances.  For example there is one sister who often gives up chocolate and another who told me a few years ago that her goal was to take a Rosary walk each day.  This latter surprised me at the time (I was not yet in the convent) as I suspected each sister must automatically say a Rosary each day.  I have since learned that even here amidst an environment of prayer, it can be easy to let these little prayers and practices slip away as we focus on the "immediate" needs of our cleaning or cooking, sewing or book-keeping.

A few little practices we are often reminded of and encouraged to renew our efforts in during the Lenten season are to respond to the first sound of the bell, to get to bed on time, Couper Court (French for 'cut it short'), and direction of intention.  Some of these terms may be unfamiliar to you, and so we shall try to explain.

Couper Court:
One of our sisters just addressed this in her Sacred Heart talk and we will post it on our website (Click to go to the page about Mother Chappuis).  It explains Couper Court and the story of Mother Chappuis who made the phrase and its meaning so dear to us.

To respond the the first sound of the bell:
In the Monastery all our activities are designated by the ringing of a bell... the number of rings telling us what the bell means and where we should be going at that moment.  Most bells are rung about 5 minutes before an activity begins.  For example we have Office of Readings at 10:00.  At 9:55 a bell is rung to call us to chapel  (where we form a line to recollect ourselves and prepare for prayer) and then at 10:00 a different bell rings to say it is time to process in to pray.  It can be very easy when the first bell rings to think, "I have only 1 minute of work to finish and I can get to chapel in 30 seconds so I will finish and still be in time for prayer!"  But this is a very human and very worldly way of thinking as we must remember that not only does the bell signal a time of day and a "warning" but it is the voice of God.  Our Beloved beckons, "Will you come to me right now?  I want to speak to your heart!"  Should we not then let that extra minute of work wait?  The Lord is more important!!!  He has a little message for us to take to prayer, can we afford to miss it?

Direction of Intention:
This is a phrase which almost explains itself.  St. Francis de Sales coined this term to emphasize the importance of having meaning behind our actions.  Each moment can be given to God, but we must be aware of that gift and offer it to God purposely or else the gift is lost.  Don't worry, if you lost a few moments, St. Francis says just to try again and offer this present moment to God.  As one of our older sisters very wisely put it: "We spend all our time re-playing the past and we lose the present moment."  Let us live in the present moment and give it with fully to Jesus with purpose and intention.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Shrovetide Continued...

 Live + Jesus

We promised to share more pictures of our Novitiate Shrovetide fun.  Wednesday ended with a "formal lunch" (which translates into lots of snacks and a sit down, talking party) with our Superior ....

....and an exciting game of Jenga.


Today is a day of prayer as we celebrate First Friday.  
Then Monday and Tuesday are two more recreation days with the whole community!

God be Praised!!!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Who is St. Francis de Sales?

Live + Jesus

As we continue our days of "shrovetide" I thought you might enjoy a little spiritual background about the man whom we call "Our Holy Father".  My Alma Mater, DeSales University, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and in honor of this big milestone, they are offering a free course on St. Francis de Sales!  Enjoy the brief video below in which one of my teachers (and a long-time friend of the community) shares what this program is all about.

Again, feel free to post any questions or thoughts you have on our life and we will try to answer them.  This blog is mostly for you to get to know us, especially those of you out there who feel an attraction to religious life.  God bless!  God be Praised!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Shrovetide Visitation Style

You may be wondering what cloistered nuns do for Mardi Gras.  Well, first of all, we call it "Shrovetide". This term is from the French  culture during the time of St. Francis de Sales and spoke of the days before Ash Wednesday and the various celebrations occurring therein.  St. Francis de Sales (We often call him Holy Father since he is the father of our Order) knew that in our humanity we often need to "get the giggles out" (not a quote from Holy Father, just my way of expressing it) and so we have a number of days of recreation prior to the Lenten season.

Before I share what we do during these days it would be helpful to know that during Ordinary Time the sisters play games at recreation on Sundays and also enjoy a little candy during recreation.  During Lent there are no games even on high feasts (like St. Joseph).  For the practical reason of consuming all our excess Christmas goodies as well as the human reason of trying to decrease our desires for these items we have lots of games and candies during the week prior to Lent.

The Novitiate begins first with a half-day of recreation on Tuesday and a full day on Wednesday (today!!!).  Our full day begins with a pancake breakfast on china dishes and we talk through the meal.  Mother is invited to join us for our little "party".  The day continues with games and other fun activities.  Today it is raining all day so we have played Spinner (a game using dominoes) and then table tennis in the laundry!  We enjoy this time of laughing and talking as a way to give thanks to the Lord for His gifts of joy and love.  To be together as a novitiate is very special time and always provides a few stories to tell as we can get silly (especially with the extra chocolate in our systems!)

On a more serious note, the sisters also have extra times of prayer during the three days prior to Lent to make reparation for the sins which are being committed during these days of Mardi Gras.  We know it is good to have a little extra fun and enjoy some extra goodies to help us both practically and spiritually to let go and move into this season of penance but we use our simple joys and extra prayer to console His Heart as others may use this time as an excuse for wrong-doing.