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!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Litany of the Precious Blood of Christ

Litany Of The Most Precious Blood

 
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
God our Father in heaven
have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the world
have mercy on us
God the Holy Spirit
have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, one God
have mercy on us
Blood of Christ, only Son of the Father
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, incarnate Word
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, of the new and eternal
covenant
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, that spilled to the ground
be our salvation
Blood of Christ,
that flowed at the scourging
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, dripping from the thorns
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, shed on the cross
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, the price of our redemption be our salvation
Blood of Christ, our only claim to pardon
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, our blessing cup
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, in which we are washed
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, torrent of mercy
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, that overcomes evil
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, strength of the martyrs
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, endurance of the saints
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, that makes the barren
fruitful
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, protection of the threatened be our salvation
Blood of Christ, comfort of the weary
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, solace of the mourner
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, hope of the repentant
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, consolation of the dying
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, our peace and refreshment
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, our pledge of life
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, by which we pass to glory
be our salvation
Blood of Christ, most worthy of honor
be our salvation
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world
have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world
have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world
have mercy on us
Lord, you redeemed us by your blood.
You have made us a kingdom
to serve our God.

Let us pray. 
Father, by the blood of your Son you have set us free and saved us from death. Continue your work of love within us, that by constantly celebrating the mystery of our salvation we may reach the eternal life it promises. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Lenten Resources

Last week, I wanted to prepare for you a little reflection on the Seven Penitential Psalms, but in looking for them online I found an even great resource! And then we had some technical difficulties to keep us off the internet for about a week and so now I shall share with you this little gift.

  The USCCB (US Catholic Conference of Bishops) has a wonderful website with many suggestions, explanations, and letters for the faithful to help them better enter into this season on Lent.(click to go to their website)

They even have the 7 Penitential Psalms in audio format as well as a reflection to go with them.  Here is a better, briefer, little note on the importance of the penitential psalms:
During times when we wish to express repentance and especially during Lent, it is customary to pray the seven penitential psalms.  The penitential designation of these psalms dates from the seventh century.  Prayerfully reciting these psalms will help us to recognize our sinfulness, express our sorrow and ask for God’s forgiveness (http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/seven-penitential-psalms-songs-of-suffering-servant.cfm)

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Control or Surrender?

The following is one of this month's Sacred Heart talks given by one of our sisters here in the monastery:

Dear Friends of the Heart of Christ,

        As I begin this reflection for the official launching of the Lenten season, I would like to share with you some thoughts garnered from a story I recently read in the liturgical guide,“The Word Among Us.” This story is of a typical working woman, who among her many responsibilities as a wife, mother and schoolteacher, found little quiet time to pray and think about the things of God. Her busy, non-stop daily schedule made it extremely challenging to find the stillness needed for deeper prayer.

Realizing that if she did not purposely create some quiet time for God, she would never find an opening for prayer. Ultimately, she decided to talk with her husband and made an arrangement with him that after she returned from work, she would retreat to the bedroom and spend twenty minutes of undisturbed time in prayer each day. Initially, it was difficult to read a passage from scripture and then sit quietly to meditate on it. Random thoughts and anxious feelings cruised through her. She was also preoccupied by a family problem. Yet after a time, she began to develop a sense of peace and found she could put the issue aside. Slowly, God began to show her, frequently through the spiritual readings that she chose by chance, “how I was trying to control the situation instead of surrendering it to Him.”

        Once the woman realized this, she made every effort to surrender her problem to the Lord. The result, she says, was that she moved from being frazzled to being calmer. Now she was sleeping better, could think more clearly, and declared that she was able to handle divisive situations with a wisdom that left her a bit bewildered. “Where did that come from?”she wondered. But it was the Lord working in her as she spent more time resting in the presence of God. She asserts, “I was taking time out for the Lord, and He was changing me!”

        How many of us — whether we live in the everyday world, in monasteries, in rectories or wherever — can relate to the human propensity to control a situation instead of surrendering it to the Lord? Even the great saints were tempted to resort to this tactic when they did not understand what the Lord was doing… Take St. Peter for example. Recalling the Gospel passage from Matthew (16:23) and Mark (8:33) we may wonder why Jesus so harshly responded to the chief of apostles, saying “Get behind me, Satan!” The reason for this rejoinder, so out of character for the gentle Jesus, must have deeply disturbed the Lord. Take a closer look at this passage. We see that Jesus had just plainly spoken to His disciples for the first time about His plan to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer, be killed and then three days later be raised to life again. This information clearly shocked the apostles, especially Peter, who in the previous Gospel paragraph had pronounced Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The Lord had blessed him for this profound declaration, calling him the rock upon which His church would be built. Now Peter takes the Lord aside to rebuke him. “Heaven forbid,” he says, “This is not going to happen to you!” Doesn’t Peter sound like he’s desperately trying to control the situation? He simply could not reconcile his views of a conquering Messiah with the suffering and death Jesus had predicted for Himself. Peter, the rock, thinks he knows better than God incarnate and protests Jesus’ fatalistic mindset. Falling into the trap of putting his plans before God’s plans, Peter tries to control Jesus, not surrender to him. Unwittingly, Peter is suggesting that Jesus be diverted from His heavenly mission of salvation. Peter is doing the devil’s bidding, not God’s. Jesus uses shock treatment to wake him up!


        If you were listening to today’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, you heard a very similar response from the Lord in His conversation with Satan. The tempter presented Jesus in the wilderness with an array of earthly enticements—power, riches, influence. The reason for this display is, of course, to deflect Jesus from the cross, from fulfilling His Father’s will. Finally, Jesus declares, “Get away, Satan!”

        How natural it was for the pragmatic Peter to set his mind on earthly considerations and values. However, Peter had the wrong perspective and was inadvertently being influenced by Satan. O, how easy it is for each of us to unwittingly become the spokespersons and co-workers for Satan’s designs. This happens so naturally when we focus on our own advancement, our own interests, our security, our plans rather than the things of God and God’s plans. The world offers us many alternative lifestyles and even many convincing but false spiritual pathways. So beware! As one spiritual writer has put it, “The devil’s main trick is to get otherwise godly, committed people to ignore what God wants in order to advance what they want. Almost always, that never involves the cross. It never involves dying to self.”

        When the Lord makes some reproach to the saints, to St. Gertrude or to St. Margaret Mary for example, He often laments their lack of abandonment to His holy will. We can detect this in the life of Saint Margaret Mary, who was privileged to receive in her lifetime (1647— 1690) about forty revelations from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Lord carefully prepared her for her great mission through suffering, prayer, and special guidance. Her sufferings were to continue to the end of her life. But shortly before her death, she wrote that she had finally understood what the Lord expected of her when He said to her, “Let me do it.” She explains, “The Sacred Heart will do everything for me if I let Him. He shall will, He shall love, He shall desire for me and make up for my faults.” In other words, what the Sacred Heart desired most from our saint — and from all of us, really — was the practice of surrender to his Most Sacred Heart. He wanted His divine power to work through her, with as little resistance as possible. No longer would she think with her own intelligence, but with God’s wisdom, no longer would she see things according to her own limited perception, but she would see things as God sees them, no longer would her heart love according to its capacity, but she would love how the Heart of Jesus loves, and detest what He detests.

        The Sacred Heart will do everything for me if I let Him…  And there’s the rub. Do we really want to surrender, even to the Lord Jesus? Sounds scary, doesn’t it… What will happen to us if we dare do such a thing? Will we have to give up our comfortable lifestyle, our positions of influence, our ways of doing things, our health, our addictions, the power we have over ourselves and others?

        In an article entitled Abandonment to Jesus, the French priest and author Father Jean D’ElbĂ©e makes some provocative points about the spiritual life. His words invite us to make a self-examination of our spiritual habits. Do we have a disposition to belong to Jesus more than ever, to accomplish His will, to know Him and make Him known, to love Him and make Him loved more? He writes, “We understand now why so many Communions — those Communions which transform us into Him — do not bring us all the supernatural fruits they could. We open our arms to Him, yet we close the doors of our intelligence, of our will, of our heart, by not living in this abandonment. We bid Him come, but we do not permit Him to enter. But if, in receiving Him, we grant Him, by perfect abandonment, all the controls, all the keys to the house, that He may be Master in us with full liberty to act, then oh! what marvels will His omnipotence not accomplish in our souls in the service of His love!”

        If you were to read the letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (those, at least, translated into English) you would find numerous references to the practice of abandonment to the Sacred Heart that she advises to an array of her spiritual correspondents. Priests, religious, laity sought and received her direction and words of wisdom from a heart totally given over to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To her brother, the mayor of a small French town who begs prayers for his suffering wife, our saint counsels:

        All that God wants of her and of you is abandonment to His will, and that you bear these ills patiently and meekly. You must not let yourself be carried away by curiosity. This does not please Him, nor is it in my power to give you satisfaction in this matter. (Her brother wanted to know if his wife would be cured or if her illness would last a long time. Since Margaret Mary’s prayers had on a previous occasion obtained the cure of her priest brother, the family had great confidence in her intercessory power with God.) Since it is the will of God that she bear her illness with patience for her salvation, it is in vain that you seek human remedies. They will be of no avail, for no one can resist the will of God. It must always be fulfilled whether we like it or not. In short, this poor sick woman’s salvation is bound up with this affliction. It is up to her to make good or bad use of it. She should not have to be told whether it will last a long time or a short time but let that remain hidden in God. She must make the sacrifice of her life to Him, so as to give it to Him whenever it shall please Him. I urge her with all my heart and with tears to do this… He has sent her this sickness as a mark of His love and to save her… Where there is question of salvation one must do and suffer, sacrifice and abandon all. (Letter #120)

        These sentiments are forthright and sincere. Margaret Mary could only express the truths and insights she received from God. Though on a human level, she could not report that there would be the satisfying cure of the body; on the spiritual plane, God was asking this woman’s abandonment into His hands for the good of her eternal soul. The Lord has never promised that He would provide good health and boundless wealth as a reward for our fidelity. What He has promised is to be with us always, especially in our struggles, our heartaches and the disappointments of life. We do not have to carry these burdens alone. The Heart of Jesus intensely desires to share them with us and He will profusely repay our faithfulness in due time. As St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”

        As I prepared this reflection I came across an article from the website: Integrated Catholic Life (integratedcatholiclife.org). This site promotes the integration of faith, family and work. The co-founder of the site Randy Hain confesses that he was a man who dealt with life’s challenges as they came. He was in control. But God had other plans for him. Now he concedes, “All I can share with you is when I put my pride aside and humbly surrendered to His will, the Lord gave me strength and a sense of peace which I still feel to this day.” May the Heart of Jesus grant to us all that deep sense of peace and inner strength—even amid the confusion of our world, our church, our families and communities—when we surrender ourselves and all our cares into His loving hands. †
 This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on March 5th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, April 2nd, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
More talks can be found on our website: http://vistyr.org/sacred-heart-talks