Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the Desert

Religious life started directly from the persecutions. The earliest "radicals" in following Christ died for him. They didn't exactly go out a decide to do it - those who hated the faith presented them with the option to deny Christ or die - and so they died.

Martyrdom is a grace, and a choice, but it is not something we go looking for.

And so it was with the beginning of the monastic life.

St. Paul of Thebes held to the Christian faith. To avoid the persecution, he fled to his sister's summer villa remote from Thebes - but discovered that his brother-in-law intended to turn him over to the authorities. He left there, and found a quiet, and hidden, "cave". (It was not so much a cave as a sealed valley, I think, accessed by a very narrow opening.)

And so he lived - for a very long time. He prayed, he worked the land for his food, he lived a solitary life dedicated to God. He lived to 113 years, according to St. Jerome.

Near the end of his life, Anthony (who would become St. Anthony of Egypt) visited Paul, to ask him about the spiritual life and the life of solitude. St. Anthony later returned and buried the old hermit.

It was the beginning - and, in God's providence, it just sort of "happened" through circumstances and the fidelity of one man to his faith. Others later sought out the lifestyle and the Fathers of the Desert learned (and taught) much about the life of the Spirit and intimacy with God. Even now, they teach us to be humble, silent and diligent in our labor. They speak of ascetic labor, its great good and its pitfalls. They can lead a soul to God.

And they were the beginning of a form of life that has continued through the centuries, blossoming into myriad forms and assisting the life of the Church even till today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Diversity

The sheer number of religious communities, their variety: it stuns the mind.

Wandering around the Church, particularly in the last year, God granted me the grace to meet with religious Sisters of every description. Old congregations, new ones, the active, the cloistered --- you name it, I've seen them all.

Well, not really all - that is an exaggeration - but enough to begin to understand the immense gift God gave his Church.

Most were local plants - the local church needed something and God raised up religious to meet the need. Some taught, some prayed, some cared for the sick, or ransomed captives - and even among the cloistered nuns, he granted a tremendous diversity of flavor and call.

Because he love us, and cares for our needs. Every small corner of the Church has its religious, meeting whatever the particular need may be.

Often, women who come here ask the question: "Where do I begin?" There is so much information out there, it bewilders the young woman trying to find God's will. And so we pray - and they search their hearts for the particular passion that will drive their quest for holiness.

Matching that passion with the charism of a particular congregation is the challenge, the puzzle - and the adventure.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Poor Clare Colettine Nuns

St. Clare of Assisi
St. Clare welcomed me herself. 
I have to admit that this monastery, of all of them, felt most like home. Of course, we are related, so I suppose that that accounts for it. We both follow one of the rules of St. Francis - theirs of St. Clare, mine of the Order of Penance.

It was like coming home to see your older Sisters.

St. Clare and St. Francis founded the Poor Clares just a few years after St. Francis began with the friars. Sort of a romantic story, she ran away from home on the night of Palm Sunday to give her life to God. St. Francis received her vows and she began her life with the Benedictine nuns - to learn how to live the monastic life - but she always kept pure in her heart the call of the little poor man of Assisi. She remained staunch in her following of the highest poverty until the very end.

Sister John Paul Marie, Mother M. Giovanna, Sister Regina
The Colettine nuns follow St. Colette's restoration of the original rule of St. Clare and live a life of radical dedication to Christ.

They live simply, in fasting, silence and prayer - and with an incredible joy that shines through. They take solemn vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Enclosure - and maintain papal enclosure carefully.

They do not own anything, even corporately, although due to legal issues they sometimes administer the property they use under the authority of the local Bishop. The nuns do not work for money to support themselves - as mendicants, they rely entirely on alms. They told about one time when they simply had no cheese, and as this is a staple for supper (they don't eat meat), they were in the midst of a discussion about it's replacement - the doorbell rang and there, standing in the doorway was a friend to offer a gift of cheese.

Apparently that is something the Lord does fairly regularly for them.

Their prayer life centers around the Divine Office, and they pray all seven hours, spaced throughout the day and night. The nuns chant the prayers in English using Gregorian chant modes. They love the Latin hymns and use them and their entire life is centered on the Eucharist.

Crucifix and grill in the convent chapel
The formation process begins with the postulancy, which lasts a year. The novitiate is two years and then the Sister takes simple vows for three years. During this time, the temporarily professed Sister lives in the novitiate and continues to receive formation. At the end of this time, the nun makes solemn profession.

The Colettine Poor Clares wear the traditional Franciscan habitand veil. The cord about their waist has four knots - one for each vow - and they add these at the time of profession.

These Sisters demonstrate a strong family spirit and a happiness that is contagious.

The nuns do not receive e-mail (their computers are cloistered too), but they do have a website, which is maintained by a secular Franciscan friend.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Redemptoristine Nuns

The ones who came first.

The foundation of these nuns actually preceeded the foundation of the priests' order, the Redemptorist Fathers. Sister Maria Celeste gave her life to God very early, and after a number of adventures, met with Alphonsus Liguori and found the final form of God's will for her life. Jesus appeared to her and gave her the Redemptoristine rule; she wanted to be faithful - and she also wanted to be careful. The commuity born of this balance of fidelity and prudence still supports the work of the Redemptorist priests all over the world.

This cloistered community prays in a particular way for the evangelizing efforts of the Redemptorist Fathers. These priest preach parish missions and publish magazines and newsletters to bring the content of the faith into the households of Catholics everywhere. The nuns pray, providing the spiritual power and the necessary grace for the work of evangelization.
Mother Maria Celeste -
she wears the original habit

They follow a regular round of the Divine Office and private prayer. (They pray 5 parts of the Divine Office in common.) They emphasize silence and community, and seek to balance the time for speech and silence so that the relationship with God and with the Sisters is strengthened.

The Redemptoristine Community at
Liguori, Missouri
These Sisters wear the modified habit
They promote devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. (The Redmptorists began holding public Perpetual Help devotions during their missions.) One of the nuns handpainted the icon in their chapel.

Generally, they do not move from monastery to monastery, but will do so if a new foundation is made or if a monastery needs an extra nun or so for a brief period.

They wear a red habit; no, it does not symbolize the Precious Blood of the Lord. Rather, they emphasize the Redeeming Love of God, shown in the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Generally, the formation process follows a pattern seen in contemplative orders. The woman begins with a time of orientation: she lives with the community for about six months to discern the call to the contemplative life. A postulancy of about one year follows and then a two-year novitiate. It can be extended as necessary. The young nun takes first vows at the conclusion of the novitiate - and they may be taken for one, two or three years, depending on the person. Temporary vows normally last about three years. This also can be extended to nine years. The nun then takes solemn vows.

These Sisters struck me as extremely joyful and full of hope. They pray and trust God for vocations, and currently are asking him to send them women in their 40's and 50's. Like many orders in the Church, they have not received vocations here for a very long time. Unlike some, they do not give up hope, but simply inform the good God that they have a need - and trust him for the outcome.

Their website can be found here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters

Sister Mary Rebecca and Sister Mary Catherine

Mount Grace Chapel in St. Louis
The Pink Sisters - that's how I came to know them. It seemed strange to me that Sisters would wear such a ... festive ... color - and the statement that they are missionary contemplatives puzzled me further. I could not resist the opportunity to talk to these Sisters and to learn about their life.

St. Arnold Jansenn founded their congregation in order to have prayer coverage and support for the active ministry of the priests and Sisters who engage in the active ministry of evangelization. He knew that all graces flow from the Eucharist, and so established this group of Sisters to pray perpetually - and to gain the necessary graces for those working for the evangelization of the world.

Mother Mary Michael established perpetual exposition - she knows women, and we like to be able to see the Person we're talking to. The Sisters in all their convents, trade off day and night, taking their place before the altar and praying really hard for all of the various gifts of the Holy Spirit the missionaries need.

The Sisters themselves are contemplative missionaries. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, they exercise their particular missionary call behind the walls of a cloistered convent.

St. Arnold dedicated them to the Holy Spirit, the motive power of every missionary, and they wear pink in his (the Holy Spirit's) honor. The Sisters said that it also symbolizes joy: one ought not be somber in the presence of the Eucharist. And their crucifix and ring contain the dove, the universal symbol of the Holy Spirit as part of the design. The active Sisters wear the same crucifix.

Their formation process looks very much like that of an active congregation. The discernment process includes an observer program of two or three weeks, where the young woman lives in the community. This helps the candidate to experience cloistered life, as modern culture and society gives almost no necessary formation for this kind of life. After the woman and community discern the likelihood of a call, the program continues with a 6-12 month aspirancy and then a 6 - 12 month postulancy. The novitiate lasts 2 - 2 1/2 years and temporary vows 5 - 6 years.

These Sisters can be transferred between convents; they do not have any vow or practice of stability. They live as missionaries, ready to go to the place where prayer is needed for the spread of the faith.

Their prayer remains their main work. They pray the entire Divine Office in common, and follow the round of private adoration throughout the day and the night. Because of their practice of perpetual adoration, which requires them to rise throughout the night, they pray the Office of Readings (Matins) in common during the day. Their spirituality focuses on the Eucharist. They return, physically and spiritually, to the tabernacle throughout the day - and they pray a small prayer every 15 minutes, to bring them back, again and again, to the Lord.

The link to their website is here.