Sunday, March 15, 2015

Advice from a Canyon..or a Vocation Director

Have you ever seen the t-shirts, books or bookmarks bearing the slogan Advice from a ________ (fill in the blank with just about anything in nature)?  They were created by a gentleman named Ilan Shamir who started the Your True Nature company that sells the 'Advice from Nature' products.  You can get advice from bats, blueberries, moose, and wood ducks just to name a few.

I was introduced to these clever slogans a few years back when my  vocation director mentor, Sr. Lupita, showed me some bookmarks she had collected when I was visiting our Tucson monastery.   I happened to run across one this past week that she had given me and this one said Advice from a CANYON.  Having just had the opportunity to hike in a couple of canyons while in Arizona, I took special note of it.

As I read through it, it struck me that if I changed a few words here and there, I could apply it to discernment.  So consider this Advice from a VOCATION DIRECTOR

Instead of Carve Out a Place for Yourself ...  I would say -
Carve out a Place for God

Instead of Aspire to New Plateaus ... I would say -
Aspire to Greater Love

Instead of Stand the Test of Time ...  I would say -
Stand the Test of Time - Discernment doesn't happen overnight

Instead of Don't Get Boxed In ... I would say -
Don't Get Boxed In by Discouraging Voices

Instead of Listen to the Voice of the Wind... I would say -
Listen to the Voice of the Spirit

Instead of It's OK to be a Little Off the Wall ...  Actually, I wouldn't change this one.  Most people think you are a little off the wall if you want to be a nun!  

Instead of Reach Deep... I would just add a couple of words here -
Reach Deep Inside your Soul to find the answers

If you need more advice than that, ask a blueberry or a moose and click here

Sunday, March 1, 2015

sightings in the Tucson monastery

I arrived at our monastery in Tuscon, AZ 10 days ago to help host a Come and See weekend for interested discerners.   I am still here enjoying the sunshine and warm weather while I await other sisters from Missouri to fly in for a meeting we will be attending. Meetings have never been something I look forward to...perhaps loathe would be too strong a word...but I offer it all up for the coming of the Kingdom!

I've had ample time to wander around our lovely  monastery and take pictures of our lovely grounds and lovely sisters.  Many sisters have graciously allowed me to take their picture after a little hemming and hawing...after all, who really likes to get their picture taken?  If I'm not careful they will soon be turning and walking the other way when they see me approaching.

I thought I would share some of the sights to be found around our monastery.  Tucson is in the Sonoran Desert which is one of the prettier deserts of our world.  It is not endless sand dunes like the Sahara.  The famous Saguaro Cactus makes its home here.  Cactus do abound on our property but I want to share some 'color' I found in our courtyard.

There is a cool oasis of pansies in our courtyard that delight the eyes.  

Below is a great spot for meditation and lectio divina.

We also have a meditation garden outside of the monastery walls with
typical desert vegetation and a bubbling fountain.

And here are some cactus by our back door...we let God water these...
he does it better than we could.

Finally, one of the loveliest things about Tucson is that it is surrounded by 
mountains on 3 sides. So as I take my daily walk around the grounds I get glimpses
of the Catalina Mtns peering above the oleander bushes and the palo verde trees.   

One of my favorite verses from the Old Testament is from the prophet Hosea where God says, "I will lure her into the desert and speak to her heart."  
God doesn't have to twist my arm to get me to come to our Tucson monastery 
during the winter months!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ever feel like you are being driven into the 'desert?'

Lent having rolled around again, it's time I start blogging again. The last post was during Lent of 2014.  Where did the year go!!??

I am currently at our lovely monastery in Tucson, AZ.

Front of our monastery and bell tower on chapel

view of Catalina Mountains from the roof deck

We usually host a Come and See weekend in February (which we just finished) and it doesn't take much arm-twisting to get me to spend a few winter days in the Southwest.  When I left Clyde, MO last Thursday it was 2 degrees.  When I stepped off the plane at the Tucson airport it was 75 degrees.

two degrees...seventy-five degrees...which would you choose?

I actually like winter and snow so I CAN enjoy either temperature.

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is the bare bones account from the 1st chapter of Mark of Jesus being driven by the Spirit into the desert.  I felt 'driven' by the Spirit to consider a religious vocation all those years ago.  Actually, it was more like the Spirit 'haunting' me than 'driving' me.  But in either case, when one starts to discern a religious vocation, it does feel like you are now in the desert.

It is unfamiliar territory...landmarks are fewer and far between...there is a thirsting for answers but they can be hard to find, just like water in the desert.

Satan can be hanging around also, tempting the poor hapless discerner.

"Don't waste your life on a religious vocation, you won't be very happy."

"You would be wasting your talents in a religious community.  You can do so much more good out in the world."

"You would be much happier married and can you really give up wanting to have children?"

These are all common thoughts that might zoom across our gray matter when we start thinking about a (gulp) religious vocation.  However, all is not lost.  Just as angels ministered to Jesus in the desert, 'angels' appear on the scene to help us.  Angels can appear in the form of a spiritual director, just the right book at the right time or perhaps hearing just the right homily at the right time. Look around for those angels in those times of doubt and confusion.  They might be hanging around the next cactus in your desert...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Burying the Fat

Each year I usually get some little booklet for Lent that has daily reflections.  There were some 'freebies' sitting out in our mail room so I grabbed one with reflections by Fr. Thomas Connery.  

There was an interesting tidbit of information in the reflection for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday which said, In medieval times monks would give up butter, lard and fat for Lent.  They had an Ash Wednesday ceremony called "Burying the Fat," in which they put butter in a casket, held a funeral service and actually buried the casket  They took it quite seriously.  They felt it was their way of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

I tried to imagine my community doing this...

There we are standing around an open coffin...Sr. Rita, our prioress, tosses in the Crisco while we sing an appropriate funeral song...

Next, Sr. Jane, subprioress, tosses in the butter and margerine sticks...we sing something somber...

There is debate as to whether the canola and olive oil should go is 'heatlhy' after all.  But's Lent!  "It all has to go!!!!" roars our prioress.  

We slam the coffin lid down and carry it out back where we drop it into the earth and each toss in a shovelful of dirt to cover it up.  For good measure we stand on the top of the 'grave' and stamp the dirt down with our feet.

While I may poke a little fun at my ancestors in the monastic timeline,  it does give me food for thought...or fat for thought.   There are other things I could be serious about burying.

Even discerning a life choice such as whether to enter a religious community will entail burying a few things.  

I would suggest tossing in these two things:  

 1.  The desire to make a decision only after you are 100% sure.  (This one can really slow you down or in fact paralyze you).  I've come to realize that God lets us live with a whole lot of ambiguity in these matters.   I think it is a matter of strengthening our faith.  As much as we might not like to stumble around in the dark, it is those times when we have to exercise the most faith and trust in God.  

2.  The desire to find the perfect community.   The reality is that there are no perfect communities.   And if there were, as soon as you would enter it, it wouldn't be perfect anymore (unless you are willing to claim that you are perfect).   The women and men in religious life are human with their own weaknesses.  God wants us to live with each other with all our annoyances and disagreements in order to teach us to really learn to love each other and practice self-giving and humility.   God does not promise us rose gardens in our communities.  

There are a host of other things that may need to be buried at some time.  But I suspect God is even willing to help us do the shoveling if we just ask...


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Has the Pope written yet?

I had just arrived in my office this morning when my phone rang.  Our own Sr. Maria Victoria was on the line, "The letter I was expecting finally arrived.  If you want to see it swing by the portress desk."  I had no idea what she was talking about but was curious and so I trotted 15 yards down the hall to our front entrance.  

A little back ground information needed:  Sr. Maria Victoria was born in Argentina and made Final Profession on January 18 of this year.  

Sr. Maria Victoria reads her Profession Vows

"The pope finally wrote back,"  she said as I approached her desk.  She gave me an envelope with the return address of the Aspostolic Nunciature in Washington DC.  Inside was a blue rosary case with the papal seal containing a pearl white rosary and a picture of Pope Francis signed "Francesco."  Alas, there was no actual letter in the envelope.
And, the signature was printed, not written, on the card.

She grinned as she related how after Cardinal Bergoglio was elected she had sent a congratulatory card to him at the Vatican.  "I told him I was from HIS city in Argentina and we were praying for him because that is what our community does."  She also had sent him a birthday card last month with an invitation to her Final Profession.    And just yesterday Maria Victoria's younger sister had written to her asking cheekily, "Has the pope written back yet?"

Our Sr. Cathleen Marie got wind of the fact that Sr. Maria Victoria was trying to contact the pope and decided in December to e-mail Pope Francis himself, but alas the e-mail returned to her.  

So she e-mailed L'Osservatore Romano (the Vatican newspaper) asking them to tell Pope Francis about Sr. Maria Victoria with the suggestion that he call her.   (With periodic news reports that Pope Francis has called someone out of the blue, maybe it's not so far fetched.)

So, at least someone somewhere in the halls of the Vatican forwarded these requests to the Apostolic Nuncio office in Washington DC where they dutifully sent a rosary and a card.  

Heck, it's better than nothing. I hear a phone ringing?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

At the Gate of the Year

Happy 2014!  To begin this new year I would like to share one of my favorite poems: 

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."

And he replied,
"Go into the darkness and put your hand 
into the hand of God
that shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God

Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mt. Carmel meets Monte Cassino

 In listening to the vocation stories of my sisters here in community, I have found that several of them considered Carmelite life before settling on our own Benedictine community.  I was also among that group.  My discernment ‘road’ wound through visits to two Carmelite monasteries in Maryland where I was living and working at the time. 

 Pretty much every Catholic who grew up in a devout home was exposed to the Little Flower at some point because of her reputation for being a powerful intercessor in heaven.  I found an old yellowed, dog-eared copy of The Story of a Soul  (St. Therese’s autobiography) in a box of books that had been sitting in the ‘junk’ room of our farm house when I was in high school and was intrigued enough to read through it.  Because of that exposure, when I found myself discerning a contemplative religious vocation, it was natural to think of Carmelites first.  (I had not even heard of St. Benedict at that time)   Considering there is a Benedictine Convent in a city close to where I grew up and that I was born in a Benedictine-run hospital, I must have not been paying attention when I was younger!

So, I visited a place called Port Tobacco, MD.  I had a lovely drive through the countryside of southern Maryland to get to what was the first Carmelite community established in the U.S.   I drove up to a structure that had a WALL stretching as far as I could see.  I went into the little house that had a sign “Guests” and entered a small room without a door but with a ‘round thing’ jutting out of the wall.  There was a door bell to ring, so I did, and a voice from the other side of the wall said, “Praise be to Jesus” and asked me what I wanted.  I told the voice I was there to visit with Sr. so-and-so.  Then the ‘round thing’ jutting out of the wall began to turn.  “Take this key and let yourself into the the visitor’s parlor next door” the voice called out.  Sure enough, there was a key there lying in the ‘round thing’ which I now know is called ‘The TURN.’  I thought to myself, “this is a little spooky...if I just got in my car and left right now, they would never know who I was...”   

But I didn’t...

I bravely went next door, let myself in to the visitor’s parlor and sat down in a room divided in half by a ‘grille’ consisting of a wall about waist high with widely spaced bars on top of the wall going up to the ceiling.  I was soon joined by 2 brown-clad Carmelite nuns.  I had a delightful conversation with both of them that afternoon as they explained what their community was like and I told them a little about myself.  They gave me a video to bring home that was a documentary on their life style and showed what their place beyond the WALL looked like.  So I drove home, watched it, was fascinated and attracted by what I saw......but never went back to continue discernment with them.  

I guess it just wasn’t my call...

I still continue to appreciate the works of St. Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross and other Carmelite writings.  They do feed my contemplative soul.

Fast-forward to the year 2013.  We had been in contact with a Carmelite community in Jefferson City, MO over the years because they were in the altar bread production business to support themselves just as we are.   In the past few years their community had dwindled down to just three members and it was clear that they could not continue to live in their now too-big monastery.  Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the idea was put forth that perhaps they could somehow share in our life up here in Clyde, MO.  The more we prayed and discerned, the more it just seemed like the right thing to do.  

We greet the arriving Carmelite sisters at
the front entrance to our monastery

So we were pleased to welcome into our midst on December 2nd, three Carmelites from southern Missouri who have turned one of our guest houses into the newly re-located Carmel of the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph.   

Hugs were given all around as the Carmelites stepped out of their vehicle.

There is no intention to become  Benedilites or Carmedictines...

But we do look forward to sharing our distinct contemplative lifestyles and traditions in order to make this corner of northwest Missouri even more of a power house of prayer!