Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Saturday, March 29, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent--Laetare Sunday

This Sunday marks a turning point in Lent--we only have about three weeks to go--and the liturgy today encourages us to "hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come". Today the usual Lenten violet vestments may be replaced with rose colored ones--if your pastor is so inclined! 

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts us, "Live as children of light...Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." Lent is the time to throw off the works of darkness. In the darkness and sleepiness of sin, it is impossible to see clearly. We are called to expose our sinful ways to the light, for "light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth." By acknowledging sin, it loses its power over us, and we are free.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that "we have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day...while I am in the world, I am the light of the world." To prove his point, he heals the man born blind. This man becomes a disciple of Jesus. He boldly proclaims that Jesus has come from God to the Pharisees who question him relentlessly. However the Pharisees are themselves blinded by their preconceived notions of what God is, and they refuse to accept the miracle. Let us allow ourselves to be healed by Jesus, and, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, "Let us confess our blindness, our shortsightedness, and especially what the Bible calls the "great transgression": pride." The Pharisees could not do this; let us be humble enough to do it today. Let us be "light in the Lord"!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation, 2014

At Solemn Chapter yesterday morning, we heard a beautiful sermon on the Annunciation, and we share some excerpts from it here:

Once upon a time, over 2000 years ago, living quietly in a town called Nazareth was a lovely young Jewish virgin named Mary. She was a faithful descendant of Abraham, who belonged to the "humble and lowly" people of Israel and who waited fervently to welcome the Messiah with all her heart and mind. 

Mary had a plan for her life...she was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David (Lk 1:26). Had God not found favor in Mary, it appears that she would have lived the very normal life of a Jewish woman with her beloved husband. Looking at it from a human standpoint, Mary's life plan was concrete, practical and simple. However, God had a different plan for Mary. He sent the angel Gabriel to reveal his divine plan for her life. This plan was mysterious and greatly complex, changing her world, putting her faith to a big test, and challenging her to remain faithful to the Lord. How could Mary not be afraid? Did she have concerns? On the other hand, Mary was a true believer and her poor in spirit nature intensified her inward life with a trusting heart, with humility, with a dependence on and obedience to God. Unlike Eve, who in desiring to gain wisdom became disobedience and fell, Mary's consciousness of her lowliness formed within her a strong sense of trust in God, a need for God. She had a spirit of total surrender, perfect conviction, and passionate love for the Lord. She accepted God's plan for her life and said to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38)

Pope Francis said, "The Virgin Mary teaches us what it means to live in the Holy Spirit and what it means to accept the news of God in our life. Each one of us is called to accept the Word of God, to accept Jesus inside of us, and then to bring him to everyone." Our Dominican way of life emphasizes contemplating and then sharing with others the fruits of contemplation. As we celebrate the mysteries of the Annunciation, of God's love and mercy for us, of Mary herself, may we also contemplate the mysteries of our divine vocation as Christians and Dominicans. As we journey through this Lenten season, may we be inspired by Mary to learn from her and to imitate her virtues; may we make every effort with a strong conviction to fulfill God's will in our daily life; may we all meet God and hear his voice in our contemplation, and may we then share the fruits of our contemplation with each other and with all those whom we hold dear in our hearts!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Visiting Friars, 2014: Fr. Thomas Schaefgen, OP

Last week we were privileged to have Fr. Thomas Schaefgen, OP make a retreat here at our monastery. Father stayed in our guest room outside and celebrated Mass for us every day. We met him a few years back when he was a novice, and this time we really enjoyed getting to know him better!

Fr. Thomas is a new priest--he was ordained less than a year ago, in June 2013--but he preaches very well and has a great pastoral manner. Fr. Thomas belongs to our southern Dominican province of St. Martin de Porres and currently resides and ministers in the New Orleans area. We did ask him "which Thomas are you?"--Thomas the Apostle is his patron, not Thomas Aquinas! We hope he will be able to come again for another visit soon--and we encourage his brother friars to visit us, too!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent, 2014

Why did Jesus speak to the Samaritan woman even though he was a devout Jew? Historically, the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. The Samaritans closed themselves off from all religious influence from Jerusalem. They only acknowledged the Pentateuch and built their own temple on Mount Gerizim as their sanctuary. Jesus loved the temple in Jerusalem, made pilgrimages to it, kept Shabbat, went to the synagogue, read and valued the teachings of the Prophets, and studied Torah. But he was tired and thirsty, and when she came to the well to draw water, he surprised her by asking for a drink.

God is not only close to this world, but present in it, infinitely present to human beings. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman and explained to her that God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Only the Spirit of God can be "closer than my inmost being, both in my existence and in my spiritual experience." The Spirit of God has the extraordinary power to make all creatures new. He fills the universe with love and inspires the new worship. This worship is "in truth" because the love of God the Father is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit as a gift, an infinite grace, a source of life which is made visible and is given personally to us in Christ. (cf. Romans 5:5)

The woman discovered the sanctuary of her inmost being, where the Holy Spirit continually radiates the light and strength of a new life. She left her water jar, went into the town and said to the people, "Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?" These words of the Samaritan woman are especially significant as Jesus declares that he is the Messiah: "I am he." In the end the entire village knows him as the Savior of the world. May we too come to know him as our Savior as we meet him in the everyday world we live in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St Joseph, 2014

Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of St. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin and foster father of Jesus. Today the Church leads us deeply into the mystery of holy Joseph who was chosen to play a very special role in God's plan of our salvation.

Joseph is called a "just man". In Hebrew, a just man means a good, faithful servant of God, someone who fulfills the divine will, who loves God and neighbors. Joseph considered his wife holy and pure. But she was going to have a child. He was confused and could not explain this difficult situation, so he decided to divorce her quietly. But during the night, the mystery was explained, and it became clear to him: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 1:24) He accepted God's plan completely and love moved him forward to embrace his vocation as the foster father of Jesus. 

The beautiful example of Joseph tells us that we ought not to be surprised if we also undergo difficult trials in our life. Daily fidelity, responsibility for the family and the home, striving to do God's will in all situations is not an easy job. Sometimes we may experience the apparent absence of God in our lives. We turn at these times to a humble, life-giving prayer in order to remain faithful to God who constantly gives light and rewards those who act justly and trust in God's power and wisdom. Let us follow the example of the righteous and humble St. Joseph, who generously opened his heart to God and did not simply do his own will. He became the heroic guardian of the Son of God, his Mother, and now he is the Guardian of the Universal Church. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's Go Fly A Kite!

Some of the sisters took advantage of the windy, spring-like weather today to go out and fly a kite!

Getting off to a flying start!

Mary Catherine's kite seems to have stalled, but Sr. Mary Rose's kite... flying high above the pine trees!

Sr. Mary Thomas flew her kite from a different angle...

...and you can see it hovering over the magnolia tree.

A beautiful blue sky.

But we could have used a little more wind...!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent, 2014

Today's second reading from Paul's letter to Timothy is a good example of the way the Scripture readings at Mass complement each other. With the Gospel text as our background, let us look at the second reading. 

Paul counsels us to bear hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. The apostles go with Jesus up a high mountain, which would certainly be an arduous climb, and there they will meet Moses and Elijah, both of whom were experienced mountain climbers who bore more than their share of hardships for the word of God!

Paul goes on to say that we are called to a holy life according to God's design. Recall the call of Moses and how he tried to argue his way out of God's plan for him, as does Elijah when he receives his commission from God on the same mountain as Moses. We too are called and all too often try to bargain our way out of it, but God knows what plans he has for us, plans for peace and not disaster (Jer. 29:11).

The grace to carry out our call was bestowed on us before time began, Paul says, but is now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Jesus Christ. And what is that call we have received? It is the call to a new life which we received when we were baptized into Christ Jesus who came among us to make us heirs of God and co-heirs with him. As the Apostles looked in awe on the transfigured Christ they heard the voice of the Father command them: Listen to Him; he is my beloved Son. And if you listen, you too will be sons of the Father. 

Paul concludes: Christ Jesus had brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. It is in him that we receive the abundance of life, life eternal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

St. Dominic's Orange Tree

According to legend, Saint Dominic planted an orange tree when he was in Rome, at the Dominican headquarters at Santa Sabina. Maybe he remembered such trees from his childhood in Spain or maybe he liked oranges. We're not sure! There are many descendants of the original tree at Dominican priories and monasteries and motherhouses, and we have such a tree at our monastery. The seed for this tree came to us from the Houston Dominican sisters who have several of "St. Dominic's orange trees" at their motherhouse. It was grown in a pot until it was strong enough to be transplanted into the ground, and now it is as you see it here!

The tree was first cared for lovingly by our Sr. Mary Agnes of happy memory, who even wrote a poem about the tree. Just to share a portion of it:
I watched a tree grow.
Few people live slow enough to watch a tree grow...
I looked closely now and then
At the bark and lacy boughs 
And saw my tree--like the just man
Grow tall and strong and free
Praising the Lord--O Happy Tree!
I like my tree
Cuz I watched it grow
And I lived slow enough 
And close enough to know. 
(copyright Monastery of the Infant Jesus)

The tree suffered a bit this year during an especially cold winter, but we pray it will live and continue to bear fruit. It is a reminder of St. Dominic, and all the holy men and women who followed in his footsteps. We are all in a sense the trees St. Dominic planted, giving to others the fruits--hopefully sweet and flavorful!--of our contemplation.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, 2014

Every sin is the sin of Adam and Eve, which was the sin of wanting to be like God. We all know this reality very well, deep down in our hearts. From the time we were babies beginning to explore this vast, amazing world, we have wanted our own way. We have wanted to be "like" God. 

In these first days of the season of Lent, it is time to take a good look at ourselves. It is a time for seeing reality and turning to God for his help. Today the Church offers us two excellent weapons in our struggle with the temptations of Satan, the world, and the flesh: the Word of Christ and the Body of Christ. 

The Body of Christ is offered every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By it we are strengthened, receive every spiritual blessing and are united more intimately to the Redeemer. Receiving the Eucharist more frequently helps us resist temptations. The Word of Christ, as presented to us through the liturgy, is very rich during this season of grace, giving us wisdom and strategies to ponder and put into practice in our spiritual journey. Scripture is also a kind of spiritual food. Jesus' rebuke to Satan at the first temptation in the Gospel is also a lesson for us: "One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." 

As Lent progresses, it can become a trying, difficult time. After a few weeks (or even days!) we may be worn out or bored with the discipline we have chosen. But let us not give up and quit. Our relief and reward at Easter will be all the greater if we can persevere.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday, 2014

Ash Wednesday begins the liturgical season of Lent. It is the time of preparation for the commemoration and celebration of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection at the Easter Triduum. Ashes, the result of burning the palms from last year's Palm Sunday procession, are blessed and placed on our forehead to remind us that we are God's people, created, redeemed, forgiven and "raised up" again by God's merciful love. 

God created us from the dust of the earth and unto dust we shall return. He created us into being out of love, his love, and our being, our soul will live forever. Hopefully we will choose to live with him! 

God redeemed us through his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so great was his love for us. As a people we turned away from him to serve "other gods". Some of us are still doing that! And so the prophet Joel begs us to return to God with a sincere and contrite heart to obtain his mercy. Psalm 51 provides us the heart and soul of this desire. 

Again and again, God forgives us. Some people may think, "God has forgiven me once; he will not forgive me again!" This is not true. No matter how many times we sin, God, our loving Father, is ready to forgive us. This is because he is God, not man. He says, "My ways are not your ways, and your ways are not my ways." (Is. 55:8) God is bigger than our sins! Our Father in heaven, who "sees the secret of the heart", will reward all those who turn to him with a contrite heart, are humble and sincere, without desire for personal gain at the expense of the poor, grateful and loving. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

The image of the mother who can never forget her child is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. In today's first reading it is used to describe the love that God has for his people. God's goodness is like the mother who cares for and loves her children with tenderness. At the same time, the Lord shows us the value of the ordinary things of life by calling us to put our priorities in order and trust in God's fatherly providence. 
In today's Gospel, Christ uses simple examples and comparisons taken from everyday life to teach us to abandon ourselves into the arms of God. "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Mt. 6:26) Then he asks a question, and explains it: "Why are you anxious about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." (Mt. 6:28-29) He continues with his teaching about the kingdom of God: "If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?" (Mt. 6:30) The words of Christ may have sounded impossible and irresponsible. But he meant to announce the coming of his Father's kingdom. In his preaching, he wanted to show the necessary things in this life. This means nothing more than living a life that trusts in God's goodness, care and merciful love. God shows his love like a mother who has borne mankind and nourished it; he shows his love like a father who has taught his child with patience and understanding.