Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015!

The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise Him
And the Magi advance with the star,
For You are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal!
--Romanos the Melodist

Blessed and joyful Christmas to all! We remember you in our prayers!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Solemn Chapter Sermon for Christmas

This year our postulant Cloe gave the sermon. It's very lovely and so we decided to post the entire thing!

2000 years ago, on an ordinary night in an ordinary place, something truly extraordinary happened. In a normal field, shepherds were tending their flocks. They were normal men, ordinary Jews, and like all Jews they were awaiting the coming of the Savior. But they were simple shepherds, not priests or rabbis, and probably didn't give the coming of the Messiah much thought. But when they did think about it, they probably expected him to be a savior like the ones the Jewish people had had before: a great leader like Moses, a great king like David, a great prophet like Isaiah.

And then one night the unexpected happened. An angel of the Lord, surrounded by the glory of God, appeared to the shepherds, and they were understandably afraid. But the angel told them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."  The shepherds were surprised by this announcement: what was this good news that an angel was proclaiming to them, simple peasants? Then came the news all Israel had been waiting for: a Savior has been born, one who is both Messiah and God.

The surprised shepherds wanted to know where and how they could find this Savior. And then came the most surprising news of all: "you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger". We're so used to the nativity story that it's hard for us to realize how completely unexpected and astonishing this proclamation was. The people of Israel were expecting a Savior who was a great, strong leader, and instead God came as a vulnerable little baby. They were expecting someone from a great family with lots of material wealth and prestige, and instead God was born to a poor, simple couple. They were expecting someone with great political power, confronting their Roman oppressors in Jerusalem, but instead the Messiah was born in the small town of Bethlehem and visited by peasants and Gentiles. But as Pope Francis wrote, "Let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of His heart." (MV 25)

In this jubilee year of mercy, it is fitting to look at the surprising nature of the nativity story as an act of God's mercy. Of course, the whole of salvation history is an act of mercy. God prepared the way with prophets and leaders who taught His people how to stay close to Him. And the Incarnation was the supreme act of mercy, God becoming human to save humanity. His coming was specially prepared with Mary's immaculate conception, then began with the annunciation, then Jesus' birth, His earthly ministry, culminating in His salvific passion and resurrection. But Jesus' birth was a particular act of mercy, not just that He came but how He came, and reveals how God is a God of mercy. As the great apostle of mercy, St. Faustina, said, "The greatest attribute [of God] is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator." And in Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis writes that mercy is "the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us." (MV 2)

God's mercy is revealed in how He came to meet us, in the incarnation as a little baby. He didn't come as a powerful warrior or political figure, but as a vulnerable infant who needed other people to take care of Him. In His mercy, God humbled Himself to take on our human nature in order to redeem it. It might have been easier for Him to come as a strong adult, but He knew that, ultimately, it would be easier for us to accept Him as Savior if He came as a baby. There is something intrinsically appealing about a baby. Because they are so cute and vulnerable, we feel comfortable approaching them. It's easy to imagine meeting the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes like any other normal newborn. We are drawn to Him in His vulnerability, and more easily accept Him in His helplessness and littleness. His vulnerability requires others to take care of Him, and shows that God's mercy allow us to work with Him in salvation.

There was also great mercy in the Savior choosing to be born into a poor family. He could have chosen a family of great wealth and power, but instead He chose Mary and Joseph, poor peasants from the small town of Nazareth. In His humility, God knew that the Savior needed to be someone everyone could relate to, a simple and approachable man, so in mercy He chose to be born to simple, approachable people. Jesus, both as a baby and as a grown man, presented Himself as a normal person whom everyone felt comfortable coming to. From the shepherds in the field to the lepers who needed His healing to the sinful who needed His forgiveness, Jesus welcomed everyone regardless of status. Even today, I think most of us picture Jesus either as a normal baby in a blanket or as a simple carpenter in peasant robes, which makes Him much more approachable to us in prayer than if we had to picture Him as a powerful king or cryptic prophet.

God also showed His mercy by revealing Himself as a baby to a variety of people. He could have hidden Himself away for decades until He was ready to begin His ministry, but instead He sent angels to announce the birth to the shepherds and sent signs so that even the foreign magi would know of the Savior's birth. This revelation of His birth showed that His mercy and salvation is for everyone, including Gentiles. Previous prophets and kings had been just for the chosen people, but in Jesus, the ultimate Savior, God finally sends salvation for everyone. God's mercy is overflowing generosity, embracing everyone with His love and forgiveness.

Pope Francis called this jubilee year of mercy because, as he wrote, "at times, we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives." (MV 3) So this Christmas, let's contemplate how the nativity story shows God's mercy so that we can learn how God wants us to be merciful to each other. By God becoming incarnate as a vulnerable baby to a poor family, He made Himself much more approachable to us, those whom He came to save and serve; just so, we must do what we can to make ourselves approachable to those we wish to serve in mercy. Jesus' birth was first revealed to peasants and Gentiles, not the Jewish elite, showing that God's mercy extends to all, not just those who may seem most worthy of it. In imitation, we must show mercy and care to everyone, not just those we are comfortable with helping or think deserve it. 

At Jesus' birth, the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people on those whom His favor rests." God's favor and mercy rest on everyone, so Christmas especially is a time for all of us to come together to reflect on the peace and mercy God has for us in our treatment of one another.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Four Last Things: Heaven

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven as "eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity." (1023) As we see in the picture above, Fra Aneglico, OP pictured Heaven as a beautiful garden where saints and angels join in an eternal dance of joy. St. Ambrose wrote, "For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom." This mystery is beyond our limited human understanding. There was a cartoon many years ago that depicted a man--wearing wings and a halo--sitting on a cloud, presumably in Heaven, and thinking wistfully, "Wish I'd brought a magazine..." This idea that Heaven is a place of static, boring perfection is entirely wrong. Heaven is something that, as the band MercyMe sang, we can "only imagine". 

In meditating on Heaven, some of us may also think of music, and a piece that came to mind was Olivier Messiaen's composition "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" (Quartet for the end of time). This work was composed in 1940 while Messiaen was in a prison camp. Friendly guards gave him paper, pencils, and erasers, and allowed him a place to write. He composed the quartet using the instruments available in the camp: violin, clarinet, cello and piano. The result is a remarkable and deeply moving meditation on the end of time and eternity itself. Messiaen used a phrase from Revelation 10:7 to inspire him--in his Vulgate translation the angel says, "There shall be no more time", although today we are more accustomed to the translation which reads, "There shall be no more delay". The piece was actually performed in the camp in January 1941 before a large audience of prisoners and guards. What does this have to do with Heaven? Well, for one thing, there is no time in Heaven. Heaven is a perpetual and eternally present Now. Time with its sadness has come to an end; the joy of Heaven goes on always. Messiaen's composition, especially the two movements in praise of Jesus (5 and 8) attempt to suggest this beautiful sense of peace and everlasting happiness. It is also a reminder that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can lift our eyes to God and trust that in His great mercy He will bring us to be with Him forever one day. Messiaen's response to the cold, hunger and deprivation of the prison camp was to compose a masterpiece using what he had available to him. His Catholic faith sustained and encouraged him throughout his ordeal. 

St. Catherine of Siena, OP once said, "All the way to heaven is heaven." When we remember that Heaven is our longed-for, most desired destiny, we will not mind the little irritations and the enormous problems that confront us each day. We will hopefully keep our eyes fixed on Christ and remember that in Him alone we find our true happiness and joy. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lots of Good News!

As we approach the Good News that is Christmas (the Incarnation of our Savior!) we also have some good news to share from our monastery, namely, some exciting happenings coming next month!

You've seen our postulant Cloe doing all kinds of things over the past year, and we are happy to announce that on January 28, 2016 (the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas) she will receive the habit and begin her novitiate as a nun of  the Order of Preachers! Any guesses about her new religious name? We're all stumped! And incidentally, Sr. Mary Thomas is already taken!!

And on January 30, 2016, our Sr. Bernadette Marie will make her solemn profession! This is not as dramatic in an obvious way as a clothing or a simple profession, but it is certainly more serious and, well, solemn! 

We hope you will keep both Cloe and Sr. Bernadette Marie in your prayers as they prepare for their special days. We will bring you more information and updates as the time draws closer. And please pray for all the young women who are discerning religious life at our monastery! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Novena 2015

We are only nine days away from Christmas...that means it's time again for our Christmas Novena! This includes our special Christmas Novena prayer each day, as well as all our sung Masses and liturgies, including a special Holy Hour this week. Please know that we are remembering all of you, the readers of this blog and our many other friends, relatives and benefactors, in our prayers! If you have any particular intentions you would like us to pray for, please let us know. 

We wish you a blessed Advent season! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

The Four Last Things: Hell

The third of our Four Last Things is hell. Hell is the "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed" (CCC 1033). The Church teaches that hell does exist, but there is no way of knowing who is (or who isn't) in hell while we are on earth. 

When we were looking for an illustration of hell, we had to reject most of what we found (too gruesome!) and went with this illustration from Dante's Divine Comedy. This is particularly appropriate, though, considering that Pope Francis has urged the faithful to read (or reread) the Divine Comedy during this Year of Mercy. In the section on hell, Dante writes that once judged, the damned actually run to their assigned places in hell, anxious (as it were) to begin their punishment. Note what the Catechism said above: it is a state of self-exclusion. Anyone who winds up in hell has freely chosen this place of torment by his or her own actions, which caused a definitive rejection of God and His freely offered mercy. The Catechism continues:"God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end." (CCC 1037) Rather, as St. Paul writes, God "desires all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4) and so He is always extending His mercy to those who are willing to accept it. In the Mass and the daily prayers of the faithful, "the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want 'any to perish, but all to come to repentance' (2 Peter 3:9)." (CCC 1037) In the time we have remaining in this Advent season, let us make an effort to turn back to God before it is too late and our habitual sins may have made it impossible for us to accept the mercy He offers us at every moment. 

Excellent article by Bishop Robert Barron on Dante and the Divine Comedy here. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sr. Maria Guadalupe's Feast Day, 2015

Saturday, December 12, was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In addition to our beautiful Mass, we celebrated Sr. Maria Guadalupe's prioral feast day! The general theme for the day was "Lord, Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace", since this is her motto.When a nun in our monastery makes solemn profession, she also chooses a phrase that is meaningful to her to be her motto. This can be almost anything. We have a sister whose motto is simply "Fiat" (from the Vulgate version of the Bible) and another whose motto is "Nothing but Yourself, O Lord" (the famous quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas).

But back to the feast day celebration! We began with a lovely bilingual musical setting of "Lord, Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace" and moved on to a series of skits and readings of various kinds that illustrated each petition in the prayer: love, peace, pardon, faith, hope, light, joy, etc.

Our subprioress, Sr. Mary Margaret, presents Sr. Maria Guadalupe with our theme 

Sr. Mary Christine's colorful presentation 

Sr. Maria Cabrini's presentation included cookies! Delicious!

Sr. Mary Annunciata narrated a puppet show based on the children's book "No Matter What". (Can you see the puppets on top of the screen??)

A battle for Cloe's mind and heart between her guardian angel and a devil. Of course, grace triumphed in the end!

In the afternoon, we played a spirited game of "Texingo" (which is Texas bingo). A good time was had by all!

The gift table! We didn't have time to open Sr. Maria Guadalupe's many gifts yet, so the celebration continues!

We ended the day with a movie that highlighted some of the virtues we were trying to both show in our presentations and put into practice in our lives. It was actually very enjoyable--just as virtue is often enjoyable when you live it! We all had a great day--and we think Sr. Maria Guadalupe did, too!

Advent Reflection Alert, Part 2

This Sunday the Southern Dominican Province is featuring an Advent reflection by our monastery chaplain, Fr. Marcos Ramos, OP. It's very nice and you can read it for yourself here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Almost halfway through Advent...

We're approaching the halfway point of Advent and some of us may be feeling like the foolish virgins pictured above...the oil has run out, and there seems to be no hope of getting more in time for the Bridegroom's arrival. It's easy to get like this. Advent is a relatively short season, and it's difficult to carve out time to wait patiently, to meditate on the Lord's coming. It can even become a prime moment for a really intense bout of self-pity. Here I am, trying to keep a good Advent while the world celebrates Christmas from Thanksgiving (or Halloween!) onward. Here I am, trying to share my experience of Advent with the world and no one gets it. Here I am, meditating on the coming of Christ incarnate in our world (not to mention meditating on the four last things!) and all around me it's like a big happy party that I haven't been invited to. Poor me!

These problems are microscopic compared to all the truly horrific things happening in the world...shootings, refugee crises, world hunger, terrorism. But at the same time they are still meaningful. Just because something is incredibly trivial doesn't mean it hurts less. Sometimes it's the little things that hurt the most. The thing to remember is that these hurts and slights and pains are not the end of the story. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change ourselves by cooperating and accepting and being open to God's grace. There is still time, this Advent season, to buy more oil and prepare for the coming of Christ. There is still time to awaken from the drowsiness of self-pity and unreasonable depression and go out to meet Christ with joy. There is still time to help others, to spread the Good News through our small and everyday acts of love, to pray for all those people suffering so terribly in so many parts of this world and to support them through prayers and material donations, etc. There is still time! We are only halfway through Advent...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Four Last Things: Judgment

The second of the Four Last Things we are considering this Advent season is Judgment. Here we will discuss the Last Judgment, which will come at the end of time, and also the particular judgment, which happens to each of us at the moment of our death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead." (CCC 1051) When a person dies, Christ immediately judges him or her and assigns a place in Hell, Heaven, or Purgatory. Of course if you end up in Purgatory, you know you will eventually get to heaven. 

The Last Judgment is something else entirely. First comes the general resurrection--when all the dead rise from the grave--followed by Christ coming in glory. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, "Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left...And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:32, 46) It's an extremely frightening concept...but a comforting one, as well. The Catechism tells us, "We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death." (CCC 1040)

We are often critical of those who judge others (of course we overlook the fact that in criticizing we are judging them too!). Add to this Pope Francis' repeated statements about looking to God's mercy rather than His judgment, and the whole concept gets even more confusing. How does God's judgment happen, anyway? The best we can do is simply trust in God--His mercy and His judgment--and do our best to choose Him now so that we may be happy with Him forever. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Immaculate Conception, 2015

Today is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Under this title, Mary is the patroness of the United States and also of our diocese of Tyler, TX. This also happens to be the day the Southern Dominican Province was founded, back in 1979. And, it's the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. It's a holy day of obligation, too, so hopefully you will go or have already gone to Mass!

Mary was conceived without sin--that is, she had no trace of the original sin all the rest of us are born with--but that doesn't mean she didn't have free will. She had the possibility to choose the wrong things, but she never did. Many times we recognize the difference between a good thing to do and an evil thing to do--these things are seldom gray--and for whatever reason we choose the evil. Let us pray today that through the intercession of Mary Immaculate we may always choose the good which will bring us closer to God.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent Reflection Alert!

Our Sr. Mary Rose has an Advent reflection on the Southern Dominican Province website. It's really excellent and we recommend you check it out! Just click here. There are many other good reflections on the website and we hope you will read them as well. Other sisters from our monastery have reflections scheduled too -- we will keep you updated when they go live!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Four Last Things: Death

Advent is a season to prepare for the great solemnity of Christmas. But it has also been a traditional time to consider the "four last things"...death, judgment, hell, and heaven. We would like to consider these four last things during this Advent season. So, without further ado, we bring you the first of these: death.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that 1) death is the end of earthly life; 2) death is a consequence of sin; but also 3) death is transformed by Christ, Who also suffered death. (CCC 1007-1009) Christ has given death a positive meaning. "What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already 'died with Christ' sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this 'dying with Christ' and so completes our incorporation into his redeeming act." (CCC 1010)  As St. Therese of Lisieux said, "I am not dying; I am entering life." (Last Conversations)

Ray Bradbury wrote a novel called Death Is A Lonely Business, and this title probably sums up the way most of us view death. But not so long ago people kept vigil with the dying, offering prayers and other consolations, encouraging them as they faced the temptations that afflict the dying in particular (represented by demons in the woodcut above). We still keep vigils with our dying sisters here at the monastery, praying, singing the "Salve Regina" and other hymns, and being a quiet loving presence for them as they make this transition. But even if one is alone at the moment of death, as believers we know we are surrounded by hosts of saints and angels who are there to assist us, to guide us through this passage. It is helpful--and not morbid!--to pray for the grace of a "happy death", that is, a calm, peaceful death, in which we can make our last surrender to God. We pray for this every time we pray the Hail Mary--"Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death". We can also pray to St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, who is the patron of a happy death. In the end, death is not the end. There is more to come!

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "This saying is trustworthy. If we have died with him, we shall also live with him." (2 Timothy 2:11) Amen!

Visiting Friars: Fr. Charles Bouchard, OP

We have been privileged to have Fr. Charles Bouchard, OP, from the province of St. Albert the Great (the Central Province) visiting us this week. Fr. Charles gave us some excellent lectures...on the Ars Moriendi and the Spirituality of a Happy Death, Catholic Preaching, and Suffering and Sanctity. In between lectures, he has been giving talks at some of the local hospitals here in town, since he is an expert on medical ethics. 

Father enjoying a parlor visit with the community

Father requested a photo of himself with the community, so we got one for ourselves, too! This is most (but not all) of us. 

We hope to see Fr. Charles again some time soon! Thank you for visiting us!