30 December 2005

Holy Family

Every seven years or so we have the longest Advent possible and, as a result, we have the shortest possible Christmastide. When this happens, today's great Feast of the Holy Family, which is normally celebrated on the Sunday following Christmas, is celebrated on 30 December -- an ironic, but fitting fate for the Feast of a family, who themselves, did a great deal of unexpected moving.

Just as Mary's and Joseph's life with Jesus -- from the very little we know about it -- included many unexpected turns of events, so our life with Jesus is no different. Simeon, in today's Gospel, tells Mary that her heart will be pierced with a sword, so that the hearts of many may be laid bare. This prophecy hints at all that she will suffer, in accompanying Jesus during his life. For all of us, however, this is our vocation as Christians. When we accept the invitation to follow Christ, we accept the trials and tribulations of the heart that inevitably follow. This double edged sword that pierced Mary's heart -- and that pierces ours, if we permit it -- does not leave us wounded forever; rather, it is a tangible reminder of the Lord's promise that his suffering has redeemed our suffering.

As we celebrate and honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we pray especially for those whose families are most acutely affected by suffering. Let us be mindful, as well, of the sufferings in our own families, communities, parishes, etc. As we share in the sufferings of Christ, as we are touched by the sword that pierced Mary, let us long for a share in his healing grace, a foretaste of the glory to be revealed.

"We must consider the great peace and serenity of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph shown in their constancy amid all the unexpected events which befell them. Now consider if we are justified in being surprised and troubled when we meet with similar accidents in the house of God (in our religion) seeing that they occurred even in the family of the Lord."
St. Francis de Sales

28 December 2005

Happy Anniversary

Happy Anniversary, Bishop Coakley! The Most Rev'd Paul S. Coakley was ordained to the Episcopate on 28 December 2004 and named the tenth Bishop of Salina, Kansas.

Bishop Coakley first visited our monastery as a child, in the arms of his mother Mary, the blood sister of our own Sister Mary Stanislaus. Later, as a seminarian at Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, he visited often, bringing with him many fellow seminarians in tow. After further studies and some years in pastoral ministry, he was asked to return to Mount St. Mary's as a spiritual director. Once more, we were so blessed to have him near us and this time, he was one of our chaplains coming, as often as he was able, to celebrate Mass for the community.

On 13 November 2005, Bishop Coakley received the cross of affiliation from our monastery, entitling him to all the spiritual benefits of a member of our Order. Pictured below is Bishop Coakley, sporting his Visitation cross, sitting with his aunt, Sister Mary Stanislaus.

To read more about Bishop Coakley, click here.

27 December 2005

St. John, the beloved

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John, the beloved disciple who is credited with writing the fourth Gospel, esteemed for his fidelity in staying at the foot of the cross, and often depicted as laying his head on the heart of the Lord. In a reflection prepared for 6 January 1941 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) suggests that "We can learn from John how precious human souls are to the Divine Heart and how we can give him no greater joy than by being willing instruments on his shepherding way."

Surely St. John would know well what is pleasing to the Divine Heart. It was he who recorded Jesus' testimony about being the Good Shepherd. It was he who, upon seeing the shroud on the floor of the empty tomb, believed -- and trusted that the life of the good shepherd was not to end on a cross and in a borrowed grave.

As we celebrate this great disciple and evangelist, we can pray for the grace to imitate his example of being a willing instrument for the Good Shepherd. In the moments where we know well what is pleasing to God, let us act promptly and cheerfully. In moments where we have little control over circumstances which befall us -- be they troublesome or pleasing -- let us accept them for love of God alone. Our quiet acceptance is precious gift for the newborn child.

"We can receive the outcome of heaven's good pleasure with a most unalloyed tranquility of will that wills nothing whatsoever, but acquiesces absolutely in all that God wills to be done in us, on us or by us."
St. Francis de Sales

25 December 2005

One Little Iota

Can one little iota really make a big difference? Yes. In fact, it nearly ruined Christmas -- before Christmas was even a formal liturgical celebration.

In 325 at the Council of Niacea, the infamous Arian heresy was disputed and condemned. Arius, as well-intentioned as he was misled, had proposed that Jesus was neither God nor man; he was, rather, somewhere in between, something akin to the demi-gods of the classical world. Arius used the term 'omoiousios to describe this. The prefix 'omoi, is from a Greek adjective meaning "like" or "similar to" and ousios is from the participle of the Greek verb "to be." Literally, he asserted that Jesus was "similar in being, in substance" to God. The council fathers, insisting that Jesus is truly God, preferred the term 'omoousios, simply deleting the iota from Arius' term. This word is formed from another Greek adjective, 'omos which means "the same as." (Please note that this is not the same root as Latin word for man, "homo, hominis" though when transliterated into English, it looks very similar).

So why all the fuss about technical, headache-provoking, theological terms on Christmas day? Had it not been for the insight and perseverance of the fathers of the Council of Niacea, we would not be celebrating the Incarnation. One little iota could have obscured this precious truth of our faith; this most sacred of mysteries would have been lost in the annals of Church history. So as we kneel before the creche today, let us whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for those heroic defenders of our faith who kept alive the legacy of this great mystery amid much confusion and controversy.

A happy and holy Christmas from
the Sisters of the Visitation of Georgetown.

"When the magi kissed the feet of Jesus, they kissed the feet of God."
St. Francis de Sales

24 December 2005

O Virgin of Virgins

O Virgo Virginum quomodo fiet istud: quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem: filiae hierusalem quid me admiraninimi divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was there any like you nor will there be any to follow after: daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me? That which you believe is a divine mystery.

Yes, this is the disputed "eighth" O Antiphon, not currently in use in the Divine Office. Some scholars believe that it was originally included in a larger set of "O Antiphons" of which we currently only have and use seven. Other scholars argue that, despite the earliest records of the O Antiphons including O Virgo, due to the sacredness of the number seven, this antiphon is not indigenous to the seven that come down to us today. Perhaps the two most striking differences between this antiphon and the other seven are that this one is addressed to Mary and, due to this, it lacks the "Veni" clause.

Be it original or fabricated, this is a beautiful text. It points toward Our Lady at the very moment of the Incarnation and, at the same time, it points away from her -- "why marvel at me?" -- and it points toward him who is about to be born. Yes, that which we behold, which Mary carried in her womb, is a divine mystery. It is this for which we have been preparing our hearts and our homes: this grand mystery of God made man. Let him find us ready when he comes. Let him find in our hearts a place worthily prepared for him. And let us welcome anew this divine mystery, which Mary and Joseph were privileged to hold in their arms.

23 December 2005

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: Veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and law-giver, the desire of the nations and their Savior: come and save us Lord our God.

The six previous antiphons all herald the confession that this final antiphon makes: it calls Christ "Emmanuel" -- God with us. The Lord our God, is united with the Messiah who is called Emmanuel; the incarnation is pronounced in this antiphon. The title Emmanuel echoes the exchange between Ahaz and Yahweh: "Listen now, House of David: . . . The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel" (Is 7:13, 14). The title Emmanuel draws the connection to the royal line of David; it is but one of the four titles used in this antiphon. This sequence of appellations seems to come from Isaiah's description of what it will be like to be in the presence of Yahweh: "Yahweh is our judge, Yahweh is our lawgiver, Yahweh is our King and our Savior" (32:22). This list of titles encompasses the various nuances of the Old Testament symbols and their new, deeper, meaning in light of the Messiah's birth.

As the Church sings this last of the Great O Antiphons at Vespers, a time of fullness, we wait eagerly for the fulfillment of the great promises made in these antiphons. The lighting of the evening lamp, before Vespers, signals that the sun is soon to set; the signing of this last Great Antiphon signals that the Son is soon to rise. Let us wait in quiet stillness for the coming of the newborn King. Veni Emmanuel!

22 December 2005

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: Veni, et salve hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Nations, and their desire, the cornerstone, who makes both to be one: Come and save mankind, whom you formed from clay.

Christ is he whom the nations desire; he is no longer exclusive to the people of Israel and their heirs. This notion is continued in the relative clause which follows; it is he who makes both to be one. This is the only phrase in an O Antiphon which is traced exclusively to the New Testament; it appears to be a reference to St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he describes the reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles. That Christ came to bring salvation to all, not merely the people of Israel and their descendants, is indicated in this antiphon. Just as the previous antiphons show the clear relationship between the Old Testament covenant and Christ's fulfillment of that promise, this antiphon carries the fulfillment a step further as it is extended to those traditionally excluded from the promises made to the Israelites and their heirs.

As we intone this antiphon we draw ever closer to the manger in Bethlehem. Fellow travelers along the road ask us where we are going and we reply that the King awaits us. He does. The real question is, perhaps, do we believe that he is our King? Do we act as though he is the King of our hearts? Let us, these last days of Advent, make known that the desire of the nations is indeed the desire of our hearts. Let our actions and our words speak of him and let us invite others to journey with us as we approach the newborn King.

21 December 2005

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: Veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.
O Rising brightness of everlasting light and Sun of justice: come and enlighten those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.

As the calendar is currently arranged, this fifth antiphon is sung on the shortest day of the year. The rising sun, the Oriens, from the Latin verb orior is translated as the "Branch" in the book of Zechariah, which the angel of the Lord announces (3:12). The title Oriens as well as the two which follow, everlasting light and Sun of justice, all link Christ, present with God at the beginning of the world, to the sun which came to be on the fourth day of creation. This same light is experienced as the fulfillment of what Yahweh promised to the people of Israel; for Zechariah, father of St. John the Baptist, announces that God, "from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death" (Lk1:78-9).

Nature's brightest star is but a mere indication of the brightness of the light of Christ. To the people of Israel, the Branch, the one who rises from the stump of Jesse, is the longed-for-Messiah; to those preparing to celebrate the Incarnation of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Branch is the Messiah who has come and who comes again each year, in the hearts of Christians. As we prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord, let us clothe ourselves in the light which flows from the Sun of justice. Let us seek justice in all our relationships. Justice is what we owe to one another; some relationships are equal -- marriage, siblings, peers, co-workers, etc.; in other relationships it is proper that it be "unequal" -- parents and children, teachers and students, employer and employees, etc. When we examine our relationships, we may find that we "owe" a little more to some people than we ordinarily give. Advent is a wonderful time to ask for the grace to be more generous in our relationships with one another. Let us thank the Lord for the different relationships in our lives and let us strive to be true sons and daughters of the Sun of justice. Come, Lord Jesus.

20 December 2005

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis et nemo claudit; claudis et nemo aperit: Veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel: who opens and none shall close, closes and none shall open: Come and lead out from the prison house the one in chains who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

The Key of David is the six-pointed star which represents Yahweh and His sacred name to the Jewish people. This is the only title among the seven antiphons which is used as a title for the first time when it is applied to Jesus. Jesus is the Key of David. The promises made in the Old Testament are made in hope; Christ fulfills that hope. Christ himself is the connection between the kingdom of David and the kingdom of God. The petition in this antiphon recalls the epic following the second servant song in Isaiah, where Yahweh promises that he "will say to prisoners, 'Come out,' to those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves" (Is 49:9). Here, too, the connection between David and Christ is clear: mankind awaits its freedom from the powers of sin and death. The revelation of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, the six-pointed star.

The Lord is the one who opens and closes. He opens heaven for us at a great price; he opens our hearts for us, if we let him. How often we find that our hearts are closed to those around us. How often do we fail to make room for those around us who are in need? Sometimes it is a neighbor who is troublesome or a co-worker who leans on our nerves. It is far easier to avoid the lunchroom or the coffee pot if we see someone whose presence bothers us -- for whatever reason. At times, we may even feel justified in doing so -- lest we unsettle ourselves unnecessarily. These are precisely the moments when Christ can open our hearts for us. When we stretch ourselves beyond what is easy and comfortable and reach out to one whom we might ordinarily avoid, we suffer a little. We suffer some discomfort, a little anxiety and maybe even fear. But when we allow the six-pointed star to guide us, we unshackle ourselves from the chains of selfishness by allowing him to open our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus.

19 December 2005

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: Veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the peoples, before whom kings will fall silent, whom the nations will entreat: Come and free us now, do not tarry.

The title, Root of Jesse, is taken from Isaiah's description of the return of the exiles, "That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples" (Is 11:10). For the people of Israel, the exile has ended the possibility of the succession of David's royal line; the text from Isaiah, however, points directly to the annunciation, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that "the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David: he will rule over the House of Jacob and his reign will have no end" (Lk 1:32-4). The Root of Jesse, for the Israelites, is Yahweh, who will be faithful to his people Israel; for those of us ensconced in the preparations for Christmas, the Root of Jesse is the soon-to-be-born Messiah. The smallness of the "root" out of which the servant in Isaiah is born is not altogether unlike the humble origins of the Messiah who is the son of a carpenter.

The nations entreat this great descendant of David, before whom kings fall silent. They seek him; they await his saving help. How often do we actively seek God in the quotidian activities of our life? It can be a great temptation to seek God only when we feel that our human powers or talents are insufficient to complete an undertaking. Do we seek God and his will in the ordinary dealings of our day: in how we relate to those with whom we work or live, in the manner in which we apply ourselves to our job, in anticipating the need of a neighbor, etc.? Let us join the nations in seeking the Lord. Let us, as we draw closer to Christmas, set out for Bethlehem by our careful attention to the Lord's will in our daily encounters with others. Many of our students wear bracelets or carry key chains that say, "WWJD?" (short for "What would Jesus Do?"). Would that they knew just what a jewel they wear in sporting those bracelets!

18 December 2005

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: Veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Lord, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the red fire of flame and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

This antiphon refers to two accounts, in the book of Exodus, where God reveals Himself to Moses. The second encounter, when God gave the Law to Moses, is a very poignant encounter. The old covenant is ratified and the exchange between God and man is filled with imagery of fire and light. The fire which the Israelites saw atop the mountain was but an indication of the light that was to come in Christ. The second part of the antiphon, "come and redeem us with outstretched arm," is an echo of Yahweh's promise to Moses that "I will free you from the burdens which the Egyptians lay on you. I will release you from slavery to them, and with my arm outstretched and my strokes of power I will deliver you" (Ex 6:6). The promise made to the people of Israel in the Old Testament is seen in its fullness when it is considered in light of Christ's redemptive death. As the people of Israel awaited freedom from their captors, so the Church awaits the birth of the Messiah.

The promise to be freed from one's captor may seem somewhat irrelevant in a society such as ours where "freedom" is hailed and protected as a sacred right. Idols, however, have a way of lurking where Christians least expect them. Sometimes the temptation to make a "good thing" the center of our lives -- be it our work, our ministry, a volunteer project etc., -- can seem harmless. It can seem almost impossible to be "tempted" by something good. We can pour all our energy and effort into a good and worthy cause; sometimes, however, this comes at a price. When we replace Christ as the central focus of our life we take a great risk of becoming a prisoner. This is not to imply that we should not apply ourselves diligently to our work, our play, our responsibilities. Indeed, we should. Whether we are religious men and women, parents with children, single Christians, etc., Christ is the end of all we do. He values and blesses anything we do in his name and for his glory -- it matters little whether it is sweeping a floor or changing a diaper. We are freed from becoming prisoners to our work, our responsibilities and our hobbies because of this great promise -- we have only to let him in when he comes, for he comes with arms outstretched.

17 December 2005

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: Veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, you who come forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from end to end, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

This first of the Great O Antiphons highlights Christ's role in creation as divine Wisdom. This is a rich title for Jesus in that it represents not only the various passages from Wisdom literature which are quoted in the antiphon, but it points toward Wisdom literature as a whole where Christ Himself is seen as the Wisdom present at the creation of the world. This connects Jesus very closely to creation and, at the same time, takes on a new meaning when considered in light of the Advent season. In this antiphon, we see Christ as present throughout history. He transcends the limitations of the Old Testament tradition and hints at the new creation. Wisdom was with God at creation; Wisdom himself, as the person of Christ, renews this creation.

As this antiphon reminds us that the Lord is the one who reaches from "end to end" and orders all things "sweetly and mightily," it allows us to reflect upon our trust in His "order," our trust in his arrangements. It is easy to acquiesce to the Lord's ordering of circumstances when they are pleasing to us; it is a challenge to accept them when they interrupt our own order and our own plans. Let us, this day, pray for the grace to accept the circumstances that the Lord orders, trusting that his might and his sweetness will assist us. Let us entrust our day -- and our lives -- to his divine Wisdom.

16 December 2005

Faciendum Suum O!

Yes, the Great O Antiphons are upon us. Tomorrow begins the solemn waiting period of the privileged days which precede Christmas. Many people will recognize these antiphons as the historical basis for the popular Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. History tells us very little about the origins of Advent and even less about the origins of these haunting antiphons. One of the charming anecdotes about their discovery is from the ledger books of ancient monasteries, where large amounts of money were dispensed for food beginning on 17 December. This has suggested to students of history that the monasteries began their Christmas celebrations with the O Antiphons, nearly a week prior to Christmas.

The Great O Antiphons are sung at Vespers, a time of fullness and anticipation. All seven antiphons have the same structure: each antiphon begins with an apostrophe, addressing Jesus with a title from the Old Testament; each one has the imperative, "come!" which begins a short petition, to end the antiphon. Rich in symbolism and unknown in origin, the O Antiphons add solemnity to the Church's prayer on the seven days prior to Christmas Eve as they unite centuries of believers who have prayed the same words in anticipation of the same great feast.

14 December 2005

The Garden of Salvation

"Let the heavens rain down justice and let salvation bud forth from the earth."
Isaiah 45

Today's first reading, although leading us ever closer to the mystery of the Incarnation, hints at the great gift of our salvation. Isaiah speaks of justice from heaven which rains down upon the earth. Jesus is the Just One, who comes down from heaven, the Word of God who waters the earth. No other human -- just and righteous though he may be -- could have won salvation for us. For only because of his divinity did the sacrifice of Jesus reconcile us to the Father who is divine. And only on account of his humanity does this salvation extend to us mortal creatures.

Isaiah's words allow us to consider this great mystery. We cannot "rain down justice" ourselves and we cannot bring about our own salvation. We can, however, be good stewards of that precious garden where justice abounds and the Flower of Jesse's stem blooms anew each year during this sacred season of Advent. We can be good stewards by our own acts of justice. Few of us are in positions where we influence a great many people, but in our everyday relationships with friends, co-workers, family, etc., we can be people who are just. We can tend carefully the garden of our hearts by thinking kind thoughts, speaking well of others, encouraging the weak of heart and cheering those who are sad. In these simple ways we can become people of justice, after the Lord's own heart.

"A single one of His tears would have been enough to satisfy Divine Justice . . . rather, he willed to suffer a thousand pains and labors, paying in full rigor of justice for our faults." St. Francis de Sales

13 December 2005

Tradition and Legend

St. Lucy, whom the Church commemorates today, is perhaps best know as the patron saint of those whose eyes are in need of healing. She is often pictured holding her eyes in her hand or, in this case, in a dish. In her other hand, in this image, is the palm of martyrdom which she suffered during the reign of Diocletian.

The account of her martyrdom is one shrouded in uncertainty and sustained by popular legend -- most likely the oral tradition of the early Christians in Sicily. It is tempting to dismiss such an account as a story or a tale, too fanciful to be true. While it is true that on this side of eternity we shall not ever know the true story behind many such legends, we still stand to profit from these accounts. For each account of a martyr -- documented or speculated -- is an account not only of the martyr's faith, but of the faith of the Christian community as a whole. If St. Lucy, at an early age, did promise to consecrate herself to the Lord, it speaks volumes about the culture in which she lived and the faith of those who surrounded her.

This begs the question, for all of us: How do our lives reflect the Christian communities of which we are a part? St. Lucy, whose name means "light" inspired devotion for centuries after her death; she was a light in the darkness of persecution. This Advent, amid the hustle and bustle and busyness, let us be witnesses to something bigger and brighter. Let us, by our actions and our words -- in simple ways -- point toward the Light which is coming.

12 December 2005

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1993, on the hottest July day in years, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School burned--from the top down. Beginning with the roof, floors crashed down upon each other until they reached the basement, 14 feet below ground level. The debris formed a mountain of rubble, in places more than 40 feet high.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. Almost as miraculously, most of our artwork was salvaged. Hand to hand, a human chain passed the pictures from one volunteer to another, in the dark, in the flames, in the drenching water and chemicals the fire department was using to quench the blaze.

This image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which now hangs in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart was so rescued. It was painted on oxhide in 1601, only 69 years after the apparitions, and fastened to its rosewood frame with an animal glue so strong that when conservators attempted to remove the portrait from its rosewood frame, they were unable to do so. It is an old artifact, 405 years old, if the date on the back is to believed, so its colors are muted. This, according to Ann Bigley Robertson, author of An Enduring Legacy, this gives the painting " . . . a very soft quality and emphasizes the mysterious origins of the image."

It is interesting that images of Our Lady of Guadalupe are instantly recognizable, yet many of them vary significantly in detail. One image that remains a favorite hung over the oval glass insert of the front door of a house rented by migrant workers in Mount Angel, Oregon. It was cotton and had been placed facing outward, so the first greeting to anyone who stopped by the walk was Mary. Her cloak was not blue, but scarlet; she was enthroned on the hands of a Mexican Indian, not by a cherub. Yet one is able to recognize her instantly, the Mother of God who is the Author of all life.
At Guadalupe Mary had promised Juan Diego that she would "demonstrate, manifest, . . . all my love, all my compassion, through the protection of my people." And so she has, and we offer her our gratitude, placing her image right up front, in a chapel in a Visitation monastery, on a door in the Willamette Valley.

11 December 2005

Gaudete Omnes!

Once again we have St. John the Baptist put before us as an example. And again we can glean some insight from a homily of St. Francis de Sales which he delivered on the third Sunday of Advent, 13 December 1620.

Assigning to St. John the Baptist the great virtue of humility and to Christ that of charity, St. Francis de Sales suggests that in our lives humility is to be the forerunner of charity in all that we do. Humility is the voice that cries, "Make straight the way. . ." And it is only when our hearts are emptied by humility that they can truly welcome Christ and receive the virtue of charity.

St. John the Baptist humbled himself by refusing the honor that rightly belonged to Christ: the title Messiah. His humility was in his honesty. When we ask for the grace of humility we ask for the grace to see ourselves as the Lord sees us: creatures loved by the Creator, despite our weaknesses and foibles. Very often it is only in light of our weaknesses that we see so clearly our need for the Lord's help. We see our "littleness" when we recognize our weaknesses. And, humbly asking for help, aware of our neediness, we prepare a welcome home for charity to dwell in our hearts. For it is only when we are empty that we have room to be filled by the Lord.

Let us empty our hearts of all that is unworthy of the coming of the Lord. Let draw up from our hearts and place before Him all our needs, all our desires, all our concerns. Let us trust that in emptying our hearts we shall be ready to receive Him at His coming. Gaude, veniet!

09 December 2005

The Reluctant Messenger

When Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoazin climbed Tepeyac, a hill 16 miles to the north of Mexico city on his way to Mass, he encountered a beautiful lady, who called him "Juanito," and asked him where he was going. The date was 9 December 1531, at that time, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. She identified herself as " . . . The ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of the true God" and charged him with messages to the Bishop, a request that a chapel be built on the spot where she had appeared. But Juan was a reluctant messenger. He tried to explain to Mary all the things that she already knew: "I am old (he was 57), I am without influence." He entreated her to send someone else, some member of the nobility, someone with clout.

Mary answered that she wanted him, Juan Diego, for the job. Indeed she did have other servants, more worthy or more fitted for the task, but she wanted him to take her message to the authorities. Reluctantly, without much hope of success, he followed her instructions -- and failed to make any impact on the Bishop. Three times Juan Diego met Our Lady, each time unable to report any success. Knowing he would encounter her again if he followed his usual route home, after the last failure, he found another path, seeking to avoid her. Our Lady, however, had other plans. She changed her route and intercepted him. "Where are you going, least of my sons? And what road is this you are taking?"

How many times, faced with the ordinary encounters of daily life, are we, like Juan Diego, tempted to avoid the issue -- that issue being God's call to recognize Him in every being, every situation we meet -- to allow the God who lives in us to inspire our words, and allow ourselves to risk doing the things that will call others to recognize his presence? "Where are you going?" is not such a difficult question to answer. "What road is this you are taking?" --now there's a query to consider! Juan Diego was called to the road of encounter, the road of disappointment, the road of faith in his own role as instrument of Our Lord and Our Lady. What road are we taking?

St. Francis de Sales tells us that God wants us to "be who we are, and to be it well." That is all He requires. We, the least of Mary's children, have each been given some task that will further the coming of God's kingdom. Only we can do it. Only we live in the particular circumstances that call forth its accomplishment. As Juan Diego said, we are the least, we are not powerful, there are many more efficient or more persuading messengers. It just happens that we have been chosen for the task.

We cannot possibly do it on our own, nor are we asked to. There is comfort in Mary's words to Juan Diego: "Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the fold of my mantle? . . . Do you need anything else?"

Factual material on Juan Diego is from American Saints by John Fink, Alba House, New York, 2001.

08 December 2005

A Word from Mother

On Saturday evening, prior to Evening Prayer, Mother Philomena gave the community a little ferverino -- as is our house custom each week. Her brief reflection this week focused on Mary as we were anticipating today's Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception. Mother's words are here shared with our readers:

"The season of Advent is a wonderful time to renew our 'yes' to the Lord as we reflect on the life of our Blessed Mother. When she said 'yes' to the Angel's message, she handed over the privilege of shaping her own life. She allowed God to direct the events that would unfold, beginning with the Incarnation. She literally handed over any designs she might have had on shaping her own life. She gave God her heart and her will. Let us, this Advent season, renew our 'yes' to the Lord with Mary and let us allow Him to direct the course of our lives."
Saturday 3 December 2005

07 December 2005

All or Nothing

If St. Francis de Sales had to choose only one "holy snippet" from the Gospels, by which to identify his approach to living, praying and preaching, it is a safe bet that he would have chosen today's Gospel reading from Matthew 11.
When the Lord invites us to come to him and take upon our shoulders his yoke, we are invited to consider how we come before the Lord. It is easy, at times, to give into the temptation to give over to the Lord only some of what we have on our hearts and minds: "Here, Lord, you can take care of this and this and I'll take care of these other things over here." It may not seem to be a fair exchange, but the Lord wants all of us -- all of our troubles and burdens, all that makes us weary and tired. For only then, only when we lay at his feet all that burdens us can we free our shoulders to take up his yoke, which is easy and light. When we stop wresting with our cares and burdens and give them to the Lord, only then we can rest in Him.

06 December 2005

"Bone" Fete

Today is the Commemoration of St. Nicholas, from whose legacy we derive the common legends about Santa Claus. It is also the "feast day" of our noble guard dog, Nicholas. Nick arrived at the monastery on 22 December 2002 to try his vocation. He has proved to be a worthy "security guard" and an even more worthy companion.

Many people say that animals teach us about God -- we shall leave it to the Franciscans to expound on that assertion. It does seem true, however, that animals teach us about ourselves. For early one morning, Nicholas decided to empty the trash -- piece by piece. Catching him in the act, sister firmly scolded him for this (in a gentle way, of course) and returned inside. Nicholas looked forlorn and -- if possible -- even a bit contrite. A few minutes later she came out with a broom to clean up the mess and along came Nicholas with a tennis ball in his mouth. If he could talk, he would have said, "HI SISTER! Listen. I know you're really, really, really upset with me right now, but I was thinking that maybe you'd want to play ball with me now."

Surely, anyone who owns a dog has had similar experiences. They do, indeed, teach us something about ourselves. How often do we reach out to someone who is angry with us? How often do we take the initiative to show good will and forgiveness -- even if we are in need of forgiveness ourselves? How often do we allow our own shortcomings and mistakes to keep us from persevering in our good resolutions? Whether we are fond of dogs or afraid of dogs, we can glean from their attitude what a difference it would make if we bipeds followed their example.

05 December 2005

Advent Advice

As we look ahead to the Solemnity of Our Lady on Thursday, we are reminded of what a model she is, for each of us, during the Advent season. St. Jane de Chantal addressed some of our early sisters on 1 December 1629, exhorting them to take Our Lady as their model:

"Let us see, during this holy season, what are the actions and thoughts of our Lady, and strive to imitate her according to our small power. . . In imitation of her, who was continually occupied in looking at the Divine Word in her pure and chaste womb, we should also look at the Lord in our hearts. Let us talk with Him, stay at His feet." St. Jane de Chantal

May we find in Our Lady an example to imitate and, in doing so, may we find in our hearts, a place to visit frequently with Our Lord, during this sacred season of waiting.

04 December 2005

Holy Finger-Pointing

Finger-pointing isn't always a bad thing. In paintings and icons, St. John the Baptist is often depicted with his arm outstretched and his finger in a pointed position (when his is not busy baptizing, that is!) His whole posture, as he is "painted" in the Gospels is one of pointing: he points his disciples away from himself and toward Christ. Surely this intriguing figure could have amassed quite a group of followers, as the Gospels suggest. Instead, he directs them toward Christ. What a noble and worthy work! For many, Advent is a time of busyness, littered with deadlines and punctuated with an often too-short Christmas break from work or school. We can take our cue from this great herald and point others toward Christ. We can, by our words and deeds, show a posture of tranquil waiting, amid the inevitable busyness of this season; we can be heralds for those with whom we work, those in our family, those we encounter on a daily basis. Good things are contagious. Good posture is as good for the body as it is for the soul.
"True servants of God preach and teach those whom they guide only so as to lead them to God, as much by their words as by their works. This is what St. John does today."
St. Francis de Sales
(Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent 6 December 1620 )

03 December 2005

Partners in Crime

As we celebrate the Memorial of St. Francis Xavier and pray for our brothers and sisters who serve the Church as missionaries, we stop to consider how we can participate in their work. St. Francis, known for the great numbers of people he baptized, is rightly hailed as a patron of missionaries. How many people, however, know with whom he shares this patronage? St. Therese of Lisieux, the cloistered Carmelite, is also a patron of missionaries. Although she never left Carmel to travel as a missionary, by her prayers and sacrifices on behalf of missionaries -- and priests, in particular, -- St. Therese shares the title, patron saint of missionaries, with St. Francis Xavier. Sometime around the 1950's it was suggested that the Rosary could be prayed in a special way for missionary work. Click here for more information on the mission rosary. Today, as we beg the harvest master to send laborers into his vineyard, let us also beg the harvest master to inspire men and women to pray for those who labor.

02 December 2005

25 Years and Counting

Many are aware that today is the 25th anniversary of the death of four American missionaries in El Salvador: Sister Ita Ford,MM Sister Maura Clarke,MM, Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and Jean Donovan. As we remember them and the many men and women who have been persecuted for their faith and their fidelity to the Gospel, we Visitandines proudly remember that Sister Ita Ford, MM is a graduate of our Visitation Academy in Brooklyn. May their blood and their legacy be a source of renewal and growth for those among whom they served.

The King of Hearts

It seems that often we speak of "opening our hearts" -- either in prayer or in listening to someone or for some other worthy cause. How often, though, is it possible for us to open our hearts -- on our own. When Jesus asked the blind men in today's Gospel if they believed that he could heal them, the men confessed their faith. It was on accout of their faith that Jesus restored their sight. If we were to ask the Lord for the gift of an open heart this Advent season, as we prepare for his coming, what might he say to us? Perhaps he would point to his own heart, opened wide by the sufferings he bore. He might indicate that suffering is the lance that opens our hearts. Looking on us with love, he might then ask if we believe that he can open our hearts. And if we confess our faith that he can open our hearts, we might see that in the day to day sufferings which abound -- in the inconveniences, the difficulties, the irritations and interruptions -- the Lord is opening our hearts for us. For he is providing opportunities for us to grow ever more like him, gentle and humble in heart.
"His heart is the king of hearts, and he keeps his eyes fixed on our hearts."
St. Francis de Sales

01 December 2005

Patron Saint of Journalists

What would St. Francis de Sales have to say about his Visitation Sisters starting a blog? A great deal, most likely. For it is no accident that he is named the patron saint of journalists. During his time in the Chablais, St. Francis de Sales copied, by hand, many of his sermons and distributed them widely by slipping them under the doors of those who had strayed from the faith. These sermons later became known as "The Controversies" and, more recently, as "Meditations on the Church." His creativity in dissemination of information won him the patronage of journalists. It seems likely then that our Holy Founder would smile upon us beginning a blog. In fact, a modern iconic rendering, depicting him as patron of journalists, shows him seated at a computer with the Holy Spirit perched on his monitor. We may not be slipping sermons under anyone's door, but perhaps we can share our adventures and musings as we strive to Live Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal.