Walking with St. Declan Tuesday, Apr 3 2012 

The Camino de Santiago holds great fascination for me and I would like to do it.  I have reservations about trying it “at my age” though I know that many people who are a lot older than I am have done it.  If I could only see past the hostels that most people stay in……

We did a mini camino today called St. Declan’s Walk.  When I say “mini” I do mean mini because it is only 3.3 miles long on a peninsula in Southern Ireland.  We started out at the Cliff House Hotel which is a luxury place overlooking the water.  It was windy, cold and threatening rain, so we decided to fortify ourselves with some hot coffee before going.  We had a wonderful waiter from Poland named Ariel, who brought us our coffee and a “jelly” which I think was made of quince.  It was lovely.  He then mentioned that the chef was preparing something for us in the kitchen and it would be right out.  Well finally a little plate of freshly made chocolate short-breads appeared.  I guess you don’t just go into a world-class hotel and order coffee!  Anyway, we enjoyed the coffee, quince and short-breads and a visit with Ariel; then we headed out for our walk.  (Not a very penitential way to begin a pilgrimage, I must admit).

Anyway, in single-file, the three of us headed out on the walk along the cliff, coming to the ruins from the 400s and a well.  We prayed the rosary for our family and friends and then the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for our deceased parents, grandparents, ancestors and other loved ones.  It was lovely to be able to walk holy ground with our loved ones in the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Along the way were ruins of places important in the life of St. Declan and other faithful Christians throughout the centuries, and always the water of the Atlantic to our left.  The breeze was cool, the mist in the air invigorating and the temperature kept us moving.  We ended our mini camino at the church where a beautiful tower remains standing–testament to the building skills of those 8th century monks who needed a place to find refuge from the Vikings.  I feel such a kinship with the Christians of Ireland who have always had a hard time against their detractors.

I can’t wait for the next such opportunity to connect with our spiritual ancestors.  Since this is only read by you Image

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dear Family and friends, please be assured of our prayers for you during this time.

Till next time….

Reveille Saturday, Dec 13 2008 

The Rule of St. Benedict, part 4 Sunday, Dec 7 2008 

To an outsider, the monastery seems like a very orderly place where a well-ordered life is lived.  St. Benedict’s Rule is Ora el Labora, or Pray and Work.  Prayer, or the Divine Office, is known as the opus Dei, or the work of God.  In addition to the prescribed periods of prayer, the nuns have periods of work, fulling the second half of the rule.  At St. Walburga, in addition to the housekeeping in which all participate, the nuns work the land, “man” the gift shop, care for cattle, make rosaries and greeting cards, run retreats and some write and edit Magnificat magazine, the monthly guide for morning and evening prayer as well as for the daily Mass.  I marveled that with the work they do, they always arrive for the Divine Office dressed in their habits.  Yes, they have work clothing, but they didn’t wear it into the Church.  Which says that care should be taken when going before Our Lord in formal prayer.  It is a courtesy to Him. 

This is the Abbey Church.    The cloister is to the back.  The retreatants stay about 3/4 of a mile away.  We walked back and forth during the day, but because of the warning about local mountain lions, we drove at dawn and after dark.

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The nuns have created several little “parks” on their property–they didn’t build this dam though–the beavers did!

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From our vantage, we thought the doors to the root cellar were round, but they aren’t.  This reminded us of a hobbit hole.

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There are several buildings and lots of land to take care of, as well as people who go to visit. 

It was a wonderful experience, and we are thinking about the next opportunity we will have to go back.  The peace, the prayer and the quiet all beckon us to return.

Rule of St. Benedict, part 3 Thursday, Dec 4 2008 

I have been processing our experience of St. Walburga’s, and keep returning to the idea of peace and joy.  For the most part, the faces of the nuns were so calm and joyful.   They entered the church which is at the heart of their monastery without hurry, and they left the same way.  Much as we did in Catholic school, they line up to process in and out.   They face each other in the choir stalls on either side of the front of the church and sing the Office antiphonally.   And as the Rule states “if we wish to ask a favor of those who hold temporal power, we dare not do so except with humility and respect.  It is far more important that we present our pleas to God with the utmost humility and purity of devotion.”  (Chapter 20)  That devotion and humility were everywhere present. sisters-at-prayersisters-at-prayer-2

 

 To the right of the church, in a separate chair, sits the Abbess, identified by her crozier and large pectoral cross.  Either at the head of the flock, or behind, Mother Maria Michael shepherds her flock of nuns.  I cannot adequately describe the feeling that came over me to see her in that role.  She seems like a wonderful mother, and she has a most pleasant smile which she uses freely, not only with her daughters but also with the retreatants.  St. Benedict stated about the Abbot “To be qualified to govern a monastery an abbot should always remember what he is called (Abba = Father…In a monastery he is Christ’s representative, called by His name.”  (Chapter 2) 

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She is young and elected for life, until death or illness or the infirmities of age make it impossible for her to continue effectively.  In the prayers, she often leads, and when she sang the “Our Father” we knew she was singing for all of us. 

When we were studying Benedict’s Rule, we saw the considerable attention Benedict gave to the Abbot, for the Abbot, or in this case the Abbess, carries a heavy responsibility for the souls and wellbeing of his/her charges. 

Utmost care was taken to insure that the church was presentable for liturgies, even mopping up the flies which seemed to spontaneously generate and die by the dozens.  There were flowers lovingly arranged and placed around the altar, and all aspects of the liturgies were prepared in advance so as to present only the best to the Bridegroom.  There is so much we can learn about refinement in the things that matter from those who embrace this life.

The Rule of St. Benedict, part 2 Sunday, Nov 30 2008 

Surprisingly, it was not hard to get up at 4 the next morning.  We had decided in advance that we wanted to partake as much as possible in the prayer of the Church, known as the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), and this was our chance.  So off we headed in the dark for the church which is 3/4 of a mile from the retreat center.  We entered in silence and there were a couple of nuns already there in prayer.  Then they all entered and went to their places in the “choir.”  Matins was sung acapella in simple chant.  It began with the invitatory  and included several psalms through which God is adored as faithful, long-suffering and merciful.  The theme of Saturday is the end, as it is the last day of the week.  This particular Saturday was the feast of St. Cecilia, so there were references to her in the various hours and readings of the day. 

The prayer of these Benedictine nuns is spread throughout the day.  In between the set hours of prayer, they work their farm and keep house, as well as read, study and pray privately. 

The cycle of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours goes from Matins to Lauds in which God is praised and shown as the just Judge, to Terce in which a longing for Heaven is expressed, to Sext in which the work of creation is expressed, to None in which the last things are contemplated, to Vespers which is a thanksgiving, to Compline, which is night prayer before resting.  Vespers is one of the few hours that is still prayed outside of monasteries.  On this particular evening, Vespers was sung in Latin in preparation for the Feast of Christ the King.  All the stops were pulled for this Liturgy and the singing of the Gregorian Chant was accompanied by the organ, played by Sr. Hildegard. 

Compline was the cap on a full day of prayer and education.  I personally love this prayer of the Church.  It is a prayer of praise but also a call for help from the evil one.  It is a restful prayer in which the one praying abandons himself to the protection of God while he sleeps.  This was followed by the nuns gathering around the statue of Our Lady and singing of the Regina Coeli.  What followed had me fighting back tears, as Mother Maria Michael blessed all of us with holy water.  It was so reminiscent of the blessing my own mother always gave us as we went to bed. 

Then the nuns returned to their cloister, a place where we could not go.  The closing of the door seemed so final.  I was left pondering the life these beautiful women have chosen… door-to-the-cloister

The Rule of St. Benedict Saturday, Nov 29 2008 

In our Catholic homeschool, one of the first things our senior read was The Rule of Saint Benedict  as part of his classical education.  St. Benedict left quite a legacy in that the monasteries helped preserve culture during those terrible days after the barbarians sacked Rome.  Beyond the debt we owe to him in his monasteries of the time, we still have monasteries all over the world today in which God is praised and dedicated men and women live the Rule he established sometime in the early 500s.

The Sanity of Benedict’s approach gives added force to his central vision of the quest.  He sees it as an everexpanding, enriching exercise of love.  Communal life provides each member with the support and comfort of a family in which monks are brothers, sons with Christ of God, and of the abbot whose name means father.

“For the man of the twentieth century, rootless and isolated, such a vision may need transformation before it can be made real, but its appeal is undeniable.  Here is his Father’s house, the center of light and warmth.  Here are his brethren, united to each other by love and their quest for the God he seeks, and thus united to him.  He may not be able literally to seek their sanctuary and shelter within its walls, but the spirit that guards them, strengthens them and makes them one is his for the asking and receiving.”  From the Introduction to The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Last weekend, Larry and I went to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga, where 21 nuns live according to the Rule of St. Benedict.  We were there for a Gregorian chant retreat.  What we experienced was a piece of Heaven.  The accomodations, outside the walls of course, were more than adequate.  The retreatants are put up in modulars which used to be the housing for the nuns while the Abbey was being built.  We stayed in married housing in a building named “St. Benedict.” in-domini-nomineThe nuns follow the exhortation from the Rule, Chapter 53, that “all guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ, because he will say, “I was a stranger, and you took me in.  Show them every courtesy, especially servants of God and pilgrims.”

Our first night, we were invited to join the nuns in the singing of Vespers.  That was our first glimpse of the Abbey church and our first introduction to the singing of the Liturgy of the Hours.st-walburga-church-interior  The red square of stained glass above the crucifix represents the blood shed by Christ.

Vespers was sung in simple chant in English, accompanied by the organ.  The music was sung beautifully and the gestures of standing, sitting and bowing all contributed to the dignity of the sung prayer. 

After Vespers we had dinner and then our first instruction in reading square notes.  From there, we went to bed at 8:30 p.m., knowing we would be getting up at 4 for Matins.  More about that next time.

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time and the Holy Souls Sunday, Nov 16 2008 

We are in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, and it is quickly coming to a close.  We are also in the month dedicated to the Holy Souls who await their final place at the Heavenly Banquet.  The Church in her wisdom uses this time to remind us of the end times–not THE END TIMES so much as OUR PERSONAL END TIME.  The readings give us much to think about.  Today we hear about the two productive servants and the unprofitable one, and of course, are asked to think about which type of servant we are.

For about 15 years now, I have been reading In Conversation with God as part of my daily prayer.  Every day I am given something to ponder and a part of my life to examine.  And even though I have been doing this for a long time, each reading is new because I am not always on top of things spiritually and the circumstances of any particular day in my life may change from year to year. 

Today I was struck by a poetic image used for this 33rd Sunday. 

When a life comes to an end, perhaps we may think something like a candle has gone out.  But we should also see death as the time when something like a tapestry has been completed.  We have watched this tapestry being made from the reverse side where the design of the artwork is blurred and the knots and twisted loops of the needlework are prominent.  Our Father God contemplates the tapestry from the good side.  He is pleased to behold a finished work that manifests a life-long effort to make good use of time.   (In Conversation with God, Volume 5, p. 475)

So as we construct our own tapestries and try to make them as beautiful as we can, we can also contemplate the beautiful tapestries of those who have gone before us and ask that eternal rest be granted unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.   

 

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Tony Snow, rest in peace Monday, Jul 14 2008 

Tony Snow will not get nearly the press that Tim Russert did.  But he has much to teach us about submission to the will of God.  He is a hero for our time.  Tim’s Catholicism was mentioned in practically every article and talk show.  Tony’s is not.  Why?

The Singing Revolution Sunday, May 11 2008 

I will be speaking about the idea of beauty at an upcoming conference, and have been considering beauty as expressed in different media.  One medium that affects us all is music, which has the power to move people to tears, to move them to war, to move them to destruction, or to move them to revolution.

We went to see a documentary film called The Singing Revolution yesterday in Denver.  This film tells the story of how music was used to overthrow decades of Soviet oppression in the little Baltic nation of Estonia.  Without raising a weapon, thousands of people succeeded in bringing down their slavemasters through their music. 

Don’t let the term “documentary” scare you off.  Please try to see it.  You will be drawn in by the story and the beautiful music.  Imagine 24,000 people singing in tune skillfully following a conductor while the Soviet army stands helplessly by.  This film is a “must-see,” but like so many good movies in the last few years (The Passion of the Christ, Bella, etc.) it won’t come to a theater near you unless you request it.  Please take a few moments to check out the website and then call your local theaters and ask them to bring this wonderful film to your city.  Then, encourage your family and friends to go see it.  It is a bit of history about which few are aware and it is presented in a way that will lift your spirits.  Your young teens and older will enjoy the movie.  The music which brought about this revolution was set to a national poem and was banned by the Soviets, but the people managed to sing it anyway and by doing so, kept hope for freedom alive in their hearts.

 One of the lessons I took away from the movie is the importance of love of country in the survival of a people and a culture.  Unfortunately, often people do not realize how good their own country is until they lose their freedoms and suffer oppression for decades as millions did under Soviet domination.

 

 

Saint movies for April Tuesday, Mar 25 2008 

Some months we have to scramble to find movies about the saints of the Church.  April is not one of them, because there are numerous feast days in this spring month.

Bernadette of Lourdes is celebrated on April 16.  Bernadette was the young French peasant girl who was privileged to see Our Lady eighteen times over the course of five months in 1858.  Because she was poor and uneducated, she suffered much abuse at the hands of others who thought she was making up her stories of the visions.  At the age of 22, eleven years after the first vision, she was allowed to enter a convent of sisters at Nevers who served the poor and homeless.  She died at the young age of 35.  She is the patroness of Lourdes, of sick people, shepherds and people ridiculed for their piety.  Movies about Bernadette include Bernadette, Her Vision Became a Legend which was created by a noted French filmmaker and which is shown daily at Lourdes.   The Passion of Bernadette takes up where the previous movie left off, after Bernadette entered a convent.  It stars the same young actress, Sydney  Penny, and shows how she lived a life of sanctity, even in very difficult circumstances.

The classic black-and-white film, the  Song of Bernadette,  starring Jennifer Jones, is still available and worth watching.  For younger children Bernadette, the Princess of Lourdes is a good introduction to this ever popular saint.

St. Gianna Molla was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2004, and her feast is celebrated on April 28.  Gianna Molla is truly a saint for our times.  Born in 1922, she was a brilliant woman who was a faithful wife and loving mother, as well as a physician and a surgeon.  She used her medical knowledge to take care of women and children, as well as the poor.  She was athletic, being an enthusiastic skier.  When she was pregnant with her fourth child, the doctors discovered a large cyst on her ovary and recommended an abortion to save her life.  She refused the abortion and died a week of her delivery of a little girl.  Though her life was short, just 40 years, she lived it to the fullest and her husband and children were present at her canonization.  Her story is documented in Love is a Choice.

Another female saint celebrated this month is Catherine of Siena who lived in the 1300s and was the 23rd of 25 children born to her parents.  Catherine was a mystic who at a very young age knew she would dedicate her life to God and forego marriage.  While still a teenager she became a Dominican tertiary, and wore the Dominican habit and at 19 had a vision of mystical marriage with Christ.  She tended the sick and poor in hospitals and then received a calling to work in the world.  Though illiterate, Catherine was intellectually gifted and astute about the political and ecclesial controversies which abounded in her day.   She dictated letters to powerful people in secular society and launched an effort to reform the clergy.  She communicated with Pope Gregory XI whose papacy had moved to Avignon, begging him to return to Rome where he belonged.  He finally moved back.  She then served in the court of Pope Urban VI.  Catherine died at the age of 33 and was canonized in 1461.  She was named the first female Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.  She is the patroness of firefighters, Italy and nurses, and against bodily injury and sexual temptation.  EWTN has a 6 hour view of the life of St. Catherine in Catherine of Siena, Reforms of a Mystic.

A less well-known saint for April is the Italian Joseph Benedict Cottolengo who lived in the 1800s and whose feast day is April 30.  Joseph was a priest who didn’t realize his true calling until passing the night at the bedside of a poor sick woman in labor who was refused medical help for lack of funds.  He gave her the last rights and then baptized her infant, after which both of them died.  That moment was pivotal in his vocation, and he opened a hospice for the sick and dying poor which was known as the Little House of Divine Providence.  That house grew to include numerous facilities and still operates, serving 8000 people daily.   The story of this unlikely saint is beautifully told in Cottolengo. 

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