Visit our Public Chapel: 6:30 AM --6:30 PM

Daily Mass: usually at 8 AM (call ahead to be sure)

Benediction Holy Hour: every Sunday at 3:40 PM

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. From this opening line, perhaps you can guess what has been the big event of the past several months: yes, the visit of our Holy Father Pope Benedict to these United States of America this past April. What a grace for our country, and one that will be commented on and pondered upon for quite some time to come, at least for his Poor Clare daughters, and we are sure for the rest of you as well. Judging from the welcome given him by our President, and the enthusiasm of the various people he encountered along his way as well as that of the groups he addressed during those historic days, we were not the only ones who saw in our Holy Father’s arrival some little glimpse of the coming of the Lord in His glory. In the light of our Holy Father’s visit, it could only have been God’s Providence that Easter came so early this year. Who but He could have so arranged things so that his days with us should fall almost exactly in the middle of the Paschal season? It was such a perfect time for him to come, those days when, in the beauty of the lilies Christ rose up in victory over sin and death with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. It was quite evident to all who saw him that our Holy Father is one who has gazed upon that glory and been transfigured in such a way as to become similarly radiant himself. Thus he spoke to us all, not just in his words, but with the light of his face, when he declared to the young people in New York: “Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. it is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. in seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately Truth is a Person: Jesus Christ. “That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others... “Let your imaginations soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship ... Authentic Christian discipleship is marked by a sense of wonder. We stand before the God we know and love as a friend, the vastness of His creation, and the beauty of our Christian faith.” Now, of course, for such an event, there had to be enormous preparations. and these we followed with interest through the various periodicals we receive. Then, in early March, a letter arrived from our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, which he had sent to all the contemplative communities in these United States. In it, he requested our special collaboration in the spiritual preparation for our Holy Father’s visit by making each of his various venues “the object of your adoration, of your prayers, of your consecration, of your suffering and self-offering. Invoke the wind of a new Pentecost on the Church in the USA; the joy of belonging to Christ and His Church ... the pastoral creativity needed to bring Jesus Christ to all those who are thirsting for Him ... I am deeply convinced that my request is fundamental to the real success of the pastoral journey of the Pope...” With this request. we became directly involved, not only in the preparations for his coming, but also in the necessary follow up for while, as every good gardener knows, the preparation of the soil to receive the seed is important. nothing will happen unless that seed is properly watered and tended. That is our work now. It was with that follow-up work in mind that we greeted yet another “first” in our monastic history: the nocturnal lightning strike, and it happened not even an hour after our Holy Father took off for Rome aboard the Alitalia Shepherd I. It began as most other storms with wind and rain and thunder and lightning and since it occurred after our 8:45 retiring time, might have passed mostly ignored, just like any other thunderstorm. Then came two great cracks of thunder — sharp and close. Noticed, but not given much significance until one of us got up a few minutes later and tried to draw some water. Nothing happened. After some thought, she remembered the lightning and began to wonder... Sure enough, upon investigation, she found that the breakers controlling the pump for our well had been blown and refused to reset. What to do? Thanks be to God, we were able to contact our electrician at that (to us) rather late hour but which (to him) was likely still relatively reasonable and make arrangements for him to come out first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, Mother Abbess and Sister were able to draw enough water from the basement storage tanks to provide for various of our needs at least through the rest of that night. We are so grateful to our friends who came to our aid with quantities of bottled water through the next day. For it took most of that day and the skill of two different technicians to get everything going again. And when Sister Water finally spurted full force from faucets on the second floor late in the afternoon, some very grateful Poor Clares blessed the Lord for His goodness to us through so many of you. (As a little P.S.: the lightning did not actually strike either our well or the electric panel controlling it. We later discovered it had struck the ground between our tall privacy fence and one of our outdoor street lights, then traveled along the underground wire to blow the panels. Several sections of the fence will need to be replaced as will a sensor in our large fire prevention water tank, which was also damaged by the strike.) Actually, our Sister Rain has been mostly a blessing throughout this past spring season. Her abundance has encouraged our gardens to come to quite some fullness, so that the vision of our landscaping friends and helpers seems to be at last coming into reality. In other areas also, the generosity of our faithful Knights of Columbus is bringing completion to other projects around the house. Handcrafted Stations of the Cross were erected in our small adoration choir; drywall and acoustical ceilings were installed in several rooms in our basement that had to be left unfinished at construction time, and sanctuary seating brought from Newport News was refinished to match the rest of the appointments. Another friend has been working on finishing the priedieux and benches that will complete the furnishings in the adoration choir. So many, many things — each in its own way proclaiming the glory of the Lord. Yes, our eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. In the visit of our Holy Father, in the generosity of our friends, in the splendor of shared sisterhood in the presence among us of Sister Mary Rose of St. Louis and Sister Mary Annuntiata and Sister Maria of Los Altos Hills who each came for a few months to help out when we found ourselves a bit shorthanded. As we move forward into the month of August and the feast of our Mother Saint Clare, that loyal daughter of the Church, who saw the visit of Pope Innocent IV to her dying bed as one of the great graces of her last days, we gather all your intentions into our prayer in our Solemn Novena beginning August 2. That brings us to a very important announcement. This year the Novena will be at 7:00 p.m. each evening from August 2 through August 10, when we will have the traditional blessing of Clare Breads. If you live nearby, we invite you to join us in our chapel for prayer, led by our faithful chaplain, Father Francis Simeone; if you live at some distance, we invite you to send in your petitions to be included in the intercessions each evening. Be sure each one will be entrusted to our Holy Mother to be lifted up to the Father of Mercies, the Giver of all good gifts. Then, on August 11, our Mother St. Clare’s feastday, we will have two Masses in her honor, one at 8:00 in the morning and the other at 7:00 in the evening — yet another “first” for us here on Mount St. Francis! “Daughters,” our Mother St. Clare cried a few hours before she died, “do you see the King of Glory as I do?” May her prayers, along with the words of our beloved Pope Benedict in America, enable us to so do.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares
Spring, 2008

Our dear Friends,

O Crux Ave, spes unica!/ Hail, O Cross, our only hope! O the mysteries of God’s time! Hardly have the carols and bells of Christmas faded than the sights and sounds of the Lenten season have appeared in our homes and churches. It seems such a short time since we were sitting at our keyboard, writing to you in the midst of the antiphons of Advent, many of which, in point of fact, do proclaim in so many different ways that “Redemption is nigh!” So caught up are we in the joy of the coming of our God to the earth, however, that we rarely think of how that redemption will be brought about. How many of us ever get as far as the words of the oldest carols that tell us rather plainly how “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through; the Cross be borne for me, for you”? Truly, our calendar this year gives us a once-in-a-century (they say) opportunity to experience how everything flows toward and from the great Paschal Triduum we are about to celebrate. As we look forward in hope to those great days, however, we also want to look backwards in gratitude to share with you the happenings, small and great, that the Lord has been pleased to work in our midst since our last issue.

As many of you know, we have been working for quite a while to meet the on-going challenge of correcting – or at least improving -- the drainage/erosion situation on the hills behind our monastic home. Each attempt has brought some positive change, some of it quite remarkable, such as the extension of our blacktop roadway spoken of in past issues. These past couple of months, however, we decided to do a major re- grading and re-seeding of the slope behind the north side of the house as well as of a couple of small patches of ground (one couldn’t – then – call them lawns) on the south side outside our kitchen and laundry areas. This also included creating an ingenious system of buried perforated pipes in those two areas designed to carry so-called ‘storm water’ from various downspouts not only away from the house but into the ground without disturbing its surface. We have been very pleased with the results, and the bright green of the new grass now coming up gives us sure promise of the spring just over the horizon!

While all this was going on, Christmas came with that hope always springing new from the coming of our God, and with it, yet another “first” here on Mount St. Francis (yes, we do still have them, even in our fourth year here!). This time, it was our first ever celebration of the Holy Night with a Dominican priest at our altar in the person of Father Kevin McGrath, O.P. Father is librarian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and was actually fulfilling a long-awaited “first” of his own: he had never before had the opportunity to preside at the Christmas Midnight Mass. Gifted as he is with a beautiful singing voice, Father had always before been assigned to lead the schola or else to celebrate some other Mass that day. And so, when Mother contacted his friary about our need, Father was happy to offer his services, making this year’s celebration memorable for both of us. We discovered that, besides being librarian, Father teaches an introductory course to St. Thomas Aquinas. We were so delighted at this discovery that he has promised to return to share a few things with us at some time in the future.

Speaking of sharing, we have been blessed once more through our shared sisterhood among our federated Poor Clare monasteries. Our St. Louis sisters have gifted us with the presence of their Sister Mary Rose for three months to help with our infirmary duties, bringing her own experience in caring for several of their sick sisters in time past to enrich our own. We can never be grateful enough for the help we have received these last few years from them and from you all as we grow in age and (hopefully) in grace as we look forward in hope to that blessed place awaiting us which the Lord Himself has prepared by means of His Paschal mystery.

February brought a different sort of sharing as Father Christian, O.S.B., and Father Francisco, O.S.B., monks from the Abbey of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico, came for a few days to share with us their experience of being part of an international community. The Abbey is one of the few strictly contemplative Benedictine houses in this country and is one of the most flourishing, having at present 35 monks, many of whom have come from Mexico or Vietnam. They also have two foundations in Mexico and are discerning the possibility of one in Korea. Their days with us were most enriching as we may someday receive new members of Hispanic or Asian background. As both Fathers pointed out, this would help us reflect a more accurate picture not only of the Church in our own country, but of the face of our country itself as well. And so, we continue moving forward into this new year of grace, rejoicing to discover in each new day the Lord’s unfolding plans for us.

Part of those unfolding plans have included the completion of a few of our own. One of these was the addition of several rows of stonework behind the presiders’ chairs in our sanctuary in mid-February. That wall looks so finished now and needs only the crafting of the seating envisioned in our original design to bring our first dream for it fully true. Another area of fulfillment lay in our cemetery at the arrival of long-awaited headstones a few weeks ago. It is most moving now to see the graves of our dear Sisters Paula and Mary marked in granite as together they keep watch near the foot of the great Crucifix, sign and symbol of that which is the key to our salvation. As Pope Saint Leo the Great sang so many centuries ago:

“O wondrous power of the Cross! O unspeakable glory of the passion which became the Lord’s tribunal, the world’s judgment, and the power of the Crucified! From your cross you draw all things to yourself, O Lord!...Your cross is the font of all blessings, the source of all graces, and through it the believers receive strength in return for weakness, glory in return for shame, life in return for death.”

Our Holy Week Liturgies in this Year of the Lord 2008

March 20 Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper 5:00 p.m.
March 21 Good Friday Celebration of the Lords’ Passion 3:00 p.m.
March 22 Holy Saturday Easter Vigil 11:00 p.m.
March 23 Easter Sunday Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection 9:15 a.m.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bethlehem Monastery of Poor Clares
Christmas 2007

“I saw the new city, Jerusalem, descending from God, the source of all love.”

Dear Friends,
From the sentence above, perhaps you can get some idea of the glory of our autumn here on Mt. St. Francis! The blazing reds, brilliant golds, and deep russets that met our eyes when gazing out each window may have been a mere shadow of that heavenly city, but one could not but be reminded of that mighty army of all the saved. Further, just as in the heavens, star differs from star in glory, so on Mt. St. Francis did tree differ from tree, in a way not noticeable in any other season of the year. It was amazing to notice how each tree had its own peculiar shade of whatever color as if in this last phase of its life, it had at last attained its own individual identity. In some way, our forest also seems an apt symbol for the various events of the past months since we last wrote, each so distinct and yet blending with each other so well to form our life as a whole.
The spectacular amount of gold on our hills this year has been especially significant for our Sister Mary Agnes, who celebrated her Golden Jubilee of holy profession this past August 22. Sister’s priest-nephew, Father Joseph Wheelock, was joined that morning at the altar by eight priest-friends, most of whom had met Sister while she was chapel sacristan in years gone by. Sister’s family and friends drove from upstate New York to celebrate with us, while friends from the area succeeded in filling our public chapel to overflowing. We learned later that some had even taken the seats available in our balcony area! A Poor Clare Golden Jubilee is celebrated for three days, and Sister’s nephew was able to be with us for two of them. The third brought us the joy of the presence of a dear priest-friend whom we had not seen for a number of years: Father Terrence Cyr, O. Carm. Father had been one of our chaplains in Newport News in the 1980’s when Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish down the street from us was staffed by the Carmelites. Father Francis Simeone, our regular chaplain, concelebrated the Mass with him, but gave the homily at our insistence.
Speaking of Father Simeone leads us into one of the next milestones in our journey of the past months: the completion of Father’s log house, the progress of which you have been sharing through this newsletter. Father was able to move into his new home the last Friday of October and is quite delighted to be there. Just now he is engaged in its furnishing (he was living in a small apartment before) and is completing all those little odds and ends that seem to come with the finishing of any new home.
Another move of some consequence took place several weeks after the blessing of our new cemetery site which, faithful readers of our newsletter that you are, you may remember from our last issue. Our good friends from Weymouth Funeral Home, who had moved our deceased Sisters Mary and Paula from Newport News about a year before we ourselves arrived, transferred their remains this one final time with a painstaking care worthy of an archaeological dig and this even though the process lasted for the greater part of a very hot southern Virginia day. Thanks to their expertise, we now have the joy of being able not only to see the great cross from our west-facing windows, but also to visit the grave-sites whenever weather permits. This we did as a community in the early afternoon of November 2, All Souls Day. We formed a procession at the foot of the stairs leading to our infirmary porch and walked up the hill praying the Rosary not only for our sisters, but also for each of our deceased friends, relatives and benefactors, looking forward in joyful hope to the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Looking forward in hope was the theme of the several days Father Robert McCreary, O.F.M. Cap., religious assistant to our Poor Clare federation, spent with us November 8 - 12. Father is always such an inspiration and always about the Father’s business of bringing new life and hope wherever he goes. This makes him very like our Holy Father Pope Benedict, who witnesses the joy of knowing Christ Jesus in the sure hope of enjoying His company in the light of glory forever. Yet, some years ago, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “Our faith and our love are ever incomplete as long as we walk this earth, and they are constantly threatened with extinction. For this is in truth the time of Advent. Nobody can claim, ‘I am redeemed once and for all.’ In this temporal world we do not find redemption as a completed fact of the past, nor redemption as a completed, final fact of the present; rather, redemption is found only in the manner of hope. God’s light illuminated this world I n no other way than in the lights of hope, put by his loving kindness as guides on our way. How often we are saddened by this: we long for more, we desire the full, complete, incontestable reality here and now. And yet, in the end, we have to admit – could there be a way of redemption more appropriate than the one telling us, who are ever becoming and on our way, that we have reason to hope? Could there be a better guiding light for us, who are ever pilgrims, than the one that sets us free to step ahead without fear, because we know, that at the end of the journey, there awaits the light of an eternal love? In these weeks of Advent, the Holy Virgin Mary stands before us as the woman who carries the hope of the world in her womb and thus walks ahead of us on our way as the sign of hope. She stands before us as the woman in whom the humanly impossible has been made possible through God’s saving mercy. And thus she becomes a sign for us all. For relying solely on ourselves, on the meager flame of our good will and the wretchedness of our deeds, we will not achieve salvation. This is utterly insufficient. It is impossible. Yet God, in his mercy, has made possible the impossible. We only have to say, in complete humility, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.’” (cf. Co-Workers of the Truth, p. 385)
Yes, it is in hope that we are saved and as we stand once again in this season of Advent, it is with joy that we welcome our Holy Father’s new encyclical on that very theme. How appropriate that it be issued at the threshold of the Church’s new liturgical year, so that Jesus, Hope of the world, and His holy Mother may go before each of us into this coming New Year.

Our Masses at Christmas
(Please call 757-566-1684 to confirm)

December 25 Midnight Mass 12:00 a.m.

Christmas Morning 9:00 a.m.

January 1 New Year’s Day 8:00 a.m.