About Sr. Nun Other

May 16, 2012, completed my 30th year as a Sister. It was both a milestone and just another day in an interesting journey. Some of those thirty years included singing with Gloriae Dei Cantores, marching in Spirit of America band, and serving on our Sisters Council. As a monastic, I live surrounded by beauty and within a frame work of opportunity and possibility. I'm sixty-four (much to my surprise) and extremely grateful for my life as a sister - past, present, and future.

Advent II

With whom do you identify this Advent? Perhaps it’s Mary or Joseph, misunderstood and fearful of the unknown. Or one of the angels, lending your voice in adoration and gratitude. How about a shepherd, watching his flock by night, wishing for a more lucrative occupation?

You could be a traveler from a distant land, bringing your gift of a wounded heart or a preoccupied innkeeper, too busy for kindness.  I must confess I identify with the sheep that strayed, who wandered off, just before the action started.  And even as I wander, I wish I were the Christmas star, guided by instinct to the One who offers hope and joy.

We’re all these things –and more and less- but Jesus came to all of us. For each of us. And such a Love as His remains forever.

 

Feast of St. Ambrose – December 7

Today we honor Saint Ambrose and his many contributions to our faith. Known as the Father of Western Hymnody, he left a prolific number of song texts, many of them familiar to modern worshipers. He also promoted Antiphonal chant, a style in which one side of the choir answers in response to the other.

He was born c. 340 AD in Augusta Treverorum, in the Roman province of Gaul. A beautiful legend surrounds his infancy, here described: While asleep in his cradle, a swarm of bees settled on his face. Without harming the child, they deposited a single drop of honey, then flew away. His father, standing nearby, declared this a sign of Ambrose’s future eloquence, a man with a “honeyed tongue.”

Ambrose followed his father’s example of public service. After studying literature, law, and rhetoric in Rome, he became the governor of Liguria and Emilia, which had headquarters in Milan. Saint Ambrose served as governor until 374 AD, at which time he was named Bishop of Milan. Neither baptized nor a theologian, Ambrose vehemently refused the office. He hid in the house of a colleague, but a letter from the Emperor Gratian convinced the friend to release Ambrose from his protection. Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated as Bishop of Milan. A Nicene Christian, Ambrose as Bishop was at odds with the then-popular Arian heresy. Arians did not submit to the tenants of the Nicene Creed and therefore undermined the official church.

Ambrose, however, was not rigid in smaller matters and felt that liturgy was the servant of the people and the enhancer of worship. He believed in following local liturgical custom, which prompted him to say, “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not.” Sound familiar? We introduced this doctrine into everyday life with the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The life of Saint Ambrose influenced and supported our faith. He was generous, a consoler and instrument of hope, eloquent in word and manner, and a defender of truth. He died on April 4th, 397 at the age of 57, in the city of Milan.

Among his beautiful texts we sing today are, At the Lamb’s High Feast, Before the Ending of the Day, Holy God, Thy Name We Bless and Hark! A Thrilling Voice Proclaiming.

Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra – December 6th

Nicholas was born March 15th, 270, in the city of Patara, Asia Minor, then part of the Roman Empire.  He died on December 6th, 343, at the age of 73 in Myra, Roman Empire. His family was Greek Christian and reportedly quite wealthy.  Because he lived during a turbulent time in Roman history, written records of St. Nicholas’ life are few and writings of his own were not preserved. However, the essence of this exemplary man survived, and he remains greatly loved throughout the world.

Even as a child, Nicholas was drawn to scripture and prayer. His uncle, also named Nicholas, was Bishop of Patara. He recognized the spiritual maturity and piety of his nephew, and ordained him first a reader and then priest while still a young man. He made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, and upon his return was appointed Bishop of Myra.

When his parents died, Saint Nicholas distributed his inheritance to the poor and afflicted. Many legends surround his anonymous giving, and here is one example:  A man had three daughters, and insufficient money to provide dowries, so the sisters remained unmarried.  Their father, feeling he had no choice, considered selling them into servitude.  St. Nicholas, learning of their plight, made three secret visits to their home, each time tossing a bag of gold coins through a window opening, one for each daughter’s dowry.

Other such stories exist, evidence that Saint Nicholas was both gentle and kind, a generous man with a heart for the poor. He is Patron Saint of children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, and nations such as Russia and Greece.

 

Feast of St. Andrew – November 30

Saint Andrew, Community of JesusSaint Andrew was a fisherman by trade, called to be an Apostle of Christ and martyred upon a cross form called crux decussate (X-shaped cross or “saltire.”)  His crucifixion took place mid to late 1st century at Patras, Achaia, Roman Empire.  The saltire, also known as Saint Andrew’s Cross, is the central figure on the flag of Scotland, of which Andrew is Patron Saint.

Andrew, whose name in Greek means manly and brave, was born in 6 BC in the village of Bethsaida along the Sea of Galilee.  A faithful and uncomplicated man, he led an extraordinary life of missionary work.  Some scholars believe that he preached along the Black Sea, as far as Kiev and on to Novgorod. Saint Andrew became Patron Saint of the Ukraine, Romania, and Russia.

In the Orthodox tradition, Believers refer to Andrew as protokletos, or First Called.  This claim is substantiated in scripture, specifically John: 40-42: Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John (The Baptist) said. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah.” Then he brought Simon to Jesus.

Matthew’s scriptural account tells a slightly different story. We read in Matthew 4:18-20 the following:  As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Whether called first or simultaneously first with his brother Peter, Saint Andrew is an example of humility.  There is little record of his interactions with Jesus and the other disciples; however, we know that it was he who told Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes. Andrew was also one of four disciples who approached Jesus on The Mount of Olives to inquire about signs of Jesus’ return. Neither gregarious nor impetuous like his more famous brother, Peter, he served Jesus with a quiet and sincere heart. Tradition, rooted in ancient writings praise Saint Andrew for his great love of the Cross and his Savior.

To Be a Pilgrim

I’m grateful for the first Thanksgiving. The harvest feast prepared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony in 1621 is a testimony to our ability to set aside differences. Surviving documents that reference the meal speak of wildfowl, corn for bread or porridge, venison, wild turkeys, eels, lobster and other dried or smoked fish.  And vegetables! Turnips, carrots, onions, squash, and pumpkins for any early vegetarians. Working together, they plucked chestnuts, walnuts, and beechnuts from the forest.

I’m convinced the key to the holiday’s longevity is gratitude. It shines through our hearts in a moment of unity. We sit down and enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, Grandma’s green bean recipe, Mom’s candied sweet potatoes, and Aunt Nancy’s gravy from a can that fools us all with its deliciousness. Whatever traditions, including small deceptions, stories, and family photo albums that appear on this unique celebration call us together. Not every day, not every hour but for a while, we dwell in love, harmony, and safety.

We’re all pilgrims, really, searching for a sacred place of joy, on a metaphorical journey of moral and spiritual significance. We don’t always exemplify the miracle of fellowship found at the First Thanksgiving, but neither have we forgotten it.

Feast of St. Luke – October 18

Born in Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire, some scholars maintain Saint Luke was of Greek descent. Others say Luke was a Hellenic Jew; that is, his beliefs and approach combine Jewish religious traditions with elements of Greek culture and language.  Tradition presents him as the only Gentile Christian among the four Gospel writers.

The Gospel of Luke has considerable appeal to Gentile readers. His writing style is narrative and conveys a perspective that we share – he views the events, not as an eyewitness, but as someone searching and transformed by what he hears. Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke talks of shepherds and angels and an inn with no room. Only his Gospel incorporates the personal testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the importance of her example. Saint Luke’s Gospel has been referred to as The Gospel of Mercy, Gospel of the Poor, and the Gospel of Joy – a reflection of a heart tuned by God.

Saint Luke is also credited with writing The Acts of the Apostles. When Combined with his Gospel, Luke contributed over a quarter of the New Testament text. In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he refers to Luke as a physician (a Greek word meaning one who heals), and from that reference, we infer he was both a disciple of Paul and a physician by trade. We also have Paul’s word that Luke was in Rome with him near the end of his life.

An 8th Century Christian tradition proclaimed Saint Luke to be the first icon painter.  Iconic works of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and Paul, as well as an illustrated gospel book are attributed to him, unproven but worthy of consideration.

Saint Luke is honored as Patron Saint of Artists, Physicians, Bachelors, Surgeons, and Students.

Feast Day of Simeon the God-receiver

Luke, Chapter 2:25-35 recalls the story of Simeon, a devout and holy man who believed in and waited for the consolation of Israel. Simeon, whose name in Hebrew means “obedient, listening,” was the recipient of a promise. The Holy Spirit assured him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, as the custom of the Law required, it was Simeon who, with an old man’s gentleness, took the baby in his arms.

His beautiful canticle, known today as the Nunc Dimittis, reminds us of God’s faithfulness to the obedience of love. In awe and gratitude, Simeon declared, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

Simeon, a quiet man of faith and obedience, held a baby in his arms and sang a lullaby to the Son of God.

Feast Day of St. Francis – October 4th

Today we celebrate the feast day of The Poverello (poor little man), a beloved saint, small in stature and large of heart. St. Francis of Assisi was born in Italy around 1181 or 1182. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a cloth merchant and his mother Lady Pica, probably of French descent. Pietro was in France on business when his son was born. Lady Pica named their son Giovanni, but upon his return from France, his father changed the name to Francesco. Many believe the name change was in honor of his mother’s heritage.

Francesco was a charismatic youth, had a great zest for life, and was a leader among his peers.  He received a good education and was able to read and write in Latin, and could read and converse in French as well, although not fluently. In 1202, Francis fought in a war between Assisi and Perugia and was taken captive. He was held prisoner for almost a year, and when finally released, in a feeble condition. A dream (or vision) to return to Assisi prevented him from joining yet another battle. Upon his arrival in Assisi, he devoted himself to solitude and fervent prayer that he would know God’s will for his life.

Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome, dressed in rags so that he might experience the life of a beggar seeking alms before St. Peter’s Basilica. Francis himself gave alms to a leper and despite a deep personal aversion toward lepers, kissed the man’s diseased hand.

Francis renounced both family ties and worldly goods in order to embrace a life of poverty. His deepest heart’s desire was to emulate the life of Christ and to follow the teachings of the gospel; that is, embracing with joy and humbleness of heart all that Jesus said and did.

A simple man, he lived an extraordinary life. He was a preacher, teacher, Founder of two religious orders and imitator of Christ in the highest sense of the word. He referred to poverty as “his bride,” and respected all nature as the reflection of God. To this fragile man, weakened by illness and self-denial, all creatures were his “brothers” and “sisters.”  Today, he is the Patron Saint of Ecology.

In 1224, Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ, the first saint in history to do so. On October3, 1226, he died a young man of 44, partially blind and in great pain. To his last breath, he lived the essence of his own prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.

 

And all the Bunnies said…Amen!

 

I’ve grown softer in my old age and cry over simple things. Conversely, I become stronger in old age, traveling to problems I used to leave for someone else. Let me tell you a story, a real and recent one. A month or so ago, we experienced a flash flood in our little town on Cape Cod. I didn’t think much of it, watching out the window, but when water began pouring in the basement, I joined the group of The Alarmed. The Convent was well cared for by several sisters, so I grabbed a raincoat, and sloshed my way to the church to help there. As one group fought bravely with push brooms, another gathered towels for plugging door leaks, and a third hooked up sump pumps. One sister was feeding a drainage hose out a window and yelled to me, “Don’t look! There are dead bunnies out there!” I confess I looked and got my heart broken. Five tiny guys had washed up and out of their burrow and lie in a twisted heap, pelted by wind and cold rain.

Let me say right now, I’m not brave. I’m terrified of lightning and the sound of thunder that follows it. I heard myself say, “We can’t just leave them there!” And then hopefully listened for volunteers. My sister-friend said she’d help me. Help me. Okay, better than nothing. I grabbed two pairs of plastic “dentist” gloves to protect against disease, two baggies and a new trash bag – my idea of recovery equipment. First at the scene, I discovered two of the bunnies were alive. It was now a rescue operation, and I shouted the good news. The other sister ran to get a box, while I made a make-shift tent with the baggies. I cried like a baby as I waited. I cried, prayed, and waited, flinching at every lightning bolt. I was Scarlett O’Hara scratching the barren earth for food, fist raised to the heavens, vowing to never give up. Eventually, my friend returned, the box complete with air holes and lined with a soft towel. I gently picked up the two living bunnies and put them inside. The others I just as carefully placed in the garbage bag, respecting them in death as best I could and took them inside the warm church building.

We called Charlie, a man known for his kindness toward all creatures, and he agreed to take our little survivors to the animal rescue center. As I waited for Charlie to arrive, I continued my prayer vigil, promising the two bunnies Jesus loved them and they were safe. Slowly, to my amazement (forget my prayer bravado), the two little fellows revived.

Sometime after Charlie left, we noticed movement in the trash bag. Two more bunnies, thought to be deceased, had responded to the warm environment. Charlie graciously returned and made a second trip to the animal shelter. All four babies were treated for hypothermia and adopted by someone willing to eye-dropper feed them. We’re told they’re doing well and on their way to full recovery. Stormy, Flash, Thunder, and Reign – we wish you long life and all the best and may your sibling, Sunbeam, rest in peaceful slumber.

 

Feast of St. Matthew – September 21st

“Follow me.”  These two simple words transformed the life of Levi, Son of Alphaeus, to Matthew, a beloved apostle of our Lord Jesus. Levi was a publican or Jewish agent of the despised Roman Empire. He was hated and mistrusted by his fellow Jews and thought of as a traitor. He often sat by the customs house in Capernaum, collecting taxes from the Jewish people for Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. Then Jesus ridiculed and criticized for associating with sinners, and the worst of Hebrew society called him as one of his own.

Matthew, the name given by Jesus, translates as Yahweh’s Gift. When invited to join the disciples, he renounced all worldly possessions and committed himself wholeheartedly to following the Lord. He even re-paid all those he had cheated. Matthew remained steadfast and faithful throughout his life. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he was among those chosen to teach and spread the gospel. Much of his teaching took place in Palestine. There it is said he wrote his account of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

He died near the present day country of Ethiopia and his remains entombed in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. In Christian art, Matthew is sometimes depicted with a winged man, one of the four living creatures mentioned in Revelation 4:7 and further described as those who worship and praise God day and night. Matthew left behind all that defined him, made amends, and followed Jesus to the end.