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.

Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr — October 17

Today we remember Saint Ignatius of Antioch, born May 15, 35 A.D., in the Province of Syria, then part of the Roman Empire.  He called himself Theophorus, meaning God-Bearer. We know him as the writer of seven letters, each one a treasure of encouragement, instruction and inspiration to young Christian communities. 

Amount those receiving letters were the Ephesians, Magnesians, Romans, Philadelphians and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. Ignatius stressed the concepts of the deity of Christ, ecclesiology, the value of the Eucharist, and the theology of salvation. Many believe the epistles, which contain multiple grammatical errors, were composed in haste as Ignatius journeyed to Rome as a prisoner, marching to his death.

There is little written history concerning Ignatius, but many traditions surround this exemplary servant of God. One such tradition is that he was among the children that Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Luke, Chapter 18.) He was said to be a disciple of the beloved Apostle John, and some scholars claim that he was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.

Trajan, Emperor of Rome, issued the order for Ignatius’ arrest and subsequent death.  Trajan, a blood-thirsty tyrant, was said to have sacrificed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts to entertain one equally blood-thirsty crowd.  While the exact date of Ignatius’ martyrdom is unknown, he died circa 108 A.D., at the age of 83. Condemned for nothing more than loving Christ and refusing to renounce his faith, he was cruelly attacked and devoured by wild beasts in a public display.  Upon hearing the roar of the lions in Rome’s Coliseum, the saint proclaimed, “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ that must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread wholly pure.” 

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Icon — Community of Jesus

 

Untethered Gifts

My friend Toby is a singer of extraordinary range and volume. What he lacks in finesse, he makes up for in enthusiastic participation. He only sings by himself, though, with bells as accompaniment. Or maybe it’s the other way around. You’ll find him parked outside the Convent front door each Sunday morning, a large – very large – golden retriever yowling his heart out. I mention this because Toby is a giver, demonstrated by his dedication to the bells and his soloistic adventures. 

I recently celebrated a birthday and was determined to avoid self-centeredness. At breakfast, Toby strolled over to my table and presented me with a gift: a slobbered on toy duck, which he had skillfully deprived of its stuffing. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, sincerely hoping a dilapidated mallard wasn’t my omen for the day. But Toby wanted me to have that duck, his favorite toy and continued to approach the table. I gave him adequate attention; however, there’s only so much one can say in response to a golden retriever. He finally gave up, or so I thought. At the end of breakfast, I looked down, and there at my feet was the well-chewed mallard. Toby had given me his best, his favorite, his one true love. It was mine for the day, apparently. 

The scripture for the day mentioned the widow’s mite, that tiny piece of heart more significant than all the gold of Ophir. I believe we have unlimited opportunities to give (or to withhold.) Here are some that occur to me: a prayer, a smile, a kind word, the truth, our time, our resources, half a cookie, moral support, a conversation, a visit, attentive listening, and sometimes a good idea.  Or in Toby’s case, the trusting sacrifice of a beloved toy. (I returned it to him, eventually, along with a handful of his favorite kibbles!) When our gifts come from a place of love and sacrifice, without strings or expectations, they spread joy and transform an ordinary day into a memorable one. 

 

Feast 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 of the Holy Cross, September 14

Today we venerate the Holy Cross upon which our Savior died to redeem us from sin.  We recognize this intended instrument of torture as the blessed instrument of our salvation, a simple, wooden cross made triumphant by an outpouring of innocent Love.

Good Friday cross on the Common outside the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

The Feast of the Holy Cross, sometimes referred to as The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, honors three events. The first and most significant is the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Saint Helena traveled to Jerusalem in the early fourth century to search for the holy places of Christ’s earthly mission. Tradition held that a Temple to Aphrodite was built over the Savior’s tomb.  Helena had the temple razed, and Constantine construct the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in its place. Three crosses were found during the excavation believed to be the Cross of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified with Him. All three appeared much the same; however, legend tells us that the True Cross was identified when a dying woman touched it and was instantly healed.

The cross remains the universal symbol of our Christian faith.  May we find grace in its shadow and draw strength from the One who died upon its outstretched arms.

 –From the Hymn Beneath the cross of Jesus , words by Elizabeth Clephane
Scotland, 1872

        I take, O cross, thy shadow

             For my abiding place;

                     I ask no other sunshine than

             The sunshine of His face;

                    Content to let the world go by,

                                         To know no gain nor loss,

                                         My sinful self my only shame,

                                    My glory all the cross.    

                           

Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Sunday, August 6th

 

This Sunday we will sing a revered hymn, dedicated to the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Words and music written by two church members, the Transfiguration Hymn holds special memories of the prayerful planning and unique construction of our house of worship, so named The Church of the Transfiguration. The beautiful hymn’s poetry recalls the story of Jesus mystically transformed and reads:

Transfigured, Jesus stands in rays of light.
His three disciples cringe in awe and fear.
They shield their eyes before the glory bright,
The Majesty divine is dawning here!

Two others stand beside the Vision fair,
They talk together of Jerusalem.
They speak of what must be accomplished there,
The suffering and the cross awaiting him.

A cloud of mist enfolds the holy three:
The Vision fades; a heavenly Voice they hear:
“This is my Son, this is the chosen One,”
Then Jesus says, “Arise, and have no fear.”

Grant us to be transformed as we behold,
O blessed Lord, this heavenly vision fair;
Your light and truth and love our souls enfold;
By grace may we at last your glory share.

Words by Hal M. Helms

In the final stanza, the composer adds a soaring descant that hovers like an overlay of angel-voices, witnesses to the love God sent in Jesus His Son.

The Community of Jesus

 

Feast of St James the Great – Thursday, July 25th

James the Great (or Greater), son of Zebedee, was born in approximately 3 AD. He was brother to John, also one of the original Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus. His father Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, was a man of means; Salome, James’ mother, was a pious woman who later followed Jesus and used the family’s wealth to help His ministry.

James was a man of “firsts”:  one of the first disciples to join Jesus, one of only three chosen to witness Christ’s transfiguration, and believed to be the first apostle martyred for his faith.

He was known to be a man with a fiery temper. He and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or “Sons of Thunder”.  The Bible, in Luke 9:51-56, records the following: As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples Jamesand John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then He and His disciples went to another village. How refreshingly human!

Universally, StJames the Great is recognized as the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. Tradition maintains that StJames preached the gospel in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) as well as the Holy Land. Upon his return to Judea circa 44 AD, he was decapitated by Herod Agrippa, who used his own sword to commit the execution. Legend maintains that disciples of James carried his body by sea back to Iberia, and then took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.  A pilgrimage route was established and remains today. Camino de Santiago, or The Way of StJames, is among the most famous of all Christian pilgrimages.

James the Great is often depicted clothed as a pilgrim, with staff in hand, pilgrim hat, and a scallop shell on his shoulder. Scallop shells became a symbol of pilgrimage because of their abundance on the coast of Galicia, near StJames’ tomb. In the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage was often a penance assigned by a priest, and the pilgrim was required to present proof that their journey was complete. A local souvenir, such as a scallop shell, served not only as proof, but could be used as a bowl for food or water along the way.

StJames the Great (or Elder) is honored by tradition and legend and rightfully so.  But perhaps his greatest accomplishment is found in Matthew 4, verses 21 and 22: Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

Feast of St. John Cassian – Tuesday July 23rd

Today we remember a quiet man in an unquiet world, born to wealthy parents in Scythia Minor, present-day Dobrogea, Romania, c. 360 AD. Like many Desert Ascetics of his time, he pursued a three-step path to holiness:  Purgatio, Illuminatio, and Unitio.  

Purgatio – in Greek, catharsis, a young monk’s struggle with “the flesh,” recognizable sins such as gluttony, lust, and desire for possessions. Through this process, often taking many years, the monks discovered that their strength to resist came through prayer and grace.

Illuminatio – in Greek, theoria, the second step, monks practiced the paths of holiness as described in the Gospel. They concentrated on the Christ found in Matthew Chapters 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. Many monks died still striving to achieve the Lord’s commission.

Unitio – Greek word theosis. In this final stage, the soul of the monk bonded with the Spirit of God and achieved a mystical level of peace. It is at this stage that many elderly monks fled deep into the desert or remote forests to find solitude.

These three steps comprised the life-form of Saint John Cassian, ascetic, monk, theologian, writer and abbot. Even so, he saw all of life as a means to an end as described in the following quote:

Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow men. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.

                                 – Saint John Cassian

 

Feast Day of St. Thomas – July 3rd

St. Thomas, Cloister at Community of Jesus

Saint Thomas the Apostle was born in first century Galilee. Syrian Christian tradition maintains that he was martyred at St. Thomas Mount, Chennai, India, in 72 AD.  Saint Thomas was reportedly a reluctant missionary, but obedience overcame his misgivings, and he traveled as far as present-day India, converting many to Christianity through preaching, baptism, and the performing of miracles. He is honored as Patron Saint of India.

As we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Thomas, let us do so with eyes wide open. We’re blessed to know this man who personifies our own times of unbelief, our skepticism, and tendency to look first at the dark side of an unknown. I point my not-so-understanding finger and refer to “Doubting Thomas,” often not recognizing he’s one of us and a figure of hope, compassion, and forgiveness. His stubborn insistence on touching the wounds of Christ stand as a sacred witness to His Resurrection for all time.

Let’s turn to another page of Thomas’s story. In John 11:16 upon the death of Lazarus, the other apostles, knowing Jesus’s life was in danger, wished to avoid travel to Judea. Thomas, however, aware of the Lord’s great desire to go to Bethany, fearlessly proclaimed, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In John 14:5, Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going away to prepare a place in heaven for them, where they will one day join Him. Thomas asks the obvious, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered him with that most treasured phrase, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Thomas, the practical, the skeptical, the stubborn, the doubter, the brave, and the loyal – so much revealed in so few words – left a legacy of faithful service.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Friday, June 29

Saints Peter and Paul – Community of Jesus, Cloister

Each man has his own feast day.  Why then, do we celebrate the third feast, honoring both men together?  According to legend, both died as martyrs on the same day at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero. Because Saint Paul was a Roman citizen, he was executed by beheading;  Peter, a Jewish peasant, was crucified. Considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ, he asked to be crucified upside down.

Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee. Jesus gave him the new name Cephas (Petrus in Latin.) Peter, His rock upon which He would build His Church, was both a bold and passionate follower. Impetuous, opinionated and head-strong, Peter none-the-less was chosen as shepherd of God’s flock and head of the Church.

Paul also received a new name. He was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee, and persecutor of Christians. His conversion along the road to Damascus, blindness and the subsequent return of his sight, led him to take the new name, Paul. In Hebrew, Paul means small or humble. He later earned the title “Apostle of the Gentiles”. His letters are an important tool of the New Testament, teaching us not only about his life, but the faith of the early Church.

We honor two strong and worthy men, one a fisherman, the other a well-educated Roman citizen. Both were impulsive by nature and tireless in their work as they proclaimed the gospel and shared  God’s love for mankind.

From a sermon of Leo the Great: About their merits and virtues, let us not make distinctions or draw comparisons; for both were chosen, they were alike in their labors, they were partners in death.

Peter and Paul, whom the grace of God has raised to such a height among all the members of the Church that He has set them like twin lights of eyes in that Body whose head is Christ.

 

Feast Day of Saint Irenaeus – June 28th

It is believed, although unrecorded, that Saint Irenaeus was born c. 120/140 in Asia Minor and died c. 200/230 in present-day Lyon, France. As a leader in 2nd century Christian theology, he served as bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon). Before becoming a bishop, he was a missionary to and peacemaker among the churches of Asia Minor.

Saint Irenaeus was a man to whom truth was a conciliator, uniting those caught in a web of disagreement, and opening hearts to God and His Son Jesus. He painstakingly researched doctrines of the various sects popular in the 2nd century, with particular emphasis on the Gnostics, a Greek word meaning “knowledge.”  Saint Irenaeus then wrote a five-book treatise – Adversus haereses – contrasting their intellectual and confusing pursuits with the teaching of the Apostles and writings of Holy Scripture, which Gnostics denied. First written in Greek and then translated to Latin, the treatise demolished the gnostic heresy, and firmly established the validity of the Christian Way.  Throughout his life, his goal remained that of winning the souls of his opponents to Christ as opposed to proving them wrong.  Controversy and confrontation, in his hands, became instruments of peace.