Visiting Friars

The new year brought us a visit from new priests! Three of our Dominican friars who were newly ordained this past year stopped by to visit, say Mass, and give us their priestly blessing—Fr. Luke Hoyt, Fr. Edmund McCullough, and Fr. Thomas Davenport.  With our upstairs parlor gutted and the remaining parlors unavailable we invited the friars into our Community Room to visit.

We may have attempted to play a little trick on Fr. Luke. Father had visited us previously and received the handwoven confessional stole we often gift to the first year Dominican priests who visit us. On this visit we wrapped up stoles for both Fr. Edmund and Fr. Thomas, while also wrapping an identical box for Fr. Luke which instead contained soaps. When the prioress handed the identical gifts to the brothers Fr. Luke may have fallen for our little joke, thinking we had forgotten that he had already received a stole! 

Epiphany Party

Every year on the Feast of the Epiphany (or thereabouts) the Novitiate holds an Open House/Christmas Party at evening recreation. The novitiate (the place, not the sisters) is an area of the monastery that is separated from the Professed sisters. It is has cells (bedrooms) for the novices and Novice Mistress, a community room, library, chapter hall, office, etc. The novitiate is strictly off limits for the professed sisters!

So the Epiphany party is a special treat when everyone is invited up to the Novitiate's community room to enjoy their Christmas decorations, treats, and Christmas carols. We always start off the carols with 'We Three Kings' as the Prioress, Sr. Mary Martin, crowns our three kings. The 'kings' are the three lucky sisters who find a hidden nut in their breakfast.  This year's kings were Sr. Mary Ana, Sr. Maria Johanna, and Sr. Mary Jacinta. A Mass is also celebrated for their intentions. 

As we've mentioned in past blog posts, we have a very musical novitiate, and the "Band of Beginners" had prepared a piece for the party, arrange by Sr. Marie. Sr. Marie also accompanied the carols on the keyboard. 

New Year's Day

Every New Year's Day we gather in the Chapter Hall after breakfast for the Drawing of Patrons, and this year was no exception. The three youngest sisters(in religion, not necessarily in age) are asked to come forward and read out the sister's name, her new Patron Saint for the year,  her quotation and the special intention for which to pray. This year the Community's Patron Saint is St. Catherine of Siena and the special intention is for Cardinal Tobin! Sr. Mary Martin used quotations from Scripture this year. 

New Year's Day is a recreation day for us, and in the morning the sisters were invited to go down to see what the parlor looks like now that it has been stripped. The top left picture below shows the new wall and door that blocks the construction area from the nuns' living quarters. That big hole in the middle picture is in a corner of the floor. The workmen were checking to see what is between two walls below.  The bottom left picture is a view from what was the public side of the parlor towards the chapel. You can't recognize it anymore now that the construction wall is up in the vestibule! (Sorry, that means no more bathroom for the duration of the build! But the new wing will have an updated handicap accessible bathroom, so it will be worth the wait.) The bottom middle picture shows an unexpected surprise...heating pipes running vertically through what was the old partition...directly in the middle of the room. They'll need to reroute those! 

Some sisters gathered in the community room for a morning of board games. First came "Murder in the Monastery," the monastic version of Clue. Sr. Marie won that game, and quite quickly! Next was Settlers of Catan, which has gotten a lot of use since the Novitiate received it at Christmas. We ran out of time, so Sr. Joseph Maria/Sr. Maria Johanna and Sr. Mary Ana tied with the highest number of points.  We have some intense board game players in this community!

Fourth Sunday of Advent
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Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In today's Gospel from Saint Luke we hear the story of the Annunciation. Some two thousand years ago the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to the little town of Nazareth with the greatest news the world has ever heard. A child was to be born of Mary, the Son of God was coming into the world He created...and as a little baby.

The almighty God comes to us as a little baby!  Our sense of wonder has perhaps been dulled to this amazing reality by the repetition of years, by the adorable little babies in quaint Nativity scenes, by the well-worn stories of His birth. But, let's look on these events today with a new set of eyes, with Mary's eyes. Let us experience what she must have experienced at the revelation of the Messiah—shock, terror, joy, wonder!—and that she was to be His mother!

God is coming to His people not as an all-powerful warrior to conquer Rome and set up His terrestrial kingdom but as a little baby to conquer the hearts of all peoples and establish His eternal Kingdom within them! Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus!

Christmas Martyrology:

Some millions of years having passed since the creation of the world,
when in the beginning God created heaven and earth,
some thousands of years from the salvation of man,
when the family of Noah survived the flood,
about nineteen centuries after the promise was given to Abraham
the father of our faith,
many ages after Moses brought the people from bondage in Egypt,
a thousand years after the anointing of David as king over the chosen people,
in fulfilment of the times and years and months and days,
discerned by the vision of the prophets,
in the course of secular history,
in the one hundred and ninety-third Olympiad,
seven and one half centuries from the founding of the city of Rome,
in the twentieth year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus,
while the whole world enjoined a span of peace,
in the sixth and final age of human achievement,
wishing to consecrate the whole world and all time
by His blessed presence,
Jesus Christ eternal God and son of the Eternal Father,
conceived as man by the overshadowing of the holy spirit,
after nine months of growth in the womb of his mother,
was born of the Virgin Mary
and for our salvation became man
in Bethlehem in Judah,
now in our own times this marks the birthday
of Our Lord Jesus Christ
after the manner of all flesh.

 

 

 

Solemn Chapter of the Nativity

This morning after Mass we gathered in the Chapter Hall for the Solemn Chapter of the Nativity. The Fourth Week of Advent had barely begun when we shifted gears to celebrating the 24th of December! Solemn Chapter began with Sr. Mary Catharine chanting the Christmas Martyrology (you can read the text HERE) which places the birth of Christ in its secular context as well as its place in salvation history. As soon as the martyrology had been sung the community made the venia (Dominican prostration). A moment of silence follows.

The community is then seated and the Prioress invites the sister who has prepared the sermon to come forward. Who has been chosen to give the sermon is always a well-kept secret. This year it was our Octogenarian, Sr. Maria Agnes. Sister's reflection is below.

AN OCTOGENARIAN'S REFLECTION
ON THE MYSTERY OF CHRISTMAS

The mystery of Christmas celebrates the most profound probings of faith at the great coming of God into human history: eternally begotten of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary in time, and unceasingly born in the souls of the faithful. In the birth of the Christ-Child we see the birth of each one of us. because Christ sanctified all human births. All our beginnings are small—in some quiet home or a hospital room. All of us began our lives in the miracle of birth and received an abundance of grace in that event—our birthday. We have not earned it; it is graciously given to us! That ultimate mystery we call God has uttered us into existence and raised our human lives to an unthinkable richness. The dignity has been given and we accept and live that created dignity. That is why every year, every Christmas and every birthday, it becomes as important for us to stop, to slow down and to look deeply, and get in touch with a love that is true, a love that lives and gives life. By the grace of God we are each invited to become ministers of divine truth and love through the care and tenderness we show to one another. This is true throughout the year, but Christmas especially highlights it.

Mary is our model in her life of unceasing prayer, in her obedience to the Law, religious observance, and love of God and neighbor. Mary, faithful daughter of the Jewish synagogue and perfect Christian. Mary, who knows that God is outpouring love seeking entrance into her virginal heart. Her faithfulness to Yahweh grows into her unreserved Fiat, uttered in the name of the whole human race. Metaphors are literary devices used by poets and mystics to describe a reality. The American poet W. H. Auden, in his poem "For the Time Being" had described Mary's Fiat as the wedding ring at the bridal union between the divine and human natures in Christ. At the Incarnation and at the Birth of the Word of God, Jesus becomes the sole object of Mary's self-oblation. The life of Mary shows us how a permanent commitment is shaped and guided by the community. Then the time comes when she makes her contribution to the shaping of Israel's vision and of the world's destiny. Each of us at some particular moment in our lives is called to be a revelation of God to another individual and to our community.

This Christmas, I want to tap my childhood memoirs, frozen in time forever. I want to go back in time to that Christmas octave in 1937 when I was six years old. My piano teacher scheduled our first children's recital on December 28, feast of the Holy Innocents. We were 16 recitalists, ages ranging from six to twelve. We were required to play our piano piece from memory. Moreover, my teacher picked seven pupils to participate in a piano performance competition with prizes at stake: First Prize—a gold medal and twelve months of free piano lessons; Second Prize—a silver medal and four special tickets to a talent show of select children and teen agers at the Radio Station DZPI; and Third prize—a bronze medal and an album of classical piano pieces. My teacher had chosen me as one of the contestants and my piano piece was to be the famous Serenade by Franz Schubert. With joyful enthusiasm and a lot of confidence I set myself to hours of practice until I mastered my piece several weeks before the recital. I was determined to win the first prize. My parents encouraged and supported me. My mother made me a new dress in pastel yellow with puffed sleeves for the occasion.

My father had been called to his parental home to see his mother (my Lola) who was very sick, so only my mother accompanied me to the recital. My little sister was left to the care of a relative. At the recital, I had no stage fright at all. The photographers' flash bulbs did not distract me in my performance. Then the winners in the competition and the awarding of prizes were announced to the audience. I received second prize and my mother, with a radiant smile on her face, went up the stage and pinned the silver medal on my dress. I bowed to the audience without smiling and hurried out to the back stage. My mother later found me, weeping bitterly, behind the stage curtain. She congratulated me for a fine performance and reminded me that we had to attend the reception and the ice cream party for the recitalists and their chaperones I protested between sobs and sniffles that I deserved the first prize and that I had played the piano much better than that strange boy whose name was Lenny Chua and who won the gold medal. I bitterly complained that the board of judges did not know us well enough. Did not my teacher call me his star pupil in piano? Then why did I not get the gold medal? My mother quietly said we would talk about that issue at home. She wiped away my tears, made me blow my nose on her handkerchief; then she took out a powder puff from her bag, dabbed some powder on my red and swollen eyes. Then she gently took my hand and firmly, yes firmly, led me to the ice cream party where my piano teacher and the board of judges assured me that I had indeed played very well and that I would grow up to become a professional pianist. It was their first time to watch a six-year old play the expressive Schubert Serenade on a grand piano. But I did not show any enthusiasm at all because I was still thinking and pining for the gold medal and the one year piano scholarship that I had lost to that strange boy Lenny Chua.

When we reached home, my mother and I sat down for a small talk. I am now recalling and pondering the little Christmas sermon which my mother addressed to me: These were some of her lines: (Quote) "Yes, the board of judges know the contestants very well. You and Lenny Chua would have been tied for the first prize but the judges decided to give all to Lenny. He is Chinese-Filipino and has become an orphan when his Chinese fathe1r returned to China and joined his real wife and their many children, never to return to the Philippines. Poor Lenny has become fatherless; he needs the scholarship at least for one more year of free piano lessons. Whereas you, you still have your father and me. We love you and will take care of all your needs through high school and college, and through sickness and health. Do you remember your promise to the Christ-Child last Christmas eve when you prayed before the Belen (the creche)? You promised the Blessed Virgin Mother and the Christ-Child that you would be obedient, patient and generous. The gold medal rightfully belongs to Lenny Chua, but you are gripping it tight in your mind and clutching it tight in your heart. Remember God's word: 'Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods'. So let that medal go! Let it go now! Have you not already received two little gold medals in your Grade One Spelling Bee? Be thankful for what you already have. Hopefully, you will receive other gold medals in the future." (End of Quote). Now I remember how my 28-year old mother had implored me to change my ways, to give up my baby swaddling clothes and to stop being hypersensitive and weepy. In five days I would be seven years old. Seven! The age of reason and my mother wanted me to show good example to my little sister. I held back my tears and quickly hugged my young mother and said, Yes! Yes, I will it. Then Lenny's gold medal was no longer weighing me down. I had dislodged the medal from my heart and mind.

My mother's last words are deeply etched in my memory forever. She said, "There are many things in this world that are far more important and more pleasing to God than always wanting to be first in everything."

Sister Maria-Agnes of the Good Shepherd, OP