On the Feast of Our Holy Father Francis

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Let us all, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd who to save His sheep bore the suffering of the Cross. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution and shame, in hunger and thirst, in infirmity and temptations and in all other ways; and for these things they have received everlasting life from the Lord. Wherefore it is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that, whereas the Saints have practised works, we should expect to receive honor and glory for reading and preaching the same.

-From the Admonitions of Our Holy Father St. Francis, Of the Imitation of the Lord

A blessed Feast of Our Holy Father Saint Francis to everyone!  This solemnity of our founder has crept up on us this year, we have been so busy with unexpected travel, on img_4963top of the regular things that keep us busy. One of the mortifications of religious life is that you never get to finish anything – no matter what you are doing, when the bell rings calling you to the next duty, whether to prayer or recreation or meals, you must stop what you’re doing and go. This is always hard to adjust to.  And of course sometimes God rings a different kind of bell in our lives and we are forced to drop everything and go.  This happened to us recently and we found ourselves traveling out-of-state due to the unexpected passing of Sr. Mary Peter’s father, Jules.  Please pray for the blessed repose of his soul, and for the comfort and consolation of his family.

God brought many surprise blessings from this sorrow, one of them being this beautiful painting of St. Francis blessing his friars and sending them out two by two.  We don’t know the provenance of this work, but we are so thrilled to have it img_4971grace our little “monastery”.  We can’t wait for the day when it is it can adorn the wall in our permanent home.  As mentioned in our last blog, we have also obtained an incredible set of Stations of the Cross, all hand-carved a hundred years ago. They are stunning, and we can’t wait to share pictures of them with you.  It’s exciting to think that one day they will be installed in our chapel and the faithful can pray and meditate with them.  We spent yesterday cleaning a decade’s worth of dust off of them (they have been in storage for that long), which was kind of a fitting way to spend the vigil of Our Holy Father Francis, since the history of this devotion is closely linked to the Franciscans.

Looking for a hymn to include with this blog we came across an interesting article about the Franciscan chant in the medieval liturgy.  If you are musically inclined you might want to img_4966check it out.  There is also a beautiful hymn, though not well-known, to St. Francis, which focuses on his stigmata.  We were going to post Nos Autem, which would have been a fitting chant for today, but were excited to find a beautiful mp3 of Corda  Pia Inflammantum which we could share with you.  It might have been more appropriate for September 17, the Feast of the Stigmata of Our Holy Father Francis, but since this painting portrays his stigmata so well, we thought it would be great today, and that way we don’t wait to have to wait another year to share it with you.

Click here for a PDF of notation and words.

Tonight we will enjoy a special Mass celebrated in our chapel by our priest friend, Fr. Matthew, and a good dinner (Italian, of course, like our holy founder) – a small reflection on earth of the feasting and communion St. Francis and all the blessed now enjoy in the eternal light of the Blessed Trinity.

We’ll leave you with a couple verses from Corda Pia:

Fac ut nos in regno lucis Perfru ́amur fructu Crucis, Quo læt ́emur cæ ́litus.
Collaud ́etur Crucif ́ıxus, Franc ́ıscus prorsus inn ́ıxus Super mundi fœ ́dera.

Make us benefit from the fruit of the Cross in the kingdom of light where we may rejoice with the heavenly one.
Let the Crucified One be praised with Francis who is resting above the plottings of the world.

Michaelmas

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Thus we praise with veneration
All the armies of the sky;
Chiefly him, the warrior primate,
Of celestial chivalry,
Michael, who in princely virtue
Cast Abaddon from on high.

By whose watchful care repelling –
King of everlasting grace –
Every ghostly adversary,
All things evil, all things base,
Grant us of Thine only goodness,
In Thy paradise a place.

-From Tibi Christe, Splendor Patris, by Rabanus Maurus (776-856)

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and since our monastery is dedicated to St. Michael, we tend to give him the spotlight.  After all, he is the Prince of the Heavenly Host.  Hopefully the other archangels understand our bias.

Seriously, though, whenever we meet someone and tell them our future monastery will be dedicated to St. Michael, they always say how much they love him, and how needed he is today.  So Screen Shot 2016-09-29 at 4.11.01 PM.pngmany people we encounter are devoted to him, and so many saints have been close to him, too.  St. Francis’ devotion was well known, and it was during his fast leading up to the feast of St. Michael that the Poverello received the stigmata.  St. Michael being the patron of soldiers and police, we pray to him daily for the protection of all our police, firemen and armed forces.

There are all kinds of interesting traditions associated with his feast day.  In England tradition held that you should eat a goose on Michaelmas to ensure prosperity throughout the year.  This could have derived from the fact that September 29th was also one of the four “Quarter Days” of the year (the others are March 25th, June 24th, and December 25th – did you notice they’re all important feasts), when rents were due, new leases begun and servants hired.  Tenants would bring a stubble goose (a goose that had been fattened on the stubble leftover after harvest) to their landlord when paying their dues, in the hopes of making him more lenient.  This may be how the goose and prosperity came to be associated.

Michaelmas used to fall on October 11 (or 10th according to some) and the tradition was that you shouldn’t pick any blackberries after this date, since it was the day St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven, throwing him to earth where he landed in a blackberry bush.  The devil cursed the blackberry bush and its sharp brambles (or spat on it, depending on which region we’re talking about – or even worse, if you’re in Cornwall).  img_3121Although we’ve never encountered wild blackberries here in south central Texas, we did have the chance to pick some last year when on retreat in Washington state.  Don’t worry, it was before Michaelmas.

This feast of St. Michael, our friend and patron, is an auspicious day, because as you read this, an incredibly beautiful set of antique stations of the cross are on their way to us!  They are hand carved and quite large, and we can’t wait for the day when we can install them in a beautiful church.  Thanks to St. Michael, St. Anthony and some very generous benefactors, we were able to purchase these one-of-a-kind works of art.  And with our heavenly helpers’ continued assistance, we hope to keep collecting beautiful church antiques to adorn God’s house, so that when it is built it will be bursting with beauty everywhere you look.  Pray for that endeavor, and pray to St. Michael daily, if you don’t already, that he will guard and protect you, your loved ones, the Church and our nation from the snares of the enemy.  He has already won the war, but we’re still in the fight.

Here are the words from the poem in honor of St. Michael, which you heard sung so ethereally (see top of post) by the Ensemble Cosmedin.

Tibi Christe, splendor Patris by Rabanus Maurus (776-856)

Latin original

Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris
vita, virtus cordium
in conspectu Angelorum.
Votis, vocis psalimus
alternantes concrepando
melos damus vocibus.

Collaudamus venerantes
omnes coeli milites
sed praecipue primatem.
Coelestis exercitus
Michaelem in virtute
conterentem Zabulum.

Quo custode procul pelle
rex Christe piissime
omne nefas inimici.
Mundos corde et corpore
paradiso redde tuo
nos sola clementia.

Gloriam Patri melodis
personemus vocibus;
Gloriam Christo canamus,
Gloriam Paraclito,
Qui trinus et unus Deus
Extat ante saecula. Amen.

English translation

Thee, O Christ, the Father’s splendour,
Life and virtue of the heart,
In the presence of the angels
Sing we now with tuneful art,
Meetly in alternate chorus,
Bearing our responsive part.

Thus we praise with veneration
All the armies of the sky;
Chiefly him, the warrior primate,
Of celestial chivalry,
Michael, who in princely virtue
Cast Abaddon from on high.

By whose watchful care repelling –
King of everlasting grace –
Every ghostly adversary,
All things evil, all things base,
Grant us of Thine only goodness,
In Thy paradise a place.

Laud and honour to the Father,
Laud and honour to the Son,
Laud and honour to the Spirit,
Ever Three, and ever One,
Consubstantial, co-eternal,
While unending ages run.
Translation by John Mason Neale

The end is nigh!

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The end is nigh! That’s right, in just a few hours, the end of 2013 will be upon us, and a new year will begin.

Our community tradition has been to close the year by chanting two of the penitential psalms.  After Mass on December 31st we chant the Miserere (Psalm 50) and the De Profundis (Psalm 129), in reparation for the sins of the past year.  Then after Mass on January 1st, we chant the Te Deum, in thanksgiving to God for the blessings and hope of the new year.

It has also been our tradition to ring in the new year with an 11pm Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  There is no better way to close out the old year and welcome the new than by offering God the best we can give him, the highest prayer and most perfect form of worship.  For many of us, this was quite a change from the usual way to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  Most memorable of all are the times when the Consecration coincided with the midnight bell chime.  While so many were focused on watching the big ball in Times Square drop, God, who is outside of time, was coming to us silently and humbly under the form of Bread and Wine, even as the old year closed and the new one began.  Either Fr. Joseph was an expert with timing, or God arranged that blessing perfectly.  Whichever it was, we are grateful!

Below are some videos of Psalm 50 and Psalm 129, sung most beautifully by the choir of King’s College.

Holy Thursday

As religious especially dedicated to Our Lord’s Eucharistic Presence, Holy Thursday takes on even more meaning. It may seem odd to celebrate just as the Triduum is about to begin, but in our order this day is one of special celebration and solemnity. What took place in the Upper Room over 2,000 years ago is central to our vocations. Where would we be were it not for our Lord’s words “This is my body.” The Heart of the Church is the Eucharist, precisely because it is Christ’s Heart, alive and beating in our midst, feeding us daily.

It has been our community’s custom on this day to ask one another’s forgiveness for any hurts or offenses we may have committed, whether willingly or unwillingly.  Forgiveness is what Christ’s Passion gained for us, it is only right that we should begin the Sacred Triduum by ourselves asking forgiveness.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5:23-24)

Our midday meal is better described as a feast.  The joyful celebration of the day stands in stark contrast to the solemn silence which descends on the monastery after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  We are reminded that the joys of the day exist only in relation to, and because of, the unspeakable suffering and death Our Lord willingly endured for our sake.  Indeed, our vocation, because it is intimately tied to His Eucharistic Presence, could not be without his Passion.

The Consolation Prize

As I sat in the aircraft next to Mother Angelica, waiting for take off, I turned to her, and doing little to conceal my excitement, said, “After we have done the business side of things could we drive over to you-know-where to see you-know-who?”  She nodded a yes with a smile, and I sat back in my seat closing my eyes in blissful anticipation.

The where, was Avila, and the who was St. Teresa of Avila, one of my most favourite saints!

Mother Angelica, Sister Raphael, Sister Margaret Mary, and myself were on leg two of our trip.  Mother had spoken at Westminster hall in London, and now we were on our way to Madrid, Spain.

At home in Alabama, we were in the midst of building the monastery in Hanceville, and the reredos and many other items were being made by the company in Spain that we were on our way to visit, to check on the progress of everything.  Avila was only an hour or two away.

As exciting as it was going to be to see all the wonderful things being made for our new monastery, I was even more overjoyed at the prospect of going to Avila, the birthplace of St. Teresa.

We were in Madrid for three days, we finished our business, and on the morning of day three, we were set to drive to Avila.

And then disaster struck: Mother Angelica began to feel unwell.  We had been on a pretty grueling schedule, and her asthma was now acting up.  She said that we should still try to go to Avila, (even in her discomfort, she hated to disappoint us) but her suggestion was met with one of our own:  she should rest for the next day’s flight, and we should cancel the trip to Avila.

Fortunately, after a good day’s rest, Rev. Mother felt better the next morning , and we were able to fly back to the States.

So near and yet so far; we had almost made it to Avila!

As I sat in the plane I prayed, Well St. Teresa we did our best to come see you!  As I prayed, I remembered another Teresa, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who once said, “If you want to make God to laugh, tell Him your plans.”  Even though I was rather disappointed, I smiled thinking of that quote.

We arrived home, feeling pretty bedraggled.  It had been a good, but none the less tiring, trip.

I trudged back to my cell (bedroom), and as I opened the door, my bleary eyes looked over to my chair, on which had been placed a few pieces of mail which had come in while I was gone.

Sitting next to the mail was a small package, neatly tied in brown paper and string.  Even in my exhaustion, I was curious. I walked over and picked up the package, looking at the name of the sender, whom I did not recognize.  I began to unwrap it, and as I did so, a note fell out.

It read:  Dear Sr. Grace Marie, you don’t know me, but in one of the monastery’s past newsletters I remember reading about the different saints that each sister loves, and I remember one of your particular saints being the great St. Teresa of Avila.

She went on to say that lately, whenever she prayed, she got the distinct feeling that St. Teresa wanted me to have the enclosed item.  As I finished reading the note, I looked quickly down into the little box, pushing away the tissue paper that surrounded: a first class relic of St. Teresa of Avila!

I stood there for a moment, transfixed in disbelieving joy, taking it all in.

She had come to see me!  I had not been able to go to see her, but she had come to me!

I had in the past, heard it said that very often, even though we think that we are the ones who choose particular saints for our friends, it’s really the other way around, they choose us!  I think that’s very likely true!

We all need help on our journey towards heaven, as Tobit had the wonderful Archangel Raphael, sent by God to accompany him. So it is that the saints accompany us.

I love what St. Paul says in Hebrews 12:1:  Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

So great a cloud of witnesses, our friends the saints, are urging us on.

St. Teresa, whose wonderful sense of humor comes through again and again in her writings, says that sometimes life can be like a night at a bad inn.  But it is also true to say that when we have friends to accompany us along the road of life, when we have those wonderful companions the saints, praying and interceding for us,  it somehow doesn’t seem quite so bad.

St. Teresa pray for us!