How Virtue Conquers Vice

Where there is charity and wisdom,
there is neither fear nor ignorance.

Where there is patience and humility,
there is neither anger nor disturbance.

Where there is poverty with joy,
there is neither covetousness nor avarice.

Where there is inner peace and meditation,
there is neither anxiousness nor dissipation.

Where there is fear of the Lord to guard the house,
there the enemy cannot gain entry.

Where there is mercy and discernment,
there is neither excess nor hardness of heart.


The Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi is October 4.

Image: St. Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man by Giotto, ca. 1297.

From the Web Gallery of Art (https://www.wga.hu/index.html): “This is the second of the twenty-eight scenes (twenty-five of which were painted by Giotto) of the Legend of Saint Francis…Francis hands his valuable golden cloak to an impoverished citizen. The scene takes place in front of two rocky hills, on whose peaks two very different types of architecture rise up–the world of the city and of the cloister confront one another here. The descending slopes meet behind the figure of the saint, emphasizing his position in the picture, as well as characterizing his situation in life: this is a first indication that the saint will decide to lead a secluded life of poverty.”

When you don’t believe, believe anyhow

Charles de Foucauld composed this prayer as he meditated on the death of Jesus on the Cross:

This was the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved. May it also be ours. And may it be not only that of our last moment, but also of our every moment:

Father,

I abandon myself into Your hands;
do with me what You will.
Whatever You may do, I thank You:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into Your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You with all the love of my heart,
for I love You Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into Your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for You are my Father.

Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, made this prayer central to our spirituality:

The first prayer we say every day is the Abandonment Prayer of Brother Charles, which is a very beautiful prayer in which we give ourselves totally to God.

Abandonment simply means that you give yourself completely to God in such a way that you trust Him with everything that He has in mind for you, and that each morning you just give yourself to Him completely, and you’re at ease and at rest because you know that He is going to take care of you. Maybe He’s not going to do it your way, but He’s going to do it His way, which is a lot better.

Sometimes you’re a little afraid of what is He going to want to do. You don’t always feel like you’re ready for it, but that’s what takes faith. It just takes faith. We like to make our own plans….

I can assure you there were many times when I thought that I could not go on with some of the things that I had to bear. It’s just trust. And if you can trust, God will certainly take care of this matter, but give yourself to Him. That’s what we mean by abandonment. It’s when you don’t believe, believe anyhow.

What Made the Good Samaritan Different?

One of the most familiar passages in Scripture is the story of the Good Samaritan. Even people who say they don’t know much about the Bible know how the story goes: a man was attacked by robbers and left beaten and bloodied by the side of the road. Two others came along, a priest and a Levite, and left without stopping to help.

Then a Samaritan arrived and gave assistance that went above and beyond the call of duty. He dressed the injured man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and gave the innkeeper money to provide for him until he recovered (see Luke 10: 29-37).

We might wonder how the first two men could just leave the beaten man alone in his suffering. Maybe his presence alerted them to the fact that it was a dangerous road. If they stopped to help, they might get assaulted, too. Maybe they were on their way to an important engagement and didn’t want to be late. Helping at the moment was not convenient. Or maybe if they helped him today he might ask for something else tomorrow. They knew they could only do so much. The priest and Levite probably felt justified in not getting involved.

These excuses sound familiar. What made the Samaritan act so differently? A fundamental change in attitude. Whereas the first two men thought, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” the Samaritan thought, “If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

The Samaritan had made a change on the inside. He walked the same road as the other two, but through his conversion of heart he overcame fear and united the injured man’s pain with God’s healing.

For most of us, putting others first and ourselves last is an uphill climb. Old habits and self-centeredness keep pulling us in the opposite direction. But the grace of God is stronger and will help us triumph in the end.

If the Good Samaritan’s care of the injured man seems extravagant, even more so is God’s care for us. We won’t fully realize how many good things He sent our way until this life is over. One of His best gifts is the desire to love and serve the poor. What could be better than to have a heart that is like God’s own?

The season of Lent is upon us. Let us keep in mind the type of fasting that the Lord finds acceptable: to release those held captive by injustice, to break the yoke of oppression, to share our bread with the hungry, our shelter with the homeless, and our clothing with the naked (Isaiah 58:6-7).

As we journey toward Easter, may our eyes be opened to see our neighbor in distress, and may we let go of whatever keeps us from loving others as a Good Samaritan.

Only For Today

A plan of life is helpful for keeping us on course, not to be perfect, but simply to be a little better than we were before.

Pope John XXIII followed a simple 10-step plan that he had written. Its focus is just on today, because that is all anyone has. Perhaps one or two of the steps will resonate with you and provide inspiration for making a change in your life.

1). Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2). Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3). Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4). Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5). Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6). Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7). Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8). Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9). Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10). Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

The World is a Joyful Mystery

Spring is a tonic for the soul. After being cooped up inside during the winter, stepping outside to perceive the awakening land is a blessing. It feels like the flowers and grasses are not the only things coming back to life.

Sooner or later, though, we have to consider the garden chores that await us. There’s always a list of things to do: pruning, clearing, raking, planting. But perhaps not every corner of the yard needs to bear the mark of human cultivation. Pope Francis gives an example why in his encyclical, On Care For Our Common Home:

Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of His infinite beauty and goodness.

“Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “His eternal power and divinity have been made known through His works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20).

For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty.

Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Here is a “before” photo of our yard. Hopefully at a later time we will have a nice “after” picture. A good portion of the yard will probably end up in its natural, untouched state 🙂

St. Francis is in our garden for inspiration.

Lenten Meal Blessing

In the weeks before Easter, we are given time during Lent to put extra effort in turning toward Christ and becoming more Christ-like. There are three practices to help us in this regard: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They are three companions on the journey as we convert our hearts. They will help us to become more loving and charitable, more merciful and forgiving.

Meals can be an important part of our observance of Lent, especially when they are simple and bring our attention to the needs of others. Our food connects us with the earth and all the people involved in bringing what we eat to our table. Being more mindful of our food begins by thanking God for His graciousness to us. Here is an excellent table blessing to use from the book, The Work of Your Hands, by Diana Macalintal:

We bless you, Lord, and we praise you, for You have given us this meal to share, provided by the earth and prepared by human hands.

Help us to remember those who cannot eat because of poverty or sickness. Let the brief hunger we feel this Lent make us hunger even more for justice.

May this meal strengthen us to do Your will. Blessed be God for ever.

All: Blessed be God for ever.

This Hermitage Speaks

Carlo Carretto was a Little Brother of Jesus, a religious community inspired by the life of Charles de Foucauld. With a poetic style, he also wrote several books that explored his desire to live a contemplative life in the world.

One of those books was about St. Francis of Assisi (I, Francis), and Carretto in fact died on the saint’s feast day (October 4) in 1988. What follows is an excerpt from the preface in which Carretto reflects on his time spent in a hermitage favored by St. Francis, a cave near the Italian town of Narni:

I sought out this hermitage because it is one of the special places of the Franciscan world, where the Saint sojourned on repeated occasions, and where all blends together in a perfect oneness. Forests, bare rock, the architecture, poverty, humility, simplicity, and beauty, all go together to form one of the masterpieces of the Franciscan spirit—an example to the centuries of peace, prayer, silence, ecology, beauty, and the human victory over the contradictions of time.

When we behold these hermitages, abodes of men and women of peace and prayer and joyous acceptance of poverty, we have the answer to the anguished conflicts that torment our civilization.

You see, these rocks say to us, peace is possible.

Do not seek for luxury when you build your houses, seek the essentials. Poverty will become beauty then, and liberating harmony—as you can see in this hermitage.

Do not destroy forests in order to build factories that swell the ranks of the unemployed and create unrest; help human beings to return to the countryside, to learn again to appreciate a truly well-turned object, to feel the joy of silence and of contact with earth and sky.

Do not hoard up money—inflation and greedy people lie in ambush for you; instead, leave the door of your heart open for a dialogue with your brother or sister, for service to the very poor.

Do not prostitute your labor fabricating things that last half a season, consuming what little raw material you have left; but make pails like the one you see here at this well—it has been drawing its water for centuries and is still in use.

The ill you speak of consumerism is a cover. You fill your mouth with words in order to stifle a bad conscience. Even as you speak, you are consumerism’s slaves, without any capacity for innovation and imagination.

And then . . .

Unburden yourselves of your fear of your brothers and sisters! Go out to meet them unarmed and meek. They are human beings too, just like you, and they need love and trust, even as you.

Do not be concerned with “what you are to eat and with what you are to drink” (Matt. 6:25); be calm, and you shall lack nothing. “Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and everything else will be given to you for good measure. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).

Assisi, the city of St. Francis.

Yes, this hermitage speaks. It speaks and says brotherly and sisterly love is possible.

It speaks and says that God is our Father, that creatures are our brothers and sisters, and that peace is joy.

All you have to do is will it. Try it, brothers and sisters, try it, and you will see that it is possible.

The Gospel is true.
Jesus is the Son of God, and saves humankind.

Nonviolence is more constructive than violence.
Chastity is more pleasurable than impurity.
Poverty is more exciting than wealth.

Try to think about it, sisters and brothers. What an extraordinary adventure lies here before us. If we put Francis’s project into execution we shall be escaping the atomic apocalypse.

Is it not always this way? God proposes peace.
Why not try it?

Called to Love, Called to Serve

The life of a Catholic nun or religious sister is a mystery to many people. Stereotypes abound, but as usual the reality is quite different. Even though some things change over time, the essentials do not: all that is good, true, and beautiful continues to exist.

If you are considering a religious vocation, or you would just like to know more about Catholic nuns today, check out some of these resources:

Light of Love gives viewers a look into the lives, suffering, and joys of religious life captured in a way like never before.”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIwJacw_Z3Y

Imagine Sisters is an organization that exists to expose the beauty of the religious life to a world desperately in need. We are so glad that you’re here, and we can’t wait to share stories of discernment, transformation, and faith.”
imaginesisters.org

Vision Vocation Network presents information on religious communities for both men and women. The site helps people considering a religious vocation to get in touch with the communities that best match their personal interests.
vocationnetwork.org/en/main

Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-35) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.”
www.catholicsoncall.org

A Nun’s Life provides information about figuring out God’s call in your life. You’ll find articles, videos, and other resources on popular topics.
anunslife.org

Catholic Nuns Today: “What is your image of a Catholic Nun? We invite you to learn more about our active, faith-filled lives by reading our stories and frequently asked questions.”
catholicnunstoday.org

Giving Voice is a peer led organization that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”
giving-voice.org

Beloved is a film about the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. “This joyful, holy community radiates their love for Christ and neighbor, revealing in this compelling film what it means to live the consecrated life as both a contemplative and a teacher. They manifest to the world that religious life is all about love and joy, but a love that is different and unique. It is a love that is eternal.”
www.ignatius.com/Products/BND-M/beloved.aspx

The Lord’s Prayer

Sooner or later, most of us will be in a situation where we don’t know what to say. We might be caught off-guard, or there’s something about the circumstances we’re in, or the person we’re speaking with, that ties up our tongue. It happens to just about everyone.

Sometimes words fail us when we are trying to talk with someone very important to us, even someone we love very much. Our feelings are no guarantee of fluency. If people kept track of whenever this occurred, there’s probably one name that would be on every list: God.

Being able to communicate with our Creator is one of the gifts of being human. But even though He made us, and loves us, and is always with us, we don’t always know what to say to Him. Scripture records that even the disciples of Jesus had this difficulty. “Teach us to pray,” they asked Him. Jesus replied with the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

We know the words by heart; they are truly a God-send. The prayer begins with a declaration of faith (Our Father who art in heaven). The petitions that follow summarize the Gospel, instructing us in what we need to desire from God: sanctification through the Lord (hallowed be Thy Name), hope (Thy Kingdom come), humble obedience (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), trust in providence (give us this day our daily bread), contrition (and forgive us our trespasses), charity (as we forgive those who trespass against us), conversion (lead us not into temptation), and submission to His saving power (but deliver us from evil). It is the perfect prayer, given for our sake.

Perhaps the most important word in the Lord’s Prayer is the first: our. This prayer tells us who God is, and also who we are. If God is our Father, then everyone else is our brother and sister. His Fatherhood eclipses the boundaries of nationality, economic status, and religion that we tend to impose on the world. Too often we forget that Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give me my daily bread.” We belong to each other.

We cannot ask God for what we need without praying for those who go without.

Lessons of Nazareth

blog_nazareth_nov_2016

Nazareth is the village where Jesus grew up and lived with Mary and Joseph. For the Little Sisters, Nazareth represents an ideal for their spiritual lives.

In the Gospel of John, Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)

Yes, there is much good to be found in Nazareth. The ordinary life of the Holy Family can teach us things of great value.

Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, and he beautifully described the lessons of Nazareth. Here is an excerpt:

“Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus: the school of the Gospel. Here we learn to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning, so deep and mysterious, this very simple, very humble and lovely manifestation of the Son of God. And gradually we may even learn to imitate Him… having obtained some brief lessons on Nazareth.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this admirable and indispensable state of mind, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

“O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of silent prayer known by God alone.

The lesson of domestic life: may Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, a communion of love, composed of simplicity and genuine beauty, its character sacred and unassailable; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its guidance, how fundamental and incomparable its role in society.

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of ‘the carpenter’s son,’ we want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming value of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it.”