In this Edition:
- Christmas in Lent
- Website News
- Community News
Dear Friends of Carmel,
Once again, we have let too many weeks and months pass without a letter. It was Christmas when we last “met”, so we have a good deal to catch up on. And since many kind and concerned reminders about this have come to us “through the Inbox”, we thought this week would be a good time, right between two beautiful liturgical feasts that interrupt the solemn observance of Lent: that of St. Joseph, and of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But first let us offer a few reflections about the season of Lent. Our favorite words from the opening of the Holy Forty Days still ring in our ears and hearts: “Be converted to Me with all your heart!” The beautiful phrase finds its echo in the “great commandment” of charity: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind and with all thy strength.” On these expressions of the Divine tender mercies, all souls of goodwill can build their observance of Lent. You will recall that Lent is a season of prayerful, penitential love of God, and a time of soul-searching and soul-cleansing spiritual labor. Most do not see this as a time of joy, but that it truly is—for deep and true joy are the fruit of these spiritual labors, undertaken with love for God and sorrow for our sins. “The days of Lent are days of salvation; more than any, Lent is the ‘acceptable time’ (2 Cor. 6) to amend our lives. The Church emphasizes this so that at Easter, with souls and bodies purified, we may celebrate the mystery of the passion and resurrection of the Lord.” (Roman Missal)
Our good priest who preached on Ash Wednesday, stressed that Lent is the time of closer union with God: of “seeking greater union with our Divine Savior Who loves us.” Daily in the Divine Office, we are given the injunction: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near!” and “The Lord promises a crown to those who are vigilant!” The graces offered during these holy days cannot be measured, so let us be faithful in seeking the Lord where He may be found in all the events, joys and sorrows of each day. And let us generously offer an ever-purer and more perfect heart, finding our peace in being united to the sufferings of our Redeemer—and bearing the abundant fruits of that union, which will steadily be more evident in our lives if we are faithful to Him in all things. As Abbot Vonier writes, “A Christian is not meant to live to himself, but unto the Lord. A Christian’s life ought to be entirely dedicated to Christ: life’s activities ought to have that peculiar unselfishness which comes from our having been bought at a great price, the Blood of the Son of God. We are not our own, but His, and all we are and do ought to be impregnated with the purpose of glorifying Him.” (The Christian Mind)
As we remarked earlier, in this one week, we celebrate two great feastdays—and it happens that they both hearken back to Christmas and the great yet hidden beginnings of our redemption. First (March 19th), we are given the example of St. Joseph, who faithfully and humbly carried out the difficult and glorious mission entrusted to him by God. The texts of the Mass tell of his faith in face of trial, his purity, his love for God’s Will and trust in His Providence—all in regard to the Incarnation of the Son of God and his unique role in bringing it all about (Mt. 1:18-25). For God uses human instruments to accomplish His great work for the salvation of souls. St. Joseph would be the “shadow of the Heavenly Father”, filling the honored role of father to Christ Our Lord on earth. He continues to fill this responsibility from heaven to “the numberless family” of Christians, who are members of Christ. The Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, commemorates the silent and hidden coming of our Savior to earth when He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Lk.1:26-55). The wondrous and loving obedience of Mary, all expressed in her “Fiat!” to the Angel’s message from God, reveal to us a soul wholly given to God. Chosen from all eternity to be God’s Mother, still, she lived by faith and not vision; she knew amazement and humble confusion at God’s choice of her; and also the sacrifice that the unsurpassed honor would mean. Filled with joy, wonder and abandonment to God’s Will, as she herself sang in her Magnificat, she knew well the prophecies that told of the Man of Sorrows. That Man would be her Son! And thus, we come to the union of Christmas and Lent. The joy we know at Christmas must bring us to the sorrows and Cross that wrought our salvation. There is an old Christmas song that goes, in part, “It’s not the things you do at Christmastime, but the Christmas things you do all year through.” These simple words come to mind as we make these reflections. “Christmas things” for Christians must mean true and holy faith, hope and charity, prayerful gratitude for God’s goodness and Providence, readiness to serve with generous and loving hearts; and to suffer in union with Christ, Who is our All!
Spiritual growth depends on our knowledge and love of God. And, as we have so many times mentioned, the Saints recommend no practice as fundamental to leading a serious interior life with God as spiritual reading. Lenten reading is essential to keeping this season and its truly sacred purpose: our conversion and progress “up the mountain”! St. Alphonsus is the author of two titles new to our website, both of which promote this holy progress: Attaining Salvation and Preparation for Death or Considerations on Eternal Maxims. Featuring short, readable chapters, useful Scripture quotes, and best of all, the wisdom of one of the best spiritual directors in the Church’s history, these books are beneficial for advancing on the path. All of the information given on our own Lent information page will be of interest, and, as the years pass, we are adding more citations of the Saints to illustrate the value of this holy season. Other books will assist you in your Lenten observance, particularly Devotion to the Holy Face and Devotion to the Sorrowful Mother, small booklets which give details about these prayerful, reparative devotions, some of the oldest in Christian tradition. Peruse our book selection, particularly the sections on Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Spiritual Life and the Holy Eucharist. You will also appreciate our fine selection of Easter cards.
So many different needs and searches bring people to us, looking for “just the right gift.” It is especially when gifts are for the particular occasions of receiving sacraments that they come to us, and for these, everyone wants to give something that will be appreciated, treasured and used. Since the questions come to us, we’ll use this portion of our newsletter to offer a few ideas for these gifts. Of course, rosaries head the list, and a fitting rosary box or pouch adds a thoughtful touch—you will see some new selections here, especially for First Communion and Confirmation gifts. The small devotional sterling silver easels and other religious art make a lovely gift. Our rosary repair work has taught us just how much people treasure their rosaries—most especially First Communion rosaries. The variety of these rosaries, some 50-100 years old, simply astounds us. This is one of the reasons we were inspired to design some very unique rosaries with the Eucharistic theme. Among these, the wood First Communion rosaries are also appropriate as a wonderful gift for priests too; and both wood and crystal make a fine combination for a set of wedding rosaries. We welcome your ideas for making a custom rosary very special for your purpose, and you will always find inspiration for those ideas by viewing our Rosary Gallery.
Since we are not certain to be sending another newsletter before Mother’s Day, we might suggest as gifts not only a special rosary or medal, but the book Taste of Heaven—not really a spiritual book, but an interesting survey of fine foods made by monks and nuns in monasteries around the world. Recipes, stories and maps make this an enjoyable gift.
The past weeks and months have brought sad and tragic news to all the world—of violence, destruction and sorrow. We have been keeping in touch with several friends from Japan, as well as friends who know many of the Japanese. Happily, these have written that they are safe, but have begged prayers for those who are suffering the desolation of having lost family and home—and endure the tensions that have followed upon the earthquake earlier this month. Closer to home, many of the Sisters’ families have been tried by crosses, too, including the loss of home by fire, sicknesses and troublesome news of all kinds. Although sometimes the feelings still come to want to go out and help everyone, we quickly realize that fidelity to our life with God in prayer, interceding for those in need, does far more to help than our being closely involved with “problem-solving”! How gratified we are when we hear that prayers have been answered—dear friends coming to the rescue of those who lost their home—to rebuild it—and so many other signs of God’s loving attention to the pleas of His children who are in need. As Father instructed us after the tragedy in Japan, “Sympathy is not enough. Something more is needed, since they are our brothers…our fraternal charity goes out to all. We share, in some measure, their sorrows, not only by sympathy, but by empathy, uniting sorrow to theirs through our prayers for them…” through Holy Mass and the Rosary.
Our joining above of Christmas and Lent had its counterpart in our community life over many months in the creative and lovingly laborious projects of two vestment sets. One set was for Christmas and had the Star of Bethlehem as its recurring “theme”. In favor of the season of Lent, we will wait for another time to share photos of that project. But the embroidery for the Christmas set prepared us for the more elaborate embroidery for vestments to be used for the first time on Ash Wednesday. In studying vestments of the past, including some antique remnants we have inherited over many years, we noticed that a design frequently used was the passion flower—always with a cross coming from the top. Without going into all that our interesting research revealed, the passion flower emerged as a constant symbol in many forms of Christian art: paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated texts and so forth. On our vestments, this flower, surrounded by vines and leaves, and framing the image of the Crucified, signifies the fruitful beauty of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross.
The vestment’s embroidery also carries bannered texts from the Lenten liturgy, including the opening phrases of “the Miserere,” Psalm 50, which is recited every day during Lent in the Divine Office. The stories behind both of these “vestment ventures”—the many hours of research and planning, the turns and twists along the way, abandoning of ideas and taking-up of others, wonderful spiritual insights, color ideas, sewing expertise, computer savvy, of the religious and priests of two communities putting their heads together—with the help of God’s grace and Blessed Mother’s watchful assistance—produced quite wonderful results. The Fathers generously provided for all materials used, from the many yards of special fabrics to each spool of thread. Both undertakings were begun “in seed” at Christmastime 2009, found first stitches being embroidered last summer, and filled our days and discussions pretty much constantly for over a year. One of our priests, congratulating us on the completion of the Lent set, sent a little note that joked with us, commending us on the blood, sweat and tears that went in to it—especially blood! In a moment of too-close attention to stray threads and in-attention to the swift motion of the needle on the embroidery machine, one of the Sisters got her finger a bit – too – close! Result: needle tip in finger. Oh, how sanctifying it is to bear with the clumsiness of our neighbor—and more sanctifying…to be the clumsy one!
The Sisters in the novitiate have been studying the Vows, since one of them will be professing Final Vows this May, and the others Temporary Vows later in the year, God willing. Mother Prioress always enjoys the classes with the young Sisters, as they enthusiastically read, study and discuss all aspects of our consecration to God by the Vows. The lively discussions have their fruit in the daily living out of what they have learned, and self-knowledge always brings surprise, healthy disillusionment and occasional stumbling along the way in the practice of these lofty ideals. But mistakes are part of the learning and “tuition” for a brighter future—one of humble dedication to the merciful God Who loves and guides us…no matter how poor we are or how great our misery! We thank you for keeping in your good prayers our young novices. Please also unite with our Carmelite prayers for vocations to the priesthood—how much Holy Church needs holy priests! Our Lord Himself urges us with the beautiful command: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.”
All blessings and graces to the Friends of Carmel during this holy season of Lent—
Your Carmelite Sisters