Saturday, May 28, 2011

Girls just want to be NUNS! - Jessie's Entrance Day

“Listen, O daughter, give ear to my words:
      Forget our own people and your father’s house.  
So will the king desire your beauty:  
     He is your lord, pay homage to him.”
– Kathisma VI, Stasis 3, Psalm 45

These were some of the first words I heard during vespers on Sunday, May 22, a day that I will remember for the rest of my life – my entrance day.

Hello, my name is Jessie Houck and I am the new postulant of Christ the Bridegroom Community! If you didn’t see Sr. Celeste’s post several weeks ago, I am from Akron, Ohio. My home parish is St. Francis de Sales. A former tax accountant turned postulant, I am the newest member of our growing community and could not be more excited to be here!

Sunday was such a wonderful experience for me. I was able to attend mass for the last time at my parish, I joined my parish family for an ice cream social and then we packed up the last few items and hit the road – Burton or bust. My parents and I arrived in time to help with a few last minute preparations before vespers. We were able to spend some quality time with everyone before vespers began. God could not have planned a more beautiful afternoon.

Pure. Paschal. Joy.
The whole vespers service I felt as though the world had slowed to a halt. The room was filled with people who care not only for me, but also for our community, so the love was almost palpable. As I knelt before Bishop John and listened to the words he prayed over me, I felt this great peace well up from within me. Sr. Julie assisted me with the official ‘scarf placement’ (good thing we practiced!) and that peace just seem to overtake my whole body.

Bishop John gave a wonderful reflection on how often we think of the Holy Spirit as ‘coming upon us’ or ‘covering us’ like the scarf on my head, when rather dwells within our being and flows forth to those around us. It was a surreal experience to hear him speak those words while I felt exactly that happening to me! Since it was the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, I felt as though I was meeting Jesus by the well – or the monastery, as the case may be – and He was seeing me just as I am. Broken. Sinful. Unworthy, but made worthy through His Death and Resurrection. Upon seeing me, Jesus didn’t want to quench my thirst with just any water, but The Living Water. And after encountering Him, I left my water vessels or possessions behind to tell everyone of The Living Water that has quenched the thirst of my soul and is now overflowing!
Jessie's Pastor - Fr. David Bline, Jessie and Bishop John.

Your grace is power, your will forever, your love is a river; overflow in me. – Matt Maher, Overflow

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair”

A reflection by Sr. Celeste about her tonsuring

Behold the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. Blessed is the servant He shall find awake (Bridegroom Matins Troparion). The entire Lenten journey was one of vigilance, patient waiting and expectation. With zeal, we tried to keep the oil lamps burning like the five wise virgins, when even in their sleep they kept vigil for the Bridegroom’s coming (Mt 25:1-13). Deep in our hearts we echoed the words: “I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil” (Song of Songs 5:2). We waited patiently with confident expectation that God will fulfill our needs and deepest desires: “Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O Lord, We have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls” (Isaiah 26:8).

During the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Holy Wednesday, the stichera revealed a stark contrast between the harlot and Judas Iscariot: O misery of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss your feet, and he harbored plans to betray you with a kiss. She unbound her hair but he was bound with anger…

While the sinful woman was bringing myrrh, the disciple was conspiring with the lawless. She rejoiced to expend the costly myrrh, while he hastened to sell the Priceless One. She recognized the Master, the Master from whom he drew away; she was freed, but Judas became the enemy’s slave; how awful his callousness, how great her repentance. Grant us such repentance and save us, O Savior, who suffered for our sake.

The harlot recognized you, the Virgin’s Son, as God. She wept for her lamentable deeds and begged you: Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair. Love me as I love You, though I deserve your hatred; and together with publicans I will acclaim You, Benefactor and Lover of mankind.

Bishop John helps Sr. Celeste to her feet
“Loose my debt as I un-loose my hair.” Whoa. My heart leaped and ached at the same time. It was seeking repentance and I keenly realized when I sang that verse, that I was about to take the role of the repentant harlot seeking His love and forgiveness. I was going to literally “unloose my hair” before the Bridegroom for tonsure.

My hair had grown long in the last couple of years. When I removed my scarf and pulled off the elastic, my hair fell onto my shoulders and into my face. I felt an overwhelming sense of liberation and humility as I came forward and knelt before Bishop John. I heard Bishop John’s voice as he prayed, but did not comprehend the words; instead I found myself kneeling before the Lord. The tears of compunction that welled up in my eyes washed Jesus’ precious feet. His feet were anointed with the myrrh of desire to do only His will, then dried with my hair in love. I, like the harlot in Matthew’s gospel, was helping Him to prepare for His passion.

The woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing your divinity, O Lord, assumed the myrrhbearers’ role and mourned, preparing you with myrrh before your burial. She said: Woe is me…Incline to the groaning of my heart as you bowed the heavens when you emptied Yourself. I will kiss Your immaculate feet and wipe them with the hair of my head, those feet whose steps Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear. Who will search the multitude of my sins or plumb the depths of your judgments? Do not despise me, your servant, O Savior of my soul, for your mercy knows no measure.

After the tonsure, Bishop John reached out his hand to help me up. As I took his hand and rose up I felt like I was being lifted up into new life. As I rose, I could not help but see Jesus’ loving gaze in Bishop John’s eyes and felt redeemed and at peace.

Sr. Julie being received into the novitiate
After my tonsure, he blessed my habit and gave them to me. Before my tonsure, Bishop John prayed over Sister Julie, blessed her habit and gave it to her. Sr. Julie and I left the chapel to don our habits as everyone sang the Bridegroom Troparion.

I waited more than two years to wear a habit again. What a blessing. It felt wonderful to wear the habit again. It also was another piece of the puzzle put in place as we strive to live out our monastic life and follow our typikon:
The nuns will wear a uniform habit, of the traditional eastern style. The habit is an exterior manifestation of an interior reality which humbly celebrates the fullness of monastic life. It invites others to enter the nun’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

The habit contributes to the nun’s endeavor to live her vows: Poverty – The nun enjoys the simplicity of the habit which alleviates unnecessary concerns about what to wear or excessive possession of clothing (Mt 6:31). Chastity – The habit covers the body, revealing the sacredness and reverence of the body made in the image and likeness of God. Obedience – The habit is a constant reminder of a life of joyful repentance and dying to self, in passionate pursuit of union with Christ the bridegroom.
After the Liturgy, we were overwhelmed with joy! I felt very giddy, intoxicated with joy and those present shared this joy with us. The celebration continued with a Lenten meal amid smiles, laughter and prayerful wishes.

Though I shared the role of the repentant harlot preparing the Bridegroom for His passion with tears and myrrh, I anticipated the mixture of tears, myrrh and joy of the Resurrection that the Myrrhbeares would soon share with the world.

Pious women ran in tears to You, O Christ, bringing myrrh to you as dead; but instead, they adored You in joy as the living God and announced Your mystical Passover to Your disciples. (Resurrection Matins Ode 7).

As we continue to keep vigilance, patiently wait on the Lord and anticipate His grace, we pray for vulnerability to do His will and not to interfere with the guidance of the Holy Spirit by our particular demands or expectations of how it should or will be revealed. We pray for perseverance to be vulnerable to the Bridegroom’s desire for us and always be open to His gifts as we wait for His coming, keeping our oil lamps full and burning.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessed John Paul II, pray to God for us!

Icon from Bridge Building Images
It was a joyful day yesterday as we watched on television the beatification of Pope John Paul II, an extraordinary man we never met but one who we feel that we know and is interceding for us and for our monastery.

When we first began to write our typicon (rule of life) over a year ago, I volunteered to attempt to draft up an outline based on the topics found in other monastic typica that we were looking at, while Sr. Celeste worked on writing some of the sections that we knew we would be including.  I sat down with my computer and prayed.  I decided to pray to Pope John Paul II.  And before I even finished my prayer, a book on the table caught my attention.  It was Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (Light of the East).  This was the apostolic letter that Bishop John had quoted from extensively in his letter announcing and summarizing his vision for a monastery in the Eparchy of Parma.  The words of the pope in Orientale Lumen regarding Eastern monasticism are beautiful, and his call to its revitalization, especially in countries of the diaspora, such as the United States, is clear:
With regard to monasticism, in consideration of its importance in Eastern Christianity, we would like it to flourish once more in the Eastern Catholic Churches, and that support be given to all those who feel called to work for its revitalization. (27)
As I looked over the headings for the outline of this apostolic letter, I realized that each of the topics we needed to address in our typicon would fit under the headings the pope used in his letter, such as "Between Word and Eucharist," "A clear look at self-discovery," "A person in relationship" and "An adoring silence."  As I typed out each heading, the outline for our whole typicon came together easily!

It is through Orientale Lumen and through our own personal prayer to Blessed John Paul II that we feel his intercession and support for us.  And so we are bursting with joy at this big step in the Church's confirmation of his holiness!

Although we only watched the recording of the beatification that my mom had taped for us, we were so excited for our soon-to-be-postulant, Jessie, who was THERE in St. Peter's Square!!!  She seized this opportunity to take an exciting trip before she enters!  She stayed up all night outside the square, with many other pilgrims, so that she could get inside the square in the morning for the beatification.  This is the picture she emailed us from her cell phone.  With 1.5 million pilgrims there, it is amazing that she got such a great spot to witness this historic event.