Thursday, February 28, 2013

Prayers for our new Pope Emeritus!

We were truly touched by Pope Benedict's last Wednesday audience, given yesterday.  If you haven't read it yet, here it is below.  He has truly been a father to us these past eight years, making so many contributions to the Church and to each of us individually, especially in the areas of Scripture study and the New Evangelization.   We will continue to pray for him and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Cardinals and on the Church as our new Holy Father is elected.  

The photo was taken by Sr. Gabriella during her pilgrimage to Rome for the beatification of Blessed John Paul II in 2011, shortly before she joined the monastery.

“Like the Apostle Paul in the Biblical text that we have heard, I feel in my heart that I have to especially thank God who guides and builds up the Church, who plants His Word and thus nourishes the faith in His People. At this moment my heart expands and embraces the whole Church throughout the world and I thank God for the ‘news’ that, in these years of my Petrine ministry, I have received about the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and for the love that truly circulates in the Body of the Church, making it to live in the love and the hope that opens us to and guides us towards the fullness of life, towards our heavenly homeland.”

“I feel that I am carrying everyone with me in prayer in this God-given moment when I am collecting every meeting, every trip, every pastoral visit. I am gathering everyone and everything in prayer to entrust it to the Lord: so that we may be filled with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding in order to live in a manner worthy of the Lord and His love, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Col 1:9-10).”

“At this moment I have great confidence because I know, we all know, that the Gospel’s Word of truth is the strength of the Church; it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews, bearing fruit, wherever the community of believers hears it and welcomes God’s grace in truth and in love. This is my confidence, this is my joy.”

“When, on 19 April almost eight years ago I accepted to take on the Petrine ministry, I had the firm certainty that has always accompanied me: this certainty for the life of the Church from the Word of God. At that moment, as I have already expressed many times, the words that resounded in my heart were: Lord, what do You ask of me? It is a great weight that You are placing on my shoulders but, if You ask it of me, I will cast my nets at your command, confident that You will guide me, even with all my weaknesses. And eight years later I can say that the Lord has guided me. He has been close to me. I have felt His presence every day. It has been a stretch of the Church’s path that has had moments of joy and light, but also difficult moments. I felt like St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and light breezes, days when the fishing was plentiful, but also times when the water was rough and the winds against us, just as throughout the whole history of the Church, when the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I always knew that the Lord is in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but is His. And the Lord will not let it sink. He is the one who steers her, of course also through those He has chosen because that is how He wanted it. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. And that is why my heart today is filled with gratitude to God, because He never left—the whole Church or me—without His consolation, His light, or His love.”

“We are in the Year of Faith, which I desired precisely in order to strengthen our faith in God in a context that seems to relegate it more and more to the background. I would like to invite everyone to renew their firm trust in the Lord, to entrust ourselves like children to God’s arms, certain that those arms always hold us up and are what allow us to walk forward each day, even when it is a struggle. I would like everyone to feel beloved of that God who gave His Son for us and who has shown us His boundless love. I would like everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer, which can be recited every morning, say: ‘I adore you, my God and I love you with all my heart. Thank you for having created me, for having made me Christian…’ Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith. It is the most precious thing, which no one can take from us! Let us thank the Lord for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but awaits us to also love Him!”

“It is not only God who I wish to thank at this time. A pope is not alone in guiding Peter’s barque, even if it is his primary responsibility. I have never felt alone in bearing the joy and the weight of the Petrine ministry. The Lord has placed at my side so many people who, with generosity and love for God and the Church, have helped me and been close to me. First of all, you, dear Brother Cardinals: your wisdom, your advice, and your friendship have been precious to me. My collaborators, starting with my secretary of state who has accompanied me faithfully over the years; the Secretariat of State and the whole of the Roman Curia, as well as all those who, in their various areas, serve the Holy See. There are many faces that are never seen, remaining in obscurity, but precisely in their silence, in their daily dedication in a spirit of faith and humility, they were a sure and reliable support to me. A special thought goes to the Church of Rome, my diocese! I cannot forget my Brothers in the episcopate and in the priesthood, consecrated persons, and the entire People of God. In my pastoral visits, meetings, audiences, and trips I always felt great care and deep affection, but I have also loved each and every one of you, without exception, with that pastoral love that is the heart of every pastor, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Every day I held each of you in prayer, with a father’s heart.”

“I wish to send my greetings and my thanks to all: a pope’s heart extends to the whole world. And I would like to express my gratitude to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which makes the great family of Nations present here. Here I am also thinking of all those who work for good communication and I thank them for their important service.”

“At this point I would also like to wholeheartedly thank all of the many people around the world who, in recent weeks, have sent me touching tokens of concern, friendship, and prayer. Yes, the Pope is never alone. I feel this again now in such a great way that it touches my heart. The Pope belongs to everyone and many people feel very close to him. It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s notables—from heads of states, from religious leaders, from representatives of the world of culture, etc. But I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their hearts and make me feel their affection, which is born of our being together with Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write to me the way one would write, for example, to a prince or a dignitary that they don’t know. They write to me as brothers and sisters or as sons and daughters, with the sense of a very affectionate family tie. In this you can touch what the Church is—not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian ends, but a living body, a communion of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ who unites us all. Experiencing the Church in this way and being able to almost touch with our hands the strength of His truth and His love is a reason for joy at a time when many are speaking of its decline. See how the Church is alive today!”

“In these last months I have felt that my strength had diminished and I asked God earnestly in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me make the right decision, not for my own good, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its seriousness and also its newness, but with a profound peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, agonized choices, always keeping in mind the good of the Church, not of oneself.”

“Allow me here to return once again to 19 April, 2005. The gravity of the decision lay precisely in the fact that, from that moment on, I was always and for always engaged by the Lord. Always—whoever assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and entirely to everyone, to the whole Church. His life, so to speak, is totally deprived of its private dimension. I experienced, and I am experiencing it precisely now, that one receives life precisely when they give it. Before I said that many people who love the Lord also love St. Peter’s Successor and are fond of him; that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion; because he no longer belongs to himself but he belongs to all and all belong to him.”

“’Always’ is also ‘forever’–there is no return to private life. My decision to renounce the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I am not returning to private life, to a life of trips, meetings, receptions, conferences, etc. I am not abandoning the cross, but am remaining beside the Crucified Lord in a new way. I no longer bear the power of the office for the governance of the Church, but I remain in the service of prayer, within St. Peter’s paddock, so to speak. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example to me in this. He has shown us the way for a life that, active or passive, belongs wholly to God’s work.”

“I also thank each and every one of you for the respect and understanding with which you have received this important decision. I will continue to accompany the Church’s journey through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and His Bride that I have tried to live every day up to now and that I want to always live. I ask you to remember me to God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals who are called to such an important task, and for the new Successor of the Apostle Peter. May the Lord accompany them with the light and strength of His Spirit.”

“We call upon the maternal intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and of the Church, that she might accompany each of us and the entire ecclesial community. We entrust ourselves to her with deep confidence.”

“Dear friends! God guides His Church, always sustaining her even and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the path of the Church and of the world. In our hearts, in the heart of each one of you, may there always be the joyous certainty that the Lord is beside us, that He does not abandon us, that He is near and embraces us with His love. Thank you.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bright Sadness

This post is especially for you if:

A: You are saying to yourself, "I really don't have time to read this right now," or

B: You are known to complain (in your head or otherwise) about the length of church services!

In this second week of the Great Fast, we would like to share with you one of our favorite chapters from the book "Great Lent" by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.  This book is our current dinner reading, and we recommend it to you (especially Byzantine Catholics, Orthodox and those who would like to better understand our Eastern tradition).

Chapter Two: The Lenten Worship
Part 1: "Bright Sadness"

For many, if not for the majority of Orthodox Christians [and Catholics too (our note)], Lent consists of a limited number of formal, predominantly negative, rule and prescriptions: abstention from certain food, dancing, perhaps movies.  Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that it is almost impossible for us to understand that there is "something else"in Lent--something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning.  This "something else"can best be described as an "atmosphere," a "climate" into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit which for seven weeks permeates our entire life.  Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to "soften"our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden "thirst and hunger" for communion with God.

This lenten "atmosphere," this unique "state of mind," is brought about mainly by means of worship, by the various changes introduced during that season into the liturgical life.  Considered separately, these changes may appear as incomprehensible "rubrics," as formal prescriptions to be formally adhered to; but understood as a whole, they reveal and communicate the spirit of Lent, they make us see, feel, and experience that bright sadness which is the true message and gift of Lent  One can say without exaggeration that the spiritual fathers and the sacred writers who composed the hymns of the Lenten Triodion, who little by little organized the general structures of the lenten services, who adorned the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with that special beauty which is proper to it, had a unique understanding of the human soul.  They truly knew the art of repentance, and every year during Lent they make this art accessible to everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

The general impression, I said, is that of "bright sadness."  Even a man having only a limited knowledge of worship who enters a church during a lenten service would understand almost immediately, I am sure, what is meant by this somewhat contradictory expression.  On the one hand, a certain quiet sadness permeates the service: vestments are dark, the services are longer than usual and more monotonous, there is almost no movement.  Readings and chants alternate yet nothing seems to "happen." At regular intervals the priest comes out of the sanctuary and reads always the same short prayer, and the whole congregation punctuates every petition of that prayer with prostrations.  Thus, for a long time we stand in this monotony--in this quiet sadness.

But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable "action" of the service in us.  Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed "bright," that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us.  It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access--a place where they have no power.  All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy.  It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched "another world."  And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.  We understand then why the services had to be long and seemingly monotonous.  We understand that it is simply impossible to pass from our normal state of mind made up almost entirely of fuss, rush, and care, into this new one without first "quieting down," without restoring in ourselves a measure of inner stability.  This is why those who think of church services only in terms of "obligations," who always inquire about the required minimum ("How often must we got to church?" "How often must we pray?") can never understand the true nature of worship which is to take us into a different world--that of God's Presence!--but to to take us there slowly because our fallen nature has lost the ability to accede there naturally.

Thus, as we experience this mysterious liberation, as we become "light and peaceful," the monotony and the sadness of the service acquire a new significance, they are transfigured.  An inner beauty illumines them like an early ray of the sun which, while it is still dark in the valley, begins to lighten up the top of the mountain.  This light and secret joy come from the long alleluias, from the entire "tonality" of lenten worship.  What at first appeared as monotony now is revealed as peace; what sounded like sadness is now experienced as the very first movements of the soul recovering its lost depth.  This is what the first verse of the lenten alleluia proclaims every morning: "My soul has desired Thee in the night, O God, before dawn, for Thy judgments are a light upon the earth!"

"Sad brightness": the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God's presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.  Such is the climate of lenten worship; such is its first and general impact on my soul.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Girls' Sleepover...and preparation for the Great Fast

This past Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon, a great group of teen girls (from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) came for a sleepover at the monastery.  "Teen girls want to have a sleepover at a monastery???" you might ask.  Yep.  And we all had a lot of fun hanging out together and playing games.  We think it's important for the girls to know that they are loved, and also that we nuns are pretty "normal," in a sense!  (They only had to explain a few cultural references to us that we've missed since coming to the monastery!)  We watched the film, The Nun, about a young girl in Sweden and her counter-cultural choice to become a cloistered nun, and discussed it afterward.  The girls also prayed with us, and it wasn't a light weekend for prayer, being Meatfare Sunday (a preparatory Sunday for Lent, also called The Sunday of the Last Judgment, because of the Gospel that is read at the Divine Liturgy).  But they sure prayed, and sang beautifully!!  Their families joined us for Divine Liturgy and lunch on Sunday.  Thanks girls, for blessing our monastery by your joyful presence!

"O faithful, let us welcome the announcement of the Fast with joy, as did the Ninevites in days of old; and as the adulteresses and publicans, let us welcome John's message of conversion.  By abstinence, let us prepare ourselves for the holy Supper of the Lord on Zion.  By our tears, let us purify ourselves before He bathes us as He did the glorious disciples.  Let us pray for the grace to contemplate the mystery that inaugurates the true Pasch.  Let us prepare to adore the holy Cross so that we may glorify the Resurrection of Christ our God; and let us say to Him: O Lord and Lover of Mankind, You are our hope; do not drive us far from You." -Aposticha of Tuesday Vespers, Cheesefare Week

Sunday, February 3, 2013

March for Life - Byzantine style

Praying the Akathist
Trying to keep warm!
We traveled to Washington, DC, last weekend with the ByzanTEENS for Life to participate in the March for Life.  Traveling with a Byzantine Catholic group is a unique experience that most marchers don't witness, so here are a few things we do: sing our traditional Marian hymns on the bus to practice for the March, sing Marian hymns the entire time we are marching and carry icons and icon banners, pray the Akathist to the Mother of God with our bishop at the end of the March by the Supreme Court building, get herded away by the police because we are the last ones there because our prayers are so long..., visit the Ukrainian Catholic seminary and sing a few hymns in their chapel, head to Holy Transfiguration Melkite Catholic parish where we will stay for the night, pray Compline in the church before going to bed, pray Third Hour in the church in the morning, pray Great Vespers with our bishop in the Byzantine-Ruthenian chapel in the crypt of the National Basilica and attract the attention of other pilgrims by all our awesome singing, pray Compline again at Holy Transfiguration parish, witness an adult baptism at Holy Transfiguration parish on Sunday morning and participate in the parish's amazing Divine Liturgy (both of these together being about three hours), and board the bus and sing "God grant you many years" in thanksgiving to the parish for our stay.  Well, we did some other things too...but these are the ones that make our trip truly unique, and as some would say, hard-core!  It was a blessing to be able to participate in this pilgrimage with this great group of teenagers and to pray hard for the end to abortion and for the protection of all human life.  Keep an eye out for episode 3 of "LIVE from Mumford Rd"...we'll share some of our video footage so that you can have a little taste of the Byzantine March for Life experience!

Praying Compline (Night Prayer) at Holy Transfiguration Parish