The New Season of Grace has Begun

The Alleluia banner before the Ash Wednesday service.

By S. Karen Mohan, VHM

“Each new season renews an aspect of the great mystery of Christ living and present in the Church. Each recurring season shows us some new way in which we live in Christ and in which Christ acts in the world….”- Thomas Merton

As I lit the fire to burn last year’s palm, preparing the ashes to mark our foreheads for the Ash Wednesday “signing”, I noticed how quickly those palm flowers dissolved. What had been was now becoming the symbol for our Lenten “springtime” renewal.   At Vespers on Ash Wednesday eve, we sang the Alleluia for the last time until the Easter Vigil, and then rolled up our Alleluia banner, “burying“ it in a box until it is unfurled once more at the Great Sabbath. We were ready for Lent to begin.

The 35 people ages 9-95, who gathered in our living room for our Ash Wednesday Mass today were ready, too.   What a privilege for our community to host such a gathering! Some were “regulars”; some were there for the first time ; all were affirming by their presence in the sacredness of this “Christian community retreat”.

Thomas Merton once wrote, “Each new season renews an aspect of the great mystery of Christ living and present in the Church. Each recurring season shows us some new way in which we live in Christ and in which Christ acts in the world….”

The new season of grace has begun.   We enter it together, with faith, hope and love.

Easter Vigil

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil

As the sun sets tonight we enter a most sacred time. A time that is punctuated by the darkness of dusk to the early rays of dawn. In these short twelve hours our salvation will be transformed from death to a resurrection.

How can we be vigilant during this time?

Being vigilant means a time of purposeful sleeplessness, a close watch, a period of observation.What are you being vigilant of in your own life? What is Christ asking of you to watch closely? to observe? to stay awake for? When we wait, it is not a passive action, quite contrary it is very active. We wait with hope, with our imaginations, with love of what is to come into our lives, even when it might be through a painful experience.

How do we prepare our hearts, our minds, our guts for such intense watchfulness of Christ’s passing from our physical world to being present to us in the spiritual form? It seems to me that Easter Vigil requires a delicate balance of being both part Mary and part Martha–we need both the preparation of doing so that during the

Martha

Martha

darkest of the night we may just be. My dear friend reminded me the other day to sink into being Mary, to be attentive to what is before me, instead of getting wrapped up in all I wanted to accomplish, the Martha in me. I know these dynamic women can not be summed up so simplistically, but it is good to remind ourselves to hold the tension of being and doing so that we may be vigilant to our lives this Easter season.

The Impossible

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.

I share the above quote on the heals of the Feast of the Annunciation, to remind each of us to dream the impossible and remember as Gabriel proclaims, “For nothing will be impossible for God.”

Dream big, live big, expand! You do the world no great service by shrinking from your brillance.


Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna


A Meditation for Lent

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that sustains.

~ William Arthur Ward (1921-1994)

Thank You

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

The snow dances between ice and rain outside, and as I walk through the slush it is like I am wading in waves this Leap Year. This Lent, I am throwing myself into greater gratitude. I heard my fellow blogger, Melissa, speak that she is trying to say “Thank you, for everything in her life this Lent, even the messy stuff.” Don’t we often want to leap over the messy stuff of our lives to get to the comort and grace on the other side? But the trick is leaping over the sticky stuff means you miss the good stuff, the stuff that informs our hearts, our minds and our guts to act curouageously down the road. The messiness is where wisdom and grace are born and often where we transform into greater versions of ourselves.

I hold Melissa’s intention and the stories of others I heard recently as I think about the simple and revolutionary act of the two simple words, “Thank you,” in my own Lenten prayer. How do we say thank you to God, others, ourselves even in the slushy parts of our life? So as not to leap over it all, but to really pay attention, which I am told is the beginning of devotion.

“If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was “Thank you,” that would suffice.” -Meister Eckhart

Thank you. Amen.

Gratitude

Gratitude

Ash Wednesday

By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

We ready our hearts,

In the desert we swirl from dust to dust,

upon the mountain top as the sun kisses our face;

marking it like a lover.

How to look into the sun’s radiance?

God whispers on the winds of our heart’s longing to be purified, loved, whole.

The desert upon first glance is void of life and vibrancy,

but within deeper prayer the life that lives in the forsaken land is revealed.

Colors become vibrant.

What lives within each of us dying of thirst,

waiting that rare desert rain that hits hard red earth and is readily absorbed?

An invitation for our hearts forty days in the wild desert to become supple and strong, swift and tamed by love.

Readying our Hearts for Lent: Words from St. Francis de Sales

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For [St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales] the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart.” Introduction to the Letters of Spiritual Direction p. 54

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012, we begin our Lenten journey. As individuals, and as a large Catholic faith community, we lean into this season, embracing Christ’s journey to the desert as our own. We empty ourselves and tune into our poverty, our longing, our desire, our suffering, and become more vulnerable as we examine our very humanity and our need for God.

Well, in theory that’s what we all do, right?

In my own pre-Mardi-Gras preparation for this Lenten journey, I turned to our Visitation co-founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, for a little inspiration and guidance. Opening their “Letters of Spiritual Direction”, (translated by Péronne Marie Thibert, VHM, with an introduction by Wendy Wright and Joseph S. Powers, OSFS; and preface by Fr. Henri Nouwen),  I landed upon some Salesian material in the Introduction to the book that really resonated with me and struck me as particularly “lenten.”   Theme V of Francis and Jane’s letters, as the authors point out,  focuses on the heart-centered nature of their spirituality. The chapter begins with these words by St. Francis:

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“Since the heart is the source of all of our actions, as the heart is, so are they.” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life III, 23)

The authors go on to define “classic desert spirituality” here and the “extent to which its focus is on the exterior dimensions of spirituality (as opposed to Francis’ attention to the interior).  As indicators of the transformation of the person,  one fleeing society has exterior markers; these include entering a monastery, donning the habit, taking a new name, and being celibate.  Salesian spirituality, on the other hand is first and foremost distinguished as rooted in the interior life, the heart.* (And, I might note, something the laity might aspire to as well as the religious.)

Authors Dr. Wendy Wright and Joseph Powers, OSFS, explain:

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For Madame de Chantal and the Monseigneur of Geneva the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart. It is only after the slow and dramatic change of person has been engraved in the center of one’s being that the issue of that metamorphosis can be seen.  To impress this idea on his readers, Francis relied upon the metaphor of the almond tree (an image shaped by the particular botanic knowledge of his day.)”

To quote Francis de Sales then:

“Men engaged in horticulture tell us that if a word is written on a sound almond seed and it is placed again its shell, carefully wrapped up and planted, whatever fruit the tree bears will have that same writtten word stamped on it. For myself…I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things, such as bearings, dress or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin inside. ‘Be converted to me with your whole heart,’ God said. ‘My child, give me your heart.’  Since the heart is the source of actions, as the heart is, so are they…

For this reason…..I have wished above all else to engrave and inscribe on your heart this holy, sacred maxim, LIVE JESUS! I am sure that your life, which comes from the heart just as the almond tree comes from its seed, will after that produce all its actions — which are its fruits — inscribed and engraved with this sacred word of salvation.”

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

****

It is my hope that this reflection inspires your journey into Lent, tending to your interiors, to your hearts; may a desert of contemplation and sincerity be cultivated in the midst of your present surroundings. May you know and trust the Divine source of Love that exists in your heart and guides you daily.

Happy Lenten Journey! LIVE JESUS!

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*I invite you all to turn to page 54 of this text and simply read the first page of this section of the book — as my attempts to summarize will undoubtedly do injustice to our authors’ work. (Amazon will let you read this online for free by clicking here.)