Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seeding the Future

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet under the age of 57 are gathering in PerĂº January 3-5 to build relationships among ourselves and to have something to say to our Congregational chapter next summer. Sisters are already beginning to gather, I will travel on December 31 in order to join the group. You can read the ongoing posts from the meeting at this website: Little Design.
It is always a tremendously energizing experience for us to gather and to share experience, hopes and dreams. Say a prayer for the gathering and follow the ongoing conversations.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Melted Wax, New Wicks, Blazing Fire

From Sr. Sara P. Marks OSF:
A thought recently happened upon me as I was considering my call to religious life.  The 1950’s are far behind us and who knows if there will ever come a time when religious communities will see those numbers again.  I am well aware of the statistics of my aging community, how significantly different--and specifically smaller--we will be ten to fifteen years from now.  This is not just our reality, this is the reality of religious life today. +Read more....
Thanks Sara 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beguines IV

The image to the left is a satellite image of a Beguinage. It shows a small neighborhood - a small subdivision by today's standards. I drew in the boundaries in blue. The earliest dwellings on this site would have been constructed of wood and straw and are no longer present. The earliest of the current buildings is the Church which dates from the 16th century and still functions as a church today. The current dwellings were build in the 16th century and have been preserved over the centuries since, though some were lost in various wars and battles.All the photos on this site are from Beguinage at Leuven.  They are now rehabbed for university housing for KU Leuven. For more photos, click here.
The life of the beguines was somewhat anomalous for the medieval period. Women were able to come together in communities with a good deal of autonomy from male domination. As a child, a girl was under her father, till she married when she was under her husband. If she chose to enter a monastery, the community was lead by sisters from that community. However, at the time, every women's community had to be under the authority of an external male superior. This was generally the abbot of a men's monastery.
While this sounds quite patronizing by today's standards, there was at least some concern at the time for the men to ensure the protection and support of the women's monastery and to administer the sacraments which could only be done by male priests. Generally the men had more access to education and the politics and commerce of the day were very much a men's world. However, there were also examples of the less admirable side of this arrangement, keeping women in their lower place in church and society.
The beguinage would have been in contrast to this social order. Women sought entrance into the community which was governed by exclusively. After a time in residency, under the closer supervision of an experienced Beguine, she would build her own dwelling, with the help of her family. On her death, this would become the property of the Beguine community. Alternatively, a woman might acquire one of the existing dwellings or a room in such a space. The Beguines elected their own leadership from among their members and had a governing council that met to address issues of the community.
It is not well known why the beguines lasted as long as they did or why or how they resisted incorporation into the recognized forms of religious life at the time. The beguines, both individually and as a group, were condemned as heretics and suppressed by various popes and councils, beginning in 1312 with the Council of Vienna. The cause of concern was generally either because they were centers of mysticism or because of severe ascetical practices. These condemnations were sometimes withdrawn. In any case, the movement flourished up to the protestant reformation. After that time, the movement continued up to our own day; the last Beguines died in the mid to late 20th century.
As the movement was waning, apostolic religious life was getting its start in various parts of Europe. Women's apostolic religious life is very much in the spiritual tradition of the Beguines. Both sought to live a deep spirituality and to serve the social needs of those about them, to feed the poor, heal the sick and educate children. Both sought to do so outside the strict cloistered life that was required of women religious at the time. They sought ways to balance their internal autonomy with the requirements of external pressures by church and society.
As women's religious life is again facing a turning point, due to internal and external pressures, we may find it helpful to turn to our Beguine sisters for inspiration.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Forever Sisters....

An open letter to Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ who made final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the St. Louis Province today:

Dear Sarah,

Today, you will become in a formal way my "forever sister." I know that you have been walking this path for years and years and have been growing in this relationship. But today bears witness to how far you have come.

There is something beautiful and mysterious about your lifetime commitment. This is also true for other serious life commitments, such as marriage. You are saying a yes that holds nothing back, that is committed and ever growing, ever evolving.

When you talked about songs for your ceremony, you talked about "No Turning Back". That is a scary and amazing thing to say. It always has been, and always will be. That's why its the subject of songs and art and poetry. It's bigger than the word and than the moment of commitment. It's even bigger than the life you are committing. It touches into the bigness of God who is Love. You bring us all to the edge of that cliff and invite us to jump, to throw caution to the wind. You invite us to be the best of ourselves, you invite us into a Godly Love.

I pray that the joy and sacredness of this moment can be always with you and with us as we journey together. I look forward to it, and with you I renew my commitment to this path with all of its unknowns.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beguines - III (Spirituality)

Having examined some of the historical and societal aspects of the Beguines, I would like to turn to the spirituality this week. I think it' important to remember that this movement had deep spiritual underpinnings and contributed to the mystical flowering of the middle ages.
One writer that comes out of this tradition is Beatrice of Nazareth. To be honest, she was a Cistercian Nun, but she was educated by the Beguines before joining the Cistercians, and for some time it was believed that her Seven Manners of Holy Love written by a Beguine. It has been seen as a good example of Beguine Spirituality.
Beatrice points to seven ways of loving God, alternating between the intense experience of the presence of God and the profound experience of a felt absence of God. I quote some passages below, and then give a link to the whole brief text. It is a lovely way to begin Advent.
From the highest come seven ways of love which work back to the highest. 
This is the first way of love. The first is a desire actively originating from love. Long has this desire to rule in the heart before she can dispel every resistance thoroughly, and she cannot but work with strenght and intelligence, and courageously grow in this.
The second way of love: Now and then the soul has another way of love. Then she serves the Lord for nothing, only from love, without any why and without any reward of mercy or of bliss.
The third way of love: Sometimes the good soul has another way of love connected to much pain and misery. ...She knows all right that this desire is only to fulfil far above her power and above human reason and above every notion ; yet she cannot moderate this desire, or conquer, or quiet. She does everything she can ; she thanks and praises love, she works and drudges because of love, she sighing desires love, she gives herself completely to love. And all that does not give her peace.
The fourth way of love. It happens that love is sweetly been awakened in the soul and happily raises, and that she moves in the heart, without any help of human effort. And so the heart is been tenderly touched by love, and so full of strong desire been pulled inside love, and so hearty seized by love, and so strongly dominated by love, and so lovely contained by love, that she is completely conquered by love.
The fifth way of love. She desires to rest in the sweet embraces of love, in the desirable beatitude and in the satisfaction of what she has from Him. Her heart and her senses seriously look for it and ardently desire for it. In this state she is so powerful of mind, very undertaking of heart and strong of body, so fast in working and busy inside and outside, that it seems to her as if everything that has to do with her works and is busy, even if she is so calm from the outside.
The sixth love: When the bride of our Lord has made progress and has climbed up to greater salvation, she experiences yet another way of love, closely connected and with higher knowledge. She feels that love has conquered all resistance in her, and that she has recovered all shortcomings and has brought her into her power. Without resistance she has mastered herself, so that she knows her heart is safe and she can use it in peace and she can freely lay herself out.
The seventh way of love: ... There, the soul is with her Groom and she becomes totally one spirit with Him, in inseparable loyalty and in mutual love for ever. The soul that, in times of mercy, wanted to do everything for Him shall enjoy Him in eternal glory, where one shall do nothing else but praise and love. May God bring us all to that.
Read the whole text here: Seven Manners of Holy Love
This deep spiritual experience of immersion in the God of Love was at the heart of the spirituality of the Beguines which Beatrice learned as a child when she was educated by the Beguines. Next week, we'll look further into this fascinating movement.