A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

My Photo
Location: Virginia, United States

Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Nominate "Canticle of Chiara" for Catholic Blog Awards!

And now for a series of nominations a bit more optimistic than the Oscars.....

The Catholic Blog Award Nominations!

I'm going for "Best New Blog," so I will be sure to light a few candles for you at the Notre Dame Grotto as a token of appreciation if you are kind enough to nominate "Canticle of Chiara."

To make it easier for you, I have the information right here:

Name of Nominee: Chiara
Name of Blog: Canticle of Chiara
Blog URL: http://canticleofchiara.blogspot.com
Your E-Mail: XXXXX
Category: "Best New Blog"....or any other category you would like to nominate this blog for!

As my boyfriend noted last night to me, my main constituents happen to be in cloisters and don't have much computer access, so every little nomination counts! In turn, I will promise to make better and better posts more frequently!

Pax et Bonum


Monday, January 30, 2006

Benedictine Blessings: Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles, PA

Even though the Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Pennsylvannia are not officially a part of Holy Mother Clare's Order, I know that the Seraphic Mother is very proud of this beautiful little community! It actually look me alot of "blog-hopping" to come across their website, but I am so glad that I sacrificed the time!

Somebody correct me if I am wrong, but although they follow the Rule of St. Benedict, the Oblates of Mary are not "officially" part of any Benedictine Congregation. If I am not mistaken, a Benedictine priest told me back in the Fall that they are in the process of appealing to be official members of the Order of St. Benedict.

Their website is very well maintained. It includes a lovely letter from their Prioress, and very lucid descriptions of each of the aspects of cloistered life.

It's very interesting to note that the lifestyle of these sisters mirrors the Poor Clare way of life very closely in terms of its strictness. For instance, they only eat one meal a day and have a fragmented sleep schedule because of Matins. Also, this community- as witnessed by its namesake- appears to have an especial devotion to Our Lady:

"It is our ideal to imitate Our Lady's retirement from the world in quiet seclusion, as well as her apostolic charity. Consecrated entirely to her and filled with her spirit, which is none other than the Holy Spirit of God, we aspire to be, to the successors of the Apostles in our times, what she was to them in the beginning: behind-the-scenes encouragement, assistance and support."

Also, by looking at the picture, the Oblates of Mary appears to be a very young community of nuns. For anyone who is interested in this beautiful community, here is the vocations page!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Benedictine Blessings: Review of "In This House of Brede" by Rumer Godden

In modern culture according to trashy women’s magazines, all a woman needs for her fulfillment is a stellar career, a man who loves (or lusts after) her, designer clothes, and a cat. Well, Philippa Talbot, a successful London businesswomen, has all of that- but it is simply not enough. Indeed, she chooses to leave all of her worldly possessions in pursuit of the man who truly loves her- Jesus.

The life of a cloistered Benedictine nun that she pursues is in no way the quiet oasis that many fantasize cloistered life to be. Indeed, it is rife with starvation, loneliness, and rancor amongst her fellow “sisters.” Nonetheless, for anyone who is interested in pursuing a cloistered vocation, Rumer Godden’s masterpiece In This House of Brede is a must-read. Below is my review of the book….

I was initially expecting a “conversion story,” ala The Seven Storey Mountain. However, Philippa’s conversion is a fait accomplis when the book starts. The real story begins when she knocks on the door of Brede Abbey and tells the Mother Abbess, “I wish to try my vocation as a Benedictine nun in this house of Brede,” thus the title of the novel.

The greatest asset of the novel is its apparent realism. The reality is that although they are “sisters,” the nuns at the abbey are not immune from pettiness and sin. That is one of the points is that, as wonderful as the book may be, is often overlooked by Mother Mary Francis in Right to be Merry. Indeed, becoming a nun means that you’re literally plopped into the midst of women whom you’re not related to and love is not naturally innate. Indeed, as a nun, love towards the other sisters is a sacrifice and gift that requires the grace of God. Philippa, just like St. Therese, had to face the resentment and indifference of a number of different nuns who show very un-sisterly like behavior towards her. One of those sisters is Dame Agnes, who resents Dame Philippa for her superior learning. However, one of the beauties of the book is that by the end, Philippa has come to learn to love each of the sisters equally, cherishing their many different charisms. However, just like in a marriage in which there are times when it is so very difficult to love one’s spouse, In This House of Brede illustrates that it is equally difficult find the will to love in a cloister.

Regarding love in the cloister, the book illustrates the need to love each nun equally, despite the fact that a nun might feel personally drawn to another because of similar interests or personality. Abbess Catherine in the book especially must learn to deal with this responsibility to love all equally. Indeed, I remember my talk with Mother Clare at Bethlehem Poor Clare monastery, and she told me that it is very much a challenge for an abbess to put aside her personal preferences in favor of equal sisterly love for the entire community. Indeed, she says that it is often difficult to hide a particular excitement when a “favored one” comes into the room at recreation time.

In keeping with this theme, one of the criticisms that I have of the book is a sequence that focuses on the special relationship between Dame Colette and Sister Kazuko, one of the five Japanese postulants that are admitted into Brede. Sister Kazuko ultimately says that Dame Colette is her true mother, as opposed to Mother Abbess Catherine. While the author would have painted this as a vice in any of the other sisters, Godden seems to glamorize the “favored” status of Dame Colette in the eyes of Sister Kazuko. Why is Sister Kazuko relieved of the responsibility to show equal love to all of the sisters?

Another aspect of the book that I really liked was the focus on vocational struggle. Abbess Catherine struggles with the fact that she didn’t really want the role of leader of the Abbey- which very much reminded me of Pope Benedict, who admitted that he never wanted to be Pope. Similarly, in the end of the book, Dame Philippa, in her quest of anonymity, struggles with the notion of her being chosen to be prioress at Brede’s new foundation in Japan. And, the most touching vocational story in the book is that of Sister Cecily, who is one of my favorite characters in the book. After overcoming her demanding parents’ wishes for her not to enter Brede, Cecily must then convince her superiors that she is fit to become a sister. Moreover, even after her first profession as a nun, Cecily has a wealthy, handsome suitor who tries to dissuade her from her vocation. She is haunted by memories of her past romance with Larry, her suitor, and is almost tempted to leave Brede to marry him when she encounters one of Philippa’s married friends who has recently has a baby. The sight of beautiful new life and the natural female desire to have children almost causes Cecily to leave Brede. In one of the most beautiful passages of the entire book, Cecily reminds herself that she already has a spouse in Jesus and realizes that He is all that she needs:

All in all, the book emphasizes that what one does with her life isn’t her own choice. It is God’s. Thus, although we might want our lives to be one way, our Lord might have something entirely different- but more beautiful- in mind and He will give us the strength to do it.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a part of the book where Brede is infested with new postulants and sisters who have a liberal agenda to destroy the abbey by getting rid of habits and taking down the cloister grille and omitting Eucharistic adoration. While at first the Abbess is tempted to give into their intimidating demands, she is reminded that Brede is like a great ship, never changing its course, always sailing towards God. Indeed, the best monasteries fit this description- monasteries that have never altered their course in the quest for God.

In my personal vocational journey, I found this book very informative. Before I had read In This House of Brede, I thought that my entering a monastery would immediately promise me all of the things that I now seek. I thought that I would constantly have a rich and ever-deepening prayer life in a cloister, but this book illustrates that even nuns go through very long “dry spells” of prayer. I thought that entering a monastery would give me scores of loving friends who unconditionally cared about me, but In This House of Brede taught me that nuns are privy to the same personal resentments that plague all of us laywomen. Finally, this book showed to me that sin is existent everywhere, yet no sin is beyond redemption from our Lord.

In closing, despite how much homework I might have put off in order to read this nearly 700 page book, I am very glad that I did. It has been one of the biggest doses of reality that I’ve received in quite a while.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Benedictine Blessings: Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Vermont

Now it's time for an American Benedictine cloister! The Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, VT is a real gem. A newer community, it was founded in 1981 as a foundation of Abbaye de Sainte-Marie in Canada. This monastery is also a member of the very solid Congregation of Solesmes.

While the website of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary's website is simpler than those of the previous featured monasteries in this series, it has alot of great content. I really like it's integration of quotes fron Scripture and the Rule of Saint Benedict in the description of the spirituality of cloisters and the Benedictine Order. Also, check out the "Modern Desert" page on the website- I thought that was a very nice term for a cloister.

I'll end with a beautiful quote from the web page:

At the very outset of his Rule for monasteries, Saint Benedict appeals to the innate desire for JOY present in every heart:

Is there anyone who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict, RB prol.)

But true joy is a CHALLENGE: it can blossom only in the soil of self-forgetfulness and self-giving to love, especially to the only LOVE than can completely fill the human heart. To the unfathomable love of God for us—
God so loved the world (each one of us) that He gave His only Son (Jn 3:16)—

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Where I Stand With My Discernment

Hello, everyone! I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who has made comments for doing so! I didn’t realize that I had the “publish comments” feature, so I didn’t even realize that anyone had made any! Thank you all so much for your kind encouragement.

Since I promised to put at least some personal experiences on this blog, I’ve decided to take a break from the Benedictine Blessings tonight and tell you all a little bit about where I stand vocation wise.

“Discernment” is an extremely funny and often very frustrating thing, or so I learned. The process is very often not logical at all- seldom does a person say to herself, “well, I’m into liturgy, I love to say my rosary, and I am a quiet person, therefore I should think about becoming a nun.” While that might happen in some cases, my experience is more like a quote from In This House of Brede- “it’s as though Jesus points his finger and says “I’ll pick you.”

I’ll try to couch this as best as I can, but when I initially felt drawn to religious life, I was walking to another one of my classes last Spring when the thought of religious life randomly “popped” into my head. It then became this nagging feeling that suddenly took ahold of me, and lo and behold, all I could think about was the prospect of religious life. I will admit that during this initial stage, I did a lot of “fantasizing”- I pictured myself in a long beautiful flowing habit sitting quietly in some garden with the birds chirping around me doing some embroidery every now and then, which was to suffice as my “labora” for the day. As my spiritual director later put it, this was outright fantasizing and couldn’t be farther from the reality of nuns putting in hard labor. Nonetheless, such unrealistic fantasizing is usually normal for a person in the initial stages of discernment. What was interesting was that my thoughts weren’t really directed towards any particular community- I was just drawn to the general idea of religious life and figured God would lead me to the place where I was meant to be.

The nagging feeling continued for the rest of the school year, and I was scared to death about this possible calling. After all, before these thoughts popped into my head, I thought I had it all figured out- I would become an accountant and some day marry my amazing boyfriend. Now with this constant feeling of being called, I was completely confused. It wasn’t as if I had chosen to think about these things, but rather these constant thoughts had completely taken over me.

After I went home for the summer, the constant thoughts completely ceased- for a time. Then one day, I was at the hairstylists and one of the other ladies there was talking about how she went out driving one day and gotten lost down some backroad which led to a beautiful monastery of nuns which, according to her, “looked like something out of the middle ages.” Well, anything that resembles medieval times sounds pretty good to me and did a little research as soon as I got home and found http://www.poor-clares.org/, the website of the monastery in question. How interesting! The Poor Clares! When I was a kid, I had written a play about St. Clare, so there was that initial interest there. After “falling in love” with this community’s website, as you can guess, the nagging thoughts came back again.

Now, all this time I had kept all of these thoughts hidden from my parents. The only people that I told was my spiritual director and my wonderful boyfriend. One day during the summer, I secretly drove up to the Bethlehem Poor Clare monastery and my expectations were confirmed- it really did look like a medieval gem. That summer, I devoured all information about the Franciscans and especially the Poor Clares- this blog being the result of that blossoming love for the Seraphic Order.

Now during that summer of discernment, it was as though God had placed new lenses over my eyes- I began to see my entire world differently. At my job, I was both saddened and confused about the way my co-workers seemed to place their happiness in fancy houses, designer clothing, and BMWs. There is so much more to life! I began to see God’s love in the little things in life…whether it be a beautiful red bird or a song on the radio. I really didn’t have any desire other than to go to Holy Mass and be with the Blessed Sacrament. At this point, my “calling” wasn’t a nagging so much as a longing- a longing to give Everything to Him!

I eventually told my parents about my desire to become a nun in a few years. All the while, my boyfriend was so constant, so loving, so very patient! I eventually returned to school in the fall, and I began to take action. I began to write letters to the Lady Abbess of the Bethlehem Poor Clare monastery, began speaking with a wonderful Franciscan Friar, and even visited a community of active/contemplative Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

All throughout the semester, the nagging feeling returned. I would hear God saying to me, “Chiara, give yourself completely to me!” Sometimes, for weeks at a time, I would interpret that call to mean “Chiara, you should enter the Poor Clares.” Then, for weeks at a time, that voice would stop calling- or so I thought. You see, for reasons I care not to disclose, I didn’t have a very high opinion of marriage at the time- I thought it was a common, base, vocation with a lower-case “v” and that a person wasn’t “giving everything up for God” by choosing marriage. How foolish I was not to realize that the feeling of being called to marriage isn’t something that a person necessarily chooses- it’s God who makes the choice to speak to you!

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I met with Mother Clare from Bethlehem Poor Clare Monastery in person and let her know about all of my feelings. I will keep that conversation private, but the very next day after I met with her, all of my ardent desire to become a Poor Clare mysteriously and completely evaporated. Indeed, I had a wonderful discussion with her and she really didn’t steer me in one direction or the other- I just didn’t feel the call to become a Poor Clare anymore.

Furthermore, during the past month God has kept dropping me signs about how there need to be people out in the world who support the monasteries. I realized that being in love with contemplative life and having a great love for these beautiful monks and nuns doesn’t mean that I myself should become one! My true desire was to work to let others in the world know that there are monks and nuns in monasteries that have dedicated their lives to loving them through prayer. I hope that this blog helps to light one tiny candle in that direction.

I also came to realize that my boyfriend was a person who has given all the love he can towards me. Once again, I began to have nagging feelings of being called- only this time it was the feeling of being drawn to Christ through this other individual. Thus far, I’ve been very much at peace with this idea and know that loving this person will need just as much love from me as I could give as a Poor Clare. Moreover, I learned that I can still embrace the life of St. Clare, which is why after hearing today’s Gospel I’ve decided to begin the process towards becoming a Franciscan Third Order Secular.

Thus, that is an overview of where I stand at the moment. I am a person who loves these wonderful nuns with all my heart, but I tend to think that I can better love my Sisters outside the cloister rather than inside.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Benedictine Blessings: St. Cecelia's Abbey, UK

According to a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, the Benedictine nun "has this one work to do- Let All God's glory through." Upon looking at the website of St. Cecelia's Abbey on the Isle of Wight, UK, these nuns are doing a wonderful job at fulfilling the words of that poem!

St. Cecelia's Abbey was founded in 1882 from an abbey in Liege, Belguim. In the 1920s, the priory became an abbey...usually that distinction comes about through a community's tenure and size. Today, the community is affiliated with the well-known Congregation of the French Abbey of Solesmes. Also, St. Cecelia's was one of the two abbeys that inspired author Rumer Godden to write In This House of Brede, her famous novel of Benedictine contemplative nuns.

Of all the website's of abbeys that I've seen, I'd say that the St. Cecelia's website is the best. That assesment is based upon the profound description of contemplative life, the vivid "virtual tour" of the abbey, and sound bytes of the nuns' beautiful Gregorian chant. The only thing that it lacks is a vocation page, but I'm sure that anyone interested could simply contact the Lady Abbess.

Below is a beautiful quote from the web site:

The aim of our cloistered life is to foster that purity of heart that opens upon the whole of creation and the entire human family in an embrace of love. If they have withdrawn from frequent contact from mankind, it is not because they are seeking themselves or their own comfort, but because they are intent on sharing to a more universal degree of fatigue, misery, and hopes of all makind.

Wow, if I was an English girl, any boyfriend of mine would be out of luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Benedictine Blessings: Stanbrook Abbey, UK

This entry is the first in a series that will focus upon fabulous Benedictine monasteries in the US and UK.

Although the abbey in Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede was fictional, it was based upon two famous Benedictine monasteries in England- Stanbrook Abbey and St. Cecelia's Abbey.

Stanbrook Abbey is located in Worcestershire, England. Below is an excerpt from the English Benedictine Congregation's description of the abbey...

In 1625 nine young English exiles, led by a great great granddaughter of St Thomas More, were professed at Cambrai, Flanders. Marked by More’s love of learning and spirit of hospitality, the new community followed Fr Augustine Baker into the way of an interior search for God based on the training of will, mind and heart. Harmonization of this double inheritance is the challenge which stimulates the community’s continuing development under the Rule of Saint Benedict.

After surviving imprisonment during the French Revolution the impoverished nuns returned to England in 1795. A permanent home was found at Stanbrook in 1838. The nuns are dedicated to the service of God and the Church in the liturgy and in contemplative prayer fed by lectio divina. For some, praise of God and reverence for creation finds expression in art, literary work, music, printing or bookbinding. But for all, the love of Christ is to be found in the ordinary daily tasks of building up a way of life in which past, present and future generations may join with the community’s first abbess, Dame Catherine Gascoigne, in:

the search for that one thing which our Saviour said to be necessary and which contains allthings in itself - My God, to whom to adhereand to inhere is a good thing.

Accommodation in St Mary’s house is available to anyone wishing to spend some time in retreat or reflection in the shadow of the monastery. After a preliminary visit, young women who desire to seek God in monastic life may apply to spend three weeks inside the enclosure.

Stanbrook Abbey's website is very extensive. My favorite feature is an interactive hour-by-hour description of a day in the life of a Stanbrook choir nun. There is also a feature that highlights prominent figures in the history of the abbey. Be sure to check it out.

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>