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

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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!

Friday, December 29, 2006

There's Still Time.....

A friend of the blog asked me to inform all of you about a wonderful retreat that will be starting TONIGHT at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Wisconsin. I apologize for posting this at the last minute....I had a family emergency last night, so please keep me in your prayers. Being that the sisters are Franciscans, I'm sure that they won't mind you signing up for the retreat at the last minute! Here is a link to a past post that I made about the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

Below is the information for the retreat:

DEC. 29-31, 2006

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity & The Franciscan Friars of the Assumption BVM Province invite young adults to this blessedChristmas Break Retreat! It's specially designed for Men, Women andCouples ages 18-35.The Christmas mystery transformed the lives of St. Francis and St. Clareof Assisi; come and discover this Christmas transforming your life,through common prayer, the Eucharist, presentations, quiet prayer,activities, renewal and an opportunity for Reconciliation.

Begins: 7:00p.m. Friday Dec 29
Closes: 12:30p.m. Sunday Dec 31

Cost: $50/person$75/couple


Contact:Sister Mary Ann Spanjers, O.S.F.
2409 S. Alverno Rd. Manitowoc, WI 54220P

hone: 920-682-7728

E-mail: smaryannsp@fscc-calledtobe.org

Or fill out the registration on the website:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Swooning over St. Joseph!

During my years at college, a popular Friday/Saturday-evening tradition among some of the girls in my dorm was to have a “Pride and Prejudice” BBC miniseries marathon in the TV lounge. Even though Colin Firth (aka, Mr. Darcy) was much more pleasurable to look at than the financial statements required by my accounting assignments, I always scoffed when some of the girls professed that they were “holding out for a Mr. Darcy.” Sure, Darcy had a certain aristocratic charm…but what was the use in having an anachronistic crush on a guy wearing tight pants and a top hat?

Lately, I’ve realized that all of the women who swoon over Darcy are doing well by looking up to a man of such good character. What is it about Darcy that has caused him to be the object of admiration of thousands of women? I presume that they look beyond his looks and wealth and really admire how he was a respectable man who was willing to sacrifice his own high social standing so that he could love and marry a virtuous woman who came from scandalous circumstances.

Doesn’t that description sound a lot like St. Joseph? If a man with that kind of courage and self-sacrifice was good enough for Our Lady, I’ve realized that I was foolish to laugh at the girls who seek a man with similar qualities.

Even though God lovingly willed that I be born on the Feast of Blessed St. Joseph (March 19th), I haven’t recently given this holy Saint the praise and devotion that is due to him. However, ever since I saw The Nativity Story, I’ve been contemplating just how worthy St. Joseph is of our love and devotion! Moreover, James Bond, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Sparrow, et. al. will have to step aside for St. Joseph, because The Nativity Story does an excellent job at depicting him as a very “crush-worthy” man for women to admire!

St. Joseph’s status as a “heartthrob” is not immediately apparent. At least in the movie, Joseph looks less like a “heartthrob” and more like Brad Delp from the 70s arena-rock band Boston. Even traditional Catholic art and iconography depict St. Joseph as either an older man or as having ordinary looks. Neither scripture nor the movie depict him as being very romantic in the colloquial sense of the word- in the film, Joseph gives Mary an old donkey as an engagement gift, which she bemusedly accepts. Indeed, it’s only after you think outside the box that you realize that he’s (pardon the pun) no “ordinary Joe” ….

- St. Joseph didn’t own fancy transportation....but he did have a sturdy donkey that carried Our Lady and Our Lord into safety.

- St. Joseph didn’t have the money to buy a large and fancy house…but he had the love to build with his own hands a little custom-made house for Our Lady and Our Lord.

- St. Joseph’s extraordinary love and self-sacrifice must have “rubbed off” on Our Lord, since Jesus went on to commit the ULTIMATE act of love and self-sacrifice!

- St. Joseph was very supportive of his wife’s “career,” since Our Lady ultimately was “promoted” to the status of the Queen of Heaven!

- St. Joseph, besides Jesus, is the paragon of a man who truly loves and respects women in the way that God intended it. His celibate marriage to Our Lady in no way prohibited him from loving her with all his heart!

In preparation for Christmas, I’m sure that St. Joseph would love for us to ask his intercession so that we may prepare our hearts for the coming of Our Lord! Indeed, this time of year can be very hectic with pre-Christmas preparations….if we pray to Joseph, I’m sure he’ll grant us peace and patience. After all, he was an expert at remaining calm during the hectic time of the census!

Here is a very useful link that guides you through the powerful “Chaplet of St. Joseph.”

Here is a link for the “Litany of St. Joseph” in both English and Latin. It shows his many titles!

Below is a beautiful prayer to St. Joseph, the Guardian of Virgins:

Saint Joseph, Guardian of virgins and father, to whose faithful care Christ Jesus, innocence itself, and Mary, Virgin of virgins, were entrusted, I ask and beg of thee, through these two dearest pledges, Jesus and Mary, preserve me from all defilement, and make it always possible for me unsullied in mind, pure in heart, and chaste in body to give to Jesus and Mary my holiest service. Amen.

Have a peaceful and prayerful remaining couple of days of Advent. Please pray to dearest St. Joseph- remember, he was an “ordinary Joe” whom God called to an extraordinary life!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holy Face Chaplets at Poor Clare Gift Shop!

I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the Poor Clare nuns on the Feast of St. Francis. We spoke about prayer during our conversation, and she told me about her strong devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. Sister pulled out a beautiful medal of the Holy Face and told me that whenever she feels her thoughts beginning to wander, she reaches into her pocket to touch the medal and prays, "Show us your face, O Lord!" She said the phrase both in English and in Hebrew, since this dear little nun taught herself Hebrew so that she could pray in the language of Christ's people!

After I dropped off food with the Poor Clares yesterday, I went into their gift shop and discovered an entire table full of "Holy Face Chaplets"- they look like rosaries, except they have five groups of six beads and a Holy Face medal on the end. All of the chaplets were made of beautiful polished wood, but what renders them most beautiful was the fact that they were lovingly hand-made by the nuns! In addition to the chaplets, the nuns had Holy Face prayer cards and informational cards on the table. One of the cards had a photograph of St. Therese holding up a beautiful painting of the Holy Face, to whom she was very devoted.

I happily bought one of these beautiful chaplets and had it blessed by my pastor, but realized after the fact that I didn't know how to pray the Holy Face chaplet! Many instructions that I found on the internet weren't very straightforward, but here is a straightforward link. FYI- The Holy Face Chaplet is also known as the Chaplet of the Five Wounds.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Barhamsville Poor Clares, be sure to stop off in their giftshop and buy one of these beautiful chaplets or one of the other lovely items in their gift shop!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"When Irish Nuns are Smiling...": Poor Clares of Galway, Ireland

It's been quite a while since I've done a "monastery focus" post, and it's due time that I finally give credit to the nuns who were responsible for taking the silouette picture featured in my title bar! If I had found the source of the picture when I made the title-bar nearly a year ago, I certainly would have credited it to the Poor Clare Nuns of Galway, Ireland. However, I simply did an "image google" for the word "contemplative" and I found the picture standing alone without a link to its source. Sorry, sisters! If you happen to read this, please let me know if you'd like me to change the picture.

Just as I stumbled across the picture, I stumbled across the Galway Poor Clares' website- but it was indeed a happy stumble! I originally was going to do a quick post featuring the blessing of St. Clare, so once again I "googled" the term "St. Clare blessing," which led me to the Galway nuns' website. To put it in Irish terms, finding their website was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

This beautiful community of St. Clare's daughters reflects the joyful simplicity of the Franciscan charism. Their website isn't all that high tech (and you'd be surprised at how many Poor Clares that I know who are web-design gurus!) but it is nonetheless brimming with love and joy!

Just from looking at the website, I can tell that the Galway Poor Clares are very much committed to helping all of us in the world embrace a love of prayer and contemplation within our hearts. It reiterates the fact that contemplatives choose their way of life in order to help us in the world become more holy, not because they want to "run away" from the world.

As a case in point, check out their page on "prayer for busy people." They've come up with their list of psalms for certain moods, tips on praying the rosary, and even a page on praying with St. Clare. Wow! Getting prayer tips from these nuns is like getting cooking tips from a world-class chef!

The Galway Poor Clares' photo galleries especially brought a smile to my face. The photos reflect beautiful and childlike sense of humour, wonder, and piety with which the Irish have particularly been blessed. You can also see their Irish humour in these fun little cartoons.

Sisters, if you all happen to be crowding around your little computer like in the above picture, may God reward you for sharing your love and joy with us in the world!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!!!!!

One year ago, the Knights of Immaculata at Notre Dame held a Latin mass and afterwards had a ceremony for those who wished to consecrate themselves to Mary. Because I’ve never been very good at consistently keeping up with traditional Marian devotions such as the Rosary, I figured that publicly consecrating myself to the Virgin would give me a greater incentive to say my rosary/crown each day. Needless to say, I fell extremely short of meeting my goal of saying a daily rosary….in fact, I’m lucky if I remember to say one rosary per week. Because it’s the one-year anniversary of my consecration to Mary, I was ruminating yesterday on my failure to live up to my promise and I wound up getting down on myself about not saying my rosary.

A few moments later, it occurred to me that God wants us to regard Mary as our true Mother and we as Her little children. I thought about my own childhood and remembered how happy my own mother was when I drew little pictures for her. Indeed, the slapdash pictures that I drew weren’t pieces of art by any standard….but they made my mom happier than any artist’s piece would have, because they were drawn out of love by her own daughter. Nor did my mom expect that I draw a picture every single day or reprimand me when I didn’t have anything for her….she loved me no matter what. Just like an earthly mother, Mary completely loves us regardless of whether we say the rosary every day, once a month, or never say it at all. However, it gives Mary great joy when we do offer gifts of prayer to her. Just as earthly mothers lovingly accept a child’s scribbles and stick figures, our heavenly Mother joyfully takes our prayers and treasures them in Her heart, no matter how humble those prayers might be.

Following from that theme, I’d like to share with you all a beautiful story about Our Lady’s acceptance of whatever we have to offer her. The story, “Le Jongeleur de Notre Dame” (“Our Lady’s Juggler”), is based on a 12th-Century French legend….I’m sure St. Colette and St. Therese were both very familiar with the story.

The story was adapted many times and also made into an opera. Here is a summary of the opera, which has a slightly different plot than the following story :

Our Lady's Juggler
By Anatole France

In the days of King Louis there lived a poor juggler by the name of Barnabas, a native of Compiègne, who wandered from city to city performing tricks of skill and prowess.

On fair days he would lay down in the public square a worn and aged carpet, and after having attracted a group of children and idlers by certain amusing remarks which he had learned from an old juggler, and which he invariably repeated in the same fashion without altering a word, he would assume the strangest postures, and balance a pewter plate on the tip of his nose. At first the crowd regarded him with indifference, but when, with his hands and head on the ground he threw into the air and caught with his feet six copper balls that glittered in the sunlight, or when, throwing himself back until his neck touched his heels, he assumed the form of a perfect wheel and in that position juggled with twelve knives, he elicited a murmur of admiration from his audience, and small coins rained on his carpet.

Still, Barnabas of Compiègne, like most of those who exist by their accomplishments, had a hard time making a living. Earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, he bore rather more than his share of those miseries we are all heir to through the fault of our Father Adam.
Besides, he was unable to work as much as he would have liked, for in order to exhibit his wonderful talents, he required-like the trees-the warmth of the sun and the heat of the day. In winter time he was no more than a tree stripped of its leaves, in fact, half-dead. The frozen earth was too hard for the juggler. Like the cicada mentioned by Marie de France, he suffered during the bad season from hunger and cold. But, since he had a simple heart, he suffered in silence.

He had never thought much about the origin of wealth nor about the inequality of human conditions. He firmly believed that if this world was evil the next could not but be good, and this faith upheld him. He was not like the clever fellows who sell their souls to the devil; he never took the name of God in vain; he lived the life of an honest man, and though he had no wife of his own, he did not covet his neighbor's, for woman is the enemy of strong men, as we learn by the story of Samson which is written in the Scriptures.

Verily, his mind was not turned in the direction of carnal desire, and it caused him far greater pain to renounce drinking than to forego the pleasure of women. For, though he was not a drunkard, he enjoyed drinking when the weather was warm. He was a good man, fearing God, and devout in his adoration of the Holy Virgin. When he went into a church he never failed to kneel before the image of the Mother of God and to address her with this prayer: "My Lady, watch over my life until it shall please God that I die, and when I am dead, see that I have the joys of Paradise."

One evening, after a day of rain, as he walked sad and bent with his juggling balls under his arm and his knives wrapped up in his old carpet seeking some barn where he might go supperless to bed, he saw a monk going in his direction, and respectfully saluted him. As they were both walking at the same pace, they fell into conversation.

"Friend," said the monk, "how does it happen that you are dressed all in green? Are you perchance going to play the part of the fool in some mystery?"

"No, indeed, father," said Barnabas. "My name is Barnabas, and my business is that of juggler. It would be the finest calling in the world if I could eat every day."

"Friend Barnabas," answered the monk, "be careful what you say. There is no finer calling than the monastic. The priest celebrates the praise of God, the Virgin, and the saints; the life of a monk is a perpetual hymn to the Lord."

And Barnabas replied: "Father, I confess I spoke like an ignorant man. My estate cannot be compared to yours, and though there may be some merit in dancing and balancing a stick with a denier on top of it on the end of your nose, it is in no wise comparable to your merit. Father, I wish I might, like you, sing the Office every day, especially the Office of the Very Holy Virgin, to whom I am specially and piously devoted. I would willingly give up the art by which I am known from Soissons to Beauvais, in more than six hundred cities and villages, in order to enter the monastic life."

The monk was touched by the simplicity of the juggler, and as he was not lacking in discernment, he recognized in Barnabas one of those well-disposed men of whom Our Lord has said, "Let peace be with them on earth." And he made answer therefore:

"Friend Barnabas, come with me and I will see that you enter the monastery of which I am the Prior. He who led Mary the Egyptian through the desert put me across your path in order that I might lead you to salvation." Thus did Barnabas become a monk. In the monastery which he entered, the monks celebrated most magnificently the cult of the Holy Virgin, each of them bringing to her service all the knowledge and skill which God had given him.

The Prior, for his part, wrote books, setting forth, according to the rules of scholasticism, all the virtues of the Mother of God. Brother Maurice copied these treatises with a cunning hand on pages of parchment, while Brother Alèsandre decorated them with delicate miniatures representing the Queen of Heaven seated on the throne of Solomon, with four lions on guard at the foot of it. Around her head, which was encircled by a halo, flew seven doves, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: fear, piety, knowledge, power, judgment, intelligence, and wisdom. With her were six golden-haired virgins: Humility, Prudence, Retirement, Respect, Virginity, and Obedience. At her feet two little figures, shining white and quite naked, stood in suppliant attitudes. They were souls imploring, not in vain, Her all-powerful intercession for their salvation. On another page Brother Aléxandre depicted Eve in the presence of Mary, that one might see at the same time sin and its redemption, woman humiliated, and the Virgin exalted. Among the other much-prized pictures in his book were the Well of Living Waters, the Fountain, the Lily, the Moon, the Sun, and the Closed Garden, of which much is said in the Canticle; the Gate of Heaven and the City of God. These were all images of the Virgin.

Brother Marbode, too, was one of the cherished children of Mary. He was ever busy cutting images of stone, so that his beard, his eyebrows and his hair were white with the dust, and his eyes perpetually swollen and full of tears. But he was a hardy and a happy man in his old age, and there was no doubt that the Queen of Paradise watched over the declining days of Her child. Marbode represented Her seated in a pulpit, Her forehead encircled by a halo, with an orb of pearls. He was at great pains to make the folds of Her robe cover the feet of Her of whom the prophet has said, "My beloved is like a closed garden."

At times he represented Her as a graceful child, and Her image seemed to say, "Lord, Thou art My Lord!" There were also in the Monastery poets who composed prose writings in Latin and hymns in honor of the Most Gracious Virgin Mary; there was, indeed, one among them-a Picard-who translated the Miracles of Our Lady into rimed verses in the vulgar tongue.
Perceiving so great a competition in praise and so fine a harvest of good works, Barnabas fell to lamenting his ignorance and simplicity.

"Alas!" he sighed as he walked by himself one day in the little garden shaded by the Monastery wall, "I am so unhappy because I cannot, like my brothers, give worthy praise to the Holy Mother of God to whom I have consecrated all the love in my heart. Alas, I am a stupid fellow, without art, and for your service, Madame, I have no edifying sermons, no fine treatises nicely prepared according to the rules, no beautiful paintings, no cunningly carved statues, and no verses counted off by feet and marching in measure! Alas, I have nothing!"
Thus did he lament and abandon himself to his misery.

One evening when the monks were talking together by way of diversion, he heard one of them tell of a monk who could not recite anything but the Ave Maria. He was scorned for his ignorance, but after he died there sprang from his mouth five roses, in honor of the five letters in the name Maria. Thus was his holiness made manifest.

In listening to this story, Barnabas was conscious once more of the Virgin's beneficence, but he was not consoled by the example of the happy miracle, for his heart was full of zeal and he wanted to celebrate the glory of His Lady in Heaven.

He sought for a way in which to do this, but in vain, and each day brought him greater sorrow, until one morning he sprang joyously from his cot and ran to the chapel, where he remained alone for more than an hour. He returned thither again after dinner, and from that day onward he would go into the chapel every day the moment it was deserted, passing the greater part of the time which the other monks dedicated to the pursuit of the liberal arts and the sciences. He was no longer sad and he sighed no more. But such singular conduct aroused the curiosity of the other monks, and they asked themselves why Brother Barnabas retired alone so often, and the Prior, whose business it was to know everything that his monks were doing, determined to observe Barnabas. One day, therefore, when Barnabas was alone in the chapel, the Prior entered in company with two of the oldest brothers, in order to watch, through the bars of the door, what was going on within.

They saw Barnabas before the image of the Holy Virgin, his head on the floor and his feet in the air, juggling with six copper balls and twelve knives. In honor of the Holy Virgin he was performing the tricks which had in former days brought him the greatest fame. Not understanding that he was thus putting his best talents at the service of the Holy Virgin, the aged brothers cried out against such sacrilege. The Prior knew that Barnabas had a simple soul, but he believed that the man had lost his wits. All three set about to remove Barnabas from the chapel, when they saw the Virgin slowly descend from the altar and, with a fold of her blue mantle, wipe the sweat that streamed over the juggler's forehead.

Then the Prior, bowing his head down to the marble floor, repeated these words:

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

"Amen," echoed the brothers, bowing down to the floor.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kristkindl: An Advent Tradition

My friend Lucy is organizing an "e-Kristkindl" for me and a group of my friends. Lucy is an expert on Catholic family traditions that celebrate different parts of the Catholic year. This particular tradition of "Kristkindl" was recorded by a woman close to my own heart, Maria von Trapp (the real one...not Julie Andrews). Below is Maria's description of the "Kristkindl" tradition:

"And then comes another exciting moment. Once more the mother appears with the bowl, which she passes around. This time the pieces contain the names of the members of the family and are neatly rolled up, because the drawing has to be done in great secrecy. The person whose name one has drawn is now in one's special care. From this day until Christmas, one has to do as many little favors for him or her as one can... without being caught. This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Perhaps you will find someone has made your bed or shined your shoes or has informed you in a disguised writing on a holy card, that "A rosary has been said for you today" or a number of sacrifices have been offered up. This new relationship is called the Kristkindl [Christ child] in the old country, where children believe that the Christmas tree and gifts under it are brought down by the Christ Child Himself.

The beautiful thing about this particular custom is that the relationship is a reciprocal one. The person whose name I have drawn and who is under my care becomes for me the helpless little Christ Child in the manger; and as I am performing these many little acts of love & consideration for someone in the family, I am really doing them for the Infant of Bethlehem, according to the word that 'And he that shall recieve one such little child in my name, recieveth me.' At the same time, I am the Kristkindl also for the one I am caring for, because I want to imitate the Holy Child and render all those little services in the same spirit as He did in the small house of Nazareth, when as a child, He served His Mother and His foster father with a similar love and devotion." [Around the Year with the Trapp Family, p 27-28]."

This is a beautiful tradition for all Catholics, whether they be members of a family, a monastery, or an e-community!

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