Archive for January, 2011

New Norbertine Community

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!

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Aquinas on the Vow of Obedience

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast the universal Church celebrates today,  had to say on the excellence of the vow of obedience:

The vow of obedience is the chief of the three religious vows, and this for three reasons.

First, because by the vow of obedience man offers God something greater, namely his own will; for this is of more account than his own body, which he offers God by continence, and than external things, which he offers God by the vow of poverty. Wherefore that which is done out of obedience is more acceptable to God than that which is done of one’s own will, according to the saying of Jerome (Ep. cxxv ad Rustic Monach.): “My words are intended to teach you not to rely on your own judgment”: and a little further on he says: “You may not do what you will; you must eat what you are bidden to eat, you may possess as much as you receive, clothe yourself with what is given to you.” Hence fasting is not acceptable to God if it is done of one’s own will, according to Is. 58:3, “Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found.”

Secondly, because the vow of obedience includes the other vows, but not vice versa: for a religious, though bound by vow to observe continence and poverty, yet these also come under obedience, as well as many other things besides the keeping of continence and poverty.

Thirdly, because the vow of obedience extends properly to those acts that are closely connected with the end of religion; and the more closely a thing is connected with the end, the better it is.

Taken from the Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, q. 186, a. 8.

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Signs of a Priestly Vocation

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

In To Save a Thousand Souls: Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood (Vianney Vocations, 2010), Fr. Brett Bannon devotes an entire chapter to the characteristics of a good candidate for priesthood. He identifies 20 “signs” of a possible vocation to diocesan priesthood, since that is the focus of the book. However, I think these particular signs could also point to a vocation to the priesthood as a member of a religious community.

Fr. Brannen, an experienced vocation director and vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, gives two important caveats before diving into his list of signs.

First, the Lord can call anyone to serve as a priest. A potential candidate may not initially have all the qualities listed here, and that’s okay.

Second, the discernment of a priestly vocation should be a deliberate process involving one’s spiritual director, vocation director, and other sound spiritual guides. 

According to Fr. Brannen, a good candidate for priesthood should . . .

(1) Know and love Jesus Christ and experience a thirst to bring Jesus and His teachings to the world.

(2) Be a believing, practicing Catholic.

(3) Be striving to live a life of prayer.

(4) Live and desire a life of service to others.

(5) Have a desire to be a priest.

(6) In many cases, have his call validated by other people.

(7) Find his calling validated in Sacred Scripture.

(8) Be striving to live a virtuous life.

(9) Have good people skills.

(10) Have above-average intelligence (but those who struggle academically should not lose heart!).

(11) Be physically, emotionally, and psychologically stable.

(12) Be joyful and have a good sense of humor.

(13) Have a “priest’s heart.”

(14) Have self-possession and self-mastery.

(15) Show stability in lifestyle.

(16) Be a Christian gentleman.

(17) Have life experiences that point toward priesthood.

(18) Be able to accept both success and failure peacefully.

(19) Have a healthy psycho-sexual development and orientation. 

(20) Be truly open to the will of God for his life.

For an explanation of each of these possible signs, see pages 77-108 of Fr. Brannen’s excellent vocation resource.

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Psalmody to Love

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Trivia question (answer at end): What would you have if Billie Holliday came back to life and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?

I still vividly recall entering a religious community in the mid-1980s. A native of Los Angeles and a fairly recent law school graduate, I knew I was stepping into a very different environment. As I settled into this life, I realized that I was doing many of the same things I had been doing before entering this community. I had already become accustomed to daily Mass and Holy Hours. The studies (I was preparing for the priesthood) likewise came naturally to a “professional student” like me. And of course the meals and recreation times were very enjoyably spent with the great guys we had in the community.

The one thing that was markedly different for me was praying the Liturgy of the Hours (aka “Divine Office”) at set times each day with the other seminarians and religious. I had owned and used a breviary (a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours) before entering seminary, but the regularity and fervor of this prayer of the Church was the most distinctive–and in many ways the most enriching–aspect of my seminary journey. This attraction to the Liturgy of the Hours has stayed with me ever since.

Today I want to direct our readers’ attention to a fine article  entitled “On the Psalmody of the Divine Office” from the Vultus Christi blog. Author Dom Mark Daniel Kirby (“Father Mark”), a Benedictine prior from Tulsa, is a sound, learned guide when it comes to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Father Mark makes some fascinating points throughout  the piece. I had never considered the connection between the choral recitation of the office and the evangelical counsels.  His treatment of the Thomistic concept of “tranquility of order” (tranquilitas ordinis) as it applies to liturgical discipline beautifully highlights the peaceful and contemplative qualities of the Divine Office. 

While everyone may participate in the Liturgy of the Hours, it’s part and parcel of the daily life of consecrated men and women. As such, Father concludes his article by affirming three fundamental principles regarding the Liturgy of the Hours for religious:

1. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is for all apostolic religious a path to contemplative prayer .

2. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, your primary service to the world.

3. The choral celebration of the Divine Office assures the supernatural fruitfulness of your apostolic works.

Okay, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Psalm Sung Blue (Yes, my wife didn’t laugh either.)

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Carmelite Nuns of Mobile

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mobile Press-Register correspondent/Lyle Ratliff

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. We all recall the familiar story in which the Lord came powerfully upon Saul while on the road to Damascus, forever changing his life–and world history!

It was a moment that marked a new beginning, a new mission. In the world he was known as Saul. Now as an apostle he is known to the Church as Paul.

I thought it would be fitting on this feast to invite readers to check out “Beyond the Convent Walls: Carmelite nuns of Mobile tell their story.” This story, from the Mobile Press-Register, with accompanying video, tells the moving story of a community of cloistered Carmelites who have remained ever faithful to their vocation despite age and shrinking numbers.

What struck me most about the accompanying video was having each of the nuns introduce themselves by saying, “In the world I was known as _________, in religious life my name is ___________.”

While these holy women weren’t knocked off their horse or blinded by light, they cherish their new name, their religious name, that carries with it the special mission of living a cloistered life devoted to Christ as a Carmelite nun.

Today’s feast gives consecrated religious a special opportunity to reflect on the mission associated with their religious name. It also gives all the faithful an opportunity to reflect on our conversion to Christ, and in our particular our baptismal name, which represents our new life consecrated to Christ.

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Fit for Eternal Life?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Jack LaLanne

Yesterday fitness guru Jack LaLanne died at the age of 96 in California. He committed himself to healthy living early in life, and he persevered in that lifestyle until the day he died.

LaLanne hosted the longest running fitness show in television history, and he skillfully developed and marketed a range of products, from health foods and juice machines to exercise books and fitness spas.

Of course what most people remember are his incredible feats of strength, which seemed part Schwarzenegger and part Houdini. The guy once did well over 1,000 pushups in 23 minutes.

At the age of 60, LaLanne swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, while handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat!

But why all this talk about Jack LaLanne on a blog about vocations?  It’s because LaLanne knew what it meant to have a “plan of life.” He had one, and he stuck to it to a remarkable degree. Even more, he received the natural benefits of his orderly, disciplined life, as he enjoyed a long, healthy life on this earth.

Yet, even LaLanne’s earthly life had to come to an end, and we pray that he may now rest in peace.

We may be working on a LaLanne-like (say that five times fast) “plan of life” as we feebly try to lose a few pounds and get in shape in fulfillment of our New Year’s resolutions.

But even more, how is our “plan of life” from a spiritual perspective? How is our life ordered? Are our priorities straight? Is prayer, family, work, and recreation balanced appropriately? Am I reading books or viewing programs of a spiritual or at least edifying nature? Do I receive guidance from my pastor, spiritual advisor, or perhaps trusted friends?

Am I as committed to my spiritual plan of life as LaLanne was to his dietary and exercise regimen?

Jack LaLanne once said that we wouldn’t give our dog a cigarette and donut for breakfast, so why should these harmful things be part of our daily routine? Similarly, if we know certain activities aren’t good for us spiritually (and that’s what matters most, after all!), why do we allow them to become part of our lives?

I was that chubby kid in front of the TV trying to do the various exercises that Jack LaLanne was teaching his viewers. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty, but he did help instill an appreciation for exercise that has been integrated into my adult life.

May we who are committed to the Lord and His Church encourage others to do their “spiritual exercises” and to develop a plan of life, so that all that we do is ordered to our ultimate Good.

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Vocations Are Habit-Forming!

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Religious habits are making something of a comeback these days. Check out this recent article entitled, “Younger Catholic Women Get into the Habit,” which discusses how the Nashville Dominicans have been able to attract new members under the age of 30.

They were also featured last December in this NPR story, which connected their traditional habit to their appeal to young women today.

Similarly, last week the online edition of Catholic San Francisco published “‘Oprah nuns,’ a fast-growing teaching order, expanding to California.” This piece, profiling the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, also highlights the significance of the religious habit in the new wave of religious vocations.

The religious habit is a topic to which we will return often in this blog. Today, I would like to share this brief reflection on the religious habit from Sr. Maria Pacis of the Dominican Sisters of Mary:

“Each day, as I don the Dominican habit, I am struck by the symbolism associated with each part of the habit. Each piece has ‘attached’ to it a virtue in which I daily strive to grow: charity; purity of heart, mind, and intention; obedience; perseverence; and finally devotion to Jesus, Mary, and St. Dominic. It is an ever-present reminder to me and to my dear Sisters that we are all Brides of Christ.” 

Sister’s uplifting comments bring to mind St. Paul’s description in Ephesians 6:10-17 of the holy attire that all Christians must put on as they prepare for spiritual  battle.

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Marching Orders

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
Go to the Sisters of Life website.

Sisters of Life at the annual March for Life, Washington, D.C.

Next week marks the 38th anniversary of the notorious Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that created a constitutional “right” to abortion. Christians throughout the land are busily preparing for various pro-life events to mark the occasion. Of course the “granddaddy” of these events is the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.

Proclaiming the “Gospel of Life” in word and action is an integral part of being Catholic. Not surprisingly, then, consecrated men and women have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement. This includes everything from persevering prayer in the cloister to eduational ministries to prayerful witness at abortion clinics to helping women in challenging pregnancies. And so much more.

A shining example of this pro-life focus is the Sisters of Life. They were just founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor of New York as a contemplative/active community of women religious. As their name suggests, pro-life activity is an essential part of their charism. They even take a special fourth vow to “protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

For the Sisters of Life’s schedule for this coming week, click here.

In addition, the Catholic Key Blog of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph posted today a timely pro-life article by Bishop Robert W. Finn, who also currently serves as IRL president. It’s entitled “March for Life: Culmination of Many Efforts to Support and Protect Human Life.” Read it here.

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Why “Undivided Heart”?

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Go to the free online Study Guide to Vita Consecrata.In the coming months, we will periodically return to the name of this blog, as the desire to love God with “an undivided heart” is at the core of a religious vocation.

Today, let’s simply examine two passages from Vita Consecrata (“Consecrated Life”), the 1995 apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II that magnificently sets forth the beauty and depth of loving God with an undivided heart:

First, from section one:

“In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided’ heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.

Later, from section 21:

The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.

Praise God for the call to love and serve Him with an undivided heart!

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IRL’s New Blog

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

About the USCCB.With this post, the Institute on Religious Life (IRL) launches its new blog, entitled “An Undivided Heart.” If you’re looking for news, commentary, or resources on vocations–especially vocations to the consecrated life–you’ve come to the right place. Welcome!

One of the five pastoral priorities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at this time is the promotion of priestly and religious vocations. In furtherance of this priority, the USCCB has created the For Your Vocation website, which is nicely done and contains a wealth of useful resources.

One recent post at the For Your Vocation website is “Top 10 for 2011″: a helpful listing of ten highly recommended vocation sites. While all the sites listed in this top ten have obvious merit, a few deserve special mention here:

First, I was happy to see the new Vocation Boom site at the head of the list. It’s the work of Catholic Answers’ Jerry Usher, and For Your Vocation justifiably calls it the “best new resource on Priesthood.”

Second, it was great that the website of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville (aka the Nashville Dominicans) made the list. The Nashville Dominicans are affiliates of the IRL, and their site was singled out for its beauty and depth.

Last but not least, it was gratifying to see that the IRL’s website also made the top ten, because of (a) “its diverse resources for vocation discernment,” and (b) “its valuable links to religious communities.”

We are grateful for this recognition of the IRL, and now with this daily blog we hope to only enhance our service to the Church and especially to all who turn to us, desiring to love Our Lord with an undivided heart.

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