This illumination on vellum depicting the Three Marys at the Tomb, by Lorenzo Monaco (c. 1370-c.1425), a Camaldolese monk, is currently at the Louvre (closed to the public), and online at Wikimedia Commons (open to the public).
The empty tomb, hope and the pandemic:
In French there are two words for “hope”. Espoir, akin to our adjective hopeful, combines a wish for and a guarded expectation of a positive outcome: with scientists working hard to find a cure, healthcare workers giving their all, and the general public taking precautions, we can hope that the pandemic will end soon. It may or may not happen.
Espérance, by contrast, is the theological virtue to which St. Paul refers in I Corinthians 13: “Faith, hope and love abide, these three…”, and the hope of which we sing in the Easter sequence: Surrexit Christus, spes mea. This hope, emanating from the empty tomb, is presaged in the Song of Songs: “Love is strong as death” (8:6), and in the Book of Job: “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (19:26) Yes, Christ is risen indeed, and in light of the current situation, these verses and the empty tomb point poignantly to the persistence of God’s love, no matter what. Death will come for all of us eventually, whether through the virus or by some other means, but God’s love will continue to hold us, shining through the gloom and lifting us into the Divine Presence, where dwells the risen Christ.
The glory and hope of the Resurrection are visible in the many ways God-as-Love is made manifest in this crisis: in those who risk their lives by caring for the sick, or by working in grocery stores, pharmacies, post offices, hardware stores and soup kitchens; in those seeking a cure; in those building tiny houses for the homeless; in companies and individuals making free masks and hand sanitizer; and in all those going out of their way to raise our spirits and emphasize our global connectedness as a human family, with online musical events, hotlines for the lonely, and myriad efforts to help those not used to solitude to remain sane. Death is with us, but so is Love, strong as death.
Christ our Passover
After an arduous two weeks of Eucharistic fast during Lent, in solidarity with the general population, we decided to return to daily Mass in our chapel the Saturday before Palm Sunday. Christ is the focus of our life, our raison d’être as a community, Whose Presence in the Eucharist is the tie that binds, and without Whom we would be simply three elderly ladies in odd clothes trying to live together in harmony. Since we have the immense good fortune to have a chaplain and daily Mass, it didn’t seem right to continue to stay away, besides which, it was becoming too hard. We continue to include in our prayers all those for whom this fast is a time of painful deprivation.
We are grateful for the support of so many of our friends, and we pray that all of you are staying safe and healthy.
Following a fruitful fraternal visitation during the second week of February, the Camaldolese nuns of Poppi, Italy, voted to let the three of us transfer our vows to their community. We are very grateful for their welcome and we look forward to developing a closer relationship with them. The photo above shows Sister Graziana, Prioress of Poppi, Father Alessandro, Father General of the Camaldolese and immediate superior of the nuns, together with our community in the refectory. Absent from the photo is Father Cyprian, Prior of the Camaldolese community in Big Sur, CA, who came as interpreter and took the picture.
In the wee hours of last Monday morning, our beloved Monk went to meet his Maker. He showered all and sundry with his unconditional love, whether they wanted it or not, although as he got older, he became more sensitive to those who wanted him to keep his distance. His pure, impartial affection was a constant role model for us humans who keep forgetting how to love one another. During the past few months, his hind legs had become progressively weaker, apparently a common ailment in elderly labs. As his left hind leg lost all muscle tone and feeling, he continued to enjoy life on three legs. Our vet said there was a tumor on his spine, but didn’t know how fast it would progress. On Friday the 13th, Monk was his usual ebullient self and had a great day. He was able to hop into the car for a ride and came to Compline after supper. Early Saturday morning, he collapsed on the grass. The tumor had affected the right hind leg, and he needed help to walk the few steps back inside, where he lay down, began shaking violently and then didn’t move for 24 hours. On Sunday, he was more alert and even walked a few steps, but then rapidly became weaker and died during the night, sparing us the heart-rending decision to “put him to sleep”. May his joyful, loving nature continue to inspire us. Rest in peace, sweet sweet boy.
He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.
Like everyone else in New York State, we are being asked to self-isolate, which is allowing us to enjoy an unplanned retreat: nothing to do, nowhere to go, just be here and be present to the Presence that is all around us, especially in our beautiful natural surroundings. The scheduled guests, groups and retreats have all cancelled, so we have time to read, regroup, go for long walks, catch up on this and that and reconnect with family and friends via phone and the Internet.
The monastery, like the rest of the Church, is subject to the ban on public Masses. We sisters could have continued to have Mass with Fr. Dwyer, our chaplain, but since he is allowed to say only a private Mass, excluding the few people from the outside who might show up, we didn’t think it was fair for us to have Mass while everyone else was deprived. We would have been setting ourselves apart as a kind of elite, based on the fact that we are nuns, and that didn’t seem right. Many of our friends are feeling that the Church has abandoned them at a time when they most need spiritual sustenance. In solidarity with them, we have decided not to attend Mass until such time as the ban on public Masses has been lifted. Fr. Dwyer has continued to say daily Mass alone, in our chapel. Yesterday, he brought up the fact that he could have one acolyte, a role usually filled by one of the sisters, but because we feel strongly about our position, he has asked a local Knight of Columbus who often serves at Mass during the week to join him. We continue to offer our prayer and our lives for the healing of the human race and of our planet.
This past week, Sister Sheila was able to enjoy four days of silent retreat at the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, NY : no WiFi, no cell phone service, no traffic noise, no conversations except with God.
In winter, the guest facilities are heated by an exterior wood-burning furnace. The woodshed containing the woodpile and furnace also form a kind of outdoor worship/meditation space.
On top of the woodpile is a huge plywood panel. An icon of the resurrection is in the upper left-hand corner, with the text of Mark 16: 2, 5-7 in the margins.
A week ago, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of Transfiguration Monastery with a Mass, followed by lunch, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Windsor, NY. There were about 150 people at the Mass, of whom over 100 stayed for lunch, catered by our good friend, Marian Szarejko. Carol and Len Almy, with the aid of other friends from the parish, took care of the table settings, flowers and cleanup. Lael Bagg. organist at the United Methodist Church of Windsor, accompanied the hymns, and several members of her choir helped with the singing.
We are very grateful for God’s 40 years of faithfulness, and for all the friends who have supported and continue to support our community.
The red barn at the entrance to our driveway now houses a used bookstore, thanks to the efforts of volunteers Vince Rider, who made the shelves, and Barbara Hanstine, who shelved the books.
To visit the bookstore, please phone the monastery at (607) 655-2366, or drive up to the end of the driveway to the main monastery building on the left and ring the doorbell, and a sister will open the bookstore for you.
We also have a gift shop with other offerings in the red library building on the right at the end of the driveway. Hours for both stores are 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:00-4:00 p.m. every day except Sunday. All are welcome!
Two friends from Honesdale, PA, drove up with a delicious dinner in honor of Sister Donald’s birthday. The cake was a “Queen of Sheba” chocolate cake, made from a recipe from the Australian Embassy in New York.
On Saturday, May, 26, 2018, Brother Bede Healey, O.S.B., Cam., spoke to a group of Benedictines at Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY. He said that faith and belief go beyond adhering to and accepting doctrine. He spoke about “a person’s capacity to believe,” and “believing in.” The way I understood the first term is: one’s willingness and openness to receive goodness; the second phrase, to me, signifies: living in a reality. Following this talk, I am inspired to write a statement of what this capacity and living means to me:
God, Father, the Almighty One, in your presence, I am believing, I am living in the truth that: you have created and are creating; you embrace and care for me and all people who you have wonderfully made; I am witness to your awesomely and lovingly creative power that fills heaven, earth, and all that is in them; I am on the side of creation as a steward of this earth’s life, beauty, and bounty; I am, by the tending of your hand, a seed planted in good soil, a branch on the Vine, bearing much fruit.
God, Jesus, The Anointed One, Only-Begotten of the Father, our supreme ruler, in your presence, I am believing, I am living in, the truth that: in you, all things are being made new; you call all people back to the realm of the Everlasting One, to our birthright as beloveds of the Beloved, as God’s creation, pure in being and in heart; you were born of a woman, Mary, and wearing our flesh, you lived a life common to all people, a life between joy and sorrow, hunger and feasting, pain, illness and healing, weakness and strength, rejection and acceptance, rebellion and authority, loneliness and friendship, anathema and heroism, dissension and leadership; life and death; damnation and resurrection, and so, you raised up humankind, men and women, out of their dust, and set them on your path of life and truth, to Love God for God’s self alone, and to love and serve God in loving and serving one another.
God, Holy Spirit, bond between Father and Son, source, substance, and giver of life, in your presence, I am believing, I am living in the truth that: you are the helper of the people God has made for God’s self; since the beginning of time, you are the breath giving strength to those who find a voice to proclaim good news; like the wind that moves and plants the seed and carries the rain cloud to the parched field, like the friction of wood against wood that causes fire, like the striking of flint against flint that sparks a lamp into a light, you are the love-force that draws all who are in Jesus together and makes them witnesses to what it means to live together as people of good will; even I am brought into this blessed company that stretches beyond national and cultural borders, beyond tradition and time; You open my heart and my arms so that no one journeys alone and that the circle of your fellowship grows increasingly wider and creates space for all people; when we create a chasm in your circle distancing ourselves from your love and/or the love of our neighbor, you reconcile our hearts and restore our peace. In our earthy death, the glory of your splendor is not lost, breath returns to air, flame returns to fire, soul returns to Spirit, voice—fulfilled, having accomplished its divine purpose— returns to the perfect stillness and silence of the Word that gives to and sustains all, and traveler returns to home; gently like a dove, swiftly like an eagle, you give us wings and in your strength, we shed what weighs us down and holds us back, we soar to dwell in perfect harmony with God, in space that is infinite, in time that is eternal. Amen
Starting on November 11, 2017, and continuing through March 10, 2018, the Saturday evening Vigil Mass of Sunday will be held at 4:30, in order to minimize driving time after dark.
Vespers during this time period will be at 3:45 on Saturdays.
The 5:00 p.m. time for Mass will resume on March 17, 2018.