The most adorable, extroverted and winsome little two-year-old in Ireland just happens to be my nephew, Daniel. He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his mom and dad and in utero sibling. I went home to Dublin in July and had the privilege of spending a lot of time in Daniel’s company. 

To give you an example of his adorableness, on more than one occasion, we had friends or extended family over for dinner. Naturally, from time to time, everyone would laugh at something funny that someone had just said. As the laughter began, Daniel would proceed to toss his curly, blond head back and give a very real, loud and prolonged laugh that made it look like he fully understood the joke and was, quite naturally, joining in! It was hilarious and provoked yet another round of laughter on our part!

As well as enjoying his company, I found myself observing closely how a child sees the world, and, to my surprise, found myself learning more about the living out of the vows. 

While I live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the context of religious life, each one of us without exception is called to live poverty, chastity, and obedience according to our state in life, as this was what Christ modeled for us when He was on earth. We are all called to live in a way that is mindful of those who have less than us, to love chastely with deep respect for the dignity of the other person (though some are not called to live celibately), and to be obedient to rightful authority (lawful government, civil and Church law, etc.).

It struck me one day that Daniel and I both live a kind of radical poverty. Neither of us owns bank accounts, phones (dumb or smart), cars or houses. Neither of us wears labeled clothes or gets fancy haircuts! We use things but don’t strictly own any of them. We don’t really have much more than we need. Everything has been gifted freely and generously to us, including his little blue boots and my worn sandals (see picture). Our needs are provided for, but not necessarily our wants. Neither of us can just get up and go somewhere else when life is not going according to plan or we’re having a meltdown. Our lives are ones of quite radical dependence and this can lead to tears for both of us on occasion! 

But it also leads to great freedom! Not being so preoccupied with material wants and worries, I observed Daniel being present in the present moment. I walked with him to Mass one day. What could have been a brisk, blinkered, future-focused 4 minute walk on my part took about 18 minutes because with Daniel, every twig on the path had to be examined, flowers in passing gardens had to be pointed out and admired, cars going by had to be waved at, random people walking by had to be engaged with in some way, the teddies on the children’s graves by the church had to be hugged and any open gates had to be pointed out (All doors and gates in Daniel’s world have to be closed, and, incidentally, if by chance we forget to put across the child-proof closet latches and close the child-proof gates, he points those out, too, until the house is adequately child-proofed!!). 

In his material poverty, he kept drawing my attention back to the natural beauty of the present moment and the people present in front of me. 

After Mass, he began smiling widely at all the older ladies who were leaving the church. He even took hold of the hand of one of them and was marching quite happily away with her when I had to run after him and grab hold of his other hand! We escorted the lady to her car, and then Daniel proceeded to wave goodbye to her as if she were his third grandmother! He then wanted to wait and wave off every other parishioner as they left in their cars! He loved chastely and widely, with no agenda or expectation of something in return. His love was abundant and reached out to all, including these hidden, holy women whose lives often fly below the radar of our world’s obsession with youth, looks, and materialism.

I also observed his obedience, not yet perfected of course! It was my last time to see him before I flew back to the U.S. We were having dinner in my mom’s house and we were eating meatloaf (I was trying to introduce my family to some U.S. recipes!), carrots and potato wedges. Daniel’s plate contained a little of each. The wedges were his clear favorite and were speedily eaten while the carrots were all piled over the top of the meatloaf as if to hide it and pretend it didn’t exist! 

Daniel gestured that he wanted more potato wedges. His mom told him that he couldn’t have any more wedges until he’d eaten his carrots and meatloaf. This produced an indignant outburst, a very red face and lots of tears. Shortly after, his mom, dad, and grandmother left the room temporarily. It was just me and him. He climbed up on one of the chairs and suddenly the coveted wedges were within his grasp. He could easily have done a “grab and gobble.” But he didn’t. 

He picked one potato wedge up, looked up at me with a questioning look and when I shook my head “no,”  he quietly and without fuss put it down. It was clearly a difficult “no” as he had campaigned long and hard for it, and it was now easily within his grasp, but in the end, he freely chose to be obedient and to do what he was asked. He didn’t realize it at the time, but this act of obedience maintained him in a better physical balance and was ultimately for his greater good. It was a good reminder of how rightful obedience keeps us within the parameters of what is ultimately in our best interests.

I came away from my home visit with a deeper gratitude for the vowed life and a new resolve to live our way of life more fully and freely. I also acquired a new perspective on being present to those who are right in front of me and of living in the present moment (and, I should add, the importance of eating my carrots and meatloaf when I’d rather be eating potato wedges!). 

Have you ever sat in adoration, waiting for Jesus to say something to you, to make himself known? Have you ever just needed to know he loves you, and in desperation you felt like shouting, "Please, tell me!"?

It can be difficult when God is silent. You feel like you're doing something wrong, like there's some magic code that will get you into the place where he speaks clearly and you hear easily, and you just don't have it. Sometimes you just wish he would walk into the chapel and sit next to you, and look into your eyes. And say it.

In my sonic search for the voice of Jesus, I've been turning to the pages of Scripture. Recently I was surprised to discover, or rediscover, situations in Jesus' life when he was silent. So much of the Gospels are made up of parables, discourses, sermons, and sayings of Jesus, that sometimes we can gloss over the times when he is silent. It's like reading one of those Bibles with the red ink for the words of Christ, and the black ink for everything else, and having eyes only for the red. But what about all that black ink?

Jesus spoke to teach about the love of the Father and life in his kingdom. But he also conveyed this through his actions: his healings and other miracles, and ultimately in his Passion, death and Resurrection. Jesus' crucifixion was the fulfillment of all he said. Doesn't a simple crucifix speak so much to us? The whole Gospel is contained in it.

There are other moments, too. Take John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. John, who writes so eloquently of the Word, and gives us so many of his beautiful words, pauses for a moment here, midway through the Gospel. He stops to look, not at Jesus' face or his mouth, from which the Word comes, but at his hands. His hands, so accustomed to chisel and plane, reach down to labor once more for his own. Jesus' hands speak. His flesh speaks. The Word became flesh ...

John 13:3-5: "Jesus ... rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded."

He says not a word. But grow very still, as the disciples do, and listen to the movements of Jesus. Hear the rustle of his clothing as he lays it to the side. Listen to the water as he lets it fill the basin. Hear him unloosen the thongs of the sandals. These are the sounds of his love. Jesus, bending low to serve, says everything.

Of course, we do not always understand. Peter refuses Jesus' offer at first, and so the good Teacher explains. Then Peter wholeheartedly accepts. There are times when he will help us understand. But that doesn't mean he loves any less when he is silent. When you are in adoration and it is hard to hear his voice, don't think, "Nothing is happening! He has left me alone!" but think, "I believe You are with me in the silence, Lord. I trust that You are acting to love me, to do me a great service. I do not understand, but I will let You wash my feet."

Jesus, from the monstrance You silently love us, You silently wash our feet. You have laid aside the dazzling white garments of heaven so as to appear before us as a servant. You serve us with Your presence. You speak through Your silence. You are the Word-become-Flesh, dwelling among us. Your emptied hands, frail and fixed, can no longer hold the orb and scepter. Your hands, nailed to the cross, do us the greatest service: they wash us clean so that we can sit at your table, so that we can be with you forever. Thank you for your silence. Thank you for your love.

                                                  - Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.
All the candles of the Advent wreath are lit.  The house is decked out, the trees are trimmed.  The cookies are baked.

Are you ready for the coming of the Bridegroom?

No, that wasn't a typo.  "But, sister, doesn't Jesus come to us as a little baby at Christmas?"

Then why do we sing Advent songs such as "Wake, O Wake, and Sleep No Longer"?

Wake, O wake, and sleep no longer,
For he who calls you is no stranger;
Awake, God's own Jerusalem!
Hear, the midnight bells are chiming
The signal for his royal coming:
Let voice to voice announce his name!
We feel his footsteps near,
The Bridegroom at the door--
Alleluia! The lamps will shine
With light divine
As Christ the savior comes to reign.

Zion hears the sound of singing;
Our hearts are thrilled with sudden longing;
She stirs, and wakes, and stands prepared.
Christ, her friend, and lord, and lover,
Her star and sun and strong redeemer--
At last his mighty voice is heard.
The Son of God has come
To make with us his home:
Sing Hosanna! The fight is won,
The feast begun;
We fix our eyes on Christ alone.

Jesus comes as a Jewish bridegroom!  In ancient Jewish tradition, after a couple was betrothed they were separated for about a year until the wedding.  The man went to his father's house to build a place for him and his bride to live.  The woman spent the time preparing by learning how to be a wife and mother.  When the groom's father gave his stamp of approval, it was time to get the bride.  At midnight, on a day unknown to the woman, she would be woken by the sound of a shofar(a horn) and a shout: "The Bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him!"  Having her wedding garments on hand, the woman could get ready at a moment's notice.  When she went out to meet her fiancee they would be crowned, for they were considered king and queen during the celebration of their wedding.  Jesus comes, not only as a Bridegroom, but as a King.

Advent is all about preparing.  Yes, we remember the first coming of Christ, but more importantly, we are reminded to be prepared for this second coming.  Christ also speaks as the bridegroom before he ascended into heaven:

"In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be." (Jn 14:2-3)
 "...stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Mt 25:13)

Baby, Bridegroom, King - any way you look at it Jesus came to take us to himself, to reunite us, the Bride, with himself, the Bridegroom.  

In one of his poems, St. John of the Cross imagines the conversation between the Father and the Son before the incarnation: "In perfect love this law holds: that the lover become like the one he loves; for the greater their likeness the greater their delight. Surely your bride's delight would greatly increase were she to see you like her, in her own flesh".

And so, the divine bridegroom came as a lovable, irresistible baby, starting out in the same way we all did, so that He could win our love and trust.
The Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, is immediately followed by Christmas when the Light of the World comes and shines into the darkness of our lives.

During Advent, we sing quite frequently, "Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!" But what does this really mean to us in our lives? I find in my darkest times in life- times when I am ashamed or afraid or anxious or doubtful- those are the times I need most the saving and loving Light of Christ. Unfortunately, like our fist parents Adam and Eve, when these occasions of sin arise instead of running into the loving arms of Our Lord, I often run away, afraid the Lord will see my own imperfections and sinfulness. Isn't this the world though our Lord willingly came in to save? This world of imperfection and brokenness and darkness. And what is even better! He comes as a little baby so easy to hold and love. "Be not afraid!" How many times do we hear this in the Scriptures? Just as much as we desire for Christ to come to us, He desires us to come to Him.

So, be not afraid! Christ is the light that is never dimmed. He is the Savior who made Himself weak, poor and broken. When we find ourselves in darkness may we always have the courage to say, "Come Lord Jesus! Come into my heart and life of brokenness and darkness. Come be my light! Come make me whole! Maranatha!"

"Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out your holy and true command."  -St. Francis of Assisi

                                                                                                                 -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice
I've had the opportunity to visit many, many churches during my first semester serving Franciscan University in Gaming, Austria. Every time I walked in, my goal was to find the tabernacle and pay a visit to Jesus, if only for a moment. But on one visit, instead of a tabernacle, I found a stripped-down, empty room. Nothing but walls and windows, ceilings and floors. It was now just a museum for those interested in 13th-century architecture. It was one of the saddest moments of my semester.

Even when I was in magnificently-decorated Baroque cathedrals, they would have felt absolutely empty without the presence of Jesus. Today, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it got me to thinking. Mary was the perfect tabernacle for the presence of the Lord, prepared at her conception for Jesus to come and dwell within.

Each of us, flesh and bone that we are, was also made for this purpose. And we are nothing without Him.

These walls will stretch 'till you abide
Vast, vaulted ceilings higher climb
Beams and bricks without you there
Beams and bricks without you living there

This dust was made with you in mind
These stones are but a waiting bride
Empty if not filled with you
Empty if not filled with all of you

Who am I, that my Lord should come to me?
Who am I, that my Lord should dwell inside of me?
Take my body, take my blood
Take these sticks and all this mud
And build a shelter where your heart can come to rest

Basilicas and sanctuaries
Cathedrals, shrines, are just so many
Empty shells without your presence, Lord
Marble, gold I don't possess,
But, Lord, it is my happiness
If you would make this humble heart Your home
Make me your home

So find a candle, strike a flame
And leave it here to light your name
Jesus walks along these halls
Jesus lives and loves between these walls

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.

Today marks the ending of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. This year has been a very significant one in my life. This was the year that I came to understand the Lord's mercy as restoration and not condescension. This was the year that the Lord restored my sight to see who I truly am in the eyes of the Lord: a loved sinner, and a precious reflection of the image of God. This was the year that I became Sr. Josephine!

In my personal prayer last summer, as I prepared to enter novitiate, I experienced the Lord asking me to become an icon of His mercy. This was a very significant moment for me. I chose to take on a new name, a new identity, that reflects mercy. I chose the name Josephine in honor of St. Joseph, who is the only Saint who represents God the Father! He was the image of the Father's love for Jesus while He was a child growing up in Nazareth.

Before my retreat prior to entering novitiate, a sister passed along a quote to me from St. Gertrude, in which the saint spoke of the moment when she took the veil. She recalled the scripture passage from Isaiah 61:10:
"For He has clothed me with a robe of salvation,  
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,  
like a bride bedecked with her jewels. "
 As I prayed with this quote, I felt the very strong sense that the bridal veil that I was going to receive in a few days time was the Father's robe, his mantle of justice- a symbol of His mercy! It is the same robe that the Merciful Father extends to the prodigal son upon his return home (Luke 15:22).

That, my friends, is just what our habit is - a symbol of His mercy!

 St. Francis wanted his followers, above all, to be recognized as penitents. A group of his first followers asked him, "What should we say to people when they ask what we are?" Francis' response was, "Tell them you are penitents from Assisi."

In the middle ages, the Church asked many people who had committed serious sins, such as murder and adultery, to do penance in a public way before they could be fully received into the sacramental life of the Church again. These men and women, known as penitents, donned a gray tunic and lived simple and austere lives of chastity and poverty in reparation for their sins. Their penances would last several months or sometimes years.

In time, people who had not committed serious sins joined the penitential movement because they felt called to offer their lives and do penance in reparation for their own sins and for those of others. These new penitents dressed the same way and lived the same life as those who had committed more serious sins, and there were no distinctions between the two groups. St. Francis was one of these penitents, and his followers followed him in choosing to embrace a life of ongoing penance and conversion.

As a Franciscan Sister, I am choosing to live the life of a penitent. I am choosing to wear the veil and the gray jumper, not because I am holy but because I am a sinner. I am a sinner who knows that she is loved, and I want others to know the merciful love of God. I am choosing to be an icon of mercy for the Church and for the world.

Sr. Josephine,  Novice

What is the message of Divine Mercy - what was this Year of Mercy all about?  In one word: trust.  The phrase "Jesus I trust in You", sums it all up.

Going forward, how do we live concretely this trust in Jesus, how do we live out trust in his mercy every day?  Fr. Michael Gaitley tells a story in a couple of his books that gives the answer to this question.  Fr. Gaitley was just coming to realize that consoling the heart of Jesus is all about trust.  Fr. Seraphim Michalenko asked him how one lives out trust.  When Fr. Gaitley couldn't answer him, Fr. Seraphim wisely said, "The way you live trust is by praise and thanksgiving, to praise and thank God in all things.  That's what the Lord said to St. Faustina."

St. Faustina is just one of countless Saints who have learned this lesson.  And it seems that each one of us must discover the path to trust in our own unique way.  I just finished reading an incredible book called One Thousand Gifts, in which Ann Voskamp writes about her journey to trust through a life of Thanksgiving.

"Trust is everything" - this sounds like a line from St. Faustina's Diary but it's actually from Voskamp's book.  She writes about her profound discovery that trust is fundamental to salvation. "Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism."  When we live under the illusion that we are in control, we allow worry and anxiety to control us.  A lack of trust shows a lack of belief in God's goodness.

Recently a volunteer at Samaritan House lamented:  "The Year of Mercy is almost over and I haven't done anything!"

Perhaps many of you are feeling like this.  If so the sister's response is for you too: "It's not about doing anything, it's about receiving."

When we consciously practice gratitude and praise we are receiving God's gifts and acknowledging that everything is a gift from Him.  Gratitude helps us to see and remember all that God has done, the ways He has taken care of us.  By doing this, we see that He can be counted on, that we can trust in Him.  "Thanks is what builds trust."  And this, this is precisely why Jesus left us Himself in the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.  This is why He told us: "Do this in remembrance of me."  The cross is the ultimate sign that we can trust in God - of His love for us that knows no limits.  Because, if He "did not spare his own Son - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

"What if I opened the clenched hands wide to receive all that is?  A life that receives all of God in this moment?"  What would that look like?

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (Jn 10:10)

Trust that God is Good.

-Sr. Magdala Marie, TOR
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