one of the hermitages on our property

Franciscan Sisters Hermitage Reflections

For two weeks after Christmas, Sr. Agnes Thérèse and Sr. Teresa spent time in prayer and solitude in what we call a hermitage experience. This time apart enabled them to work and pray in intercession for the world and their specific intentions. Enjoy their reflections!

A Return to Nazareth

Hermitage, prayer, Sr. Agnes Therese, Franciscan Sisters
The two weeks I spent as a hermit this Christmas praying for peace were an amazing gift. I felt in many ways that it was what Pope Paul VI writes about in the Office of Readings for the feast of the Holy Family (celebrated the Sunday after Christmas): “How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths.”

As I accomplished simple jobs, prayed, and lived in silent community with Sr. Teresa, I felt very close to Mary, and did learn again about the true meaning of life. It is this simple: God loves me, created me, and takes care of me. Everything else is a footnote.

The Generosity of God’s Mercy

Franciscan Sisters TOR prayerJust after Christmas I entered into a hermitage experience to be even more given to prayer, silence, and sacrifice, doing work that was contemplative in nature and offering it all up for a particular intention. I thought my hermitage experience would be a time of offering up difficult experiences as a form of intercession. Instead, since the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity, it was a time of being immersed in His merciful love for me.

That experience was very fitting, because I offered up the time for those who do not know or believe in God’s mercy. I offered it for those who have separated themselves from God, and in not knowing His unconditional, tender, all-powerful love for them feel empty, alone, sad, abandoned. I also offered it for those for whom God’s heart breaks, that by the merits of Christ’s Passion, the Gospel truth would pierce and transform their hearts and bring them to know and glorify the generosity of God’s mercy.

Today ends the year of Consecrated Life in the Church (November 30, 2014-February 2, 2016).  It has been a year of many graces and beautiful opportunities.  As consecrated religious, we were invited by Pope Francis to focus on three things during this year:

to look to the past with gratitude, live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.

Throughout the year we reflected on our past by having Days of Renewal dedicated to prayer on specific themes relating to our charisms and the vows.

One of the ways we embraced the future was by attending the National Symposium hosted by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) where we heard speakers present on "Religious Life as a Prophetic Witness".  There were over 500 women religious in attendance from all over the country. Religious life is alive and growing in the Church!

But what about "living the present with passion"?  Pope Francis asked us to ask ourselves this question:

 "Is Jesus really our first and only love?" 

This is a question that I was able to reflect on in a profound way by professing perpetual vows in July of 2015, during the year of Consecrated Life.

Sr. Sophia Grace (right) during her perpetual vow ceremony
As I was preparing, I was led to reflect on my preparation before professing my vows for the 1st time, nearly 5 years ago.  Our motherhouse complex and Father of Mercy Chapel was nearing the end of construction.  The building was scheduled to be completed in June but as we moved into July we were still having work parties to help clean, paint, and clean some more!

July happened to be when my classmates and I began a more intentional reflection on each of the vows, praying with one of them each week.

The first vow we took was chastity.  It happened to be the week that I would walk through the cloister and see men, young attractive men, right outside my bedroom window as they were re-siding the existing house.

It made me stop and think.  

For almost a year our property had been bustling with all kinds of carpenters, masons, plumbers, and electricians (a good portion of them men) and I never experienced any major temptations against the vow of chastity.

 Why?  Because THE Man, Jesus Christ, had wooed my heart and I desired to belong only to him!

The next week we began cleaning and setting up bedrooms on the new side of the house so they could be part of the tour on the day of the Chapel dedication.  It was a bit of a sneak peek for our guests before we started living in the rooms and they became part of the cloister (where only sisters are allowed to go).

That particular week a sister came to me with a plea, "Sister, we don't have enough bed spreads for the rooms.  Can I use yours?"  To which I responded, "Sure, why not." It was shortly after this exchange that I recalled we were reflecting on poverty that week!  The Lord is so good in helping me concretely live it out and, at least in this instance, be more attached to Him than to things!

Week #3.  Obedience.  Hearing the will of God through my superiors.

My assignment at the time was co-coordinating the kitchen, which during the month of July became a small catering business as we provided lunch for the volunteers who came to help us at our work parties.  I began experiencing the busyness and stress of it all during this final stretch of preparation and finishing the building.

I was trying to do what was asked of me in the kitchen but I didn't feel like I could fully enter into my preparation for 1st vows with all of the chaos that was happening around me.  I went to my formator in tears and she encouraged me that my human emotions were normal and expected.  She gave me tips to help with the demands and encouraged me to see God in the midst of it.

What was God saying in all of this?  What was his will?

The revelation of His particular love for me!  In preparation for vows I was also praying with the ancient Jewish wedding feast, basically what a proposal, engagement, and marriage celebration would have looked like in Jesus' time.

Our chapel under construction
Part of the process is that after the bridegroom and bride are engaged the bridegroom went back to his father's house and began to build the bridal chamber.  Meanwhile, the bride prepared herself and waited for the bridegroom's return, which was when the bridal chamber was complete, and always at an unknown hour.  Then the marriage would take place.

The day before first profession, as we were just beginning the rehearsal in our new chapel, a sister came through excitedly waving a paper in her hand.  "It's official!  We just got the final permit!  We can move in!"  The building had passed all necessary inspections.

As I stood there listening to her words what I experienced the Lord saying to me was, "The bridal chamber is complete and now I am coming for you at this unexpected hour, to be married the following day."

In Our Lord's providence and passionate love for me, He allowed me to experience my own preparation to give myself to Him alongside His building the bridal chamber, our new chapel.

Yes!  Jesus is my first love!  And in the ups and downs of the last five years the Lord has taken me deeper into his passionate love.  In professing perpetual vows I freely gave my heart to him and desire Him even more to be my ONLY love!

I pray that this passion between the Lord and I leads and guides my interactions with each person, as I desire everyone to experience that same depth of love in their lives!
-Sr. Sophia Grace Huschka, T.O.R.
Sr. Sophia Grace recieving commnion during her perpetual vow ceremony

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