Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A summer full of grace...

... it is not merely enough to piously desire holiness; 
we have to take means to put it in motion. 
We must get rid of all that might jeopardize or destroy 
the fullness of Jesus' life within us - a hard and long work of renunciation, 
but one that can be accomplished with the help of Mary. 
We must conform our ways of thinking, feeling, willing and acting to those of Jesus 
a still harder and longer task... 
All this presupposes that we keep Mary in the midst of our spiritual work.... 
Without her, we cannot succeed; with her, we cannot fail.
Fr. Emile Neubert, SM
Devotion to Mary

Much grace and peace to you!
I hope you have a little time on your hands... this one's rather lengthy!

It's been a while since my last post. It seems that most of my posts in the past several months start with that statement. With the ending of the school year and all it that it involves, I wasn't able to post before embarking on my almost 30-day retreat. Yes, that's correct. This summer I was on retreat, in preparation for my final vows, for close to 30 days. It was mostly silent, but not completely. I talked to people at meals and had a few hours of frivolity (watching the Spurs, of course!). But mostly, I spent the majority of my days in prayer... reading... journaling... and exploring my prayer daily with 1-hour meetings with Sr. Gretchen who guided my retreat.

So, what exactly does one contemplate over the course of nearly 30 days? Well, to launch into detail, I would have to reproduce my journal from the experience. I filled almost every page of a brand new journal and used all of the ink a new pen.  Therefore, I will spare you every detail.

The name of the retreat is the Spirit of Saragossa. It is a retreat designed specifically for Marianists (male and female religious branches) around the world as we prepare for final vows. The name of it comes from the fact that one of our Founders, Blssd. William Joseph Chaminade, received inspiration to found the Marianist Family while in prayer before Our Lady of the Pillar in Saragossa, Spain. The retreat, then is meant to tap into that spirit of devotion that inspired WJC.

The retreat began with a week long all-province retreat. Most of our Sisters were able to join us at the Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston (which I highly recommend - beautiful property and the best "retreat food" I've ever had). The retreat was like doing the whole 30 days in a week. It was very fruitful for us as a group and for me as an individual.

One of the many beautiful gardens at the retreat house.

Our Sisters on retreat.
Along with Bro.  Les who was a co-presenter with Sr. Gretchen and Fr. Tim who was our chaplain.

The focus of the retreat is the Marianist vow of stability - the fourth vow that we take in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that all religious take. There are other congregations that profess a vow of stability - that is to remain in their monastery for the rest of their lives. However, being that I belong to an apostolic congregation, the meaning is different for us.

Marianist stability is about a fundamental relationship - our relationship with Mary. Mary who is our mother, our model, our support and the means through which we are brought to Jesus. Marianist vow to  love and be devoted to Mary and to her mission - to bring forth and to nurture Jesus in our world. It's more than that, however. And it's the "more than that" that I find difficult to articulate.

On this retreat I spend several days on each of 4 mysteries of Mary - Mary at the annunciation, Mary at the foot of the cross, Mary in the Cenacle with the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Mary at Cana who says to us, "Do whatever he tells you." With each mystery there was a certain focus: the call to stability as a permanent commitment (annunciation), stability as love for Mary and living as the beloved disciple (Calvary), stability as love for the Daughters of Mary (Marianist Sisters) and the importance of our relationship in community with Mary (Cenacle), and stability as sharing in Mary's mission of giving Christ to the world (Cana).

The Marianist Sisters profess stability at first vows. However, I can honestly say that stability means more to me now than it did at that time or at anytime during temporary vows. The book I quoted at the top of the page, Devotion to Mary, was written by a French Marianist Priest in the 50s. I read it while I was on retreat because it fit so well into the purpose of the retreat. That book, combined with the grace-filled times of prayer, has had a significant effect on my spirituality and my relationships with both Jesus and Mary, but Mary especially... I will leave it at that.

On a few occasions, during the private portion of my retreat, I ventured from our house in San Antonio, to other locations for prayer. On one such day I went to Boerne (pronounced "burn-ie"... it's German, I think). It was during one of the days that I spent with Mary in the Cenacle - praying for openness to the Spirit and for union with our Sisters around the world.

Sitting at Cibilo Creek...
 this was before I got lost trying to find the car. 
You have to know... Boerne is one of my favorite little Texas cities. While there, I went to Cibilo Creek Nature Center and sat by the creek for a while... watching the butterflies and enjoying an atypical cool breeze. I saw a deer on my way to the creek and beautiful wildflowers. Then... on what should have been my 10 minute walk back to the car, I got totally lost... and ended up walking for an hour. But it was okay, had I not gotten lost, I never would have stumbled upon a great little "water fall"...

This picture does not do it justice.
Isn't that a great metaphor for life? You can have plans... and if you follow your plans exactly, you might miss something beautiful.

Once I finally left the park and had some lunch. I went to pray in one of my favorite Churches in Texas - St. Peter the Apostle in Boerne.

The openness, the sound of the baptismal font... it 's a very peaceful place.
It's a great place to contemplate being open to the Spirit.

This is the Eucharistic chapel at St. Peter's..
While I was praying - asking for openness to the
Holy Spirit, I looked over my should to the left... and this is what I saw.
When I was a novice, on my "desert days" I would sometimes drive out to Boerne just to sit in this Church while I prayed. The windows on the left side of the picture face out onto large hills (or small mountains?) - a beautiful site.

Before I knew it, the retreat was over. A month can go by very quickly. Especially when it is full of grace and many blessings. I finished the retreat exactly one month before my final vows. That was a significant day. One month before I say "yes" for the rest of my life to Mary's mission, to Jesus, in union of life with our Sisters. 

Both Blssd. William Joseph Chaminade and our Foundress, Adele de Batz de Trenquelleon said that as daughters (and sons, for the Society of Mary) of Mary we should be ready to go to the ends of the world if God so calls us. To this, I say yes!

I had planned to discuss other aspects of my summer in this blog... but it is already quite lengthy. I will blog again soon. However, this is probably the last time my blog will carry this title "The Life of a New Sister." As my friend, George, pointed out to me, "New sister?? Don't you think it's time to change the name? I mean, you've been around forever!" So, the name will change... 

Many blessings to all who read this,
Sr. N