Friday, July 20, 2012

Destination: Phillip Island

Holidays. Week 3. Monday. Prospective destination: Phillip Island (weather permitting). Forecast: cloudy with a chance of rain.

That, dear reader, was the knife’s edge on which we all retired for the needful deep and dreamy on Sunday night. What was the morning going to hold?

We awoke on the Monday to a sky 60% full of stratocumulus clouds, but with a gusty south-easterly clearing things rapidly. The would-be meteorologists in the community quickly showed their personality tendencies towards either optimism or pessimism, but happily for all of us the optimists won through. We bundled ourselves into the van and set off for the Island, praying that the weather would stay fine.

(Here is a brief précis on Phillip Island for those who have never heard of it before: it is a little island inside Port Phillip Bay, on which the city of Melbourne is built, and it is home to both a MotoGP circuit and fairy penguins, not to mention picturesque little beaches and nature trails. To clarify matters for anyone who is wondering, we did not go to see the motorcycles.)

We alighted at the westernmost point of the island and had a quick look around. It looked good – excellent beachside boardwalks and hardly any tourists.
After a brief time for abluting (that’s a good Scrabble word, by the way) and recovering from the curse that is travel sickness (fresh sea air does wonders) we ventured onto the nature trail.
It was a splendid day. We couldn’t have asked for more. While most people go to Phillip Island during the evening to see the penguins from a bit of a distance (by purchasing tickets to see the famous Penguin Parade – they all march along the beach at around dusk, I believe), we got to see them during the day, up close! Mother Catherine’s sharp eyes spied a little penguin hiding under the boardwalk, and on closer observation (which required the following manoeuvre – I think we should call it  “The Postulant”; don’t new gymnastic tricks get named after the person who first performs it?)…
…we saw…
 …not one, but four little penguins! (The fourth one is hiding just at the very right of the picture.) They didn’t seem bothered by us at all, and were happy to just stare right back.  Maybe they shared a secret sympathy with us and somehow knew that we sometimes get called penguins too (especially during cappa season).

Here is one of their little nesting boxes, which have been placed all over this part of the island, presumably to encourage their growth and development – I think they look a bit like little wooden igloos:

After the excitement of the penguins, what could compare? Well, God is good, and brought the sun out for us so we could enjoy these spectacular views as we walked:

(The postulants look just like a postcard, don’t you think? And did you notice how well the sky had cleared?)
Soon it was time for lunch, and we thought we’d find a nice secluded beach for this. There was only a brief period of anxiety when someone thought we were driving the wrong way down a one-way road (which turned out not to be the case), but otherwise we made it there uneventfully.
After refueling ourselves, some went for a stroll along the beach:

While for some others the call of the sea was too strong:
Some took on the challenge of getting as far as they could on the rocks without getting their feet wet:

But some hadn’t taken the rising tide into consideration (for the record, their feet did get wet):

Not quite Monte Cassino, but a very good spot for gathering material for meditation nonetheless!

Our lovely day had to come to an end eventually.
 But do you know what? Coming back home to the convent after a grand day like the one we had isn’t quite like coming home after a party and feeling a bit sad it’s all over. Instead, we get to come back to the chapel where Our Lord lives, to talk the day over with Him, to relive the magnificent sights and sounds of the sea that He made and to wonder all the more at His works, from the great, big, wide seascapes to the little things that He keeps sort of like a secret surprise, waiting for us to find them – like these!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

COME: "O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet ...” (Ps 33:6-9)

The great task to proclaim God’s goodness and to encourage others to return love for love and give themselves unreservedly for His service was the purpose and privilege of three sisters who embarked on plane for America - crossing the Pacific in a 14 hour journey on the Feast of St Anthony.

A kind benefactor had once more made it possible for our Congregation to send a small group of sisters to promote religious life in general and to make our own Congregation better known in another corner of the vast continent of the US, who has been generous so far in sending us eight candidates to religious life. Three of these candidates have made temporary profession, three are novices and two are postulants.  They represent eight of the fifty states namely: Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Colorado and New York!  
“The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few.” (Mat 9:37)                                  
And what good could not be done if only we had another 42 sisters! Everywhere we went, we were met with cries of: “We need religious to teach in our schools”. How happy would we be to address such a need if only we had a few sisters to spare!  Now more than ever do we need generous souls to work for Our Lord.  It was the Church, through the aid of religious serving as her hands and feet, who build civilisation and who now is needed once more to restore Christian Order.  Our Lord still calls for ready volunteers – but it seems as if fewer of our youth are able to distinguish His voice from among the noise of the modern world. And so our advice to the young ladies whom we met trying to discern their call were:
  • to first of all remain open to the possibility of a religious vocation and
  • to pray that God will make His will known to them and give them the strength to correspond. 
“Whatever you want of me Lord, I will do” should be their prayer of offering. Where possible guidance form a spiritual director/ Parish priest should be sought.  And how will they know God’s will? Most likely not through extraordinary manifestations but three basic signs, which leaves the individual free to respond or not:

1.     A desire / inner attraction for religious life          
     This is an actual grace of God that enlightens the intellect to understand the value of His  call and inflames the will to respond/ strengthens the heart for the sacrifice.  

2.    The right motivation to enter the life             
     Spiritual in nature – the greater glory of God, good of their own soul, salvation of others through reparation, penance and intercession etc.  

3.     Fitness for the life     
      Physical and mental health, the ability to get along with people, spirit of sacrifice and quality of stability.
If these three signs are all present then, DON’T DELAY! Do something constructive to make sure if this is God’s will for you, or rather where He wishes to make use of your services. Talk to a Priest who knows you, read about and write to different religious orders.  A visit is by far the best means to discern if you are meant to enter any specific congregation. Mother General’s e-mail is listed under the side tab on this page: “Religious Enquiries”.  On receiving your letter, Mother will respond in sending you a questionnaire to determine if there are any formal impediments (debt, for example) to your entering the convent.  It is possible to get a dispensation from some impediments and candidates are encouraged to answer the questions truthfully and in confidence.  Once you return the completed questionnaire, arrangements can be made for a visit!

We pray for all the girls who attended the talks to remain open, honest and generous with Our Lord. He truly can never be outdone in generosity as the sisters attested to with little examples from their own lives and the joy they experience in His service.

Mother General eagerly inspecting the mail for a letter from a prospective postulant!

Talks were given at St Mary’s – Kansas, Phoenix and San Jose. We were delighted to share photos of the history, growth and work of our Congregation – interlinked with the history of the Order in addition to a general talk on religious vocations. Activities were planned to give young ladies who may be interested in religious life a chance to talk with the sisters and ask the necessary questions.

The sisters attended ordination at Winona and were delighted to meet with so many other
religious, and to talk with various young women who visited the Vocations Tent. 

We met many lovely girls during our talks and informal visits at St Mary's Kansas.
We hope to see some of them (they all should) visit us in the near future!

                                 A day of games in the local park with approximately 130 girls,
which in no small way contributed to a sound night's sleep for the sisters! 

Next on the agenda was Our Lady of Sorrows Priory in Phoenix.  The sisters were 
edified to join in the celebrations for Sister Imelda's (OSF) 65th anniversary of remaining faithful to her religious vows.
Father Burfitt arranged an outing at which the young ladies of the parish and the sisters made the Stations of the Cross along a way beautifully illustrated with life size carved figures of the various stations. The able young ladies taught the sisters a few fun songs during the drive home - which they are keen to pass on to their own students.   
The most common asked question during our visit to the US was how we differ from the Dominican Teaching Sisters of Fanjeaux, which is another traditional Dominican  Congregation with foundations in France and the USA. The answer in short:

1.   We are both Dominican Teaching Congregations but have different roots. We can in fact trace our roots back to the very first convent founded by St Dominic in Prouille, 1206. This means that we stem from a fully contemplative, second order. When foundations were made in Ireland, the persecutions eventually forced the sisters to take up teaching; they always kept as far as possible to their second order customs. From Ireland, foundations were made in New Zealand, and our Mother General comes from such a foundation. This explains why we say the full Divine Office and teach in school. Other customs that reflect our second order roots are the silent refectory (sisters never talk during meals – except for Christmas Day, St Dominic’s Day and Easter), monastic grace, weekly chapter of faults, kissing of the scapular when making mistakes in office etc.
 2.    We work more closely with the Society of Saint Pius X, teaching in their schools.
 3.  We are a fully English speaking congregation, with an English Novitiate.

Leaving Phoenix the Sisters ventured back to San Jose for three days of catechism classes and talks to the parish and yound girls who may be interested in religous life.  Once again we wish to encourage all the young ladies we met - to come and visit - and taste to see how sweet the Lord is!
The sisters were privileged to be able to visit some of the old Franciscan Missions which stand as constant and visible reminders to the inhabitant of the call of the Master to work in His vineyard. The efforts of these early missionaries bring to mind the words of the Imitation of Christ (Book 3, Chapter 5): "Love knows no limits, but is fervent above all measure.  It feels no burden, makes light of labour, desires to do more than it is able.  Nothing is impossible for love, for it thinks that it can and may do all things for the Beloved.  Therefore it does and effects many things, while those who do not love falter and fail."  We pray the Mission Priests that they may help us to increase our charity and to be generous as they. 

Participants in the Catechism programme learned about the importance of true and beautiful art (visual and music) and how it helps to draw us closer to God, they studied various Saints of the Dominican Order and groups took turns to prepare for Sung Mass every day.  Afternoon activities included short plays, a variety of games and the girls even got to learn how to play one of Australia and New Zealand's favourite ball games for girls, namely Netball. Each day was brought to a close with a Rosary procession around the school grounds.
The above pictures (top left to bottom right) shows Santa Clara Mission where Father Catala worked and the miraculous Crucifix in front of which Father Clara prayed many hours. Next to it is San Carlos Borromeo De Carmelo or Carmel Mission in which Father Junipero Serra lies buried before the main altar. Below left are the restored San Carlos Cathedral dating back to 1795 and on the right Carmel Convent and the beautiful scenic bay it overlooks.

These early Missionaries left home and fatherland to labour for the Salvation of souls, may we all be edified by their example but more than that may they inspire within us a zeal to follow in the work of Divine Love. It is true that nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, nothing better in heaven or earth, for love is born of God and can find its rest only in God above all He has created.   Such lovers fly high, run swiftly and rejoice.  Their souls are free, they give all for all and have all in all. 

May our hearts expand in God's love...that we may know how sweet it is to serve Him, how joyful it is to praise Him, and to be dissolved in His love.  May there be some generous souls who respond to the graces Our Lord has given during this mission, may some say YES to the call of Divine Love.  May Our Lord also reward all those benefactors who contributed and helped the Sisters during their visit.