Thursday, December 27, 2012

The End…of the academic year, at least (and the beginning of many other things!)

In case our readership has been wondering what’s happened to the Tynong Sisters for the past little while, I can assure you - without the slightest shadow of a doubt – that they have not been idle. I’m sure many of you can appreciate the end-of-year frenzy that descends upon us all this side of Heaven, and I can authoritatively inform you that the Convent was not spared.

“Yes, but what were you doing?”, I can hear you ask. The reason I have a very good impression of what this would sound like (I believe, in terms of Thomistic Psychology, that this impression would correctly be called a phantasm that is stored in the internal sense of the imagination – but don’t quote me) is that I have very dear students at school ask me bemusedly from time to time what I spend our non-teaching hours doing. I think they have a vague notion that we must twiddle our thumbs, in between prayers, of course, and generally get bored.

Au contraire. I remarked to a fellow postulant the other day on the beautiful appearance of the grass on our property, and how – if we but had more time – we could make a lovely meditation on how it looks like wheat, and all the liturgical and mystical symbolisms associated with it. She remarked that the frank reality is that we just look at the grass (at this time of year, anyway), and say to ourselves, “Oh, grass. How nice. Now what do I have to get done next???”

The list of what we “had to get done next” was filled with many and various things. First of all, in terms of our teaching duties, we had to prepare exams, mark exams, and write report cards – and if you happened to be one of the lucky ones teaching music, you had to prepare the Year 7 and 8 girls for a performance, too. (Which, I have to say, they did extremely well and should be very proud of themselves. They have been blessed with really lovely voices and very tuned ears – which makes a music teacher’s job a pleasure!)

That wasn’t the half of it, though. Besides doing the above things for School, we have been dying a slow death by 1000 assignments. Ok, so that’s a little exaggeration and we haven’t had to bury anyone yet. And, as Dominicans, we really do like to study, and the hyperbole (which is really a sort of material fallacy – go consult the nearest Logic textbook if you’re not sure) used in this blog is merely by way of poetic license. But seriously folks, the amount of written work we postulants have churned out – not to mention the novices – in the past few months would make a library in itself.

The topics covered included a rebuttal of evolution theory, a review of key historical events leading up to the Incarnation, an in-depth proof of how the Christ of Faith is the same as the Christ of History, a contextual analysis of Virgil’s Aeneid, a portrait of a heroic Catholic of the Early Church, an oral presentation on a problem in the post-Conciliar Church, an analysis of a false religion (with appearances made by Buddhism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Anglicanism and Lutheranism – if you have trouble starting a conversation with us on the 6th of January if you happen to be coming to see the ceremony, just mention one of these religions and you’ll be stuck talking to us for hours), and a script for a history play covering 5 centuries, from 300-800 A.D. – I refer you to another blog entry for more details. Added to this was studying Latin (I have found that the time it takes to drive from school back to the Convent is sufficient for learning a whole vocabulary), Philosophy (Psychology was what we covered this term; do you know the difference between the sensed species, the intelligible form and the mental word? I certainly hope so), and learning our Gregorian for Office and how to perform the various roles during Office.

To be honest, these last two items regarding Office couldn’t really be considered work. Sister Raymond’s Music classes rocketed to the #1 spot in the popularity charts because all green-around-the-ears postulants like to play ‘let’s pretend’, especially when it comes to Office duties. I have found that playing ‘let’s pretend being Hebdomadarian’ is quite a big job, and that if you’re miming being Acolyte you’d better have something that represents candlesticks. (We found that a roll of wrapping paper and a folded-up music stand do quite well.) And it’s not very long to go now until we have to do these things for real, because it’s less than a month until the Feast of the Epiphany, when we are clothed in the Holy Habit at last and become betrothed to Our Lord!

Now, getting everything ready for that solemn occasion has been weighing on our collective minds, too, and with good reason. After all, it’s quite different from a girl in the world getting engaged. Which, I understand, is a very significant occurrence when it does happen, but the girl’s not really supposed to know it’s going to happen until it actually happens, and the amount of deliberate preparation that she goes into for the occasion usually amounts to selecting a nice dress to wear for the pleasant but otherwise unremarkable dinner-date (or so she thinks) that she is going on that night. Mind you, I wouldn’t really know, not having had the experience myself – I’m merely surmising from what other people tell me from the archives of their own life stories.

Anyway, our preparations are very, very different. We don’t just pick a nice dress out of the wardrobe; we have to get measured and fitted for the one dress we’ve been aching to put on and which we’ll be wearing for the rest of our lives. We don’t do our hair up in the most becoming way; rather, we grow it for months only to lose it in exchange for the veil which shows the world that we are spoken for by Our dear Lord Himself. We aren’t surprised by someone presenting us with a shiny ring and giving us a few seconds to decide on ‘yes’ or ‘no’; instead, we have to painstakingly make the crowns of thorns that we know we will deliberately choose to wear on the day, to show that we’re not just fair-weather fiancées. We won’t respond to a question we weren’t expecting with a spontaneous answer that we can’t really recall; on the contrary, we rehearse the ceremony over and over so that it will be as un-spontaneous as we can make it – on the outside, at least. (Only God and we will know what happens on the inside!) And while all that might sound a bit grim and forbidding, I think it’s really rather beautiful - and I know I wouldn’t swap places with the girl with the shiny ring and the pretty dress and the done-up hair for anything in the world.  

 So there you have it: why our preparations for the Reception of the Habit take a while! I won’t detail the other things we are doing (like moving furniture – again – we really are becoming professionals! – because the Wanganui Sisters are coming to visit; and preparing the Convent for Christmas with cooking and decoration, etc.) because you’re probably doing similar things yourselves.
May you all draw close to the Infant Jesus beside Our Lady and St Joseph in this Holy Season. We wish you all a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Play Day

Mother Catherine wanted a little run-down of the gala performance that closed our academic year here at the Convent, so without any further ado, I present: Play Day!
There were two Plays presented on the Friday the 14th of December, one high-brow and the other decidedly less high-brow. The former was presented by two of the Novices – ‘Excerpts from Shakespeare’s As You Like It’,starring Sisters Louise and Johanna. The other Play was ‘History Highlights from 314-814’, which could well be renamed ‘Postulant Chaos’. I will go into detail about this below. 
The preparations began with writing the scripts (an easy job for the Novices, because good old William S. had done it centuries ago, but harder for the Postulants, who had to compress 5 centuries into an hour and make it somewhat intelligible for their intended audience), and then with making more props than you could shake a stick at. Actually, you’d be hard pressed finding a stick to shake because we probably used them all in making the props. Anyway, this went on for days and one postulant remarked that it seemed that we brought all the rubbish that was out of the house into the house in the form of boats, oars, swords and myriad other items. The Novices were more circumspect (but highly artistic and effective) in their use of materials, and managed to make theirs a whizz-bang multimedia affair, even including a powerpoint presentation to cover their scene changes. I do wish I’d thought of that for ours! Never mind…
These things being done, Friday was upon us and it was, ‘Overture, Curtain, Lights!’ The Novices started us off, and I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen one Sister play a doe-eyed lovesick young man in a forest, and another play the scornful maiden immune to romantic advances. They were absolutely brilliant, bringing a new interpretation to Shakespeare’s classic with wit, vivacity and a Texan accent to boot! (I personally think that Shakespeare would have meant Rosalind to have a Texan accent if he could have heard the performance we heard J)

Then came the History Play. Over the space of an hour (including a short intermission – we were going to do things properly!) we travelled through the Arian Crisis, the reign of Julian the Apostate, the Donatist and Pelagian and Nestorian heresies, the Monophysite Crisis, the fall of the Roman Empire, Pope St Gregory’s papacy, and the coronation of Charlemagne! With four people and no stage-hand, the scene transitions were rather untidy, but not as untidy as our makeshift dressing-room by the end. It was scattered with sheets (which served as bishop’s robes, missionary habits and togas at various parts of the performance), cardboard mitres, paper helmets, swords, oars, boats, croziers, name-cards, boxes that made the rubble of the Temple of Jerusalem, guns and masks (we needed to impress upon the audience the idea of the ‘Robber Council’), flags, axes, clubs, and I can’t remember what else.

I can’t give you the whole play, because it’s quite long and chaotic, but I’ll give you some choice excerpts. (Hopefully the master illustrator will give you appropriate pictures that speak 1000 words so you get a bit of an idea of what went on visually.) Try and imagine the behind-the-scenes gasps of “Where’s my mitre? Where’s my mitre? I need a sword. Has anyone seen a sword???” It’ll make it more realistic that way.

The Arian Crisis
(to the tune of “I’ll Do Anything” from “Oliver”)

ARIUS: I teach heresy
Do you teach heresy?
Yes, I teach heresy
It’s true

The ladies look at me
A handsome sight to see
(LADIES) We think he’s lovely
(ARIUS) Arius – that’s me!

Julian the Apostate

JULIAN:  I'll rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem!  Once I've done that, there will be no more belief in Christ, because He said that the Temple would never be rebuilt.  Pack your bags, my friends, we are off to Jerusalem.

JULIAN, FRITZ  and MARDONIUS collect cards, swords, and drinking mugs.  Arrive at 'Jerusalem' - a heap of cardboard boxes surmounted by a sign with 'Temple of Jerusalem: danger - unsafe rubble' on it.

JULIAN:  What are we waiting for?  Here are the building blocks all ready for us.  Let's get working, men.  We're going to disprove that prophecy!

JULIAN, FRITZ, and MARDONIUS begin to pile up the boxes in a more orderly manner.  'Fire-balls' appear (foil paper), and the men fall into the boxes trying to avoid them.  'Earthquakes' also. . . shouts of alarm from men "Look out behind you, Master Julian!"  "Ach, mein foot!"  "Who's been playing with matches? - don't you know that that's a safety hazard on a construction site?"  "I zink I've broken something."  "Someone call the fire brigade!"  "Call 911!" "No, it's 000!"

The Pelagian Heresy
The violent behaviour of the DONATISTS and their revengeful actions on any who repented of the schism and on the missionaries themselves however (DONATISTS attack a Catholic violently using a knife) soon led St Augustine to support stern state action against them.

The Monophysite Crisis
EUTYCHES: Friend, we have to do something. I would like Flavian to pay for excommunicating me. Haha! Pope Leo consented to the council. We will depose Flavian!
DIOSCORUS: Yes. Don’t worry so much about it. Monophysites will dominate in this council.....! Emperor Theodosius says we’ll meet at Ephesus in the Church of St Mary. Are you happy now? (EUTYCHES nods in jovial reply)
DIOSCORUS: So, see you there.
(EUTYCHES & DISOCORUS walk out, NARRATOR walks in stage bearing the sign: “449: The Robber Council” Flavian enters slowly as if praying his breviary, alternately walking and sitting... Next, music – “The Pink Panther” – is played... ROBBERS enter and rob the Bishop (Bishop does a little dance step with the ROBBERS. Finally, ROBBERS tie him to a chair and are about to kill him ...pause)


The Fall of the Roman Empire
I'd like to cross now to Flavius Quintus Romanus, our Europe Correspondent. Over to you, Quintus!
Hello, I'm Flavius Quintus Romanus, Star reporter for the Roman Daily Times. I've covered all the great stories of the later Roman Empire and now I'm going to make a DVD so that I can share them with you. Yes, for the trifling sum of six sesterces you will be able to share these great moments of history as witnessed and recorded by Quintus! Here's a sneak preview:
(QUINTUS walks to side of stage)
QUINTUS: Here is the Roman Empire at her greatest extent.
(ROMAN EMPIRE, 2 people covered by a sheet, enters)
QUINTUS: In 400 AD the Roman Empire split!
(ROMAN EMPIRE separates, holding up 'EAST' and 'WEST' signs when they get to opposite ends of the stage)

Pope St Gregory
NARRATOR: St Gregory the Great came to the Papal throne in 590 A.D. A Benedictine monk, he became Pope unwillingly and only at the demands of his people in an era of great instability and turmoil.
ST GREGORY is pulled around by PEOPLE who acclaim him with shouts of: “Gregory, Pope! Gregory, Pope!”
ST GREGORY (with a serious look of despair):
Sights and sounds of war meet us on every side
The cities are destroyed, the land devastated, the earth depopulated.

In the year 800 Charlemagne was made Holy Roman Emperor and crowned by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day. (1 person holds '800' placard. POPE LEO III crowns CHARLEMAGNE. "Adeste Fideles" plays in the background.)
And so the Holy Roman Empire in the West was reconstituted under an Emperor (ROMAN EMPIRE returns as one whole being, CHARLEMAGNE's hands stretched out over it) who was a descendant of the very Barbarians who caused its destruction, by the order of the Pope, the successor of the Popes whom the Romans had martyred.
We hope you've enjoyed this little production and for the trifling sum of six sesterces...the trifling sum of six sesterces...the trifling sum of six sesterces...
CHARLEMAGNE points the remote at QUINTUS and turns him off.
CHARLEMAGNE: This new technology is such a trial. I reckon we destroy all knowledge of it and go back to writing on parchment and things. Hopefully it won't resurface for another millenium or so.


Monday, December 17, 2012

A thrilling finish to the year--and to our first decade

Speaking at the Saint Dominic's College prize-giving ceremony, Sister Madeleine compared this year to a particularly thrilling chapter in the sort of book one simply can’t put down at bedtime, but must keep reading far into the night, with a torch under the blankets if necessary. While the chapter (or, as Mother Micaela later said, the song) has come to a close or a cadence with the beginning of the summer holidays, the closing lines were full of motion and excitement, for the last week of school was a busy time for the community in Wanganui. 
"The song is ended, but the melody lingers on..." Mother Micaela speaks at our tenth anniversary celebration.
Since examinations had been held the week before, it included little academic work, but students and teachers were kept busy with many preparations for the end of the year. Besides music practices for the final school Mass and for the tenth anniversary Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, there was a thorough clean-up day which left the school looking like a rain-washed field and at least one Sister looking as if she had been through World War III (no pictures, sorry). On Monday morning, teachers went over final exams with their classes, and in the afternoon everyone took a little well-earned recreation with games organised by the senior girls. The cleaning day was on Tuesday, and involved expeditions to clean home economics facilities in the croquet club down the street as well as the new house next door—so it was as well we had had the games on Monday; no one would have had the energy to run after Tuesday’s work!
Wednesday was a free day for the students, but not for the teachers, most of whom were busily writing or proofreading report comments or preparing certificates and other paraphernalia for Thursday. Thursday morning was occupied by a practice at the War Memorial Hall for the secondary school prize giving, and that evening teachers, students, parents and friends returned there for the ceremony, which showed the fruits of a year’s hard work by students and teachers. As well as academic prizes, which are awarded for excellence or diligence in at least three academic subjects, there were various sports awards and character awards to be presented, and the Cambridge certificates from last year, as this year’s will not arrive until January. Two boys and three girls finished Form 7 this year, and their representatives, the two valedictorians, expressed their love and gratitude to the school and all who have contributed to their education.

At Matins of St Ambrose on Thursday evening, the Sisters had discovered that the text of Duo Seraphim, which would be sung at the final school Mass on Friday, came from that day’s first lesson, from Isaias the prophet. The next day there was great excitement in the choir loft as a Sister passed around a Benedictine breviary from the cupboard (fortunately the Dominicans were on the same page as the Benedictines that day) to share this discovery with the girls! Unfortunately, after all that, our rendition of the piece was far from perfect, but we hope that Our Lord took into account that we had indeed practiced, though it sounded as if we hadn’t, and was pleased all the same.

To round off this exciting week, we celebrated our congregation’s tenth anniversary on Saturday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The festivities began with a solemn Mass in the church, after which priests, religious and parishoners processed to Signadou, the new house at 16 York Street, which was then blessed by Father Cranshaw. In her speech at Friday’s prize-giving, Sister Madeleine had referred to the fax from Bishop Fellay that was our Signadou--our sign from God to found a new convent, as St Dominic’s had been a ball of fire over the village of Prouille. In her anniversary speech on the steps of Signadou after it had been blessed, Mother Micaela told the story of how this fax arrived on the 8 December 2002. It was relayed by Father Delsorte, who came running across from the priory in person, waving the fax in his hand. Punctuating the more serious matter with wit and humour, Mother Micaela went on to summarise the growth and achievements of the congregation over these ten years, and ended with a hope that, though the song of this decade is ended, the melody may linger on-- “and may that melody always be: Salve Regina.

The Priests and Brothers presented the Sisters with a beautiful Belgian chasuble, ornamented with a painting of Saint Dominic.

After the brunch, to which all the parishoners had been invited, Mother Rose and Sister Madeleine were driven to the airport, whence they would fly to Auckland for the first Children of Mary ceremony there and thence to the USA, where they are currently learning about the administration of boarding schools and also doing some teaching and recruitment.

We look forward to hearing of their adventures as we drive to Auckland and then fly to Australia for our retreat and the reception of four new novices on the Feast of the Epiphany. As you can see, while the song—or chapter—of 2012 in the Dominican tale is nearly ended, the melody—or the book—gives promise of new themes and an equally exciting plot for 2013.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Busy like a bee, thou did serve the Lord.

“It was like the work which keep bees hard at their task about the flowering countryside as the sun shines in the calm of early summer...All is a ferment of activity, and the scent of honey rises with the perfume of thyme.”  How aptly these words of Virgil the poet describe the scene at Rosary Convent over the last two weeks.
Like “bees in a meadow on a fine summer day settling on flowers of every kind” the sisters were busy writing assignments, compiling examination papers, writing report comments, teaching,  attending classes, with frequent intervals of returning to their little chapel for prayers, spiritual reading and meditation.  But in fact they would not return to their familiar and well loved little chapel for long...
...for like Shakespeare’s “singing masons building roofs of gold” they have in very fact been busy with the help of many others in the parish to prepare a new and much bigger chapel, which will be able to house growing numbers in the hive.  The work involved clearing out the “old barn” which served as an area for storage, carpentry, library, lecture, and music room. Once cleared, working like bees with order and peace, serious cleaning could start, and then the all important tasks of cladding walls, installing lights, painting, carrying our new choir stalls and furnishings back in and arranging them in just the right fashion to fit maximum numbers.  The Blessed Sacrament had to be removed for the moving of the altar, which proved hard work for the men and boys who assisted, and happy the moment when all was ready and Father could return Our Lord to complete the new Chapel.      

Tired but thankful voices filled the new Chapel for Vespers on the Feast of St Cecilia of whom we sang “Busy like a bee, thou did serve the Lord” (Versicle of Matins for her feast).  Some young postulants even had enough energy to produce little "punctum" biscuits (cookies to translate for the American clan) in the form of their favourite neum to celebrate.

St Ambrose compares holy virgins to the bee. For “the bee feeds on dew, knows no marriage couch and makes honey. ..[So] the virgin’s dew is the divine word; for the word of God descends like the dew, her modesty is unstained nature and her produce is the fruit of the lips, without bitterness, abounding in sweetness... How I wish you, my daughter, to be an imitator of these bees, whose food is flowers, whose offspring is collected and brought together by the mouth. Do imitate her, my daughter. Let no veil of deceit be spread over your words; let them have no covering of guile, that they may be pure, and full of gravity.”  We pray that all in the Novitiate have drawn the honey of wisdom from their study and contemplation and as generous as the bee have given that sweetness to others, especially the children we taught in school.

"It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savour of grace...What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff up. And love without learning? It would go astray.” Pope Pius XII.  We pray to do our work faithfully in order to produce not only the wax of knowledge but also the honey by which the children will acquire the taste and desire for that which is good.
Sisters, while working and praying in the new Chapel,“let your spirits rise in mystic flight to experience the kindness of God, to taste the sweetness of His word and His law" (Ps. 18:11; 118: 103), to contemplate the divine light symbolized by the burning flame of the candle, product of the mother bee, as the Church sings in her admirable liturgy of Holy Saturday.