March 21, 2023

Not as Man Sees Does God See

“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7


As we enter into this 4th Week of Lent, we have ample opportunity to reflect on our experience of Lent so far and consider our preparation for Holy Week. No matter how we have done, Venerable Bruno Lanteri would famously remind us that it is never too late to “Begin Again!” Most of the spiritual life consists in beginning again, no matter what liturgical season we are in. But perhaps we’ve made one too many resolutions, fallen behind on a daily practice, or just need to switch gears with some different spiritual reading to bring us into Holy Week.

 The Lord isn’t quite as concerned with our plans as we are, as long as our first concern is always Him. Although it’s good to make resolutions and revive them as needed, we’ll never get a demerit mark from God for falling behind on Catechism in a Year, not finishing that book study, or finally realizing it’s more of a penance than a blessing to others if I give up caffeine for Lent. The first reading from the 4th Sunday of Lent recounts Samuel’s journey to Jerusalem to anoint the next king. It sounds easy enough; God tells him which family to visit. But God doesn’t tell Samuel which of Jesse’s seven sons will be the next king, and He doesn’t accept Samuel’s first assumption. Or second. Or third. Samuel has to meet all of Jesse’s sons that come to Jerusalem, and still request that the missing son, David, God’s chosen one, come in from the fields.

Samuel anointing David

 God is never distant, but sometimes His ways are mysterious, and we end up waiting on the Lord for the answer that only He himself must provide. Waiting is fruitful if we can endure it in trust; it’s insanity if we spend it in worry. But if we simply believe, we’ll see that God is who He says He is, and He’ll do what He says He’s going to do, and this is exactly the kind of waiting we should practice in these last weeks of Lent. Fulton Sheen reminds us that there is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, and as we begin again in these final weeks of Lent, we are preparing to receive the same message that the woman at the tomb received from the angels:

 “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5)

Jesus has not only gone ahead of us into in Galilee, but in the mystery of His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, He has gone ahead of us to our Heavenly Father, and is waiting for us both now in the Eucharist, and ultimately in Heaven. So let us continue to set our Lenten eyes toward Calvary and the empty tomb, and trust that wherever we find ourselves, the Lord is always calling us in from the fields to Himself.

February 17, 2023

Do Lent and Spring Belong Together?

Greetings to you all! Here in Alabama, the winter is past and the first buds of spring are opening up! It is still a mental adjustment for me to observe Lent while spring is already peeping out. I grew up in the North, and from what I remember as a child, we didn’t often have any signs of spring until well after Easter. Lent was associated with the slush and mud that were the last remnants of winter. I thought that this was fitting, as I viewed penance and reflection on Christ’s suffering as sad, or dreary at best. We just had to wait patiently for the glories that would come later.

But I am glad to say that since then, Lent has become a very rich and precious season to me. It is full of invitations to reflect on the love of God in His Incarnation and sacrifice, to dialogue with Him about it, and to walk close beside Him, in acts of love. The spring flowers don’t seem out of place during Lent anymore. Their loveliness helps me to see what is actually happening even within a penitential season! In fact, reading the introduction to Lenten reflections by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., I found, “‘Lent’ is a Middle English word that means ‘spring’, expressing the anticipated outcome of this penitential season.” Lent is indeed a time of quiet tilling of soil, but it holds a loveliness all its own.

Detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico

In our community, we each choose our own personal spiritual reading, prayers or practices for the season. As many of us are browsing the “Lenten Meditation” shelf in our library, we wanted to point you toward some favorites that are available in our bookstore. We also highly recommend looking over the variety of Stations meditation booklets and recordings of past Lenten retreats available on MP3 or CD.

(Click here for a selection of items)

The Holy Ways of the Cross, by Henri-Marie Boudon

We were blessed recently with a visit from our good friend, Fr. Hugh Gillespie. He told us about several projects he has worked on, including editing this book recently published by Cluny Press. The author, Henri-Marie Boudon, was a key figure in the 17th century French School of spirituality which focused on the the “science of the saints”: contemplating God’s Love in the Incarnation and stirring up our response to that Love. The Holy Ways of the Cross was fundamental in the formation of St Louis-Marie de Montfort and his love of the Cross. While this book is new to us, we are greatly looking forward to reading it during Lent!

(Click here to purchase)

A Time of Renewal, by Mother Mary Francis P.C.C.

This book is a collection of reflections by Mother Mary Francis, compiled by her community, to coordinate with the daily Mass readings for Lent. Mother Mary Francis is delightful and easily accessible, with a Franciscan gift for discovering the joy in all things, especially the gift of the Incarnation. Imminently practical but deeply spiritual, each day gives a true challenge to metanoia – conversion in one’s daily life.

(Click here to purchase)

The Way of the Cross, by Caryll Houselander

Rather than brief meditations for praying with the fourteen Stations of the Cross, this book contains a chapter on each Station. As Caryll Houselander’s writings always do, they provoke a new perspective on familiar scenes, and a deeper perception of spiritual realities in daily life.

(Click here to purchase)

January 31, 2023

Little Visitors

Retreats are back in full swing at Casa Maria! With the new year just begun, and Lent around the corner, many people choose these months to make their annual retreat. It’s a very busy time for the Retreat House, so please keep us and all those making retreats in your prayers.

We’ve also had some young visitors stopping by with their parents – these pictures are so precious, we wanted to share them with you!

January 14, 2023

The Sisters at SEEK ’23

At the beginning of January, seven Sister Servants traveled to St. Louis to attend the FOCUS SEEK conference, along with 17,000 other participants! Many attendees were college students and FOCUS missionaries from across the country, but there were also large numbers of FOCUS missionary alumni, priests and religious, as well as others who desired to share and deepen their Faith.

University students from the diocese of Birmingham gathered (with a couple Sisters) for a photo for our Bishop Steven Raica
What an experience, to participate in the Holy Mass with 17,000 people!

We had an incredible week, fruitful in prayer, sacraments and fellowship, sharing our life and apostolate with many friends – both new and those we have met on campuses already visited.

Mother Louise Marie, Sister Mary Philomena and Sister Madeleine Marie flew into St. Louis, while Sister Marie Therese, Sister Mary Faustina, Sister Mary Michael, and Sister Rose Marie trekked on the road with materials for our vocations booth and compact bookstore. Sister Madeleine Marie was also asked to share her story, as a St. Louis vocation, and tell about our community on Roadmap to Heaven. Listen below! (Sister is interviewed in the middle section)

At our booth, we offered free rosaries, medals, stickers, and coffee! We also brought a variety of bookstore items to offer for sale, including spiritual reading, Rosary booklets, Pier Giorgio T-shirts, and more. Pier Giorgio has been a great heavenly friend of our community, and always introduces us to new friends, as his story and our connection with Frassati USA bring up lots of questions, and requests for ‘selfies’ with his cutout!

Each day, the Sisters were chiefly kept occupied meeting and building connections with various groups. We enjoyed meeting new friends amongst all the different groups, or running into familiar faces in the crowd. Our experience in St Louis confirmed the fruitfulness of our campus visits over the past two years.

Highlights for the Sisters included the beautiful and carefully planned Eucharistic Liturgies – with over 400 priests and numerous bishops. What an incredible witness to Christ and His Church today!

Mother Louise Marie was moved to tears on entering the adoration chapel, seeing the number of seats provided, and knowing that it had been regularly filled to capacity during the conference. Wednesday evening included adoration in the stadium with a Eucharistic procession; during this time confessions were available late into the evening.

We have all been inspired anew at this conference to “go and bear fruit that will last,” as we work in our apostolate to evangelize through catechesis and retreats!

December 8, 2022

Who Are You, O Mary?

“Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” This prayer of Saint Maximilian Kolbe echoes in the hearts of Catholics as we celebrate the Solemnity on December 8th.

In December 1854, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, mandating the belief in this teaching. The proclamation is worth reading in full:

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by the Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” (Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854)

The clarity of this statement brings peace to the minds and hearts of devout Catholics who have grown up with an understanding of the privileged position of the Mother of God.

But for some, perhaps, this doctrine does not connect well to the heart. True, belief in an infallible teaching of the Church requires Faith- this is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But I am convinced that the Mother of God wishes to connect the head to the heart- she wants to be present to each of her children. 

In Paris is found the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal; few know this medal was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception”. Our Lady appeared to a young Sister of Charity, Catherine Labouré, and asked her to spread devotion to her Immaculate Conception, primarily through a medal inscribed with the prayer: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. Our Lady told Saint Catherine: “Have a medal struck of this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; it should be worn around the neck. Grace will abound for the persons who wear it with confidence.” 

That Our Lady asked for her medal “to be worn around the neck” emphasizes her great desire to be ever present and close to her children. When we wear a precious medal or a locket, perhaps with a picture of a loved one, “around the neck”, it is a constant reminder of the presence of that beloved person. That the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, wishes to be so close to us, her children, is amazing! Yet her coming in Paris and again in Lourdes soon after, demonstrates her true maternity. The Immaculate Conception becomes “touchable”; not only a doctrine or dogma on paper, but a living, loving, breathing mother who wishes to be involved in the lives of her children. 

The very last sentence of the proclamation “Ineffabilis Deus” is astonishing: “What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.” This confidence should fill us with the same hope as the Holy Father, Pius IX as he exclaims: “Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord… We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.”

As we spend this time of Advent preparing for the birth of Jesus, let us join our confident prayers with those of Our Lady, Mother of God, who chooses also to be Mother of all of us.