October 25, 2020

Join the Sisters in Preparing for Election Day

Please join us in praying a Novena to Our Lady of Victory for our Nation and that the upcoming presidential election will progress according to God’s Holy Will:

Lord, have mercy on us, Christ, have mercy on us,
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us.

God, the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.

Our Lady of Victory, Pray for us.

Victorious daughter of the Father, “     ”
Victorious Mother of the Son,
Victorious Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious servant of the Holy Trinity
Victorious in your Immaculate Conception,

Victorious in crushing the serpent’s head,
Victorious over all the children of Adam,
Victorious over all enemies,
Victorious in your response to the Angel Gabriel,
Victorious in your wedding to St. Joseph,
Victorious in the birth of Christ,

Victorious in the flight to Egypt,
Victorious in your exile,
Victorious in your home at Nazareth,
Victorious in finding Christ in the temple,
Victorious in the mission of your Son,
Victorious in His passion and death,

Victorious in His Resurrection and Ascension,
Victorious in the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious in your sorrows and joys,
Victorious in your glorious Assumption,
Victorious in the angels who remained faithful,
Victorious in the happiness of the saints,

Victorious in the message of the prophets,
Victorious in the testimony of the patriarchs,
Victorious in the zeal of the apostles,
Victorious in the witness of the evangelists,
Victorious in the wisdom of the doctors,
Victorious in the deeds of the confessors,

Victorious in the triumph of all holy women,
Victorious in the faithfulness of the martyrs,
Victorious in your powerful intercession,
Victorious under your many titles,
Victorious at the moment of death,

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

Pray for us, blessed Lady of Victory. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: O Victorious Lady! Thou who has ever such powerful influence with Thy Divine Son, in conquering the hardest of hearts, intercede for those for whom we pray, that their hearts being softened by the rays of Divine Grace, they may return to the unity of the true Faith, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 Vouchsafe that I may praise you, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against your enemies!

Our Lady of Victory, Pray for us!

October 21, 2020

Virtual Retreats, A Success!

Setting up for streaming Morning Prayer

Dear Family and Friends,

During these strange times, God has seen fit to expand our apostolate in an unexpected way. As we had to cancel all of our in-person retreats for the spring and summer, we began offering these retreats virtually. Although it is not the same as coming to a retreat in person, it has still born abundant fruit and reached many people that could not otherwise have attended our retreats.

The virtual retreats match our in-person schedule as closely as possible. They include video conferences which can be watched at a scheduled time with the group, or on your own time, a zoom meeting with the sisters and live Q&A session with the retreat master, and live-streamed Divine Office, Rosary, and Divine Mercy Chaplet with the sisters.

Sister Rita Marie is still giving book recommendations and answering tough questions during “Sister Servant Sharing”, now via zoom!

We have been blessed to have people attend from all over the United States and beyond, including Canada and several European countries! Elements of our virtual retreats, such as our recording of the Holy Rosary, have reached individuals who are homebound, in recovery facilities, or otherwise unable to come to Casa Maria, even aside from COVID.

The retreats have been on a number of topics, including prayer, growing in virtue, making good decisions, and understanding the end times. We are so grateful to our Retreat Masters for making the effort to record conferences and be available for Question and Answer periods, tackling a lot of technological challenges in the process.  By the grace of God, we hope to continue offering virtual retreats in the future for all those who, because of the coronavirus or any other reason, cannot attend a retreat at Casa Maria in person.

Sisters join the retreatants for the Divine Mercy Chaplet

Check our schedule to see which retreats are going to be streamed, even after we are back in action in person!  (With the permission of the retreat masters, some of these past retreats are still available to listen to, upon request here.)

God Bless You!

Here are some kind responses from our retreatants who attended virtually:

“What a super great retreat you organized!  …I enjoyed everything; and of course Father’s talks were so powerful.”

“What a wonderful retreat!  It was so spiritually nourishing and uplifting.  I am very grateful for all those who worked so hard to make this happen and that I could attend virtually.”

“I am deeply grateful for the gift of this retreat.  Thank you for hosting this life-changing experience!”

October 11, 2020

Sisters Learn New Skills!

Hello from Casa Maria!

It’s looking pretty empty here without you!  We are just beginning to have our first in-person events since March and we look forward to gradually re-introducing our normal apostolic works in the upcoming months.

While you may smile at how we’re behind the times, COVID19 has been a great opportunity for us to learn “new” ways of using technology to engage in our Apostolate of Evangelization through Retreats and Catechesis.  We’ve been blessed to participate in and host various online Conferences, small groups, catechetical meetings, vocations panels and our very own Virtual Retreats.

As exciting as this is, we cannot wait to see you in person!

Here are a few snapshots from some of our recent projects.  We send a big thank you to all who have supported our Community during this time- your prayers and generosity have made our apostolic life possible in this unusual time!  Please know of our prayers for all of you.

We have become pros at setting up mics, tri-pods, and other equipment to film anywhere on our property.

We set up a camera to livestream our Rosary and Divine Office so that our retreatants can join us during virtual events.

The sisters participating in virtual retreats all had a ZOOM lesson so that we would know how to navigate small group sessions during the Mother/Daughter Retreats this summer.

The Sisters’ new “Media Office”!

The Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word have been very helpful in teaching us about recording equipment, filming, editing, and much more!

How many sisters does it take to get a mic in place?

A funny moment: one of our recordings was “video-bombed” by our own yard crew whose edger added a new musical element to “I’ll Fly Away”!  (Visit our vimeo page to see this recording with others to come!)

October 3, 2020

Our Weapon is Prayer

Excitement rose as we set up to welcome friends and family back to Casa Maria for a beautiful First Saturday Mass in the Breezeway!

Dear Family & Friends,

Our foundress Mother Mary Gabriel always emphasized, echoing St. Paul, that in all of our community’s apostolic work, “we teach spiritual things spiritually.” As many of you know, for years we have been teaching about the meaning and importance of the First Saturday devotions and the Rosary at parishes, youth conferences, schools, and college campuses.

Many thoughtful preparations went into making the breezeway beautiful and conducive to the Holy Mass.

Why? Well, because as St. Thomas Aquinas would say, how can you love what you don’t know? How can you freely pick up a devotion when you don’t have a deep knowledge of it so that it can take root in your heart? How can it help shape your life into Christ’s likeness?

We are all distressed seeing the sad circumstances in which we are living both here in the United States and throughout the world. The pandemic and the violence in the streets have both, in many ways, changed our way of living, but if you look at the history of Portugal around the time of the apparition at Fatima, you will see that history repeats itself. When Our Lady appeared in Fatima in 1917, the world was dealing with war, widespread anarchy and violence, a pandemic, and the rise of communism.

Our Lord has entrusted the peace of the world to His Mother’s Immaculate Heart. All of these problems can be averted by Our Lady of Fatima’s peace plan from Heaven: the First Saturdays.

Many Churches have been closed because of this pandemic–no Mass, no sacraments, and no First Saturdays. What are we to do? Shall we sit back, shrug our shoulders and wait until everything gets back to normal?

Our country was built by courageous pilgrims united in a noble cause. Our ancestors knew what it meant to sacrifice themselves for God and country. Above all, we have the witness of the martyrs who shed their blood for Christ, and our faith is the fruit of their sacrificial love.

In Japan, the Catholic Church was outlawed in 1632. The priests were expelled or martyred and the Churches were destroyed, but the Catholic faith was kept alive through the faithful who prayed the Rosary. When the ban was lifted and the missionaries returned to Japan, they were surprised to see how the people kept and passed on the Faith from generation to generation through the Rosary.

Let us courageously do all it takes to effectively practice this devotion. If First Saturday devotions are not held publicly in your parish, you can easily do them on your own. You can attend Mass or a Communion service at a local parish, pray the Rosary as a family, keep Our Lady company by meditating on one of the mysteries of the Rosary for 15 minutes, and go to Confession within 8 days before or after the First Saturday.

Sister Ave Maria gave a last-minute touch-up to the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

We have joyfully reopened our First Saturday devotions at Casa Maria, with Mass currently celebrated outdoors due to the pandemic recommendations. We invite you to visit this page on our website with resources for making the First Saturdays and encourage you to be creative in making this a part of your family’s spiritual life.

In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Sr. Ave Maria, SsEW

September 17, 2020

Sister Servants Sing for LIHM Sisters’ Profession

We are so glad for our dear friends, the Leaven of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, a community founded in the Philippines in 1991, who just celebrated the Profession of Vows of nine Sisters who are assigned in the United States. They have been patient through many years of waiting and delays!

Our Sisters prepared with frequent practices at Sacred Heart Parish in order to grow accustomed to the pipe organ and acoustics that are so different from what we’re used to!

The Sisters honored us by requesting that we sing for their Profession Mass, which we were so happy to do! Over the course of the summer, we worked to prepare the music for the beautiful occasion, practicing both at home and at Sacred Heart Church in Cullman, AL. We enjoyed every visit to the beautiful church, with its magnificent pipe organ and acoustics. The practices gave a special opportunity to get to know the delightful parish community there.

We were blessed to be able sing the Mass, sharing many pieces that we have used for our own profession Masses over the years.

You may enjoy watching the video of the profession Mass, hearing the music, and seeing the LIHM Sisters’ radiating joy!

Congratulations, LIHM Sisters, and thank you for inviting us to celebrate this wonderful day with you!

Here is Veni Jesu, Amor Mi, a Communion Hymn:

You may watch the entirety of the Mass here:

(Or Watch on the Parish Facebook Page)

 

Five Sisters made their Perpetual Profession of Vows, with great joy.

 

The four Sisters who made their first profession also received the religious habit and their religious names within the same Mass.

September 11, 2020

Allow Us to Introduce:

On the feast of the Nativity of Mary, we celebrated with great joy as Sister Laura received the religious habit and her new religious name! She is now:

Sister Marie Isabel, of the Infant of Prague

Our community has the custom that each postulant submits to the superior three names that they are drawn to, and Mother may choose one of these to give them, or may choose something else if so inspired by the Holy Spirit! Sister Marie Isabel was named for St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Isabel is the Portuguese form of Elizabeth). After the ceremony, Sister Marie Isabel shared with us that during her postulancy, she was much drawn to St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s reflections on the name Elizabeth, meaning “House of God”, and then specifically to St. Elizabeth of Portugal, due to her being known as the peacemaker.

As you see, this was also the day our new little Marian shrine, which has been nicknamed the “Portiuncula” (after the tiny chapel St. Francis loved so dearly in Assisi, naming it the ‘little portion’ for his friars). The last few details of the project came together in a miraculous way, with each piece fitting the others seamlessly, even down to the donation of slate shingles for the roof, and just the right lantern to hang over Our Lady, along with other lights for the nighttime. Father Anthony came to bless the statue and the shrine, after which we finished the day with a picnic!

August 29, 2020

A Philosophy Class

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio

As part of our program of continuing formation, we were blessed to welcome Fr. Anselm Rodriguez, O.Praem, from St. Michael’s Abbey in California, to Casa Maria during the week of August 10-15 to teach us a course entitled “Introduction to Philosophy: Themes in Aquinas.”

Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, man needs both faith and reason to soar to the truth.  As Christians, we are blessed with God’s Revelation, the contents of our Faith to which we adhere by the gift of faith.  But faith does not exclude man’s reason; rather, since grace builds upon nature, the two work in harmony to provide an accurate understanding of reality; therefore, each is indispensable in our flight to heaven.

The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, called by the Church the “Common Doctor” (meaning, a master teacher in every respect: prayer, doctrine, morality, etc..), presents a most perfect balance and harmonization of both faith and reason.  In the three-fold division of all things knowable, Theology studies the order which God has revealed to reason, the speculative sciences study the order discovered by reason, and the practical sciences study the order produced by reason. While we regularly study Theology, this week was an immersion in St. Thomas’s philosophy (the speculative and practical sciences) which builds upon the wisdom of Aristotle to examine reality according to reason alone.

Philosophy is defined as an account of the ultimate causes of things according to reason, and seeks to give explanations for our common experiences, answering the question “why?”  The study of philosophy is not something reserved to the elite few. Instead, it is accessible to all, perfective of our human nature, and good in itself.

Lectures sparked many lively discussions regarding the application of philosophy in daily life!

We spent much of our time on the speculative science called natural philosophy, examining knowledge gained through the senses.  This included the principles and causes (explanations) of nature, coming to know God’s existence through reason, and the philosophy of man with a special emphasis on the powers of the soul.

After discovering the nature of man, we examined the practical science called ethics, which seeks both to identify man’s ultimate end (or purpose), and to determine the best means to reach that end.  After arriving at the conclusion that man is made for happiness, which is the activity of contemplating God by means of virtue, we took a brief survey of the different kind of virtues and the best means of acquiring them.

Father Anselm, ordained in June, celebrated a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at Casa Maria and imparted to each sister his first Priestly blessing. This was a tremendous joy for us!

Why should Religious Sisters study philosophy?  Philosophy, in addition to being good in itself, and perfective of our human nature, is known as the “handmaid of Theology,” for Theological truths are better apprehended when built upon the solid foundation of philosophy. The Church values the philosophy of St. Thomas so much that priestly candidates study it for several years before diving into Theology.  Additionally, philosophy is useful for apologetics, for in a world so confused about the nature and purpose of man, it equips one to defend basic truths by reason alone to those without faith.

We are immensely grateful for this week and pray that it may bear abundant fruit in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

For an accessible introduction to the Theological and philosophical thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, we recommend “My Way of Life” by Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, and Fr. Martin Healy, available from our bookstore.

 

August 15, 2020

A New Marian Shrine

“To give worthy praise to the Lord’s mercy, we unite ourselves with Your Immaculate Mother, for then our hymn will be more pleasing to You, because she is chosen from among men and angels. Through her, as through a pure crystal, Your mercy was passed on to us. Through her, man became pleasing to God; through her, streams of grace flowed down upon us.”
– St. Faustina (Diary # 1746)

Even during COVID, while you haven’t been able to come to Casa Maria, we have been working on some surprises for when you return! We have been creating various outdoor sitting areas and places for prayer, and are especially excited about the new Stations of the Cross pathway that was finished in April.

 

On this Feast of the Assumption, we wanted to share with you some pictures of one project that’s currently underway.

It’s an outdoor shrine for this beautiful large statue of Our Lady that was given to us by our dear friends John and Joyce Williams. Clearly the Holy Spirit has been at work, and everything has come together perfectly. There will be seating in a small paved area in front of the shrine, so it will be a perfect place for prayer, study, or meditation.

 

Below are a few pictures of the progress of this shrine, being built by generous volunteers under Sister Ave Maria’s direction.

The design is inspired by the ‘wayside shrines’ seen on roadsides all across Europe. The cedar wood for the roof was a gift from the same friend who cut, planed, and donated the cedar for the Stations of the Cross as well. He taught the Sisters how to treat the wood with linseed oil to protect it for many, many years! May God bless all the friends and family who have been part of this project in honor of our beloved Mother, Mary.

July 30, 2020

Fostering Vocations

The girls joined us for community prayers throughout their stay.

This month we had the joy of hosting a “Come & See” weekend for a few young ladies who have been discerning religious life and wanted to get to know our community. We loved hosting them and spending time with them. Throughout the weekend they had classes with various sisters to learn about religious life and our community in particular. They attended prayers with us and shared in some of the sisters’ duties – and lots of laughter! Please keep them in your prayers as they discern God’s call.

Sister Mary Faustina has been assisting with vocations work for the last couple years, and was asked to share her vocation story for our local Catholic newspaper. We wanted to share it with you, knowing that everyone loves to hear a vocation story!  They are such a great way of seeing how clearly God is at work in our lives, through all the ups and downs, using so many people to lead us to the place He has prepared, and the work He is asking us to accomplish for Him. May this story be an inspiration to you, to help you look for God’s hand in your own daily life.       

Sister Mary Faustina with her parents, Mother Louise Marie and Bishop Baker on the day of her final profession

     “I remember being woken up in the middle of the night, climbing into my shoes and stumbling out to the van to accompany my mom to her weekly Holy Hour at our parish’s little Adoration Chapel. I was about ten years old when she allowed me to begin to join her. Even though I spent most of the 3:00AM Holy Hour asleep in a small armchair, I am convinced that those times spent with Jesus in the Eucharist shaped my vocation story. There are many ways God communicated to me His invitation to belong only to Him in religious life: my Catholic up-bringing, my parish community, good friends, my family and so on. However, it was the Blessed Sacrament that had the biggest impact upon my vocation, and in a particular way, it was Eucharistic Adoration.

 

     “I first experienced a strong inclination to religious life before I even knew what it was. When I was about four years old, I began to desire to be like St. Therese; I wanted to belong to God like she did. That desire never left me throughout my  childhood but after I graduated high school, I began to really wrestle with the fact that all of sudden this could really happen. The natural longing for marriage and family began to grow and at the time it seemed to be competing with the deeper and more mysterious desire for religious life. Selfishness and fear pulled at my heart. “Would I really be happy giving up my family?” “Could I be fulfilled by giving up a husband and children of my own?” “Why is God asking me to give Him so much?” As I began to shrink back from the sacrifice of religious life I also began to shrink away from God. Whenever we pull back from Our Lord, we experience a sense of emptiness and loss. I found that I was becoming less happy and less fulfilled even though the world was telling me that blazing one’s own trail was the way to find happiness.

Eucharistic devotion is part of all our apostolic works. Last spring the Sisters led their catechesis students in a Eucharistic procession through the school grounds

“Thankfully, my spiritual director called me out on the mistake that I was making: I had put my own will before God’s will. I went on retreat with the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word and ended up with an application in hand. But the battle was not over. Even as I filled out the forms and mailed them to the sisters, I was begging God to spare me! Little did I know that He was not offering me a life of sadness but a gift of joy. Throughout this time, I was blessed to have maintained the practice of a weekly Holy Hour at St. Luke’s Adoration Chapel, my home parish in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Each Friday afternoon at 1:00 I would stumble into the chapel, perhaps looking pretty similar to my ten-year-old self who used to stumble in nine years before, except that now I was stumbling over my own selfishness and fear. Week after week, Our Eucharistic Lord listened as I poured out my misery to Him and each week, He showered His mercy on me. If it were not for that hour with Him each week, I would not have made it to July 14th, the day of my entrance. Finally, one Friday, as I was leaving the chapel after my Holy Hour, I came to understand that it was Jesus who I was rejecting when I fought against my vocation. It became a little clearer to me that when I begged Him “Don’t make me be a sister” that I was begging Him to take back a gift from God the Father.

     “I have been with the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word for nine years. My vocation is a gift which continually blows me away. I understand even better now that God was not pinning me down or boxing me in but rather, that He was holding me firmly and gently. There is no doubt in my mind that it was Our Lord in the Eucharist who broke through my fear and selfishness. A Eucharistic miracle took place in a little chapel in Kentucky and I believe firmly that Eucharistic miracles are more common than we realize.”

Tomorrow, we will be entering our annual eight-day Community Retreat.  Please keep us in your prayers, that it may be a fruitful time for all the sisters!

July 16, 2020

Our Lady and the Brown Scapular

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!

Today is a special day for us, as the day Mother Mary Gabriel began our community and received Sister Mary John Paul as the first Sister Servant!

Mother Mary Gabriel had strong faith in Our Lady’s intercession and the graces she promised to all who would wear the Brown Scapular with devotion. Her conviction of the role this sacramental can play in our spiritual life, and Lucia’s mention of the Brown Scapular in conjunction with the Fatima message, led Mother Gabriel to include an opportunity for enrollement in the Scapular on every retreat at Casa Maria.

In the 20+ years that the sisters have been promoting devotion to the Brown Scapular on retreats, many graces have been received. Just this month, a woman told us the story that after receiving a scapular on our retreat, she also took one to her brother-in-law who was dying in the hospital. Throughout his illness, he had refused to see a priest but accepted the scapular and kept it with him. Within days he changed his mind, asked for a priest, and received the sacraments. He kept the scapular with him until he died, attributing his reunion with Christ to the graces brought through the scapular. The graces didn’t stop there, either. The priest who attended to the dying man was so struck by his visible change of heart, that his own faith in the Scapular was reinvigorated, and he intends to promote it more widely among the faithful.

May Our Lady’s motherly care continue guiding us to seek and follow her Son ever more closely!

 

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Click here to order Sister Rita Marie’s Booklet on the Brown Scapular

“Wear this scapular devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you are continually thinking of me, and I in turn am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.” – The Blessed Mother to St. Simon Stock

“When we faithfully wear the brown scapular, we are disposed to receive the graces God wishes to give us through the maternal care of Our Blessed Mother.”