February 10, 2016

Encountering Christ in the Fast

I have kept journals most of my adult life.  I write about things that I want to remember.  I record facts that I might need someday, or advice and insights that have made a difference.  I write things down so as not to lose them.
...This article is about fasting.  At the beginning of Lent, the Church exhorts us to pray, fast, and give alms.  These disciplines counter the three-fold concupiscence that St. John the Evangelist describes as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16).

However, while fasting aims to correct a disordered desire for pleasure (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2351), it would be wrong to consider it merely negatively.  If fasting necessarily deprives us of something, it presupposes that we have received a grace, that we have encountered Christ!  In this way, fasting is the means by which we keep the grace of the encounter by renouncing the desire to reproduce the encounter by our own initiative.

C.S. Lewis helps us to understand this point.  In his book, Perelandra, the protagonist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, finds himself transported to an unfallen world where his concupiscence is "suspended" for a time.  Tasting an indescribably delicious fruit, Lewis relates:

"As Ransom let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty.  And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do.  Yet something seemed opposed to this 'reason'....It appeared to him better not to taste again.  Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity."

In this piercingly insightful passage, Lewis tells us that Ransom's reason for refraining was not that the fruit was evil or that his enjoyment of it was disordered.  Rather, the decision was an act of reverence.  Somehow, Ransom's original experience forbade repetition because, in the first act, he had already received everything.

What about us?  A genuine encounter with Christ always fills us to overflowing and leaves us wanting more.  But "the more" does not come to us by our own power or on our own terms.  "The more" is a gift.  We can only wait for it.  That is why we fast.  Blessed Lent.

- Mother M. Maximilia, FSGM

February 4, 2016

Veni Si Amas Retreat - April 8-10, 2016

Where:  St. Francis Convent, Alton, IL
Who:  Single, Catholic women age 17-30
When: Friday, April 8th at 6:30pm/7:00pm to Sunday, April 10th at 9:00am
For more information or questions, please contact Sr. M. Consolata at vocations@altonfranciscans.org

December 29, 2015

"No, I was praying."

Hi! I’m Sr. Mary Gianna. I just started working in our hospital as an x-ray tech in September. My apostolate is still very new and I have a lot to learn practically. That is to say, I’m just learning how to do my job. In the midst of feeling inadequate and often needing help from the other techs I’ve had some moments when I’ve experienced why I am in our x-ray department. Our Constitutions say that our first witness is always our consecrated life- i.e. before anything else people need me to be a Sister. It’s who I am and not what I do.

As an x-ray tech I go into surgery periodically. If a doctor is putting in metal parts or just needs to see what’s going on inside as he’s repairing fractured bones he’ll ask me to take an x-ray there in the surgery room. I was in one surgery that happened to run during the time that our community prays midday prayers. Since I wasn’t able to leave the surgery I sat down on a stool in a corner and prayed. The doctor teased later on in the surgery “Hey, Sister! Were you sleeping? I saw you over there with your eyes closed!” To which I responded “No, I was praying.” The doctor looked surprised and taken off guard. And there was a similar reaction from the other doctors and nurses in the room. I could tell the atmosphere changed a bit.

Later on in the same surgery the nurses were having trouble keeping the adjustable overhead light in place. They would pull it to focus where they needed it, and then the light would drift away a bit. The same doctor looked over at me and suggested “Sister, how about praying that the lights don’t drift?” Which I did. “Lord, if You want it…” I had the feeling that the staff in the room would be intrigued and moved to faith in the power of prayer if the Lord decided to keep the light in place. The next time they moved the light it drifted a tiny bit, and then stayed in place for the rest of the surgery. The nurse who had moved it turned around to look at me with wide eyes above her surgery mask.

I am grateful to the Lord for these moments that remind me that who I am as a Sister is so much more important than my x-ray skills. I am in our hospital to bring the presence of God and His love to our patients and our staff. What I do is secondary. It’s a great lesson since our culture places so much emphasis on doing and producing. And the Lord grounds us in being. He is the great I AM, He who IS.

December 22, 2015

Waiting in Joyful Expectation

My sister recently had a baby, a beautiful little girl; and I was reminded that the expectation of pregnancy can teach us so much about preparing for Christmas. The baby’s room is prepared and decorated. Parties are thrown beforehand and gifts given for the new baby and the baby's parents.  This one little person is the largest part of the new parents’ lives. 

For my sister, the experience was added to by the fact that the little dear was six days late. Each day the baby waited to come added to my sister’s sense of expectation. I’m sure she could have written her own version of the “O antiphons” although they may have been more along the lines of “Oh my belly is sore” and "Oh none of my clothes fit”. She couldn’t make any plans, not knowing when the baby would come. The house was ready with newborn clothes, diapers and other accessories waiting. Her whole life was one of waiting, on the verge of this great event but not yet there. It is like holding a breath and waiting for the right moment to release it. 

It reminds me of the many ways that our Lord described how we must be awake and ready, keeping our lamps burning for the unknown moment when the Lord is coming. So, no matter what your state in life is, we are each called to give birth to Christ so that he can be seen in each of our lives. Today with every decoration you put up, every Christmas cookie you make, you are preparing for the newborn child who is living inside your heart, who is just waiting to be born anew in your life.

- Sister M. Judith, FSGM

December 21, 2015

Live like you are dying

He is coming.

There is a song that has a line "Someday, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying." It's a short, popular, funny sort of song, but the reality can be incredibly profound.

We are granted one life, filled with experiences that are pleasant - or not; we do not know how long it will last; we do not know when the last moment will come. And we are given the choice: shall I live it with love - or hate? With gratitude - or bitterness? How shall this day be spent? It could be my last - shall I end what may be my last day with a smile or a complaint?

That, to me is what Advent is - a reminder to live like I am dying. To make certain that, should the Lord return tonight, I can hand him a day (and a life) in which I chose to live in love for Him and for people.

It's all in personal freedom; circumstances only provide the grist, my will, my choice makes the statement.

- Sister M. Luka, FSGM

December 20, 2015


This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, that is "rejoice" Sunday. We are halfway to Christmas and your excitement is building. Or is it? What if instead of excitement and joy you are experiencing sadness and emptiness? Joy and sorrow can co-exist, they can meet and embrace just as mercy and truth meet in Psalm 85.

True and lasting joy comes from freedom, interior freedom. Christ has come to set us free so we have claim to this freedom. This doesn't mean we will never suffer or grieve, but that He has redeemed even our sadness. He became small and weak, an infant, so that we would dare to approach Him, unashamed of our own weakness.

So if you do not feel like rejoicing, offer Him your heart now (in all truth), right where you are at. He knows your weakness, he has experienced your poverty and wishes now to fill you.

"Everyone offering himself to God must offer the glory of life in himself, whether it be through giving it up or rejoicing in it; through a renunciation or an embrace...Everything can be put into the fire that Christ came to kindle; and whether it be the bitter wood of sorrow or the substance of joy, it will burn upwards with the same splendour of light." (Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, p.66)

Offer Him all and He will give you joy (perhaps alongside your sorrow), the joy of being His, the joy of freedom.

- Sister M. Annuntiata, FSGM

December 16, 2015

The courage to need a Savior

“God indeed is my salvation;
I am confident and unafraid.
For the LORD is my strength and my might,
and he has been my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

Mary would have been very familiar with the Psalms and I can imagine her praying these words as she traveled in hast to visit her cousin Elizabeth. I am sure it would not have been an easy journey, but Mary’s faith in God sustained her. Mary had the privilege of carrying her salvation in her womb. I can just picture her praying these words with a hand on her stomach in utter awe of the mystery within her. In reflecting on this I thought “Wait a minute, I get to do like the same thing!” Every day my savior comes to me, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He comes to dwell in me, that I might take Him in haste to others also. As I go I too should have the confidence that Mary had because Her Son dwells in me as well.

Mary knew more than anyone else that she needed a Savior, even though she was sinless. This Advent I have been reflecting a lot on how we must realize our need for a Savior if we want to rejoice in being saved. If we stop crying out to Him “Lord, save me” then we can never cry out with Mary “my soul magnifies the Lord.” It is only by realizing how much we need Him, that we can become confident and unafraid, just like Mary.

May we all finish this Advent in joyful gratitude for the God Who comes to save us by making His dwelling not only among us, but also in us.

May the Lord give us His peace and fill us with His mercy!

- Sister M. Xavier, FSGM