Monday, June 28, 2010

Monastery Open Days

We plan to hold a few open days during the coming months. Please click on the Poster below view a larger version.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Rosary and Dominican Nuns

The following is a short reflection on my vocation as a contemplative Dominican nun, in the light of the five joyful mysteries of the Rosary - text of a presentation given recently to a group of young people .

The Annunciation

St Thomas Aquinas likes to maintain that Jesus was the first Dominican, and I’m not saying that he was wrong! But we know that St Dominic established the nuns before his brother preachers, and in the first joyful mystery, we see Mary, called by God, invited to be His mother, to be the one through whom He would come into the world, and give Himself - entirely - to us and for us. You see, Mary … before Jesus!

I was thinking about this over the past while, and I think it is true to say that joining the Legion of Mary was the first thing I did for myself, as being something I really wanted to do. We were at Mass one Sunday, and a Legionary had got up to speak a bit about their mission, to encourage us to think about joining them. I had wanted to do something more for God than just go to Mass on Sundays, and this seemed to be a way that I could make some kind of return to Him for all He had done for me. It was a pretty amazing foundation – being among people for whom God is supremely important. The Lord had blessed me with a strong sense of Himself, I would even say a desire for Him, and this was how I thought I could express that, live it out. In the Legion, I could at last let Him in more, show Him how much He mattered to me. And it was a place where I could learn to love Mary – freely and deeply.

My first contact with the Dominicans came through the Legion – and they seemed to be able to reach or touch me deepest need for God – to awaken a string desire for Him that only He could satisfy. My ‘Annunciation’ came at a ‘Credo’ weekend, hosted by the Dominicans, during a lecture on the ‘Four Last Things’ (!) And so, I eventually arrived here, in Siena: full of wonder, amazement, joy – that God wanted only me, but all of me, for Himself. Mary, before she set out, said ‘yes’ to God’s will and I’m sure she must have spent some amount of deep, deep time in prayer with the Lord, utterly humbled and grateful for such a tremendous gift.

The Visitation

But she set out – as quickly as she could – to visit Elizabeth – to share her joy – to share God: because no matter how full of grace she was – no one can contain God. None of us; I think if we tried we’d explode – even Mary, whose capacity for Him was far beyond ours. And in the monastery, this is our second joyful mystery too. Initially, the coming is a personal response to God for us ourselves; but, like Mary, we can’t be touched by His love and not want to give it away- to the whole world. We are invited to love like God – to give ourselves away, and more, to give God away – to others and for others. And even though it leaves you empty – there’s tremendous richness in the emptiness, great joy – a gift that God in His love helps you to accept. (But you have to learn how to accept it!)

The Nativity

And the Word was made flesh … I think this mystery is too great, you could spend a lifetime trying to come to appreciate the wonder that God came to live and move among us, out of sheer love.
He Whom Mary had been promised, was now, after so long waiting to meet Him, was in her arms – He Whom she had been able to shelter and protect, was now born. All that time of waiting was her time with Him, but now she must begin to give Him away, because we are in such desperate need of Him.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

I think Mary, in this mystery, is amazingly courageous, a great teacher and example. Watch her, carrying her Life in her arms, and returning it to God. Her love for this Baby must have been so all-consuming; all her hope, her love, her life, was bound to this Baby, and what did she do? … Gave Him away – gave Him back to God.
This too is our life in the monastery, always to acknowledge the greatness of God – to take all that He has given us – our whole lives- everyone we have been given to love: family, friends, people we’ve been asked to pray for – every day, to come to God and to entrust them all to Him, in thanksgiving and in love. To be that empty – to give Him our very breath – this is our life. The most amazing gift He has given me, is that sharing a little in His vision – that I can see that I have nothing if I don’t have God first; but if I give the Lord everything: all my desire, all my love, all my hope - if I let Him take everything I am, so that I am left empty – then I can be stretched and He makes room in me for more … of Himself. And I have discovered powerfully that He is doing that all the time.

Mary finds Jesus in the Temple

What can I say? The Eucharist is the heart and centre of our whole life – and however empty we are, how ever long the emptiness lasts – the Lord never fails to find us. There are, of course, times when we’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth – but He never lets us go. And I am blessed, because I know, that when I am lost, I am lost in God. I may not always be able to see Him, but I can hang on because He is nearer to me – deeper in me - than I am to myself.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sr Niamh's Profession - photos

We are sorry that it has taken us so long to share Sr Niamh's profession photos - the ones taken in the chapel are rather dark -due mainly to the fact that our chapel is extremely bright and therefore photos tend to come out dark!

Prostration at beginning of ceremony when the sister being professed asks for God's mercy and that of the community.

Sr Mairead, Prioress, questions Sr Niamh regarding her readiness to make profession.

Sr Niamh makes profession in the hands of Sr Mairead, prioress.

Sr Niamh's veil is blessed and she receives a ring.

Afterwards with some of our sisters and some Dominican friars

Sr Niamh planting a tree which her family presented her in memory of the occasion: pictured here with Jos our gardener and Micheal who is giving a helping hand in the garden during his summer holidays from college

Sr Niamh shares a joke with Sr M Teresa and Cathy

Later in the week we celebrated as a community - Sr Niamh and Sr M Teresa (her novitiate companion), dressed in work clothes, treated us all to afternoon tea with samples of their homemade delicious confectionary while at the same time entertaining us with funny skits.
And of course our celebrations would not be complete without a party in the novitiate in honour of the occasion

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI on St Thomas Aquinas

We share with our readers Pope's Benedict's catechesis on the great Dominican saint and doctor of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas. It is worth quoting in full:

After a few catecheses on the priesthood and my latest trips, we return today to our principal theme, namely, to the meditation on some of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. We saw recently the great figure of St. Bonaventure, Franciscan, and today I would like to speak of him whom the Church calls the Doctor Communis, namely St. Thomas Aquinas.

In his encyclical "Fides et Ratio," my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II recalled that "the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology" (No. 43). It is not surprising that, after St. Augustine, among the writers mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas is quoted more than any other -- some 61 times! He was also called the Doctor Angelicus, perhaps because of his virtues, in particular the loftiness of his thought and purity of life.

Thomas was born between 1224 and 1225 in the castle that his family, noble and wealthy, owned in Roccasecca, on the outskirts of Aquino and near the famous abbey of Montecassino where he was sent by his parents to receive the first elements of his instruction. A year or so later he transferred to Naples, the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, where Frederick II had founded a prestigious university. There he was taught, without the limitations in force elsewhere, the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, to whom the young Thomas was introduced, and whose great value he intuited immediately.

But above all, during those years spent in Naples, his Dominican vocation was born. In fact, Thomas was attracted by the ideal of the order founded not many years earlier by St. Dominic. However, when he was clothed in the Dominican habit, his family opposed this choice, and he was obliged to leave the convent and spend some time with the family.

In 1245, now older, he was able to take up again his path of response to God's call. He was sent to Paris to study theology under the guidance of another saint, Albert the Great, about whom I spoke recently. Albert and Thomas forged a true and profound friendship and they learned to esteem and wish one another well, to the point that Albert wanted his disciple to follow him also to Cologne, where he had been invited by the superiors of the order to found a theological study. Thomas now made contact with all of Aristotle's works and with his Arab commentators, which Albert illustrated and explained.

In that period, the culture of the Latin world was profoundly stimulated by the encounter with Aristotle's works, which had been ignored for a long time. They were writings on the nature of knowledge, on the natural sciences, on metaphysics, on the soul and on ethics, rich in information and intuition that seemed valid and convincing. It was a whole complete vision of the world developed without and before Christ, with pure reason, and it seemed to impose itself on reason as "the" vision itself; hence, it was an incredible fascination for young people to see and know this philosophy. Many received with enthusiasm, and some with acritical enthusiasm, this enormous baggage of ancient learning, which seemed to be able to renew the culture advantageously, to open totally new horizons. Others, however, feared that Aristotle's pagan thought was in opposition to the Christian faith, and they refused to study him. Two cultures met: the pre-Christian culture of Aristotle, with his radical rationality, and the classic Christian culture.

Certain environments were led to refuse Aristotle, as well as the presentation that was made of this philosopher by the Arab commentators Avicenna and Averroes. In fact, they were the ones who transmitted Aristotelian philosophy to the Latin world. For example, these commentators had taught that men do not have a personal intelligence, but that there is only one universal intellect, a common spiritual substance for all, which operates in all as "the only one," hence, a de-personalization of man. Another disputed point made by the Arab commentators was that the world is eternal like God. Understandably, endless disputes were unleashed in the university and ecclesiastical realms. Aristotelian philosophy was being spread, even among simple people.

Thomas Aquinas, in the school of Albert the Great, carried out an operation of fundamental importance for the history of philosophy and theology, I would say for the history of culture: He studied Aristotle and his interpreters in depth, obtaining new Latin translations of the original texts in Greek. Thus, he no longer relied only on the Arab commentators, but could read the original texts personally, and he commented on a great part of the Aristotelian works, distinguishing what was valid from what was doubtful or to be refuted all together, showing the consonance with events of Christian revelation and using Aristotelian thought at length and acutely in the exposition of the theological writings he composed. In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures -- that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason -- showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped the culture of the following centuries.

Because of his excellent intellectual gifts, Thomas was recalled to Paris as professor of theology in the Dominican chair. Here he also began his literary production, which he continued until his death, and which is something prodigious: commentaries on sacred Scripture, because the professor of theology was above all interpreter of Scripture, commentaries on Aristotle's writings, powerful systematic works, among which excels the Summa Theologiae, treatises and discourses on several arguments. For the composition of his writings, he was helped by some secretaries, among whom was Brother Reginald of Piperno, who followed him faithfully and to whom he was tied by a fraternal and sincere friendship, characterized by great confidence and trust. This is a characteristic of saints -- they cultivate friendship, because it is one of the most noble manifestations of the human heart and has in itself something of the divine. Thomas himself explained this in the Summa Theologiae, in which he wrote: "Charity is man's friendship with God primarily, and with the beings that belong to him" (II, q. 23, a.1).

He did not stay a long and stable time in Paris. In 1259, he participated in the General Chapter of the Dominicans at Valenciennes where he was member of a commission that established the program of studies for the order. Then, from 1261 to 1265 Thomas was in Orvieto. Pope Urban IV, who greatly esteemed him, commissioned him to compose the liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Domini, which we celebrate tomorrow, instituted after the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The very beautiful hymns that the liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom. From 1265 until 1268, Thomas resided in Rome, where, probably, he directed a Studium, namely a House of Study of the Order, and where he began to write his Summa Theologiae (cf. Jean Pierre Torrell, "Tommaso d'Aquino. L'uomo e il teologo" [Thomas Aquinas: The Man and the Theologian], Casale Monf., 1994, pp. 118-184).

In 1269 he was recalled to Paris for a second cycle of teaching. The students -- understandably -- were enthusiastic about his lessons. A former student of his said that a great multitude of students followed Thomas' courses, so much so that the classrooms barely succeeded in containing them. He added, with a personal annotation, that "to listen to [Aquinas] was for him a profound happiness." The interpretation of Aristotle given by Thomas was not accepted by everyone, but even his adversaries in the academic field, such as Goffredo di Fontaines, for example, admitted that the doctrine of Brother Thomas was superior to that of others for usefulness and value, and that it served as a corrective to those of all the other doctors. Perhaps to extricate him from the lively discussions under way, his superiors sent him once again to Naples, to be at the disposition of King Charles I, who intended to reorganize university studies.

In addition to studying and teaching, Thomas was also dedicated to preaching to the people. And the people willingly went to hear him. I would say that it is truly a great grace when theologians are able to speak with simplicity and fervor to the faithful. The ministry of preaching, moreover, helps the scholars of theology themselves to a healthy pastoral realism, and enriches their research by lively stimulation.

The last months of Thomas' earthly life remained surrounded by a particular atmosphere -- I would say a mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he called his friend and secretary Reginald to communicate to him the decision to interrupt all work because, during the celebration of Mass, he had understood, following a supernatural revelation, that all he had written up to then was only "a heap of straw." It is a mysterious episode, which helps us to understand not only Thomas' personal humility, but also the fact that all that we succeed in thinking and saying about the faith, no matter how lofty and pure, is infinitely exceeded by the grandeur and beauty of God, which will be revealed to us fully in Paradise. A few months later, always more absorbed in a thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while traveling to Lyon, where he was going to take part in the ecumenical council called by Pope Gregory X. He died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after having received the Viaticum with sentiments of great piety.

The life and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas could be summarized in an episode handed down by the ancient biographers. While the saint, as was his custom, was praying in the morning before the crucifix in the Chapel of St. Nicholas in Naples, the sacristan of the church, Domenico da Caserta, heard a dialogue unfolding. Thomas was asking, worried, if what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was right. And the Crucifix responded: "You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What will be your recompense?" And the answer that Thomas gave is that which all of us, friends and disciples of Christ, would always wants to give: "Nothing other than You, Lord!" (Ibid., 320).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sr Niamh's Solemn Profession

Monday the 31st May, the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, was a wonderful day of celebration for our community and indeed for the whole Dominican family in Ireland, as Sr Niamh Muireann made her solemn profession as a Domincan nun. She was joined by her parents, family, relatives and friends - many of whom travelled a long distance to be with her. Fr Larry Collins OP, vicar of the Master of the Order for our community, presided at the celebration and fourtenn other priests (12 Domincans 2 Carmelites from Sr Niamh's home parish and 1 Benedictine Monk, Rostrevor) concelebrated the Eucharist - Fr Terence Crotty OP preached the homily. We were also happy that some of the Domincan students from St Saviour's, Dublin and novices from St Mary's, Cork, and a Benedictine brother could join with us. Many of the local lay Dominicans were also present.

The revised Dominican rite of profession is quite simple and maybe somewhat stark but profound in its theological significance. The litanies and the prayer of consecration - which are part of the Roman rite of religious profession - have never been part of our Dominican tradition (although they are offered as an option if desired).
Our community have chosen to keep to the simple rite which is more in keeping with the tradition of our Order. We will try to give a brief description of it here for those interested.

The rite begins (after the Gospel) with the sister being professed prostrating herself while asking for God's Mercy and the community's.
Then after the homily the prioress questions her regarding her willingness and readiness to dedicate herself to God in our way of life. After a pause for silent prayer begging God for His grace and mercy the sister (kneeling) makes profession into the hands of the prioress. According to our tradition obedience only is mentioned but all three vows are included - in fact through profession we commit ourselves to faithfully live our whole life according to our constitutions. The formula of profession is as follows:
I, sister N.N., make profession, and promise obedience to God, and to blessed Mary and to blessed Dominic, and to the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers and to you Sister N. N. Prioress of this monastery of St Catherine of Siena, Drogheda and to your successors, according to the rule of blessed Augustine and the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers, that I will be obedient to you and to your successors, until death.

Then the priest who presides reminds us that it is through this simple act of profession that God consecrates us for Himself:
Sr N. N. by this solemn profession you have given yourself to God and to His will: God Himself, therefore, has conse¬crated you to Himself through the ministry of the Church, to be associated, through a life of prayer and penance, with the ‘holy preaching’ of St Dominic, so that you may be His own heritage and that He may be your heritage forever

He then blesses the veil saying:
Lord, bless + this veil which Sr N.N. wears for love of you and your blessed Mother Mary, ever Virgin, as a sign of her consecration to you. Through your help and protection may she always preserve the purity of heart that it mystically signifies. In wearing it may she be recognised as a house of prayer and a temple of intercession for all people. Clothe with your grace her entire being, so that she may love you with all her heart. May she always live in this love and be introduced one day to the joy of your kingdom, through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

He blesses the ring and gives it to the newly professed saying:
Sr NN Receive this ring as a sign of consecration and fidelity pledged to God, so that wearing it you may be defended by the power of heavenly protection, and keep true faith with Him until you come into everlasting joy

The rite of profession concludes with the singing of the antiphon Amo Christum - here we give the translation:
I love Christ into Whose bridal chamber I enter.
Whose Mother is a Virgin, Whose Father knew no woman.
Whose organ sounds out with melody for me.
When I love Him I am chaste. When I touch Him I am clean.
When I accept Him I am a virgin. With his ring He has betrothed me and He has adorned me with glorious jewels

The Eucharist continues as usual.

After the cermony the guests were invited to a buffet lunch, Niamh's mother had baked a beautiful cake which we cut in due course.

The day was brought to a close with a half hour's silent Eucharistic Adoration followed by solemn Vespers - at which Fr Ronan Cusack OP from the local Dominican priory preached a short homily. Benediction followed - we were happy that many of the guests were able to remain for this conclusion of a perfect day!

More photos to follow in a few days - on the whole our community are 'camera shy' - but we hope to have some to share with our readers in due course.