Creamy Pistachio Peanut Beer Eggnog (alt=”Jesu Caritas”)

My little four-year-old brother is singing Somebody That I Used to Know with his Ate Yena. Lol.

I am so grateful to everyone who prayed for me this weekend while I was in Nashville. You’ve all been asking how the retreat was, and I really can’t do the experience justice over text. Not that I can do it justice here, either, but… At any rate, this was our schedule:

16:30 – Registration, Welcome
17:00 – Vespers, Rosary, Dinner
18:45 – Stations of the Cross, Compline
19:30 – Retreat Opening Conference
followed by silence and return to dorms or prayer time
22:00 – Lights out

05:50 – Rising bell
06:20 – Penitential Psalms (optional)
06:30 – Meditation (optional)
07:00 – Lauds
07:15 – The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
08:15 – Breakfast
09:00 – Tour
09:45 – Conference
10:30 – Free time
12:00 – Noon Prayers, Lunch
13:15 – Recreation
followed by refreshments
14:45 – Conference
15:30 – Free time
16:30 – Adoration
17:00 – Vespers, Rosary, Dinner
18:30 – Spiritual Reading, Compline
19:30 – Discussion groups
20:15 – Holy Hour: Adoration
followed by silence and return to dorms or prayer time
22:00 – Lights out

06:00 – Rising bell
06:30 – Meditation (optional)
07:00 – Lauds
07:15 – The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
08:30 – Breakfast
09:30 – Pack, Pictures
10:15 – Closing Conference
12:00 – Noon Prayers, Lunch

The tour was given to my group of eight girls by Sr. Anastasia from Australia. There are around 280 Sisters living at the convent year-round.

The chapel at the Motherhouse is fairly new. It was dedicated to the Presentation of the Lord at Christmas in 2005. The Sisters cannot invite anyone to celebrate Mass with them because all of the individual stalls are full, and only recently did they receive more stalls to be set up along the walls from a kind benefactor. The architecture of the chapel is in the style of a basilica, which is to say that it is a large, oblong hall, with double colonnades, and a semicircular apse.

The life story of St. Cecilia is portrayed in the large stained glass windows that go around the Chapel, and the story of St. Dominic is portrayed in smaller stained glass windows up higher. The prayer above the colonnades reads, “Cantantibus organis Caecilia Domino decantabat dicens: Fiat cor meum immaculatum, ut non confundar.” It was her prayer on the night before her wedding.

The oldest part of the Motherhouse was built in 1864, in the middle of what was originally farmland. One of the original beams is preserved in the lowest usable level of the house, and looks pretty beat up. Plus, the floor slopes on that level. You can feel its age. The statue of the Sacred Heart which stands in front of the main entrance to the Motherhouse is over a hundred years old.

Along the rosary walk is a statue of St. Dominic, which is how they actually thinks he looks, based on measurements of his remains which have been exhumed (he’s not one of the Incorruptibles, if you’re wondering). He is portrayed as walking, as he usually was in a great hurry, holding in one hand the rosary, and in the other, the texts that he always kept with him of the gospel of Matthew, the writings of St. Paul, and one other that I didn’t catch.

We were shown the cemetery next, after the rosary walk, and Sr. Anastasia talked about how one of the most beautiful experiences of life at the convent is the love with which the dying are cared for. Vigil is kept with the dying Sister; she is never alone, and always being prayed for and with. Sr. Anastasia pointed out to us the grave of Sr. Marie William MacGregor, who held the community together in that time after Vatican II when they were going through a lot of changes, losing many Sisters, and the Sisters were trying to figure out exactly what the Church needed of the community.

There are a number of china cabinets in the guest dining rooms, and Sr. Anastasia explained that these were gifts from relatives of Sisters, usually upon passing.

The Sisters have many artists among them, and many of the pieces of art around the house – from paintings to mosaics – are done by the Sisters. Sr. Anastasia made us laugh; she said that in passing through the house and hearing someone practicing violin here, piano there, singing in another room, she felt so inadequate among so many artists.

The old chapel is now the oratory, and is in the gothic style. There is a large stained glass window of St. Cecilia, and Sr. Anastasia pointed out to us the two lines across her neck. The window had not originally had that at all, but during a storm, a chip had blown in at her neck. It was as if God was adding to the artwork; St. Cecilia was supposed to be beheaded, but the executioner completely botched the job, and so her head was sort of hanging on, and how she actually died was that she bled to death over the course of three days.

One of our group members, Darcy, who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil, asked how living with all this beauty was possible in light of the vow of poverty.

The vow of poverty is difficult to pin down to external practices. Sr. Anastasia explained that poverty in their vocation was more of an emptying of themselves, an emptying of expectations and being open to receiving what people are willing to give. There is no denying the beauty of the convent, and the apparent luxury, but realize that everything the Sisters live with has been given to them, from the roof over their heads to the shoes on their feet. Who darns their socks nowadays? They do. Sr. Anastasia has six pairs of socks, pajamas, and two serviceable habits – her third habit is falling apart and isn’t wearable. The Sisters’ rosaries get worn down pretty quickly, and are made by the novices or are also gifts. The one she wears currently is her third in the past year and a half. Also, because the convent, unlike a typical family household, sticks around for hundreds of years, people’s gifts stick around for hundreds of years as well, and 150 years ago, people just didn’t make ugly stuff. Sr. Anastasia also pointed out that in some orders, extreme poverty can cause tension because some find it to be unlivable. In this way, she said, St. Dominic was very wise, because he expected extreme external practices of himself, but not of others; rather, he expected that interior extremeness of devotion of his followers, and made sure that their style of life was balanced in ways that would help them to live their vocation to its fullest potential. Finally, the Sisters occasionally find it necessary to refuse gifts if they are not appropriate to religious life, and that what they do accept is art that points to God and not to self.

There’s too much about the retreat that I can’t put into words, even here, where I’m so used to brain dumping. It is, however, absolutely necessary to share the best lines courtesy of Fr. John Eckert, our retreat-master:

  • Father’s addicted to Downton Abbey, but he only watches it while exercising, so that he’s doing something for his overall wellbeing while being entertained, and not merely wasting time. 
  • Father was talking about having a grateful heart, part of which included having a car to drive in. “If you’ve driven anywhere, I understand, it’s so easy to lose your temper, especially when they’re out there calling you #1 with the wrong finger…”
  • We had just been reminded to be grateful for our shoes. Next came our toothbrush. “I’m grateful for your toothbrush; you can have a conversation with people and they won’t be repulsed.”
  • Father gave us a different mystery to mediate on after each conference. The first that he gave us was the Annunciation. He instructed us to be pray for openness in spite of our many questions, in the same way that Mary must have had many questions, but in spite of them, she remained open to the gift of God.
  • Absolutely incredible homily on the competitive nature of the world, as evidenced by American Idol and cooking shows, etc. It’s not enough to love to sing or cook and be good at those things; now people have to be the best, someone has to win. But the great thing about the call to holiness is that it’s universal. We’re all called to holinesswe’re all called to sainthood. And the best part is that when it comes to the universal call to holiness, it’s not as if only one person can win; “If Sister here becomes a saint, it’s not as if there’s less holiness to go around.” Rather, another’s success is a triumph for all of us in the Church, and through the success of one person, there is a little more love in the world.
  • Father shared with us the first time that he was in Rome, and on a tour he was taking, his tour guide began with, “Today is all about joy.” Rome waged war on Christianity. The beautiful Churches are a testimony, a manifestation of the Faith’s survival.
  • I can’t possibly attempt to recreate Father’s take on That Mitchell and Webb Sound’s Old Lady Job Justification Hearings for the cosmetic surgeon…
  • On Jesus walking with us: “Jesus didn’t say, here’s a set of rules, I’m gonna go get a sandwich…”
  • At a baptism a couple of months ago, Father was speaking to the 6-year-old older brother of the baby, and Father asked if he knew what the two gifts the baby brother would receive from the Church were. “Father, I think there’s only one.” “What’s that?” “Love.” Father was going to say the candle and the baptismal garment….
  • On growing in Faith: “Don’t get stuck on progress all the time.”
  • On pre-Cana: “Yeah, I say to myself, ‘Yes! I get to make this couple feel awkward today.'”
  • On feeling as if he’s aging faster now as a priest. “But I’m not wearing a cardigan yet.”
  • The 10 commandments are the lowest common denominator. “The 10 commandments are the point just below which you’re a jerk.” For example, one isn’t satisfied merely with, “Of course I’m a good husband; I’ve never been unfaithful!” or “So you’ve never killed anyone. Good for you…”
  • On Laetare Sunday: “It’s great, I get to wear pink in public!”
  • “Faith is not a baseball bat that you go around beating everyone on the head with.”
  • After his first Mass, an old lady came up to him, glaring, and said, “I hope you’re my kind of priest,” to which he replied, “Well, I hope you’re my kind of gal!”

The entire experience was simply august. I was so, so, so grateful for the silence. Not an empty, aching silence, but one full of that joy that comes of having Him so near, and being in the company of so many who love Him so dearly. There was a lot of emphasis on this retreat about just being in His Presence.

I can’t say much more here. I know I haven’t said much on the actual content of the retreat… but there’s so much to ponder in my own heart. Please know that I am very much at peace. I’m scared – but I’m not as scared as I thought I would be, all things considered. Since coming home, it’s been easier to laugh. I’m ok.

In fact, I’m sitting here enjoying a glass of Malbec and a lot of Dulce de Batata con Sabor a Chocolate in honor of our new Holy Father from Argentina!! I got to watch EWTN before leaving for school today. Viva il Papa! Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

And since we’re now on the subject of food… Several of my friends have been made aware of my dietary restrictions.

Jason: That’s too bad, ’cause I just made a beer with all those ingredients in it.
me: … Creamy pistachio peanut beer eggnog… ? Legit?!
Jason: Hmmm, not a bad idea.
me: Oh and kiwi makes my throat close up, did you put kiwi in there, too?
Jason: I didn’t, but it’s not too late.

My friends are great.

On my way back home, I stopped by Louisville for coffee (tea) with Ted, whom I haven’t seen since Gela’s wake, so there was plenty to be said. I’d left Nashville at just a little before 1300, and I made it home at around 2100. It was a super road trip. I made it through all of Mumford and Audrey Assad and Switchfoot… good times =)



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