Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Feast of St. Agnes

A blessed feast of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr, to all my sisters in Christ around the world!

As many of you already know, in Rome there is a special custom for the feast of St. Agnes. Two lambs are blessed during Mass at the basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls (which was built on the site of St. Anges’ parents’ home). Later, these lambs will be shorn, and their wool will be used to make the pallia that new metropolitan archbishops receive from the Holy Father on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

This tradition is especially meaningful for me in my own spirituality,  since it’s beautifully symbolic of consecrated virgins’ call to provide spiritual support for the ministry of bishops through our life of prayer and total dedication to Christ.

One of my favorite memories from my three years in Rome was last year on this date, when I was able to attend the lamb blessing ceremony. Unfortunately, at the time I was too busy with my academic work to take the time to write about it here! But in the spirit of “better late than never,” I thought I would at least share last year’s photos today:

Here I am in the courtyard of the basilica before Mass.

The lambs arrive!

Me with the lambs. Before Mass, the lambs are set out in one of the hallways, and you can go up and pet them!
There are two lambs: one decorated in red silk roses and one decorated with white ones. 
This is meant to represent both the virginity and the martyrdom of St. Agnes.

Other people petting the lambs, including my friend Fr. Hugh and some local Italian school children on a field trip.

Praying at the tomb of St. Agnes. From early records, we know that her body was buried under what is now the high altar of the basilica. 
(Her head is believed to be in a different Church in central Rome.)

And finally...

In front of the poem from Pope St. Damasus.
In the basilica, there is a sort of marble plaque with a Latin poem composed in honor of St. Agnes by Pope St. Damasus (who lived from 304 – 384). This is actually one of our earliest written sources on the life of St. Agnes. The plaque was actually lost for several centuries, but was found again in 1728. It had been used as a paving stone (inscription side down, luckily!), which is why it had been preserved.

The Latin inscription reads:


(Fr.Z’s blog gives an English translation:“It is told that one day the holy parents recounted that Agnes, when the trumpet had sounded its sad tunes, suddenly left the lap of her nurse while still a little girl and willingly trod upon the rage and the threats of the cruel tyrant. Though he desired to burn the noble body in the flames, with her little forces she overcame immense fear and, gave her loosened hair to cover her naked limbs, lest mortal eye might see the temple of the Lord. O one worthy of my veneration, holy glory of modesty, I pray you, O illustrious martyr, deign to give ear to the prayers of Damasus.”)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

“Today, indeed, He was born after the manner of men, of a Virgin, but was begotten of the Father before all things, resembling His mother in body, His Father in power. 

Only-begotten on earth, and Only-begotten in heaven. 

God of God, born of a Virgin, Righteousness from the Father, Power from the Mighty One, Light of Light, not unequal to His Father; nor separated in power, not confused by extension of the Word or enlargement as though mingled with the Father, but distinguished from the Father by virtue of His generation. 

He is your Brother, (Song of Songs 5:1) without Whom neither things in heaven, nor things in the sea, nor things on earth consist.” 

–St. Ambrose, in De Virginibus

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Back to Blogging

In honor of the Year of Consecrated Life, I’ll be making a more conscious effort to resurrect the blog!

A few updates on my life since I last posted…in Rome this past June, I successfully completed my license degree in canon law along with my classmates.

This photo was taken at a little graduation ceremony we had right after our comprehensive exams. 
I had been officially a canonist for about three hours at this point!

I returned to the Unites States over the summer, and have since been serving once again as Director of Religious Education for a mid-size parish in New York state. That is, I am now responsible for the catechetical formation and sacramental preparation of about 500 schoolchildren ranging in age from five to fourteen years old. I’m very happy to have the chance to “labor in the vineyard” again, though I will admit to getting nostalgic for Rome every now and then!

While I was in Rome studying, I didn’t have much time or mental energy to blog, since my coursework was very demanding. For a while, I even thought of discontinuing the blog altogether. But after being blessed to be in touch over the past few years with a surprising number of young consecrated virgins and young women discerning this vocation, I realized that there is still a great need for accessible resources to help consecrated virgins and aspiring consecrated virgins to support each other and reflect more deeply on our vocation.

On that note, a few housekeeping considerations:

First, I am going to be much stricter about enforcing my “respectful comments only” policy. Honest questions and even friendly debates are still welcome, but snide remarks or outright nastiness are not. Readers should feel free to share their thoughts without having to worry about being torn down, as “Sponsa Christi” is meant to be a friendly and encouraging corner of the internet.

Also, in the interest of sharing resources and perhaps building a sense of community more effectively, I’m going to experiment with having a facebook page for this blog. Check it out here:  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Anniversary Reflection

“IHS” is a traditional symbol for the Holy Name of Jesus
January 3, 2014 is the fifth anniversary of my solemn consecration to a life of virginity. Even after five years it’s still hard for me to find the words to write a reflection on the day. So instead, I’ll just share one small memory:

I originally chose January 3 as my consecration day, because I knew I wanted to be consecrated during the Christmas season, and that year January 3 happened to be the eve of the Epiphany. And January 3 is also my onomastico—that is, the feast of my patroness St. Genevieve, who herself was a consecrated virgin.

What I was not totally aware of at the time was that January 3 is also the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. But what might have been simply a liturgical happy accident instead led me, providentially, to see a new shade of meaning within my vocation.

The night before my consecration, a local Poor Clare monastery let me spend the night in their guestroom, so that I could spend that last night under the same roof as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, so as to then be more recollected for my consecration day. In the morning, I joined the nuns in their chapel for their early prayers.

Since, as I then found out, the Holy Name of Jesus is an important feast for Franciscans, the nuns had a special commemoration of the day in their celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. Their Franciscan Office books had all the beautiful proper prayers, readings, and antiphons which I didn’t have in my own “standard-issue” Roman breviary. So although I had not planned it this way, I found myself meditating specifically on the significance of the Most Holy Name in the final hours leading up to my consecration.

As I sat in the chapel, singing the Office along with the nuns, it came to my mind that if I were marrying a mortal spouse that day, I would be changing my last name to my new husband’s—and therefore “losing” my own name in a certain sense. It reminded me of how, when I was a very young, it used to strike me as a bit unfair that women generally took their husbands’ surnames, and were sometimes even addressed by their husbands’ name alone (as in: “Mrs. John Smith”).  To be very honest, when I was a little girl I used to marvel at how much you would have to love somebody to allow your own name to be basically taken over by his!

But that bright winter morning, I suddenly thought: how happy I would be if my name could be hidden under Jesus’ in the same way that a wife’s is hidden under her husband’s! In Jesus, I had truly found the one whom I loved enough so as to be willing to lose my own name.

Of course,  it should go without saying that God, who deliberately created us as unique individuals, doesn’t will that we should give up our own personalities when He calls us to consecrated life. And naturally it would sound a bit silly if I took to calling myself something like “Mrs. Jesus.” Still, at that moment, I couldn’t think of a greater joy or privilege than to be known simply as Jesus’ spouse.

Sacred Scripture and the Church’s teachings paint us a stunning picture of the power and majesty of the Holy Name of Jesus: 
…God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

But I am also grateful that every year this feast also gives me a chance to savor this mystery in a personal and more intimate way, as I remember my consecration day and how I felt that joyful longing to give myself over entirely to the one who bears the Most Holy Name.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Few Brief Thoughts for Christmastime

The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity reminds us in its suggested homily about the connection between the vocation of virginity and the wonder of the Incarnation:

“…When the fullness of time had come, the almighty Father showed, in the mystery of the incarnation, his love for this great virtue [of virginity]. In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, in a marriage covenant uniting two natures, human and divine.”

With each passing year, I’m coming to understand more and more how we consecrated virgins should savor the Christmas season as an especially spiritually nourishing time for us. The brief but beautiful Christmas season, from the Octave of Christmas through the feast of the Epiphany, gives us the time and liturgical “space” to envelope ourselves in the great truth of God’s spousal love for His people.

During this time, I think it’s good for us to reflect on how consecrated virginity, although it may seem fruitless in the eyes of the world (or even to our own eyes in some of our more difficult moments), is truly meant to be a state wherein we are specially blessed to encounter God in a privileged way, so that in us He can show forth His love and presence to the world that longs for Him. The coming New Year gives us a chance to resolve to embrace and live out the indescribable mystery of this love ever more fully.

My warmest Christmas greetings to all my sisters in Christ around the world!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran

St. John Lateran…pray for us?
Today, November 9, is the feast of the dedication of the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. According to the breviary, the Church building was originally established by the emperor Constantine (though naturally there have been many additions and changes to the original structure over the course of the ages), and the memorial of its dedication has been celebrated on this date since the twelfth century.

St. Peter’s is the only major basilica which is within the boundaries of the Vatican City State, and so is naturally the one most closely associated with the Holy Father in the popular Catholic imagination. However, it is the basilica of St. John Lateran which is actually home to the Pope’s cathedra, or seat of Office. Since St. John Lateran is home to the cathedra of the bishop of Rome, it is therefore the cathedral Church of the diocese of Rome, and thus the Pope’s true cathedral.

But as we all know, while the Pope is indeed the bishop of Rome, he is not merely the diocesan bishop of a local Church, but also the head of the Church throughout the whole world. Likewise, St. John Lateran is not simply an ordinary diocesan cathedral on the same level as, say, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York—it is rather the “mother Church of Christendom.”

This is why the feast of the dedication of St. John Lateran is a feast for the Universal Church, and not just for one diocese (as would be the case for the anniversary of a normal diocesan cathedral’s dedication) or for one parish (as would be the case for an ordinary Church).

Back when I first became “liturgically aware” in a more serious adult way, I was often puzzled why the dedication of Churches would be commemorated with as much celebration as the feast days of saints. It seemed odd to me that an inanimate object like a building (let alone a chair, as in the Chair of Peter…) should have its own place on our calendar. How could mere bricks and mortar possibly compare with the glorious living witness of the saints and martyrs?

Yet as I got older I realized that in our sacramental, incarnational faith, a Church building isn’t just about the architecture. As is evident in the prayers we use to dedicate it, and in the liturgy and scripture we use to commemorate the anniversary of its dedication, a Church structure is meant to point beyond itself towards the greater mystery of the Church. A physical Church building is “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7) which foreshadows the holy city of the new and heavenly Jerusalem.

The feasts of the dedication of Churches also became especially meaningful to me once I began to approach my own consecration as a virgin.  I started to notice the ways in which the rite for the dedication of Churches shared striking liturgical and theological parallels with the Rite of Consecrationto a Life of Virginity.

In both these sacred rituals, the bishop as Christ’s representative sets apart and consecrates something (that is, either a building or a person) exclusively for God’s purposes. In being consecrated, both Churches and virgins become “sacred spaces,” and signs of God’s presence to the whole world.

Like Church buildings, we consecrated virgins are called to be houses of prayer, a praise of the Lord, places of sacrifice though out continual and total gift of self, a “home” for God’s people, and a dwelling place for Christ.

What’s more, in some places, even the actual words of the two rituals can be seen to mirror each other quite closely. For example, in the central consecratory prayer for Churches, the bishop prays:

The Church is fruitful,
made holy by the blood of Christ:
a bride made radiant with his glory,
a virgin splendid in the wholeness of her faith,
a mother blessed through the power of the Spirit.

After Mass in the basilica for today’s feast!
This strongly calls to mind the exhortation given to the candidates in the bishop’s suggested homily in the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, wherein the virgins-to-be-consecrated are shown that they, like the Church herself, are called by Christ to be: 

“… a virgin, a bride, and a mother: a virgin, to keep the faith whole and entire; a bride, to be one with him forever; and a mother, to raise up the family of the Church.”

These prayers, which point to the mystery of the Church—first of all as the bride of Christ, as well as the holy city and the people of God—remind me of the way that we as consecrated virgins are also called to be incarnations this same mystery. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

For Our Lady’s Birthday…

Our Lady of Brezje (or Mary, Help of Christians)
Sorry, everyone, for the long silence! The past several months have been very full and busy. Besides my schoolwork—which takes up more time and energy than I would have expected—I’ve had lots of other demands in my personal life.

I’m afraid that blogging in general is still going to have to be fairly light for at least the next year or so. I did consider taking the blog offline for a while, but in the meantime I received several emails from different people who found it helpful. So even if there won’t be much regular new content here, I will be keeping this blog accessible to the public for the time being.

Although I’m not able to write about it as much as I would like, along with all the challenges, my life in Rome has been filled with a number of beautiful experiences—not only in once-in-a-lifetime historical events like Papal transitions, but also in a number of smaller, more personal “adventures.”

Once such adventure that I will share, in honor of today’s feast of Our Lady’s Nativity (or the feast today would have been if it wasn’t a Sunday…) is the quick little pilgrimage I made during Easter week to the shrine of Our Lady of Brezje, in Slovenia. The shrine is a national basilica which houses an image of Our Lady, Help of Christians.

According to a Slovene friend of mine, the image was painted by an artist who was sentenced to death for forgery during the Napoleonic period. Desperate, he promised Our Lady that, if she found a way to rescue him from his fate, he would paint an image in her honor. Of course, the artist survived, and painted the image! Later, many people would report miracles and favors granted through Our Lady’s intercession after praying at the shrine in Brezje.

This is me in front of the basilica.
 If you go to the shrine, the image itself is housed in a sort of side chapel, in a magnificent (and huge!) gilded frame. In a small alcove behind the image, the walls are completely covered in testimonies to prayers answered through the intercession of Our Lady of Brezje. There are countless letters, some photographs, but also some more interesting, concrete offerings, such as hand-made pieces of lace or other traditional crafts. For me, one  of the most touching votive offerings was a full braid of human hair from a young girl, offered in thanksgiving for her father’s safe return from a war—presumably, being poor, this girl offered Our Lady the most beautiful thing she owned.  

To my great joy, after praying about a very special, sensitive personal intention at this shrine, I had my own petition answered in a quite remarkable way. As my own sort of “votive offering,” I decided to do something here to promote devote to Our Lady under this specific title.

And so, on this lovely feast…

Our Lady of Brezje, Help of Christians, pray for us!