“They are happy, whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they go through the Bitter Valley, they make it a place of springs.” Psalm 84
“Metanoia” is to “transform one’s heart,” a total change in life, turning from one thing and fully embracing another. Rita and I with our granddaughter, Gianna, were privileged a few weeks ago to attend the public commitment to such a transformation. Our goddaughter that we’ve known since her birth, now Sister Christina, professed her final vows with the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth.
Spending most of Saturday with the sisters first at the Mass where Sister Christina took her vows and the reception meal that followed, we were struck with the warmth, joy and intelligence of these lovely women. They laugh easily and often. When I spoke with any of them, I was the only person in the room as they looked directly into my eyes and listened with full attention. I was not exceptional; it is their way.
Sister Christina lives with some other members of her order in rural Pennsylvania. They garden, sew their own simple habits, work with local youth, make candles, but mostly, they pray. For hours every day, they pray. Alone and together within the peaceful daily rhythm of their community, they pray. Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth is a contemplative order. Praise, adoration, singing in harmony, silent contemplation and petitioning for the intentions of the Church and many others, they pray. Unchanging, day after day, with gentleness, much love, peace and persistence, they pray. They assured us there is never a lack of need for their prayerful intentions.
The sisters are of many ages, but most are young. Living out their vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, theirs is a simple life, but not an easy one. I have seen this with other orders: the more arduous the call, the younger the average age. The more secularized orders that have abandoned the habit seem to be aging and atrophying. Orders like the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Life, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and these Capuchin Sisters have different charisms and callings, but all are orthodox and centered on service, prayer and seeking holiness. No lack of vocations within these orders; some have a waiting list. Many secular skeptics would tell us the sister’s lives are an anachronism. Meet these women, and you may perceive theirs is the better way, the more essential way than many of our over scheduled lives obsessed with production and efficiency in this age of lonely alienation.
“I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.” C.S. Lewis
Encountering women like Sister Christina and her sisters is a species of miracle for which I am grateful.
No definitive proof for or against the existence of God can be ascertained by today’s methodology and philosophy. Such a thing is not provable or disprovable by the 21st century dogmatic arbiter of fact, the scientific method, but deeper sources of proof and truth are available.
Father Pio Mandato[i], the Capuchin priest who knows the sisters, was the celebrant and homilist for the Mass during which Sister Christina professed her vows. Father Pio told us that there are other proofs positive for God’s existence. One he finds is to look into the eyes of Sister Christina and see reflected back her deep relationship to God, her faith and certainty. I agree.
These women live out joyful lives of peace and prayer. Our existence is enriched simply because they do so, whether we know it or not. Christian joy is not constant happiness without disappointment, but it is finding gratitude in all circumstances. Perhaps in this tired old world we could aspire to emulate a little of their joy in our lives; take a sad song and make it better.
“Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder…Take a sad song and make it better.” ‘Hey, Jude,’ John Lennon and Paul McCartney
[i] Father Mandato has his own story, which was related to me by someone at the reception. He lives an hour or two away but comes from his hermitage from time to time to minister the sacraments to the sisters. Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was the spiritual director in Italy of Father Pio’s mother. When she became pregnant with Father Pio, Padre Pio told her that her child would be a boy and would be a priest. He eventually followed Padre Pio into the Capuchin order. Father Pio’s peace, luminous smile, good humor and inner light were another pleasure of our weekend in Pennsylvania.