Friday, February 23, 2018

God’s Triumph or Ecclesiastical Triumphalism? A Reflection from the Sunday of Orthodoxy

By Brother Christopher

            Every year on the first Sunday of Lent we celebrate the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” which officially commemorates the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s proclamation of the doctrine of the veneration of icons in the 9th century: 842 A.D. to be precise. That’s a long time ago: 1176 years. Nevertheless, it’s always a joyful occasion, one we fittingly repeat each year at the beginning of Lent. Yet, we misunderstand the feast if we view it solely in historical terms, looking backwards nostalgically to the “glory days” of Orthodoxy, when it spanned the Roman Empire, when it was understood as “Christianity” and not simply one small denomination among a vast diversity of Christian churches. We can be tempted to be self-conscious about our numerically challenged church, intimidated by our larger Christian neighbors, and miss focusing on the real challenge this feast offers us: the very revelation of God. For what is at the core of venerating icons isn’t so much a nostalgic homage to tradition as an absolute living faith in the power of the incarnation.

            Through icons, the invisible, inaccessible God—the God whom the Old Testament forbade ever to be represented in art—is seen, not as a historical portrait, but as a symbolic image that expresses an invisible spiritual reality, that leads us to worship the reality which the icon depicts, which is why any true icon becomes a true meeting place between the human being and God. It doesn’t really matter what its theme is—Christ, the Virgin Mary, a saint, a biblical scene—every icon is a ray of light that emanates from God, that reveals a particular aspect of the divine presence. The power of the icon is that it speaks the truth of the Risen Christ, and of the Church that makes up his mystical body.

            This is why we can enter into this celebration wholeheartedly, without a trace of defensiveness or self-consciousness. For it is not our triumph that we speak about, but God’s triumph: God’s triumph, which overcomes all human limitations, all human imperfections, all human sin. As Saint Paul reminds us so memorably, when all is said and done, God will be all in all, not in a manner that robs us of our personal identity, but in a manner that transforms it into a free act of communion. God’s triumph is a victory of life over death, light over darkness, hope over despair. For in Jesus, the unknowable God draws near to each of us and is known, not in the image of a despotic and fearsome ruler, but in the image of the suffering servant, the God whose love is so steady and faithful that he goes off in search of whichever sheep has lost its way; indeed, who ultimately lays down his life for this sheep. This is the God the icon reveals, that we venerate every time we reverence an icon. This is what we glory in: the God whose love is more expansive and incomprehensible than we could ever dream of, whose reality sets us free to love in return. For God loves us absolutely, no matter how personally unlovable we may feel. God believes in us, and it is this faith that has the power to unleash heretofore unrealized energies of love in the Church.

            If any of you doubt this power, if you think it a pipedream, something “too good to be true,” I’d invite you to reflect on what really leads to personal change and transformation. What has made the most difference in you becoming your best self? Has it been the fear of punishment, the threat of eternal damnation, or has it been the understanding and encouragement of those who believed in you no matter what difficulties you were going through? Was it experiencing that love, that goodness that freed you to really change, to become a new you? I would maintain in the strongest possible terms that this is precisely an image of the way God works, and it is witnessed to abundantly in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. 

            So “Orthodoxy Sunday” is a feast of good news—of joy. Yet, on this Sunday of triumph, it is important to remember what sort of triumph we are speaking of. Orthodoxy’s triumph is counter-intuitive; it comes only through a progressive identification with the Lord Jesus, and thus it resists any sort of triumphalistic notions. The great danger in such a feast is that we may make it about ourselves instead of God. How easy it is to believe our own press releases and fall into a toxic triumphalism that distorts the gospel by presuming that the reason we’ve been given this gift is that somehow we merit it, that we’re in fact better than others, more deserving of God’s love than those of other denominations or religions, that being Orthodox allows us to snub, ignore, or dismiss others. The example of Jesus makes it infinitely clear that this has nothing to do with real Orthodoxy. Real Orthodoxy is less about an institution than it is about loving in the image of Jesus. We are Orthodox to the extent that we do this. And if being Orthodox is something other than this, then forgive me for asking “But what good is it?” Jesus models a love for us that transcends all division, that seeks to promote understanding and communion—and even when disagreements separate us from other Christians, we can be gracious and loving in our encounters with them. What an in-your-face triumphalism reveals is a fear and defensiveness more reflective of doubt and insecurity than mature faith and conviction.

            Brothers and Sisters, the message of Orthodoxy Sunday is something to be kept in mind throughout the year, not just during Great Lent. Let us firmly resolve to focus on the triumph of God, on God’s power working in us, leading us to express this concretely in a disciplined life of gratitude and humility. This is the legacy of the saints, this is the legacy of the Orthodox. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Some Monastics Sing Opera Too

By Brother Luke

            Four New Skete monastics sang with the local Battenkill Chorale this fall season. Weekly
practice sessions began in September and culminated on January 20 and 21 with two thrilling performances of the Verdi Requiem at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York. The hall was sold out for both performances, and the Sunday performance was also available streaming on line (here is the link: Singing our monastic offices is one of the joys of monastic life in the Orthodox tradition, but stepping into the operatic world of Giuseppe Verdi to experience the emotional power of this memorial for the departed is at another level entirely. We four, Sister Cecelia and Brothers Marc, Stavros, and Luke, joined with the other 100+ members of the chorale, 47 orchestra members, and four soloists for an unforgettable experience.

            To join the chorus you only need to have desire. Janet McGhee, who founded and directs the chorale, takes in all who want to join, no audition required. She then works with the group to prepare for the two concerts scheduled each season. Through her skill she draws from the group unimaginable beauty. We were honored to be a part of this concert.

            The score itself is a powerful canvas of varying colors and textures, ranging from the hushed opening whisper of Requiem to the thundering outburst of Dies Irae, which incorporates the emotionally heart-wrenching tenor solo Ingemisco, to the baroque dance of the Sanctus and the final fugue Libera Me.

            Written originally as a memorial to the Italian poet and nationalist Alessandro Manzoni, this Requiem later took on another layer of meaning as a result of its use by the Nazis in the Terezin concentration camp. The Jewish prisoners, with only one copy of the score, learned the music and gave 16 performances. These were used cynically by the Nazis to convince Red Cross inspectors and others that they were treating the Jews in these camps well. Most of those prisoners were sent from Terezin to other camps to be killed in the ovens. Janet McGhee happened to meet one the Terezin survivors who had sung in these performances, Edgar Krasa. His story left a searing emotional impression on Janet, which she shared with us during our preparations for this performance. She also included that account in her radio interview as a preview of the performance (here is the link to that interview:

            We are lucky to live here and have the opportunity to join with our neighbors in the Battenkill Chorale to sing such a magnificent glory of Western music. And from our perspective as monastics living a religious life, it affirms our deepest convictions about the glory of the divine expressed through the creative genius of the human spirit! What Verdi created we are able to enter into generation after generation, to bring, at even the darkest moments, rays of light and hope.

Holy Transfiguration Temple - Transfigured!

By Brother Luke

            We are excited about re-opening our Holy Transfiguration Temple for services, meditations, private prayer, and retreats. A few finishing touches remain, but we are now able to use the church again. The first activities have been individual meditation and prayer and the mid-day Tersext office. Affectionately known as the small church or chapel, the local landmark is renewed and gleaming brighter than ever. The outside of the church is what everyone notices first: new siding, roofing, and gold gilded domes, with a spotlight at night (and Christmas lights in season), and a wide ramp next to the steps that take you to the landing outside the glass front doors. In fact, with all the exterior doors now glass, more light is let into the church, illuminating the inside even without the interior lights on. And when you turn those lights on, what a vision is revealed. The entire interior has been cleaned, the ceiling replaced, and completely new lighting using energy-efficient LED lights installed. The original chandelier has been refitted and refurbished. The altar floor is now hardwood oak, slightly darker than the icon screen wood, setting off the icons to great effect. What you can’t see is the completely re-insulated ceiling, which now makes the heating system much more energy-efficient. A new air conditioner was also installed to deal as much with the humidity in the warmer months as to cool the church. The old de-humidifiers were noisy and inefficient.

            The ultimate proof of the value of the improvements will come when we begin to hold services in the church. We are planning to have the Sunday Divine Liturgy there the first two Sundays in February. As we begin to see how this worship space will fit into the liturgical rhythm of our life, we may add daily offices to that, using the large Holy Wisdom Temple for major feasts and weekend services.

            This project followed our complete cleaning of the large Holy Wisdom Temple, which preceded the 2016 celebration of our 50th anniversary. So, both of our worship spaces have been cleaned and upgraded. The success of the renovation of the Holy Transfiguration Temple was achieved because of the generosity of so many friends and benefactors of the monastery. We thank you so much for all you have done, and we encourage you to come and see the results of your participation in this project. We hope that the photos accompanying this article will give you an idea of the dramatic impact this work has made on the church. This is now, as it was always intended to be, a spiritually inviting environment for all who visit us, whether local friends just coming up from our village of Cambridge seeking a quiet place for a break in their routine, or guests staying for a longer visit and participation in the prayer and community life of the monastery, or tourists just passing through. We hope you too will be one of those visitors in the near future.

Where Did My Prayer Request Go?

By Karen Gladstone and Br. John

At some point in our lives we have all probably said or written (or in this day of social media and technology “posted” or texted) to a friend something similar to “prayers for quick recovery,” or when we know someone who passes away we have said to their family, “our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.”  The internet is blanketed with such comments on a daily basis. In reality we can’t begin to know which of those thoughts and prayers were ultimately offered up to a higher power and which were well-intentioned comforting words but never really happened. Not for lack of caring or sympathy or love, mind you, but just maybe the person was distracted or sidetracked or just wasn’t sure how to best send up those prayers. For many of us, it’s reassuring to have additional help to get our message out there: “up there.” 

Thankfully for many of us, to the Monks and Nuns of New Skete, praying is as natural as breathing.  They pray for people, for animals, for the world−every day. Just as visitors to New Skete from all over the country and beyond are welcomed, so too are prayer requests received throughout the year. It seems that regardless of religion, socio-economic status, race, orientation, ethnicity, or geographic location, most everyone could use a prayer at some point. Requests for “prayer intentions” (prayers with a specific focus) are received at New Skete through the mail, email, phone calls, and in person. Prayers are requested for one’s self, friends, family members, animals, the planet, strangers, or those in crisis half a world away.  While there are no hard and fast “rules,” most common prayer requests are for healing, good health, life struggles such as addiction, and financial circumstances. Additionally, prayers in memory of those who have died are also prevalent. The monastics are happy to provide prayers as one of the many ways they contribute to the world and help to bring peace and peace of mind.

It made me wonder….Just what happens to a prayer request after it’s made?  Br. John, one of New Skete’s founding brothers, happily answers my (seemingly endless) questions. His answers are paraphrased below.

Br. John, once someone requests prayers, what actually happens to the requests?
A request goes on a list of names of people to be prayed for. Lists are posted in many areas, including the large memo board in the busy hub where the Monks’ mailboxes are (which the Monks pass several times a day), on the memo board in the church sacristy, and on the church altar.

When does the need get prayed for?
As the Monks and Nuns go about their daily work and activities and see the posted names of those in need of prayers, they are reminded… “God, please remember….” So, a prayer for you or your loved one is said by several Monks and Nuns many times throughout the day.
Daily in church during morning and evening services (Matins and Vespers), a designated Monk silently reads each name on the list and prays to God to remember that person.
On Sundays in church during Liturgy, the deacon or another Monk silently reads each name on the list and prays to God to remember that person. Particles of communion are also put on the altar to commemorate those receiving prayers.
Some monastics have a permanent list of those they pray for weekly, which they do during their personal time.

Who says the prayers?
The Monks, the Nuns, and those in attendance at services, including chapel community members—all join in the prayer led by the priest.

For how long? Minutes? Days?
Prayers could be as simple as “God, please remember ...” or it could be a longer prayer. The prayer could be said once or many times. Depending on the circumstances and what the prayers are for (ongoing illness, sudden injury, death, ongoing health, safety) prayers may be said once or for days, weeks, or even months.

Why are only the first names of people used when listing requests?
It’s always been that way – a tradition. Our first name, ideally the baptismal name--is recognized in the liturgical context by the whole parish or evident to all present. The priest, not only at baptism but at all sacraments and at communion pronounces the first name only. There seems to be a feeling of closeness--maybe because all, living and deceased, are present, more intimate, especially during liturgy and prayer when not in "worldly" time. When listing monastics and bishops in the directory, the last name is customarily in brackets: we/they have left the birth family circles and are dedicated to the people of God in a different way. When there is a list created by people in attendance, whoever put a name on it will recognize the name(s) when it is mentioned. Otherwise I think it can be appropriate to use the last name when needed for clarity. In Isaiah and Revelation, God knows and addresses us by our individual, not family, name.

Where do prayers happen?
Anywhere the Monks and Nuns are: Church, outdoors, working, meals—anywhere.

Is it the same prayer for everyone?
Depends on the Monk or Nun; just ask them.

For anyone who would like to request prayers or for more information, please send to Karen Gladstone at or mail to:
New Skete Monasteries
PO Box 128
Cambridge, NY 12816

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Teva’s Doctoral Defense

By Sister Cecelia and Brother Christopher

On November 29th two of the nuns and three of the monks traveled to Boston to be present at Boston College for our friend and Companion Teva Regule’s doctoral defense. Her dissertation, Identity, Formation, Transformation: The Liturgical Movement of the 20th Century and the Liturgical Reform Efforts of New Skete Monastery, was the culmination of several years of research, study, and writing that included a number of extended visits at New Skete to interview monastics and to clarify the many aspects of our liturgical practice.  When she first proposed the idea to us, we were both humbled and surprised: “Really? You’d like to do your dissertation on us?” but as the scope of her work grew we ourselves came to appreciate in a new way the cumulative efforts that have spanned the fifty-plus-year history of our community. We felt it was important to be present at this occasion as a sign of our support and appreciation of her hard work.

None of us had ever been to a doctoral defense, and since the defense was to take place on the morning of the 30th, we traveled to Boston the afternoon before. The three monks were graciously offered hospitality by the Jesuit community at Boston College, while two of the sisters stayed with friends in the vicinity.  All of us were impressed with the elegant beauty of the campus and to see hundreds of students moving from building to building took some of us back to our own days of university years ago. The biggest difference was seeing how many students were walking with ear pods and holding various devices in their hands!

Doctoral defenses are open to the public and when we arrived at the appropriate classroom we became part of about fifteen observers in addition to the examiners. The atmosphere was relaxed and expectant and Teva didn’t seem bothered by runaway nerves. The four examiners were Fr. John Baldovin, S.J., Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Fr. Robert Daly, S.J., from Boston College, Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and Rev. Karen Westerfield-Tucker of Boston University.  After Teva was invited to give an opening introduction of about twenty minutes that summarized her work, each examiner was given the opportunity to ask pertinent questions and follow-up Teva’s responses with further observations and queries. The questions put to her by the panel were insightful and stimulating and Teva’s answers showed how great is her grasp of all the various aspects of her research. She did a staggering amount of research and after looking at the Liturgical Movement of the 20th century, she was able to trace efforts at liturgical change in the Christian East more broadly, and specifically how they have been expressed at New Skete. She interviewed the monastics, chapel community members, and many who are familiar with the monastery. By studying the history of the many Traditions and traditions of liturgical practice, her study highlights positive directions that can edify, encourage, and renew the worshiping community.

One of the experiences that each of us commented on to each other afterward is what it was like to be observers listening to others talk about our community’s life work. Actually, it was inspiring, giving us encouragement to be faithful to the particular path we have been called to. It was also gratifying to hear the examiners commend Teva’s hard work and encourage her to make use of it in books, articles, and even video resources that enrich both academics as well as ordinary churchgoers (the rest of us). Finally, it was a joyful moment to share with Teva when her director, Fr Baldovin said at the end of the proceedings, “Teva it is my pleasure to be the first to be able to address you as ‘Dr. Regule’. Congratulations!” Indeed, Teva: Congratulations! Many Years!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mentoring: Living in Faith

By Brother Luke

            Faith is not about assurances. It’s about moving into the unknown without the anchor of a desired predetermined outcome. The outcome is what it is supposed to be, not necessarily what I hope it will be. For cooks, and I am not one, following a recipe is supposed to lead to a known outcome: the dish you intend. Entering into monastic life is about entering into a life of faith in a unique and intensive way. When a person embarks on this journey, the initial stages of the journey include accompaniment by a professed member of the community. This is called mentoring. It usually continues right up to the time of profession, which could be 3 to 4 years after one begins the candidacy.

In our community someone entering this formation process could spend up to one year as a candidate. At the end of that period a decision is made as to whether or not the individual and the community think the candidate should continue on to the novitiate. The novitiate can then last up to 3 years, although it may end earlier for a variety of reasons. At any time during the novitiate the novice may decide that this is not the life for him or her, or the community may conclude that the individual is not suited to this life.

The formation process is a period of discernment. The mentor’s role is to help the novice negotiate the stormy waves that are an inevitable part of the journey. The novice faces major adjustments in virtually every aspect of his or her life. Long-held assumptions about proper living are challenged by the new reality of community. What may have worked for someone living alone may not be tenable in a community context where everything is shared and held in common, and nothing is owned or possessed by an individual; where a culture has evolved and a new person has to first come to understand it, then grow into it, and ultimately be a new element that will affect it and change it.  Moreover, how one spends one’s time is regulated in part by the structure of monastic life: corporate prayer; personal prayer, study, and meditation; work; and chores.

In monastic life one’s freedom of mobility is restricted. The novice needs permission to leave the monastery property. The novice has to set aside contacts with family and friends while in the process of setting down roots in the community. During the novitiate, personal possessions and money are held in trust for the novice by a person outside the community in whom the novice has confidence.

Learning about this life is a fulltime occupation. It’s both a lived experience and something transmitted through formation classes. The community needs to be careful not to overburden the novice with too many duties. Participating in and preparing for classes is an important part of the novice’s life and must be respected by the other members of the community. The novice has to prepare his or her own daily horarium, taking into account the community structure that is already in place. This is reviewed with the mentor and adjusted over time as duties and circumstances warrant.

Juggling all this and keeping one’s eye focused on why one was drawn to monastic life in the first place is the mentoring process. The mentor and novice will meet once a week throughout the novitiate. This is the time when the mentor will question the novice about weekly experiences with work, other community members (or staff), liturgical life, and most importantly the emotional stretch in dealing with separation from long-time friends and family, and all the issues surrounding those relationships. The novice will struggle with all these things and more. The mentor has to provide the answers to the relentless: why? Doing this in a way that both affirms and challenges set patterns from the past is the delicate dance.

The mentoring sessions will often start with general discussions about the activities of the week. But it will also delve into deeper issues that touch on the emotional turmoil that is brewing inside the heart. Questions include: “What is coming up in your prayer?” “What happened this week that you would describe as moments of grace or moments of challenge?” The conversation that follows can circle back to a discussion of what drew the person to this life in the first place. Is the attraction continuing to burn bright or to burn out? Clarity around that struggle can emerge from the answer to the question: “What is it about this life that feeds you?” How the answer to that question varies over time can reveal the trajectory the novitiate is taking for that person. 

Monastic life may produce a rhythm that is reassuring and fulfilling, or it may seem routine and debilitating. Wrestling with such feelings is natural to the process, but the outcome is not the same for each person. The mentor is there as a guide, constantly trying to explain and put into perspective the realities of the monastic culture the novice is experiencing. The mentor can also challenge the novice’s own preconceived notions that are now bumping into a new and unfamiliar reality. Working through all this is no easy task. It is how our faith is lived out in the monastic laboratory. “When the waves rush in on all sides,” as the psalmist says, are we able to affirm through faith our steadiness on the course, or will the unsettling crises we experience cause us to waver and turn back to the familiar? The process is intended to make us work through that. Working through it may not always lead to the same outcome. And that is as it should be. There is another “player” involved here and that is God. If we have allowed the process to do its work, then that final decision ideally comes out of that place where God is guiding the choice. Guiding, not making, the choice: is this the right place for that person to work out his or her salvation? For some it is. But not for all. Being at peace with that reality is the challenge both the individual and the community have to face. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quiet Moments

by a friend of the monastery

What do a 9½-week-old German Shepherd puppy, a confessional, scripture passages, Mother Teresa, and Cardinal John Henry Newman have in common?

It was Saturday afternoon and I was in the confessional because of the puppy.  She had turned our lives upside down in the short 10 days we’d had her.  My husband and I had traveled to upstate New York and back by car in just 5 days to pick her up—a trip of over 3,000 miles—spending each night in a different hotel.  Although the puppy’s acquisition was a very conscious and much anticipated one, the drone of the drive, the sleepless nights, and working with her during her waking hours to housebreak her and to capture trainable moments were taking their toll on me. I played out the Martha and Mary story, heaping unspoken blame on my husband for what I perceived was not enough help. I was harboring unkind thoughts, the stress of keeping my angry thoughts to myself had me on the verge of a volcanic eruption, and, of course, in the midst of all this upheaval my prayer life was slowly circling the drain.

So there I sat in the confessional opposite the priest, sharing my frustrations, all the while sadly aware that in my attempt to be Puppy Super-Mom I not only had neglected my regular prayer life but had completely failed to call upon the Holy Spirit throughout this “ordeal.”  I saw Father’s lips offer the faintest hint of a smile, and for the first time I saw the humor in the whole situation.  This man of God must think I’ve lost my last semblance of sanity!  If this scenario is any example, then priests really have heard it all!

For my penance, Father asked me to read and meditate upon the Gospel account of Christ’s rescue of Peter when the Apostle attempted to walk on water (Matthew 14).  Isn’t Peter’s cry of “Lord, save me!” and Christ’s immediate stretching out of his hand what happens every time someone goes to Reconciliation?  As Father blessed me and I left the confessional I resolved to spend more time on the Gospel passage, but at the moment my sacristan duties called, and before I knew it, it was time for the Saturday vigil Mass to start.

As the Lector read the first reading from 1 Kings 19, I felt eerily as if verse 12 held some special message for me: “…there was a tiny whispering sound.”  What was the Holy Spirit trying to tell me?  I didn’t have long to wait.  As Father’s homily unfolded he drew the connection between Elijah’s trip to the desert cave and Christ’s trip up the mountain to pray after he’d sent the Apostles on their way in their boat.  Father convicted many of us that day of not praying as often as we should, not taking the time to quiet down our lives so that we could, indeed, hear the whisper. “OK,” I said to myself, “first thing tomorrow morning….”

“First thing tomorrow morning” became puppy’s first outing of the day.  Then came her breakfast and a short training session, after which I quickly got busy with kitchen chores.  Engrossed as I was in tending to kitchen cleanup, I almost missed it.  Quietly, very quietly, puppy nestled herself at my feet and whimpered once, then twice.  I realized that she’d been up past her nap time.  She was signaling her need for some quiet time in her crate.  What a subtle hint the Holy Spirit sent me: “If you can’t remember your own commitment to me, then I will send you a message in a language you are sure to understand.”

I settled puppy in her crate and then sat down in the morning quiet, intending to read my penance assignment.  First, though, I detoured to a book of Mother Teresa’s meditations (Jesus, the Word to be Spoken) and read the thought for the day, 13 August, which this year was the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “We are called upon every day to exercise our priestly ministry of handling the body of Christ in the form of a suffering humanity and of giving Holy Communion to all those with whom we come in contact by spreading the fragrance of his love wherever we go.”

Mother Teresa’s reference to spreading the fragrance of Christ’s love struck a chord.  Months ago, Father had handed out prayer cards for penance.  On the card was a prayer written by Cardinal Newman, which Mother Teresa had adopted as a daily prayer for her order.  The prayer has become one of my favorites.  The prayer card rests in my bible at Psalm 32, a Psalm I recite after Reconciliation.  Because it is the only prayer card in my bible, my bible often opens automatically to it, and I frequently recite the prayer before doing further reading in my bible.  How nice, I thought, as I read Mother Teresa’s meditaion, that I’m finally beginning to recognize some spiritual citations on my own without the benefit of footnotes!

I moved on to a second book of Mother Teresa’s meditations (The Joy in Loving) which I always read in concert with the first one.  I opened to the reading for the day, also 13 August, and encountered Cardinal Newman’s prayer yet again with further amplification in Mother Teresa’s own words: “The light, O Jesus, will be all thine; none of it will be mine; it will be you, shining on others through me.”

When I did read Matthew’s gospel—yes, I finally found my way to my penance assignment!—my heart and mind were full, amazed at the journey this “simple” penance exercise had led me on.  If a bolt of lightning had struck me that morning, the realization of what I had experienced over the past 12 hours since my trip into the confessional couldn’t have been clearer: Reconciliation, the scripture readings, Mother Teresa’s meditations, Cardinal Newman’s prayer—all helped me understand my sin and how to combat it.  It’s very simple, really.  Charity begins at home.  I needed to lighten up, reconnect with my sense of humor, and get a grip.  I needed to forgive myself for my anger.  And I needed to transform my anger into a peace that could become a conduit of love.  I had to first put myself and my own house in order so that I possessed the love of Christ.  Only then could I reflect that love and spread its fragrance to others.

And to think that this “revelation” came so quietly through the mere introduction of a tiny German Shepherd puppy into our household.  God truly does use all of His creation to speak to us.  Never should we take any of it for granted!

Shortly after I finished my meditation that Sunday morning, my husband offered to relieve me of puppy duty without any prompting from me.