Look to Mary when feeling helpless, advise Poor Clares in New Orleans

Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — As the pandemic throws a metaphorical grenade into the everyday habits of people around the world, the consistent and faith-bolstering rhythm of daily Mass, frequent prayer, quiet recreation and humble ministry is serving New Orleans’ community of Poor Clare Sisters very well.

The five sisters who reside at the contemplative religious community’s monastery in the city report that their days, while certainly impacted by the coronavirus, have been fundamentally unchanged since the sheltering-in-place order.

“Everybody is supposed to be apart but together during this pandemic, but that’s what we do all the time; we are apart (from the world) but together,” said Sister Charlene Toups, abbess of the local community of Poor Clares, which includes a sixth sister who lives at Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center.

“Finding rhythms is a very important thing, as is creating space for one another in a tight situation, even if it’s psychological space,” Sister Charlene said.

Giving the Poor Clares their built-in rhythm is the Liturgy of the Hours, which provides readings and prayers at various times of the day and into the evening. The sisters’ communal day begins at 7 a.m. when they gather for morning prayer, followed by private daily Mass in their chapel — or whenever a priest can make it to their home during these weeks of social distancing. The sisters stay at least 6 feet apart in the pews, and on days a priest cannot celebrate Mass with them, they watch the Mass remotely.

Peppered between prayer times are the tasks and joys of everyday living: the sharing of meals, recreation, exercise and individual reading and reflection time — all mostly carried out within the confines of their monastery’s grounds.

“We’re blessed because we have a big house,” said Sister Charlene, noting that she and her fellow sisters do leave their home to perform essential tasks such as shopping and to access faith-based activities such as lectures and other activities related to their vocations as women religious.

A small exercise room provides space for fitness activities, and they take advantage of the expansive grounds for walking and gardening. Whenever they can, the sisters bypass the elevator to take the stairs in their three-story home.

“One of the things about the monastery is that it’s normally a quiet place,” noted Sister Julie Glaeser. “But we do keep in touch with what’s happening with the world — we read the newspaper; we watch evening news together so we know who to pray for.

“But don’t have the news on 24/7 because that can be very depressing,” Sister Julie cautioned.

Although the coronavirus guidelines have forced the sisters to temporarily suspend their monastery-based feeding ministry, it has not impacted the sisters’ telephone ministry, in which people call the sisters to express their concerns and prayer requests, or just to talk. The sisters also call people in need, to check in on them from time to time.

“We preserve a spirit of prayer and devotion, but that doesn’t mean you don’t talk,” Sister Charlene said, sharing guidelines she learned as a young sister on how to make that talk pleasing to God. Before speaking, ask yourself three questions: Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it upbuilding?

“If you stop and think about that, you’ll keep your mouth shut a lot of the time,” Sister Charlene said, chuckling.

Poor Clare Sister Rita Hickey said her community is often misunderstood as distant.

“We never hung our hat on the ‘cloistered’ idea. People get fascinated about that,” Sister Rita told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We always consider ourselves contemplative, which means dedicated to prayer and dedicated to living in the presence of God. And everyone is with you when you’re in the presence of God.”

Of course, everyone, even the most prayerful, suffers the sting of loneliness in various degrees at some point, the sisters said.

“You can be in a room full of people and feel very alone, especially if you’re going through something internally,” Sister Charlene notes. “And it doesn’t make it any easier just because you’re in a convent. We have to do the things any human being would do. One thing to do is to take it into prayer — to be where you’re not alone; you’re with God. And then also to talk it out with somebody if you need to.”

Sister Julie said that when she feels a “pity party” coming on in the age of COVID-19, she preempts those negative thoughts by doing “something constructive,” such as sewing masks or working in the garden.

“I think people will discover a strength within themselves that they didn’t know they had,” said Sister Julie.

Sister Rita said another silver lining of the pandemic has been how Catholics have understood their craving for Mass and the Eucharist like never before, now that they aren’t readily available.

Social distancing and quarantine have presented all with “a wonderful opportunity to learn the value of silence an opportunity to grow in that,” Sister Charlene said.

“Hopefully, (people will) discover the difference between solitude and isolation; they’re not the same thing,” she added.

Meanwhile, Catholics need look no further for fortification than the role models of their faith who are preserved in Scripture and in church history, the sisters said.

Of course, there is Jesus, who went through the most horrific experiences any human should be expected to endure. But the Poor Clares also suggested turning to the lessons embodied by the Blessed Mother.

Sister Charlene said her home’s small statue of Mary sweeping with a broom is a powerful reminder of the Blessed Mother’s down-to-earth tenacity. But the image of Mary she is seeing in her mind, more and more during these days of pandemic, is the one of Mary standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

“She is there for her son. She is there for the world, really; she’s is taking our place at the foot of the cross,” Sister Charlene said.

“There is absolutely nothing she can do except be there, and in many ways, that’s what we are all doing — we are all at the foot of the cross, helpless,” she said. “But Mary didn’t have a pity party. She stood!”

The Poor Clare nuns reside in about 40 monasteries in the United States. There are 18,000 Poor Clares worldwide. The New Orleans community’s website is at http://www.poorclarenuns.com.

Beth Donze is a staff writer at the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. She also is editor of Kids’ Clarion.

Featured image: CNS photo/Poor Clares of New Orleans via Clarion Herald

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!