Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert – Easter Season 2021
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25,26
Our Sister Julianne Allen, O.S.B., 89 years of age, died unexpectedly, but peacefully and gently at the monastery on Friday March 12, at 11:30 am. A private Rosary and Mass were celebrated on March 16-17, 2021. – Before entering the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert, our Sister Julianne was a member of the Sister of Saint Mary of Namur where she taught Math and Science in Wichita Falls, TX, 1957 to 1961. She also taught mathematics for 20 years at Bishop Dunne High School and 2 years at Dallas College El Centro Campus (formerly El Centro College). We recall her tale when she was a Principal of a school, how she would enter the auditorium of many noisy high school students, go up to the podium and as she proudly looked at all the students with her Texas blue-eyes, all the students would hush!
It was in the 1970’s that Sr. Julianne began to hear God’s call to a more contemplative spirituality. She had learned to weave and became a master weaver. She began spending summers as Directress of the Guesthouse at Christ the Desert Monastery, in the Chama River canyon in New Mexico. Then, in 2005 she transferred her vows with three other sisters who made their final Profession to God and the Monastery of our Lady of the Desert. As our Founding Mother and appointed Prioress, she used to say, “In the Monastery you don’t choose your sisters, God does, and He chooses the sisters you need to make you holy.” Her favorite model of contemplative life was Julian of Norwich, an English anchorite and mystic.
A few notes from our Retired Prioress, Sister Benedicta: “Over the years I learned so much from her mainly how to live our monastic life to the fullest and one of Sister Julianne’s favorite sayings was, “To do my heavenly Fathers will.” Not always an easy thing to do. Early in my monastic life Sister Julianne had a favorite question she would ask me, “Why are you doing that?” when she suspected my motives from cooking to the way I dressed or whatever was not based on monastic tradition, or how the monks of Christ in the Desert did it! (At that time, we were living on the property of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, NM). One day I got so frustrated with the Why Question, that I blurted out, “Because the brothers do it that way!” She smiled and I wanted to cry but I did not. With time I heard that question less and less as I was internalizing what it meant to me a Monk!
Another early lesson I learned from Sister Julianne was about obedience. She was given permission from the Superior of her former community, the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur to help us in our beginnings. At that time, Sister Julianne was the Accountant of the counsel and her Superior was coming to the end of her term and consequently she could not give Sister Julianne permission to leave at that point. I was the only Oblate Sister of our newly founded community and Sister Julianne had to go back and forth from Texas to New Mexico. One day in frustration I blurted out again to her, “Don’t they know I need your help?” Sr Julianne answered, “Sister Benedicta, that’s what Obedience means.” – When Sister Julianne was finally able to come and join us, we had many adventures, moving to the monastery of Christ in the Desert, then to Gobernador, New Mexico. With these two moves Sister Julianne was growing older and it meant stepping down as Prioress, when she retired at age 75 in 2004. I stepped in as Prioress and Sister Julianne allowed me to take over which she did graciously with no complaints. Eventually, she had to give up driving, that was not easy for her, but she did it with grace. When it came my turn to give up driving, I learned from Sr Julianne how to do it with grace.” Another story is about unconditional love. Sister Kateri had been asked to take care of her favorite Lab dog, Ninja, while Sister Julianne had to run errands all day. Sister Julianne had instructed Sister Kateri to feed the dog, let her out of the room. Sister Kateri remembered when Sister Julianne drove up, which was late afternoon. Sister Kateri ran to Sister Julianne’s room knowing that the dog would bite her since she had forgotten all about the dog. Well, when Sister Kateri opened the door, Ninja was wagging her tail and licking Sister Kateri’s habit in supposedly, job. S. Kateri mentioned the story a few months later, and Sister Julianne said, “That’s a sample of unconditional love.”
Of course, everyone knew Sister Julianne was a gourmet cook/chef and baker, but never a dishwasher exclaimed Marissa. Sister Julianne would ask Marissa to assist S. Julianne with the preparations, especially when she would bake 25 different pies for Thanksgiving Day and for Easter. Sister Julianne was known to use every mixing bowl and baking pan from the kitchen. You can imagine the dishwashing sink! The greatest consolation was that everyone enjoyed her exquisite and delicious pies and cakes. – There are so many stories to share, but these few show how Sister Julianne taught us life giving values. We love you dearly Sister Julianne and thank you with all our hearts for all you have given us.
The Light of Christ – The Service of Light at the Easter Vigil usually begins at 3 am on Easter Sunday. We have “a blazing fire” outside our St. Joseph Center from which we shall draw the flame to light the Easter Candle. From the fire the sisters can experience not only the warmth but light in the midst of the early morning darkness as Father blesses the fire. The large Paschal candle (made by Sister Ancilla from St. Walburga’s Abbey) is brought forward, which reminds us of the symbol that in “scattering the darkness of our hearts and minds,” we recall “the light of Christ, rising in glory.” The celebrant then incises a cross into the candle with a stylus. Then he makes the Greek letter Alpha above the cross, the letter Omega below it, and the four numerals of the current year between the arms of the cross, saying the words indicated. After these rites, Father lights the candle from the new fire and says: May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds. From the lit Pascal candle each of the sisters lights their small candles, and we began our procession. We are reminded that just as the children of Israel were guided at night by the pillar of fire, so Christians follow the risen Christ. As we enter the St. Joseph Center Chapel, the Easter Proclamation, the Exultet, is sung, narrating the whole Easter mystery placed within the context of the economy of salvation. The service has so much to teach of the central mystery of our faith: “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.” (Acts of the Apostles 13:32-33). The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross: Christ is risen from the dead! Dying, he conquered death; To the dead, he has given life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church) The Nuns of Our Lady of the Desert wish all of our friends the joy of this holy Season!
Mwipasaka from Sister Stephen – I came from Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, in 2015. I would like to share with you the faith of my people and how we celebrate Easter in my country, in particular, my Parish, Christ the King. We start preparing for Easter Sunday on Palm Sunday, where we are joined by many Christian churches in the surrounding area. During the celebration of Palm Sunday, a Catholic priest blesses the palms and the other ministers read the Gospel.
There are many people who attend, and we walk in the streets, singing, dancing, using drums and big musical rattles. At the end of this ceremony, the people go to their churches. Now, as Catholics, we continue with our Mass outside of the church because there are so many people (1,000 or more). On Holy Thursday, we begin with Mass at 7 pm and end at 9 pm.
On Holy Friday we start the day at 8 am, meeting at the church where the priest talks to the parishioners on the LOVE that God has for us. There are three hours of silence until Noon followed by the WAY OF THE CROSS, which is done in the streets, again. The people are asked to wear black clothing. At 3 pm, there is a solemn service to include receiving the Holy Eucharist.
Holy Saturday there are preparations of the church in silence. The parishioners are asked to be silent in their homes, remembering that Jesus is now in the tomb. EASTER Mass begins at 7 pm, with more music, drums, rattles and babatones (large stringed instrument). The children are not allowed to attend this Mass because it takes a long time, and there are some Baptisms during the celebration with 200 (more or less) older catechumens who have studied about Catholicism. This Mass takes 6-7 hours! There is also a Mass at 8 am with younger children being Baptized (300 or more). The tradition for the women is to wear the same wrapper (skirt), with white blouses and head wrapper. At the Offertory of each Mass, we offer live sheep, live chickens and goats, which is a tradition that reminds us of God’s blessings. Also, we offer fruits symbolizing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control and chastity. I hope this enlightens you as to how Africans celebrate Easter. Mwipasaka! (That is, Happy Easter in the Bemba language.)
“Year of St. Joseph” will be held through Dec. 8, 2021
“Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. We place in you all our interests and desires. Heal those who are sick with the Covid-19 virus. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist us by your powerful intercession, and obtain for us from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, and good health through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Having engaged here below your heavenly power, we may offer our thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. AMEN.”
The Year of Saint Joseph is timely as we dedicate our new and larger St. Joseph Chapel (formerly St. Joseph Center) to honor the husband of Mary and Patron of the universal Church. There we gather seven times a day to sing the Lord’s praises in the Divine Office and the Mass. Soon we hope to build an ambulatory passage that will connect the Chapel to the monastery, which is about 80 feet.
The new ambulatory will provide the nuns protection from our harsh Northern New Mexico winters and the bright sun of the summers. [This reminds us how the silent St. Joseph always protected and provided shelter for Jesus and Mary.] With the added ambulatory, we would be able to take wheelchair bound sisters to the Chapel, which we cannot do now across the gravel courtyard. We are thankful to God that we are able to pray our Divine Office and have daily Mass together as a community in the bigger St. Joseph Chapel. We will forever be grateful for all your prayers in this endeavor and thank you for your financial help and knock at the door of your heart.
World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life – February 2, 2021 – This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
On this day, Bishop James Wall received the 1st Vows of our Sister Elizabeth Nuñez at the St. Joseph Chapel. During the celebration of Mass and after the sermon, there was the Rite of Temporary Profession. It began with interrogatories asked by Prioress Hilda regarding Sr. Elizabeth’s willingness to receive and uphold the community and its monastic way of life, by stability, obedience and sharing in the common life. Sister Elizabeth replied “Yes.” Then Sister Elizabeth made vows for a period of five (5) years, witnessed by the Bishop on behalf of the whole Church. As a sign of her commitment, Sister Elizabeth received a black veil which proclaims that Sister Elizabeth belongs entirely to Christ the Lord and is dedicated to the service of the Church.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen; He is truly Risen, Alleluia!
“Death is the penalty of offence; our Lord Jesus Christ came to die, did not come to sin; by sharing in our penalty without our offence, He annulled both our offence and penalty. What penalty? That which was due to us after this life. So He was crucified, that on the Cross He might show the dying-out of our old man; and He rose, that in His own life He might show our new life.” –St. Augustine, Sermon ccxxxi.
Easter Blessings from all the Sisters. Easter brings us hope, and we wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Easter Season. Alleluia!