Greetings dearest Seven Sisters...
"Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come'." - Isaiah 35:3,4a
A memory from my childhood holds both fondness and lessons for the heart. Younger brother, Jim, following our home protocol, asked my mother if he could be excused from a finished meal. With her nod, he dutifully muttered his prayer of thanksgiving, and hastily bussed his dishes. In a flash, my siblings and I spotted him outside through the window. We watched in a mix of perplexity and horror as he sped past his bicycle with training wheels and mounted our older brother's bike. Off he went with a sure grip, strong knees and surprisingly good balance. We all jumped up and ran outside. Jim happily made a U-turn in response to our screams and fearlessly demonstrated his peddling prowess all the way to where the stunned family had gathered. He leapt off the bike and, proudly donning a semi-toothless grin, announced, "I'm strong to the finish, 'cause I ate my spinach." (For those that grew up alongside Popeye, no further explanation needed. For the younger Seven Sisters, I advise a quick Google search. And maybe look up the meaning of training wheels too.)
While spinach may not be la cle de succes in our Seven Sisters prayer times, the story certainly hearkens to the words of Isaiah (above) that speak of the longing of the human heart for assurance of strengthening from outside oneself when life's circumstances call for it.
This Apostolate bears amazingly firm underpinnings and a consistent wellspring of strength. "In strengthening the priest you strengthen the whole Church... Strengthen the priest and you strengthen the whole foundation, you strengthen everything in the Church" (Fr Gerald Fitzgerald). Strength's source is in, with, and through Our Lord. His strength finds us and buoys us up in a myriad of expressions, some rather surprising and paradoxical. As is the Way of Our Lord, He invites us to cooperate and collaborate in His gift of strength to us.
Letting go of our own will is a good start to open the channels to His graces of strength. St Bernard of Clairvaux reminds: "Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love." Entering our prayer chamber with this attitude and humble submission opens us to an easier offering of love in our prayers. How does God want me to pray for this priest? Come, Holy Spirit, help me. Not my will, but Thy Will. Help me.
Strength in the present finds its way to us from remembering ... remembering that the Lord has been and will continue to be faithful, our Ever-present Help in time of need - for our prayers and for the priest for whom we are committed to pray. In our need, in our weaknesses, in the priest's needs and weaknesses, Jesus is our Strength. St Paul reminds, But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me (II Cor 12:9). Likewise, remembering that the cloud of witnesses urges us on by example and by intercession (Heb 12:1) can serve to help us. Most especially, the patrons of the Apostolate - Madonna of the Grapes, St John Vianney and St Margaret Clitherow - are ever-near in our Holy Hours. Thank them for their potent witness. Solicit their sound prayers to strengthen yours. "Prayer offered in holiness from a faithful heart rises like incense from a holy altar" (St Augustine). Imagine the extravagance of incense during your Holy Hours!
Strength in prayer is not necessarily fashioned by powerfully phrased or crafted prayers, but paradoxically can find its way through the voice of silence. An anchor Scripture of the Apostolate assures, In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15). St Albert the Great has similar sentiment: "He who enters into the secret place of his own soul passes beyond himself, and does in very truth ascend to God. Banish, therefore, from thy heart the distractions of earth and turn thine eyes to spiritual joys, that thou mayest learn at last to repose in the light of the contemplation of God." St Bonaventure concurs, "When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than the proceedings of the mouth."
Availing ourselves to the sacramental life - especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation - builds our spiritual sinew. St John Paul II boldly discloses, "The Eucharist is the secret of my day. It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the whole world." Revelations given to St Bridget affirm the benefits of Confession: "Just as an animal becomes a stronger beast of burden and more beautiful to behold the more often and better it is fed, so too confession - the more often it is used... conveys the soul increasingly forward and is so pleasing to God that it leads the soul to God's very heart." St John Bosco concurs, "You can fly to heaven on the wings of Confession and Communion," and "There are two things the devil is deadly afraid of: frequent Communion and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament." The use of Holy water, blessed medals, rosary beads and holy cards all can assist in our prayer times.
Partnering with others brings strength in many of life's duties and pleasures alike, and in prayer practices too. Many Seven Sisters intercessors comment on the great peace of solidarity and stability sensed by knowing others are praying alongside during the other days of the week. "I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things." - St Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Yielding to God in obedience and trust in your Seven Sister Holy Hours - all for His glory - is a hidden strength, a discipline unable to be reckoned with. It is selfless, real, effective, durable, full, the lasting thing. The secular life knows it not. Let our example convert hearts. "To persist in prayer without returns, this is not time lost, but a great gain. It is an endeavor without thought of self and only for the glory of the Lord!" (St Teresa of Avila). What liberty of heart to know that God is pleased with our sacrifices and prayers and answers them perfectly and precisely in His Way, His Will, His divine Providence. Staying faithful to our weekly appointments with the Lord (or securing a sub) brings with it a wealth of supernatural strength. Love reigns. "The Tabernacle is the actual meeting place of lovers of Jesus with Himself. There, they find abundance of spiritual energy and fullness of life" (from 'Listening to the Indwelling Presence' by a Religious Pelligrini, 1940).
Draper's image of The Golden Rays is a fitting one as I consider how each of you so readily waits on Our Lord for your strength, as does this eyes-toward-heaven youth. Life bustles about her, but she captures that moment of her day and seeks her God, her Strength. She is unhurried in His rays, allowing them to penetrate her soul with His Goodness. I see each of you in this same stance. Thus, this months's Communique is one of applause rather than instruction. Your fidelity and reliance upon your Lord is evidenced in the continued growth and beauty of the Apostolate - and the testimony of your lives and the lives of the priests you are committed to pray for. Your phone calls, emails and hand written notes have supported this image and insight of you, as well.
Your notes to me, all of which I cherish, share empowering words like: "Let this Apostolate spread like wildfire." ... "Every priest in my diocese needs to be strengthened by these prayers. I can help!" ..."May the Holy Spirit enliven women everywhere to take up this challenge and pray, pray, pray." ... "We can't let up in our sacrifices and prayers for priests. I see a difference." Dearest Seven Sisters, you and yoursturdy hopes and sure visions bring strength to every priest - and to me!
United in prayer and mission -
that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest
... eternal gratitude as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day.... asking for the prayers of Holy Mary at the two definitive times of any life: now and at the hour of death. The opportunities of death to self will present themselves a-plenty through each day.