Saturday, May 9, 2009

Prayer is a way to pretend to do something.

This is both an interesting story of human devotion... and a tragic story of wasted life.

If they had only taken those 131 years of prayer and used them to do some real action in the world, instead of just pretending to take action...

It makes my heart hurt.

      For Franciscan sisters, every day is prayer day - JSOnline

For Franciscan sisters, every day is prayer day
Mark Hoffman

A sister and three prayer partners rise to make way for the next group in the Adoration Chapel of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: May. 6, 2009

La&enspCrosse — Every morning, about an hour and a half past midnight, Sister Marie Leone LaCroix rises in the darkness of her room at St. Rose Convent.

The Franciscan sister, 91, slides into her bathrobe and slippers, takes her cane and slowly makes her way to the dimly-lighted chapel.

There, LaCroix sits before the marble altar where, in an ornate golden vessel, rests a consecrated host Catholics believe to be the body of Christ. And there, she takes her place in an unending chain of prayer that began long before she was born.

"It's so quiet. It's such a serene time to be with God," LaCroix said.

Her order, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, has prayed before the Holy Eucharist in shifts around the clock since 1878.

Millions of Americans will carve out a moment of their time Thursday to connect with God as part of the 59th annual National Day of Prayer. But for these sisters, who maintain what is thought to be the nation's longest-running perpetual adoration of the Eucharist - 131 years - it is a day like any other, a day devoted to prayer.

"That's our holy, sacred, wonderful privilege," LaCroix said.

Adoration of the Eucharistic, a Christian devotional practice that dates to the Middle Ages, is seeing a resurgence in some Catholic parishes and schools.

The La Crosse devotion grew out of a schism in a Franciscan order that settled in Milwaukee from Bavaria in the late 1840s to teach German immigrants.

Diverted from education to housekeeping for priests, the founders broke away, resettling first in Jefferson and later in La Crosse, where they taught in Catholic schools and cared for orphans.

In 1865, the order's superior made a two-fold promise: If God would bless their ministries with success, she vowed, the sisters would build a chapel and devote their lives to prayer in perpetual adoration of the Eucharist.

And so they have, through war and peace, through boom times and bust, through a raging fire that destroyed the original convent in the 1920s, killing one of the sisters before stopping just outside the chapel doors.

Today, 325 sisters and 120 lay partners offer their prayers for their community, the wider world and for the individual intentions of the faithful around the globe who send their petitions via e-mail or telephone or letter.

"I'm so touched by the requests that come in - a young child having surgery, or a mother with complications in pregnancy," said Sister Amy Taylor, 32, a former school teacher, who has spent the last year preparing to join the novitiate this summer.

"It's really about the human story, the daily struggles and joys," she said. "We intercess on their behalf. But we also journey with them."

These days, many requests reflect the economic turmoil roiling outside the convent's doors.

"They ask, 'Please pray for the sale of our house' or 'that I get a new job,' " said Sister Constance Walton, who coordinates the adoration.

She responds to all who seek their prayers, typing up a new list of intentions each day and shredding them each night to protect the privacy of petitioners.

"It moves your heart," she said, "to know that your neighbors and friends are dealing with these things."

Inside the Adoration Chapel, stone angels flank the marble altar awash in candlelight.

Chimes ring signifying the start of a new hour, and so begins a silent and solemn changeover.

The adorers stand, then step aside as their colleagues take their place. In unison, they pray:

"O Sacrament most holy,

O Sacrament divine,

All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.

Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, furnace of divine love,

Grant peace to the world."

The first group bows, almost imperceptibly toward the altar, then leaves, and the new adorers recite the Prayer of St. Francis:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace ..."

But for a few specific prayers and the intentions prepared by Walton, the adorers are free to connect with the divine any way they choose. Some recite traditional prayers, some read from the Bible; some meditate or contemplate. And for some, it's changed over the years.

"I used to use more words," said Sister Mary Kathryn Fogarty, 70, who has been praying the adoration since she joined the order at the age of 20. "Now, I'm content to gaze upon Christ... to contemplate being in the presence of Christ."

Today, she prays not so much for things or specific outcomes, but for understanding and a closeness to God - not just for herself, but for those who petition for her prayers.

"I ask that that person comes to know how deep God's love for them is, how forgiven they are... and that if something is holding them back from that love and forgiveness, that they be able to let it go," Fogarty said. "I don't necessarily get what I want, but I get a deep peace."

For some, the years spent in adoration have changed even their understanding of the divine.

"You learn how to talk to Him. You find out what He's like, not as a statue, not as a stern punishing God. That has left me," said 97-year-old Sister Lucille Kleinheinz.

"You learn that he is light, and he is complete life. That's the God we worship in perpetual adoration."

Many find it hard to explain the depth of their devotion.

"You know, honey, that's awfully difficult," said LaCroix, a retired teacher at nearby Viterbo College.

"If you would ask an elderly couple who've been in love for years, 'How do you feel when you hold one another's hand?'

"You can't express that kind of love. I can't express my deep love for my God. It's something that is personal, profound and sacred."