He dwells among us: A gift for all of us

Cloistered nuns bear in their hearts the anxieties and sufferings of all who seek their prayerful help

Who does not like receiving a gift? Some gifts continue to bring us joy long after they are received.

But as nice as some of the gifts are that I have received in my lifetime, I personally am most grateful for the gift of peoples’ prayers; prayers that gave me courage to discern my vocation and to say yes to God’s calling; prayers that have sustained and encouraged me during my priesthood in times of trial and doubt; and prayers for my episcopacy and for all whom I am blessed to be the shepherd of in this wonderful diocese.

So it is with much joy that I welcome a new community of religious to our diocese—the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, whose very charism is that of praying for the intentions of others, particularly for the sanctification of priests. On May 14, I had the honor of introducing the newly arrived Handmaids to all the priests of the diocese during our general priest meeting.  I would like to share a portion of the letter that Mother Marietta, the Reverend Mother Prioress of the Handmaids, prepared for this occasion as it so beautifully expresses their charism:

“What are we doing here in Knoxville? We are here to live and give our lives for you, dear Father. You alone can bring us Christ in the Eucharist. You alone can celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. You alone can absolve us of our sins. We are indebted to your ‘Fiat’ to God’s call to the altar and have found in our vocation that Christ the High Priest asks us in return to sacrifice for you. That is the Handmaid vocation… to stand beneath the Cross of Christ in union with His immolation for souls and ask Him to make you a holy priest…. We accept all our own sufferings and trials as opportunities to offer up sacrifice for you. This is a small return compared to the immeasurable gifts you, as a priest, give to us….”

Though they are especially committed to praying for priests, the Handmaids, as the prayerful face of the Church, are also God’s gift to each of us and they welcome your prayer requests, which you can e-mail to handmaidspreciousblood@gmail.com. There also is a button on the Diocese of Knoxville website, www.dioknox.org, under Women Religious In The Diocese that links to the Handmaids’ website. During their many hours of prayer each day and in long vigils of Eucharistic adoration throughout the night, your prayer requests and intentions will be brought before Our Lord.

The cloister for religious orders that are completely contemplative, such as the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, is a strict enclosure referred to as a “Papal Enclosure,” so called because the rules governing it are confirmed by the Pope. This law of enclosure applies to the Cor Jesu Monastery where the Handmaids reside and the property around it that is so designated. It is located on the far side of our retreat center property in Benton and the faithful are asked to honor this enclosure and not to enter the grounds. This is to better permit the nuns to devote themselves all the more intensely to praying for you, your intentions, and for your priests.

Though cloistered religious might seem distantly out of touch with a world filled with suffering and great need outside the walls of their enclosure, their prayers and many sacrifices as a silent proclamation of the Gospel are the very “soul and leaven” of the Church’s evangelization efforts and works of mercy. Indeed, cloistered religious are truly indispensable co-workers in the mystery of redemption.

While serving as Episcopal Vicar for Religious as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I would visit our nine communities of cloistered religious, one of which has since relocated. Despite the differences of these religious orders, each with their special charism and purpose, they all shared in common a deep and radiant joy—the joy of responding with the total gift of themselves to the gift of Christ the Bridegroom. And it is this joy that they pray will be yours, for “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

Visit the Handmaids webpage at www.nunsforpriests.org/ and learn more about how you can join them in praying for priests, for “In strengthening the priest you strengthen the whole Church…. Strengthen the priest and you strengthen the whole foundation, you strengthen everything in the Church.”