This House of Prayer

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On October 15th we celebrated the first Mass in our new chapel made in the guest cottage. Bishop Waltersheid celebrated a Pontifical High Mass for the feast of St. Teresa of Avila.
Five hundred years ago this Spanish nun reformed the Carmelite order and founded no fewer than 17 convents of discalced nuns (discalced means without shoes and is emblematic of the poverty and simplicity her daughters embrace).
Her vision for her monasteries was that they be houses of prayer since " God has created so many creatures for his glory it is fitting that some of them should be solely occupied in praising Him". Overflowing with the love of God, she built her communities to witness to the truth that lies at the heart of the human condition: we are from God, of God and will only find our repose in God.

In fact we continue her work today, building in stone a new monastry for her descendants so that they can continue her spiritual building work. May today's sisters be a strong foundation for great Faith yet to come.

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Let there be light

With the days growing ever shorter and darker, its time to appreciate light and get as much of it as we can.

The design of the windows of the Rec. and Works building are based on the stone cottages of Ireland where I grew up. The windows are flared- they open up, getting wider on the inside. This means that a smaller window in a thick stone wall can let in more light. This was important when glass was expensive and windows were poorly insulated. A flared window is more difficult to build but definitely worth it.

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Light as a metaphor for Goodness, Grace and Truth has a rich history is Christianity, as in St. John's gospel, "The true light that gives light to all men was coming into the world". Pray that we may all let in that Light.




As we move into Autumn...

As Summer becomes Fall in Fairfield, much has been happening at the monastery. The chapel is being moved from its temporary location in the barn to the guest cottage. The first mass will be celebrated there on the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus, October 15th.

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A milking cow and a heifer arrived from the monastery in Elysberg, PA which will grow into a herd to provide milk for the nun's cheese making industry. This will be located in the basement of the refectory building, construction of which will be started later in the Fall.

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The masons continue to build the Recreation and works building, here is the first floor masonry heater almost complete. It will be fueled with firewood from the monastery grounds and will serve to heat the first floor, provide hot water and there is also a bake oven above the firebox.

All Abound in Charity

We are now building between the windows on the second and final floor of the Recreation and Works Building - completion is within sight!

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The lime mortar that the masons are using- a Possolanic Hydrolic Lime- is mixed in a 1:3 ratio with sand and then water is added until it has the "bouncy" constituency the masons like. With trowels and pointers the mortar is worked into the wall filling all the spaces between the loose fitting irregular stones. It binds the diverse and multiple stones into one solid integral wall.

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One is reminded of Charitas - the love/charity for one's fellow man that knits us rough hewn, imperfect men into a solid whole.

To paraphrase St. Paul: "Above all virtues put on Charity, which binds together all in perfect harmony"- Col 3 :12-14.

Just as without mortar our building would come crashing to the ground, so too without charity our families, our communities, our nation would unravel and self -destruct.

Pray for the virtue of charity to mortar us together.

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Employee of the Month!

We are now at window sill level on the second and final floor of the main block of the Recreation and Works building.  Then we have the chimney to do and the Rec. Room wing which is two floors but only the basement floor is stone. In terms of volume the Rec room wing isn't much but it will be very difficult in that there are nine arched french doors.

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With the end in sight, its time to acknowledge the hands, brains, and muscle that have made this possible.

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Here is Bob, almost 75 years old who has been doing stone masonry since  he was fourteen and it runs deep in his blood;  his Great Grandfather worked on the largest stone masonry arched railroad viaduct  in the world- Rockville Bridge in nearby Harrisburg, PA.

I have to say that when Bob started back in June, I was skeptical. He shuffles and moves slowly. But his productivity is unrivaled!

On observing him work, I figured out his secret: nothing superfluous. Our core skill as stonemasons is finding the right shape of stone to fit the next place on the wall. The younger masons will grab a stone, vigorously hammer on it for five minutes only to find it still won't fit and throw it away with disgust. Old Bob finds the right stone the first time, it fits and he moves on, slowly but effortlessly. Men half his age and twice his strength are left in the dust.

Nothing superfluous, everything deliberated, carefully enacted and gainfully achieved. Quite a lot to learn from there.

A Reflection on Mt. Carmel & Architecture

The lintels of the first floor level have been raised over the doors and windows and the second floor beams have been lowered into place; slowly the building is ascending.

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The nuns hope to have the Carmelite crest in its simple form engraved on the lintel above the principle door to each building. There it will remind those who enter what the Carmelite life, ethos, mission and destiny entails.

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The eye is drawn to its  central focus: a mountain, Mt. Carmel, which rises abruptly to a summit which becomes a cross. Mt Carmel thus becomes synonymous with Calvary and the steep ascent of its slopes has but one purpose; the encounter and union with God.

From that lofty vantage point, distant and detached from the cares and affairs of the world, the Carmel unleashes Grace by prayer, penance and fidelity to a world that is jaded, skeptical and lost in uncertainties and anxiety.

The three stars represent the three ages of Carmelite spirituality. Firstly there was the Old Testament prophetic age, with Elijah battling the idolotrious prophets of Baal on the slopes of Mt. Carmel, giving the motto "with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts" . 

The second age began with the fulfillment of the Old Testament revelation in Christ and eastern Christian hermits lived contemplative lives on Mt Carmel. 

During the  Crusades knights from western Europe retreated to Mt Carmel and formed a spiritual community of contemplatives which grew and spread across the world bringing the Carmelite spirituality to the West and starting the third age which, in our small way, we are continuing on this little mountain in Fairfield,  Pennsylvania, seeking to ascend to encounter and become one in God.

Duc in Altum

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Each building will have its year of construction and a motto carved into the stonework. 

MMXIX is Roman numerals for 2019. and the Nun have chosen "Duc in Altum" as the motto for the Work Rooms & Recreation Building.

It comes from Luke 5, 1-11 where Simon Peter has been fishing all night and has caught nothing;  Jesus tells him to "cast into the deep" or "draw into the depths". Reluctantly Peter obliges and the catch is miraculous.

You scrape the surface and you come away empty, you plunge the depths and the treasures astound you. The spiritual life demands this "leave your comfort zone", and to "dive into the deep end".

Week Eight Update!

This week the first floor beams were lowered into place with their ends built into the walls in beam pockets. These beams are "green" oak which will dry out in place over many years, loosing half of their weight. Now the masons will create a temporary floor over beams off which they can build the first floor walls.

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There's so much to see!

The recreation building, begun in May, is now at the first floor level. This week the framers will be installing the oak beams of the first floor.  The arches and lintels over the basement floor openings are complete. 

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The wooden forms or "falsework", seen in the windows, are arches which serve only to aid the construction and will be removed once the mortar has cured and the arches can support themselves.

The wooden forms or "falsework", seen in the windows, are arches which serve only to aid the construction and will be removed once the mortar has cured and the arches can support themselves.

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The masons have begun work on the first of two masonry heaters in the Recreation Building. These will be fueled by firewood harvested from the monastery grounds and fired periodically during the day to provide the only source of winter heating, hot water and a baking oven. 

The drystone woodshed nearby, completed last year, will be used to season the wood which needs to be dryed out for two years before it is ready to be burned.