TO KICK OFF the 2014 Christmas season, consumers observed Black Friday and Cyber Monday in quick succession. Giving Tuesday came next.
And then, on Wednesday, in the serene Sacred Heart Chapel at the Grey Nuns' motherhouse in Yardley, they were invited to rest their checkbooks for the sisters' Advent Evening of Reflection, a contemplative annual antidote to the holiday rush.
Call it Grey Wednesday.
Sisters Jean Liston and Anne Boyer led a short teach-in about Catholic theologians Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, followed by a candlelit hour of quiet prayer. They encouraged visitors to see Advent as a time to practice what Sister Jean called "the discipline of silence and solitude." In one prayer, the congregation asked for "the gift of attentiveness" this Christmas.
Quiet contemplation is one of the hallmarks of the 277-year-old Grey Nuns, a sisterhood with Canadian origins whose U.S. headquarters is the motherhouse in Yardley.
Their "silence and solitude" message seemed to resonate with their Bucks County neighbors. While parking spaces were easy enough to come by at the nearby Oxford Valley Mall that cold and rainy night, the lot outside the motherhouse was packed.
"I think it's a need that people are experiencing more and more these days, with the thrust toward consumerism," said Sister Jean. "I think they yearn for the quiet."
Who we are: The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart are a Roman Catholic order of "women religious," the term used these days to distinguish community-based sisters from cloistered nuns.
In the U.S., there are 111 Grey Nuns, 51 of whom (many retired) live in the Yardley motherhouse.
What we believe: The sisters consider it their mission to serve society's most neglected, including the poor, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the imprisoned and the addicted. Their broad slate of social justice initiatives includes support for immigration reform and opposition to the death penalty, human trafficking and fracking.
"We believe in the dignity of all people, and when people's rights are being violated, we speak up," Sister Jean said. "We can be a voice for the voiceless."
They are also staunch environmentalists.
Where we worship: The motherhouse and chapel are on a bucolic campus on Quarry Road near Lindenhurst Road in Yardley, which also houses a nursery school, a K-8 elementary school and an assisted-living facility. Like all Grey Nuns properties, the Yardley campus has declared itself a nuclear-free zone.
When we worship: A priest celebrates mass in the Sacred Heart Chapel at 9 a.m. on Sundays and 11 a.m. weekdays.
The Sisters gather privately weekday mornings for what they call "centering prayer," which Sister Jean described as "a quiet prayer when people gather together and focus on God dwelling within them." Members of the public join them in this silent, contemplative practice Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Sisters also pray the rosary together on Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. You can call 215-968-4236 to ask them to include someone in their prayers, or use the "contact us" tab at greynun.org to send a prayer-request email.
What we believe: "We are created in God's image," Sister Jean said. "God sent Jesus to save us and show us how to live. God's spirit enlightens, guides and sustains us."
Funny about that name: The French word for gray, gris, can also mean "tipsy."
The Grey Nuns' founder, Saint Marguerite d'Youville, was the widow of a Canadian rum runner, and class-conscious Montreal society disparaged her order, calling them the "tipsy sisters."
They kept the name and wore French-gray habits as a humbling reminder of having been outcasts.
Your nun here? Many of the nuns now living at the Yardley motherhouse have taught in local Catholic schools. They include:
* From Cardinal Dougherty High School: Sister Diane Bardol (Sister Dorothy Anne), Sister Mary Charlotte Barton, Sister Marlene Butler (Sister John Marlene), Sister Barbara Harrington (Sister Robert Francis) and Sister Marie Therese Staiger.
* From Little Flower High School: Sister Dorothy Dunn (Sister John Marie), Sister Mary O'Connell (Sister Thomas Francis), Sister Marie Therese Staiger, Sister Mary Susan Thomas.
* From Bishop McDevitt High School: Sister Dolores Beatty (Sister Mary of Nazareth), Sister Cecelia Cosgrove (Sister Ann Christopher), Sister Dorothy Dunn (Sister John Marie), Sister Roseanne Walker and Sister Mary Denis Woods.
God is . . . "Love," Sister Jean said. "God's unconditional love is reflected everywhere in the universe - in the people we meet, the experiences of our day and the circumstances of our lives. We discover God by having a discerning heart."
Words of hope: Good always triumphs over evil. We must never lose hope," she said. "Be grateful to God for life's abundant blessings!"