Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Independence Day

“Freedom Isn’t Free…You gotta pay a price...You gotta sacrifice...for your liberty” – words from a song spread by an international group of young people called “Up With People.” They’ve been traveling around the world singing and spreading the message for 50 years, and I am reminded of this song as once again our holiday nears.

It’s July 4, 1967. I’m a student at CUA in Washington DC. At our Mass the priest uses an excerpt from my brother’s letter from Vietnam. Weeks later I visit him, wounded, in Andrews Air Force Base Hospital.

It’s August 1976, our Bicentennial year. I’m in Philadelphia for the 41st Eucharistic Congress, attending Mass at JFK Stadium sitting next to a man from Bangladesh, and surrounded by Catholics from around the world, making us aware of their hungers for freedom of religion, for justice, for peace, for life itself in repressive countries from which many of them come. I can barely make out a tiny blue and white figure near the platform for the altar, and I know it is Mother Teresa. That’s as close as I get!

It’s July 19, 1986, Cuernavaca, Mexico. I’m in the cathedral with several other Benedictine Sisters from around the USA. We silently pray for the rest of the group carrying a large banner in a parade celebrating Nicaragua’s independence under the Sandinista government, after overthrowing Somoza. His terrorist troops have reunited; now call themselves “contras.” Our banner reads, “Benedictines for Peace Oppose Aid to the Contras.” Remember the Iran-Contra scandal? The Nicaraguans celebrate their hard earned freedom on this day. It’s threatened by US aid to the contras.

It’s July 1, 1989, Paris, France. I’m touring with a group of high school students. It’s the centennial of the Eiffel Tower which is lit up: “100 ANS.” (for the tower) The French are celebrating the independence that began with the storming of the Bastille on July 13, 1789, their bicentennial. We can see the outline on the ground where the Bastille had been, gilded gates through which executioners took the unfortunate prisoners doomed for the guillotine. We are told that it took 100 acrobats to build the Eiffel Tower; every seven years it is repainted by acrobatic painters to protect it from rust. The French treasure their freedom.

It’s June 20, 1990, Vienna, Austria. Two teachers and I had taken a tram to see the Belvedere palace. An elderly woman gets off with us. She overheard, and understood, our conversation on the ride, and is eager to tell us to be sure to visit the red marble room in the palace. This was the scene of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty by the foreign ministries of Great Britain, France, USSR and USA on May 15, 1955 with Austria, officially ending World War II and the subsequent 10 year occupation by the four Allied Powers. Austria had been annexed by Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II. (Remember “The Sound of Music?”) She very proudly shows us the entrance way and proceeds to tell us of her feelings while her country was occupied and then freed again after ten years. It is touching. She points out to us on the map all sorts of wonderful places to visit after the Belvedere.

It’s July 1, 2013. I’m concluding my Jubilee trip with my three sisters and we have to catch a plane in Montreal, Canada. We come across a parade downtown featuring the Royal Mounties. They are celebrating the passage of the British North American Act, establishing Canada as a self-governing entity within the British Empire in 1867, and their Independence Day.

Then on July 29, 2014 my two Vietnam war veteran Marine brothers stand, holding the folded American flag presented to them at the funeral of our youngest brother, while the poignant melody of “Taps” resounds outside the entrance to the church. They had been ready to pay the price, for “Freedom isn’t free, …you gotta pay the price,… you gotta sacrifice,… for your liberty…

Were these occasions coincidental? I have much to think about on this Independence Day 2015. 
Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lessons from My Dad

Father’s Day was Sunday, June 21. I have never written about my father before. Now seems the right time to do so.
                My father was “Daddy” to me. He called me “his pretty little girl.” I was the oldest. He five other “pretty little girls” until he had his longed for son. My brother became the apple of Daddy’s eye. When we were old enough to go to the corner of our street, we’d wait there for Daddy to come home so he would let one of us sit on his lap and “drive” the rest of the way. He played baseball with us in the lot next to our house. He was always the pitcher—for both teams. The teams consisted of a mixture of the Ryan kids and the kids in the neighborhood.
                One visiting Sunday after I’d been in the convent a couple of months, he held me and listened as I cried telling him how homesick I was. Although I know his heart was aching, he did not rush to tell me to come home. He must have understood that that was part of the process of leaving home and growing up.
                My Dad wasn’t perfect. He had his faults. But, I never doubted that he loved my Mother and “his kids.” He had an accident about a year after I’d entered the convent and that removed him living in the family. From then on, he was the Daddy we cared for.
                Although my memories of him are few or faded, he will always be the one who first showed me how to love. My recognition of his weaknesses, late in my life, helped me recognize my own weaknesses. I learned to be more accepting of the humanness of others.
                My Dad has been dead for 40 years but his father-love is still there. I think he would tell me he is proud of that I am one of “Ryan’s daughters.” 
     Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trust and Validate

Trust: faith, hope, reliance, expectation, confidence, dependence, custody, care, responsibility, protection.

Validation: substantiation, confirmation, legalization.

        This morning I learned a concrete lesson on how to sustain relationships from a gentleman who shared a practice he and his wife have shared over their years of marriage. Without being specific about what they do, he remarked that each year he and his wife exchange or express trust and validation. Trust I get. No relationship exists, grows or deepens without trust. That’s the glue or practice that protects common endeavors or works, such as, monastic life, school communities, parishes, work sites, etc., etc., etc. 
       The more I have thought about validation the more I got an understanding and appreciation of what that can mean on the practical level. Validation means more than just a renewal or remembrance of what I did over fifty years ago. The image that helped me appreciate the use and act of validating, is the difference between the one-time public signing of my name on my profession document in 1962 and the community’s annual renewal of vows once a year during our retreat. 1962 was a leap of faith and a hope that I’d be happy and faithful to my choice until the end. This August during our renewal of profession I will remember to do more than renew. I will validate and confirm what I really did in 1962. 
      Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Salt of the Earth

     Yesterday at Mass the Gospel reading included Jesus’ words: “You are the salt of the earth.” Our chaplain, Fr. John Cahill, shared a homily about that phrase. It included the idea that salt was so valuable in early times that it was used as currency. The homily also included the idea that salt makes a difference in the taste of foods. 
     As I often do, I immediately began thinking of my own experiences with salt. Last summer I went on a school trip with Villa Madonna students and families to Austria, Switzerland and Germany. One of the highlights was a visit into a salt mine outside of Salzburg (meaning Salt City), Austria. Several miles below the surface we saw how the salt was mined in the past and how it is still mined today. When we resurfaced we went to the gift shop, of course, where I wanted to get something that would remind me of the trip and the importance of salt. I purchased a salt and pepper grinder with salt from that mine that I use in cooking almost every day. 
     Without salt everything takes bland. Salt does make a difference. Even sweet things need a little salt to bring out the sweetness. Every brownie or chocolate cake recipe includes salt in some form. Mashed potatoes without salt are basically inedible. I’m sure you have your own examples. 
     The phrase “you can make a difference” has been used way too much in my opinion. In yesterday’s homily, however, with the idea of us being “salt of the earth” it makes sense. We should be making a difference. We should be enhancing the lives of the people around us. 

     We are the salt of the earth! Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Renewed Friendships / Surprise Packages?!

     Have you ever had the occasion of running into a long-ago acquaintance and been greeted almost like a soul mate? Were you rather taken aback by the expression of affection from someone you'd thought of in much more casual terms even long ago?
     I've experienced something like this a couple of times in recent months and it got me reflecting. Here are a few thoughts and questions that emerged from my musings:

  • What a wonderful gift: surprise and affection in one package!
  • I wonder if, in those early years of knowing each other, I had missed signals of the potential for a friendship deeper than the one we had. If so, what got in the way of my seeing them? What effect, if any, did it have on the person looking for something more? Was there something was not seeing?
  • Did I ever do something significant for him/her, something that was never forgotten, or did  he/she just see something in me that I didn't appreciate in myself?
  • Should this moment be only a passing renewal, or do grounds exist for an ongoing fruitful relationship? Are our connections only in the past, or could we both grow from strengthening our ties?
  • If time can heal wounds, can it increase appreciation or love? Is this what hindsight does for us?
  • How is it that a small moment of greeting can have such an effect? What are the implications of this kind of experience on m relationships past or present?

     No matter how I answer these questions or develop these thoughts, I've been touched by unexpected gifts, and I hope they overflow, deepening my sensitivity to others. Maybe such experiences can put me into a mindset that expands both my heart and my vision from today into my tomorrows.        Colleen Winston, OSB

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CirclingTthoughts from Lectio and Spiritual Reading

                 As I “move on in years” I find it more and more difficult to give recognition to the source of my thoughts—hopefully it s God! Each Lent/Easter season our faithful librarian places in convenient spots books, pamphlets, short articles to sign out or read in place. Unable to give particulars, the following are some rambling and unconnected thoughts which came to me from these materials and a few others during the Holy season leading to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.
                With Bible readings in my daily lectio, particularly the Old Testament, I was very conscious of the One God as seen by the Jewish people and the prophets—the One God with the pervading promise of a Messiah, not clearly the Son. The birth of Jesus, son of Mary through the Holy Spirit, was the beginning of the concept of Trinity—mystery as it is—shown throughout the New Testament in the words and acts of Jesus from birth to death, resurrection and ascension and in the letters of the Apostles.
                Then after the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus we know that his body remained in the grave for three days. What was going on in those three days? I thought much about this after reading somewhere that Jesus doesn’t return to life but breaks through to a life nobody ever lived before, so different that it’s hard to describe or imaged. What happened in those three days? Jesus went to wherever those prophets, Jewish people, believers had gone awaiting salvation He opened the gates of heaven to these and to all of us who would follow hi. When I die, will all this become clear and open, all that happened before?
                I read that St. Faustina, a Polish saint, was favored by God with visions. In one she was told to have a picture of Jesus painted with the words, “Jesus, I trust in You.” After reading that, I then understood a picture I look at each morning. It is a picture of the wounded, glorified Jesus, bright rays flowing from the heart and the words “Jesus, I trust in you.”
                At our learning session about Islam I heard that Islamic history begins is Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the “sent away” wife of Abraham, marking the relationship between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Much food for thought in this relationship.
                God has created me for some special service. This I know that John Henry Newman said. It’s my mission—stick to it whatever and I will please God. Dismiss all anxiety from your mind. In prayer and thanksgiving present your petitions to God who will never forsake you.
               Circling thoughts cling to me from the blessed days of this past liturgical season. I appreciate Robert Wicks, Nathan Mitchell, J. H. Newman, Pope Francis, Michael Casey and the reflections in Word Among Us. Each day’s readings from these writers have helped me and many others in their journey of faith.

                                                Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Joys of May

       This is a crazy time of year in my world. It marks the end of the school year, and even though I retired from teaching last May, I still feel the excitement of graduation and all the celebrations that surround it. 
        At our sponsored school, Villa Madonna Academy, the excitement started with the junior-senior banquet two weeks ago and the prom.  Sunday was the Alumni Brunch with over 140 alums returning to campus to see old friends, former teachers, and to honor the Outstanding Alumni winners this year. In addition, Carole Lonneman, who has been the counselor for 50 years was honored. The 50-year and 25-year reunion classes were also feted. . It was quite a day! 
        High school graduation itself will be on May 22 at Mother of God church in Covington. It is always such a beautiful tribute to the graduates and their families. Seeing how much the graduates have grown in their four years of high school is amazing. Hearing of their many accomplishments and scholarships won makes all of us proud. The greatest joy for me, though, is hearing the speeches of the valedictorian and salutatorian(s). Invariably they cite the Benedictine values of hospitality, peace, community, prayer, stewardship and respect that form the foundation of their educational experience at Villa. Knowing that they are grounded in these values they will be able to move forward in their education and their careers, making a positive contribution to society. Educating the whole person, not just their intellect is a lofty goal, and it is edifying to hear that these students realize that is being accomplished in them.        
       I’m sure many of our readers will be celebrating with the graduates among their family and friends. May each of the graduates  be blessed as they continue their lifelong learning and growth.
       Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB