Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Let us hold onto the Year of Mercy

        Many times in the Gospels this week Jesus calls out the Pharisees and scholars. He minces no words in pointing out the obvious disconnect between how they see themselves and what motivates them. Jesus describes their inner states; “you are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk” (Luke 11:44)  . . . and their outer states; ”you impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”(Luke 11:46) I have thought about the woes Jesus might be saying to me, have you?
        Paul succinctly in the first reading on Tuesday prescribes the antidote to the Pharisees behavior by stating “but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) can the outside behaviors and the inside motivators keep us aligned with Jesus.
         There are many who exemplify their faith through actions of love. Isn’t this where continued growth needs to take place? “Today God loves the world through you and me. . . God proves that Christ loves us that he has come to be his Father’s compassion” wrote Mother Teresa. Is this not part of Pope Francis message when declaring in this Jubilee Year of Mercy that we must “Be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) We continually are called to “presence” Christ in our lives and the way we live them. When our lives are in harmony with the merciful, compassionate Jesus, the likelihood of being called out with “woe to you” is replaced by “Come all you blessed ones.”

         The solemnity of Christ the King on November 20 formally closes out the Year of Mercy. Doesn’t it seem way too soon for the year of mercy to end? With all that is occurring in our country and throughout the world would it not be helpful to extend the Year of Mercy for another year or a decade, better yet forever? 
        Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

          When I received the habit of our Benedictine community in 1947, I had asked for and received the name Sister Victoria. I wanted a name in honor of Mary, and I would celebrate my new name in honor of Mary, Our Lady of Victory on October 7. I had discovered that there was a fierce battle (1571) between the forces of the Ottoman Fleet and the Holy League, a coalition of southern European Catholic maritime state s organized by Pope Pius V. The Holy League surprisingly won. In history this victory is known as the Battle of Lepanto (off the coast of western Greece.) The victory was attributed to the many rosaries prayed at the request of Pope Pius V who ordered the churches of Rome opened for prayer day and night, encouraging the faithful to petition the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary. After the victory Pope Pius V added a new feast day to the Roman Liturgical Calendar as the feast of Our Lady of Victory.
Madonna of the Rosary (with Mysteries of the Rosary) - by Lorenzo Lotto
(1539) Oil on canvasChurch of San Nicolo, Cingoli
In 1573 Pope Gregory the XIII changed the title of the "Feast of Our Lady of Victory" to "Feast of the Holy Rosary". Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the whole of Latin Rite, inserting it into the General Roman Calendar in 1716, and assigning it to the first Sunday in October. Pope Pius X changed the date to October 7 in 1913. In 1960 Pope John XXIII changed the title to "Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary".
Do you wonder why I was so interested in all this background? Actually, I love the title of Our Lady of the Rosary, but I am also quite attached to the title of Our Lady of Victory. I was happy to find an article by Fr. Streve Grunow that reminded me we all have our Lepantos that rage within our troubled souls. In the midst of these battles Christ fights for us and our Lady of Victory is at his side. I also remember that the various titles attributed to Mary would take pages to enumerate. So in my prayers on October 7, I will also pray to my beloved Lady of Victory.

             Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Meanings of Jubilee

            On Saturday September 24 at Evening Prayer Sr. Christa and I celebrated our Golden Jubilee. The following is a selection from the talk I gave about the many meanings of Jubilee:
Jubilee is a multi-layered word and concept, and I’ve been trying to get my head around its meanings for the past year.
What are we doing when we celebrate a jubilee? There is the anniversary aspect of jubilee. We celebrate the passage of time since we began something. In this case, since Christa and I made first profession-- five decades ago.
What makes an anniversary a jubilee? In religious communities, a jubilee has come to mean a public celebration of a passage of time in a relationship, e.g, religious life, marriage, ordination.
Jubilee is not a term found in the 6th century Rule of St. Benedict.I n the rule monks only get credit for persevering in the monastery until death.
Jubilee, however, has a deeper meaning than an anniversary. In our reading this evening Isaiah (chapter 61) talks about what will happen in a “year of the Lord’s favor,” in a year of Jubilee. Isaiah is referring to the Hebrew Jubilee Year celebrated at the end of 7 cycles of 7 years (every fifty years). The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew word jovel which means “a trumpet blast of liberty” or from the Latin verb jubilio meaning “shout for joy.”
Originally the Hebrew Jubilee year was concerned with land, property, property rights and coming back to the land or family of your origin. According to Leviticus 25, slaves and prisoners would also be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be celebrated by all. It was a celebration rooted in tribal culture, grounded deeply in idea of the Sabbath-keeping—the seventh day is holy and should be lived in a special way-- and a call from God to be more inclusive. Isaiah 61 takes the tribal celebration and extends it to a time of relief to all who were suffering in any way.
Isaiah reminds us:
“To bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
to comfort all who mourn;
to build up the ancient ruins,
to raise up the former devastations;
to repair ruined cities and the devastations of many generations.”
When Jesus preached in the synagogue of his home town at Nazareth, he quoted this passage from Isaiah, and at the end of it he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Thus Jesus announced himself as the man of jubilee and brought the concept of jubilee into the New Covenant. And because Jesus is the new embodiment of jubilee, The members of his church are called to be the embodiment of jubilee as well. We are all jubilee people too.
The Church itself first celebrated a year of jubilee in 1300 when the medieval world was wracked by wars and the plague. Pilgrims had begun to come to Rome spontaneously, and Pope Boniface VIII was moved to declare that those who made the journey to Rome (came back to the land of their origin) and confessed their sins would be forgiven and given special blessings.
Boniface had intended that a Jubilee year be celebrated every hundred years. Subsequent Popes thought it might be celebrated every 33 years representing Christ’s life on earth and the average span of human life in those days. at present there is no designated number of years between Jubilee years. The Pope can declare a jubilee year when he feels the times require one.
We are blessed that Pope Francis has proclaimed this year as Jubilee year of Mercy, reminding us of God’s mercy toward us and how to extend mercy to others.
What does of all this say about today’s celebration? In this Benedictine community we get to celebrate a jubilee year every year. Every year one of us celebrates a significant amount of time in monastic profession. In community we are called to be jubilee people every year. In the community of the Church, all Christians are called through baptism to be jubilee people as well.
Jubilee calls us to forgive debts, to ask for forgiveness and be formed
       by forgiveness given to us.
Jubilee calls us to offer liberty and freedom to those
       bound by any chains of oppression or addiction.
Jubilee calls us to give thanks always and everywhere to God.
Jubilee calls us to remember and rely on the mercies of God.
Jubilee calls us to extend mercy to others.
Jubilee calls us to shout for joy through our talents and skills.
Jubilee calla us to be kind.

My own jubilee prayer comes from the hymn, O God Beyond All Praising.
    “O God beyond all praising , we worship you today
   And sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay.
   For we can only wonder at every gift you send.
   At blessings without number and mercies without end.
   We lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word.
   We honor and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.”

Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Immigration – Pausing to Reflect

             In my sophomore year at Villa Madonna Academy I wrote a short story about a teenage girl arriving at Ellis Island from Europe, much as my grandmother had many years before. I remember trying to “put myself in her shoes”.  I don’t think that the story was very good from a literary view point, but that is beside the point here. I tell you that to let you know that I have always been concerned about people who are immigrating to our country.
Our Benedictine foremothers arrived here from Germany in 1852, recruited by American bishops to teach and otherwise care for the German immigrants flooding into the cities. As I grew up everyone I knew was a member of a family from somewhere else – mostly Western European countries: Italy, England, Ireland, France. Some were even the exotic “war brides” from the Philippines. I knew there were Federal Immigration Policies, but they did not seem to be overbearing and impose hardships. But in more recent years much has changed.
“Nationwide, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been conducting target enforcement actions, focusing on immigrant women and children who have arrived from Central America in the last two years. With the presence of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in the greater Cincinnati area, fear continues to plague the local immigrant community, many afraid to leave their homes for work or school. Cities across the nation including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Raleigh have held public protest and vigils in opposition to these enforcement tactics asking DHS to stop separating families.” (from the press release about the 9.18.16 Rally and March)

This is the background for my getting involved in planning the Rally and March for Immigration Reform that took place this past Sunday, September 18 in Newport, KY. The event was held at Holy Spirit Church with a march to the World Peace Bell. Approximately two hundred people participated to hear the stories of young people tell of their need and desire to come and stay in the United States. We sang to the music of Christo Rey Parish musicians and those of the Guatemalan Catholic Community who worship at St. Anthony parish, Taylor Mill. And we committed ourselves to hold our elected officials accountable for enacting just and comprehensive immigration legislation now. If you would like to join me in the action, please email me at
Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Prayer for Children

     How fast the days fly!  Soon it will be time for interim reports at school.  Yet, I am still striving to learn the names of all the students I contact daily.
    The third graders, most of whom I had for religion last year, have grown some.  I am delighted to have them again, along with our current second graders.  Not a single Catholic among them, yet, most claim the parish church as their own.  It is there that they participate in a weekly Mass or prayer service.         
     In these children, I see the light of God’s love shining out. Their innate goodness and desire to trust humbles me.  They are so ready for the Good News!  They love hearing about Jesus. After yesterday’s lesson, one youngster asked if she could be a Christian even if she’s not baptized. 
            During morning prayer, on this feast of the Holy Cross, this child and all the others, came to mind. 
        Lord Jesus, I place these children and their families
        in your heart, along with children throughout the earth.
        May your cross be for them a tree of life, a fountain of
        blessings and a shield in adversity.  Grant that all may
        come to share in the glory of the redemption that you have
        won for us.

            Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Monastery Workout

       “March!  March!  March! ...” At Sr. Andrea’s bidding five to ten pairs of feet move up and down.  It is either Tuesday or Thursday at 10:00 sharp and we are seated in a circle and beginning an hour of exercise.  “Charlie Chaplin went to France to teach those ladies how to dance.” We repeat the chant over and over as our feet make scissor motions on the floor.  Coursing blood, give praise.
       “Raise your legs and point your toes. Heel, toe, heel, toe…” Flexing muscles and stretching tendons, give praise.
        “Let us do the Sr. Carmella (member of the group until she died at age 104) swing.” We put our arms above our heads and let them fall to our sides. Bones and joints, give praise. Mystery of gravity, give praise.
       “It’s time to do funny faces; that’s an easy one!”  We recite the five vowels while contorting the muscles of the face.  Spoken word and magic of language, give praise.
       “Twist on your seat, feel it in the lower back. “ “Let your head go round and round; now the other way.” Amazing circular motion, give praise.
       “It’s time for the rub down. Rub that old forehead, rub it and rub it. Now your temples. Then cheek bones. Cheeks. Chin. Down that old neck. Arms. Legs, down to those old ankle bones and back up again.” Unique faces and variety of shapes, give praise.
        “Let us do the dive.” Hands together; arms move up on the right and then down; up on the left and then down.  “Up and down, up and down…”  Beating heart and warm bodies, give praise.
        “Grab a star and throw it….” Our arms flail in the air.   All the world, give praise, sing praise and exalt God forever.
       After a rest out comes the ball. A beach ball is batted around the circle. The object is to keep it moving. We develop our concentration, hand to eye coordination and move all parts without thinking. Freedom of movement, give praise. Spirit of joy, give praise. All who move upon the earth, sing praise and exalt God forever.

(Paraphrase from the book of Daniel.)
     Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Editor's Note: This post cries out for a picture. We will get one up next Tuesday.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Three August Harvests

             August is the month when we expect and usually get a large harvest of cucumbers, basil and tomatoes here at St. Walburg Monastery. This August we received three unexpected harvests from seeds we had sown years ago.         

            On August 9 in an article in the Northern Kentucky Tribune, an online publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, Theresa Vu, owner of Theresa’s Alterations in Erlanger, told the story of her family fleeing Vietnam in 1981. Her family left on a makeshift 30-foot boat and spent three years in different camps in Thailand and the Philippines. In late 1984 the Diocese of Covington arranged for them to come to Covington. Theresa says, “We came here with $20 in our pocket and the clothes on our back. We were helped by the Benedictine Sisters at Villa Madonna.” Because Theresa was highly skilled in sewing, she got a job at an alterations shop in Covington and now owns her own business. We were pleased to see Theresa’s story and to recall the ministry Srs. Thomas Noll and Sylvester Shea (pictured above with Theresa and her daughter) undertook to help Vietnamese refugees.

             On August 10 Thomas More College officially named its library the Benedictine Library to honor the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery. The sign with the name of the library was unveiled at a ceremony on the campus and is the result of an anonymous $4 million matching gift to
the college. The donation, the largest in the history of Thomas More, came with the stipulation that the Benedictine Sisters be honored “in a significant manner.”

In 1921 the Benedictine Sisters began Villa Madonna College in the 1907 Villa Madonna Academy building to prepare Benedictine sisters and laywomen to teach in Catholic schools. In 1928 the college became a diocesan college under the auspices of the bishop and in 1968 it was renamed Thomas More College. At the unveiling ceremony, Dr. David Armstrong, President of the College said, “We educate students of all faiths, to examine the ultimate meaning of life, their place in the world and their responsibility to others. The Benedictine Sisters have been living that mission from day one and certainly did it in the founding of Villa Madonna College/Thomas More College.”

We are proud of the flourishing educational institution Thomas More College has become and are grateful to the anonymous donor for the honor of having the library named the Benedictine Library.

               On August 31 we received a letter from David Hastings, Executive Director of Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky (HONK) recalling the project we undertook with HONK in 2009 as part of celebrating our 150th anniversary. We partnered with HONK to raise $100,000 to build a new house not far from our original monastery in Covington’s Eastside. The house was named the House of Blessing and in the summer of 2009 a young self-employed family selected by HONK moved into it with the dream of making the house their own. HONK sponsored programs which taught them how to manage finances while living in the home they were working to buy They also learned how to care for the home and what it meant to be a homeowner. From 2009 to 2016 they experienced significant setbacks which could have discouraged them from continuing. They became homeowners this summer and HONK created a book of photographs chronicling the story of the House of Blessing.

These three stories of seeds we planted becoming “good fruit” leave us full of gratitude. We are honored to be part of these three harvests and we praise God who continues to bless the work of our hands.

 Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB