Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tender Hearted Love

       Not long ago our chaplain made the comment: “The Church celebrates a feast in which we celebrate the Sacred Heart. Have you noticed there are no feasts that celebrate the sacred brain or the sacred gut?!” The heart is seen as the center of love.
       In the reading today from St. Peter’s letter, we are exhorted to “love one another intensely from a pure heart.” Peter knew something about having a pure heart. Through Peter’s many encounters with Jesus, some of them quite intense he learned about the meaning of love.
      I think particularly of the encounter between Jesus and Peter occurring post resurrection. The scene took place “following breakfast.” Jesus asks Peter directly and deliberately three times “Do you love me?” Asking three times perhaps is a reminder to Peter of his recent betrayal. Jesus’ response to Peter, however,  was not a reprimand but one of wanting him to take action – a doing of the word. The first and third time Jesus said “Feed my sheep” and the second time “Tend my sheep” – behaviors that demonstrate Jesus’ tender hearted love.               Acting with kindness, compassion, patience, doing of the corporal works of mercy are deeds that reveal one having a pure heart that leads one to greater love of the Sacred Heart.
        Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Sense of Past and Future

For everything there is a season…God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds…Ecclesiastes 8:3; 11.

       Our founding sisters came to Covington in 1859 and by 1890 they had erected St. Walburg Monastery and Academy. 1903 the community bought property in what is now Villa Hills, KY where we built Villa Madonna Academy and our present monastery. Between 1922 and 1947 we bought neighboring farms, and we ran a full farm until 1967. During the years between 1964 and 2016 we opened Villa Madonna Montessori (’72) in the old dairy barn, developed Madonna Manor (’64). In 2008 we transferred the Manor to the Sylvania Franciscans in order to further its mission and service to the elderly. 
      During the past four years, with the help of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), the community has engaged in future planning. Today our plans call us to sell some of our land to secure our community’s continued presence, service and outreach in our neighborhood and in the Church. Selling isn’t easy for us as you might imagine, but we know what we need to do. 

       Decision making in a Benedictine community is very serious business. In our monastery we meet, talk, meet, talk, meet and talk until we are ready to decide. Collaborating, working together, takes time and bears good fruit. During this time of decision making we have also been blessed with the help of the staff of the Planning and Development Services of Kenton County (PDS) and the administrators of the City of Villa Hills who respect our planning process. 
      We appreciate the interest and concerns of our friends, the citizens of Villa Hills, the new acquaintances we are making during this process and those who have offered to help us as we move into the future. We will keep all of you in our prayers and pray that God will bless you for your support and friendship..

      Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Prayer for Renewal Pentecost, 2016

                                                Spirit of Jesus,
Lord of our lives…
Come, dwell
within us  anew.

Open our eyes
help us to see
in your presence,
our blindness
and your vision.

our stumbling gait,
our faltering will,
that we might
serve you still

through our dying

and our rising,

hand in hand,
heart to heart,
with you.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

An Unrealized Prejudice

        Once in a while we read or hear something that makes us take notice in a special way. It jars us into an awakening  It forces us to examine ourselves and our beliefs. Sometimes the memory sticks with us and keeps coming to the foreground in quiet moments.
        A recent article from America magazine (March 28, 2016) has done just that.  I have to admit to having given Jesus a Hollywood appearance. The holy cards of my youth had a big influence and I realize that I have not up-dated my image. So when Brian Doyle (p 26) describes Jesus as a “gaunt Arab Jew, speaking Aramaic and Hebrew, copper-skinned, short, slight of build, skilled only in carpentry and scholarly analysis of the Torah,  . . . ” my brain skidded to a halt. I’m okay with the Arab Jew, the language and probably his skin color, but what is this gaunt, short, slight of build? I want to say “not MY Jesus.” I realized it was especially the “short” that bugged me. How could a short person command the attention of so many people, the crowds so often described?  (So this is why he helped out Zacchias!) 
       And then I realized that I have a prejudice that has gone undetected by me all these many years.  I am afraid that I have not given full credit to short people.  A bit of self disclosure, I have lost six inches to scoliosis and have to buy in the petite department but this has not changed my attitude toward myself. I tend to say that others have just gotten taller. I think I still have my gifts, talents, and ”short” comings. Even our language has put a derogatory on short! So now I know I have some work to do. I need to be more open, to change my attitude. I am wondering and looking for what other prejudices are lingering within me. Say a prayer that I get straightened out.
        Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Catherine of Siena

On April 29 we celebrate the feast of one of the great women mystics and a female Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena. The modern mind finds Catherine a little difficult to take. Born in 1347, the 24 of 25 children (this is not the size of the average contemporary family), Catherine was the daughter of a wool dyer, fairly prosperous and almost middle class for the time. Catherine packed a lot of living into her 33 year life.
At the age of six she experienced a vision of Christ and decided to dedicate her life to God. The next year she made a vow of virginity. When her older, much-beloved sister, Bonaventure, died in 1362 she cut off her hair in defiance of her parents’ plans for her marriage. Her parents dismissed the house maid and Catherine was put to work for the house in her place and began to eat only bread, water and raw vegetables. At this point contemporary family services would declare the family dysfunctional and encourage therapy for all members.
When her father found her praying and saw a white dove hovering over her head, he became convinced that Catherine was following a true path even if he didn’t understand it, let her have her own room for solitude and prayer and forbade anyone in the family from interfering with her wishes. He even gave her permission to give alms from the family’s goods. Catherine took full advantage of this, to the benefit of the poor of Siena. Family members learned to lock their doors. At some point she learned to read.
In 1368 Catherine’s father died, Siena was struck by famine and Catherine no longer could tolerate bread. She received a vision telling her to leave her solitude to serve others. From that pint on, Catherine became actively involved in caring for
the plague-stricken, preaching a crusade and working to keep a break between the republics of Italy and the Pope from happening. By this point she had received the stigmata, could no longer eat solid food and consoled a young man to be executed to such an extent that he asked her to be with him and catch his head in her hands when he was executed.
By 1379 Catherine had attracted a large number of followers for whom she was spiritual director, counselor, mediator and “mama.”Many of them lived a communal life with her and worked for the unity and reform of the Church. On April 29, 1380 Catherine of Siena died in Rome at the age of 33. This is a very brief summary of Catherine's life and does not do justice to her activities and influence.
In the chapter on Catherine of Siena in her book Enduring Grace, author Carol Lee Flinders describes Catherine as a “blessedly eccentric individual.” Flinders also notes that Catherine’s intensity was “like the wine of Siena—very red.”
I find Catherine’s life strange, full of contradictions and give thanks that I am not called to it
but I find her writings attractive, mysterious and worth reflection.. My favorite prayer of Catherine is one about the Trinity.
         I shall contemplate myself in you. And I shall clothe myself in your eternal will,
         and by this light I shall come to know that you, eternal Trinity,
         are table and food and waiter for us.
         You, eternal Father, are the table that offers us as food the Lamb, your only-begotten Son.
         He is the most exquisite of foods for us, both in his teaching, which nourishes us in your will,
         and in the sacrament that we receive in holy communion
        which feeds and strengthens us while we are pilgrim travelers in this life.
        And the Holy Spirit is indeed a waiter for us,
        for he serves us this teaching by enlightening our mind’s eye with it and inspiring us to follow it.
       And he serves us charity for neighbors and hunger to have as our food souls
       and the salvation of the whole world for the Father’s honor.

     Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rezoning Land

       Many of you have seen the recent newspaper article and TV segment about the rezoning of our land. The community has been discussing this process for some time and now the public is being asked to offer their input at a public meeting on May 9. 
       About 80 acres of unused land on our property is of special interest as it may be sold for development. The proceeds from the sale will provide funds for the continued maintenance of our land and buildings as well as the needs of the sisters going forward. With the assistance of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) the community has been working to make plans to overcome our underfunded retirement account and to reduce expenses wherever possible. Their help has been invaluable. 
       Since the rezoning process and sale of the land has become public we have received many comments from local residents and friends of the community. While many wish we would not sell the land they realize that it is necessary. They have expressed their desires for many uses including more residences or fewer residences, green space and walking trails, a 9-hole golf course and even an organic farm with farm to table stands to sell their produce. The meeting on May 9 should bring even more ideas. 
       As treasurer of the community I know the financial need that has prompted the whole planning process and know how important the sale of the property is. To some I may seem heartless because I don’t worry about the deer, turkeys and coyotes that will have to move on (or make their home in the future development). The community wants to continue to serve and be an asset in the city of Villa Hills and to be a spiritual presence there and in the Northern Kentucky area. Offering Benedictine hospitality and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are
essential. Having the funds to do that is paramount in my view. 
       I hope that our neighbors will come to the meeting and voice their views to the Planning and Development Services who are leading the process. The mayor and city officials are our partners in this rezoning effort. All of us will benefit as we move forward—that is our hope. 

       We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we continue the process in the coming months.

      Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Meditation on being stuck in an elevator

     The elevator was small and stuffy. It was nighttime. Was anyone still around?  The elevator stopped.  It was between two floors and the door refused to open. The alarm! Who would hear the alarm. I didn't want to be stuck there all night.  Would I suffocate?
    One of the sisters did hear the alarm. Now to find the sister who knew where the emergency key was kept AND, how to use it. I was scared. At least one of the sisters stayed outside the elevator door and talked to me so I'd know someone was there. The key clicked in the lock, the door opened and I climbed out.
    The second elevator was much bigger. Complete with a wooden chair...for the longer rides. The timing was better. it was early evening and there were sisters around.This second experience wasn't so frightening. I knew I would get out. But, finding the key AND  the right combination for it to work took 45 minutes.
    It was winter.The elevator was cold.I walked back and forth in every configuration I could dream of.  I hadn't done my stretch exercises that morning so I did those.Then I sat on the chair. Imagination took over. How would this space compare to a solitary confinement cell in a prison?
   The walls were solid. There were no windows. My space was clean, hope-filled and time-limited.  A prisoner's cell (I imagined) was windowless, cold, dingy, lonely, hopeless and almost eternal. I'm an outdoor person so I can't imagine being cooped up for 23 of 24 hours a day in such a space. My situation had the creature comforts lacking in a prison cell of solitary confinement.
    Imagination turned to reality. What are we doing to make our prisons more humane? Do we think of prisoners as "those people" or do we respect their God given dignity? Can't we do more with rehabilitation and less with punishment? A recent 60 Minutes' Report showed how Germany rehabilitates its prisoners.  They have a very low rate of repeat offenders because they are trained for jobs, social skills are developed and the general public has a different attitude toward those who have committed crimes.Is Germany's prison system something we ought to look into?
      Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB