Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Cataracts of Advent

       I was intrigued by the two very different meanings of the word cataract: the rush of mighty water over a precipice vs. the opaque film that impedes sight with advancing age. How did the root of this word take such differing paths?

       The Greek kataractes means something that is rushing or swooping down. It became transferred into Latin in the form of cataracta, and thus could mean a waterfall or a portcullis (grated gate, a safeguard to a castle)

       From about the 16th c. the word cataract began to be used as a simile for the film that obstructs light from entering the eye. In that sense it is closer to the portcullis, which would slam or rush down to prevent an enemy from getting in. The cataract of the eye neither slams nor rushes nor swoops, but it obstructs quite well.

       Waiting for a date for cataract surgery is waiting for the light. No more will the brain have to work to equalize the corrected with the blurry. This cataract of Advent will soon give way to clearer vision, to a vision of the Lord Jesus coming in power, as in a cloud of light.

Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Our Tender God

       Each morning we gather to Praise God with and for all Creation, using the ancient Psalmody of the People of God.  The prayer closes with the sung “Canticle of Zachary” from the Gospel of Luke.  Lately the closing stanza has held me in prayerful thought for a long while.  These days I am more and more aware of how these words encompass the Advent theme.

By the tender mercy of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide out feet into the way of peace.

Or in Sr. Deborah’s version, we sing on another day:
You are merciful; you are tender.
You are the sun’s rays
striking the eastern horizon at dawn.
You are the Morning Star, rising to shine on us.
Brightening our shadowed steps, banishing death.
You are our beacon, drawing us on in peace.

Calling our God, tender, had never stirred me before.
      Then, in reading a set of books I received for Christmas, the word tender has caught my eye again and again.  Many have heard of Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, who has worked with gang members in Los Angeles for three decades.  In his first book, Tattoos on the Heart, he introduces us to the “Homeboy Industries” that he began; the largest gang-intervention program in the world.  He shares stories of conversion, crisis, death and new life that bring tears to one’s eyes.  I have watched Fr. Greg’s You-tube presentations to which he always takes two former gang members along to tell their stories.  The audiences get very touched by the homies’ stories and Fr. Greg’s approach with them.
      In his second book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, (2017) he shares his philosophy of convincing these folks of their own goodness, that it is only in a culture of tenderness that this can happen.  He sites Julian of Norwich’s thought, that “the true and most authentic spiritual life was one that produced awe, humility and love.” Fr. Greg says, “It is awe that softens us for the tender glance of God, which enables us to glance in just the same way.”  He says that “Homies” (Homeboys or Homegirls) “begin to inhabit their truest selves once they are on the receiving end of tenderness. This they soon discover is its own reward.”  Once Shaggy texted him, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”  He shares about a prisoner who has become one of his teachers, “He has learned the tender gravity of kindness, and knows how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.”  Fr. Greg says, “We don’t try to get them to be ‘good’; they already are. We’re hoping they’ll find the goodness and seek happiness in their “yes”.
       In Luke’s Gospel we read recently of Jesus speaking of the coming of earthquakes, plagues, and famine, and then says, “Do not be terrified.”  “Be not afraid”, “Fear not”, he says over and over.  Jesus wants us to see terror as he does. This is what Greg teaches the gang members who come to their center.  “They can confront terror with an openhearted kindness as Jesus does.  Suddenly, plagues and earthquakes have lost their menace when met with such tenderness”.
      Fr. Greg considered it a singular blessing to have known Cesar Chavez, especially his keen skill of listening.  Nothing or no one else existed in that moment but you, no matter who you were.  Once a reporter commented to Cesar, “Wow, these farm workers, they sure love you.”  And Cesar smiled, shrugged, and said, “The feeling’s mutual.”  “When the feeling’s mutual, we are seized by a tenderness that elevates us to the very largeness of God…The affection of God unfolds when there is no daylight separating us.” 
      It is so evident that the Home boys and Home girls feel very “at home” with Fr. Greg and his staff.  And I have learnt a lot about what a Culture of Tenderness can mean for folks on the edge of society.  I am grateful for such Christ figures who show forth the “tenderness of God” in our midst!
     Happy Advent! 
                                Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Book of Revelation and Me!

           When I was a child my cousin Margie Ray had a record player at my grandmother’s house that she let me play when I was visiting over weekends. She had several 78 RPMs – not a big collection by today’s standards, but I loved each of them and played them over and over when I was in the living room by myself. The chorus to one song was “ [I’ll] ride a milk white horse, diamond hood, hitched to the rock where Moses stood, look so fine and feel so good when I put on my long white robe.” My second source for picturing the scene laid out in Revelation was a Spiritual I learned while singing in the Baker-Hunt Children’s Chorus, “I Got Shoes” in which all of us choristers sang with gusto, “ [I’m] gonna walk all over God’s Heaven”.
         As these memories are stirred today because of the current daily Mass readings, the feelings of anticipation of glory and fulfillment well up in me as they did when I was a children caught up in the music. I loved the scene laid out in Revelation. Surely there were and are parts of the document that I don‘t “get”. But what I do get is glorious: Everyone, beyond counting, will be there singing and rejoicing without distinctions of race, tongue, tribe, nationality, etc. We will all be dressed for the celebration with robes, shoes and everything we need- signs of freedom and belonging. All will be light and all evil will be overcome.
        Revelation has always been Resistance Literature. In the first century it bolstered the early Church to stand against the pressures of their local societies. In our country it is likely that the songs I referenced above gave enslaved people expression for the hope they had for this life and the hereafter.         My association with Spanish speakers has also brought me into contact with the lively cancion, “Jerusalen que bonita eres”,  which describes walking on streets of gold and a sea of crystal while singing Alleluia. Yes, in spite of the evil that seems to prevail at this time, God will bring us through this. Heaven will be wonderful and all those wearing the white robes of fidelity will be praising God.
        Reflecting on these pre-Advent readings set before us the goal. Now we are called to discern how we will strive to kindle the embers of that vision by joining with our sisters and brothers around the world and across all class distinctions to pray and act to promote freedom, peace and justice as a way of glorifying God. 

            Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Cats and God's love for us

           In late October Sr. Dorothy and I moved from a house on the western edge of the monastery property to the monastery itself. The move went well with the gracious and generous help of our maintenance men, Paul Rodgers and Tony Jarman and Srs. Mary Catherine, Cathy and Christa. The sisters at the monastery welcomed us with open arms. The only drawback for me was that this is the first time since 1992 there has not been a cat in my life.
          In 1992 when we were living in a house in downtown Covington, we adopted two kittens, brother and sister:  butterscotch and white named Cheddar and black and white named Chutney. Chutney died at age 10 when we were still in Covington and Cheddar died at age 19 going on 20 when we were living at St. Marys. A friend asked if we would consider adopting a diva cat who had been adopted by her daughter and who had to be returned to the foster parent because she blocked the house’s kitten from using the litter box! So we adopted Drina, a British short-haired cat with the attitude of Queen Victoria. On our original visit to see Drina, another little funny-looking kitten came running up to us. That was Diana, a grey and white Selkirk Rex, who clearly wanted to go home with us and a month later we returned for her.
          My experience with these four cats has led me to two reflection points. The first one struck me when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Many news outlets reported that he was a cat lover and that the administrators in the Vatican wanted him to stop feeding homeless cats in Vatican City. I wanted to write him a letter suggesting that as Pope in these times, he would be relating to the People of God not as a shepherd to the sheep but as a cat herder trying to lead a bunch of cats to salvation. Or a cat whisperer like Jackson Galaxy helping humans adjust themselves to the inclinations of the cats in their lives. 

          Sheep are fairly docile compared to cats. Sheep will follow; cats won’t. If you are in a relationship with a cat, you love it deeply for its “catness.” Getting a cat to trust you is a lot of work and that’s the point. However much you say to the cat, “It’s for your own good,” the cat will insist that you prove it and even then it won’t be convinced. Cats show an aptitude for free will even more than human beings.
          Later as I edged closer to becoming a crazy cat lady (but never really crossing the line), I realized that my love for the cats in my life was like God’s love for us. Catherine of Siena says to God in one of her prayers to the Trinity, “You rested your sight on the beauty of your creature, whom you, as mad … with love, fell in love with … and acted as if you were drunk with love, infatuated by your creature.” God does not love us for our potential perfection as human beings; God delights in us and deeply loves us for who we are—human beings imperfect as we are. Very much like my love for the cats in my life—delight in their “catness” and infatuated to the point that if there is a cat in the room, I may not pay attention to anything else.

            Now as Thanksgiving draws near, I give thanks for the cats that have been in my life who have helped me love the natural and animal world around me, who have made me a better person coming closer to being able to love as God loves. And I give thanks for God’s delight and love for me and all the other People of God.

                              Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Children in Peril

       The book Sarah's Key written by Tatiana de Rosnay has captured my attention and my heart. It begins as two side-by-side stories but I want to focus on the little girl. Sarah is a ten-year old Jewish girl living in Paris when the French police come in the dark of night to take her, her mother and father away. The time is July 1942. Through Sarah’s observations, thoughts and feelings we are exposed to the horrors of the incarcerations, bus and train rides, the camps, the separation of families. Through the many questions she poses to herself we are bombarded with the atrocity of her situation.
          The fathers are taken away first, then the mothers are torn from their children. Sarah clings to her mother until the very last minute. What follows for Sarah is the enormous amount of crying and calling that ensues.I was especially struck when she describes the toddlers who had identification tags tied to them.f course they removed them as all children of that age do. So now there is a pile of tags and a large number of unnamed children.
          I just paused and was overcome with the thoughts of children in our own country more than 75 years later who are experiencing much the same—the border children, the abducted children, the stolen children, the abused children.heir horrifying dread, their extreme fear, the great uncertainty they face overwhelms me.
          I pray for our country, our lawmakers, and social workers to do their best to make a bad situation better. I pray for the foster and adoptive families that try through many hardships to return the children to some normalcy.And I pray that I always treat others with respect and know when I need to say I’m sorry.

       Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

One Voice Among Many

     I am saddened by all the violence that is happening in the U.S. and also around the world.  My heart goes out to the Jewish Community in Pittsburgh on the losses they recently suffered.
     It seems that in the U.S. and around the world,some people look at  other people as "we" and as "them".  There is a terrible division among the human race. In reality, we are truly all sisters and brothers in the one God.
     Could it be that people who violate other people do not believe in God?  And thus do not see other as sisters and brothers?
     I think the world today is getting farther and farther away from God, who is the Source of all Good.
     I am reminded of two great women in my lifetime. Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  I was privileged to hear both women speak in 1978 at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, PA.
    Dorothy Day was an advocate of social justice and she brought about social change for the good of all. Mother Teresa embraced the suffering people who had no one. Mother Teresa said that we too suffer in America when we fail  to love others.  That this failure to love was our "poverty" here.  One of her favorite savings is: "Do small things with great love".
     I feel that if we replace "hatred" with "love", it will be a big start to getting back on track again.

       Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Awful Grace of God

       Over the past week we have witnessed another violent and heartbreaking shooting—this time in the Tree of Life Synagogue. During Shabbat morning services eleven members of the Jewish community were killed and seven injured. The event, like others in the recent past leaves me stunned and once again saying “why.” Death is a hard and certain reality. Words often seem trite in the face of its mystery.

       I share the words of the Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, with you. They have been a source of consolation, not an explanation, more than once for me.

 “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

       Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB 

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation[a] in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of PittsburghPennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services and a bris were being held. Eleven people were killed, and seven were injured. The sole suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers,[4][5] was arrested and charged with 29 federal crimes and 36 state crimes.[4][6] The shooting was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.[7][8] The event was one of three far-right public attacks that took place in the United States the same week, along with the a series of mail bombing attempts and the Jeffersontown Kroger shooting.[9]