Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

       On a practical note, this is the big feast of Mary on which many young women, especially, entered religious life.  So, many sisters remember celebrating this feast with joy, and then got ready to go off to their teaching assignments or to College classes.  I happened to attend my cousin’s making her first profession in another order on this feast and then I entered one week after the others in my postulant class.

       Now some 60 years later the feast carries a new meaning, as I serve as greeter at our Cathedral twice a month, The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, in Covington, KY. I call it the Jewell of Greater Cincinnati, because of its magnificent architecture and beauty.  On a typical day there will be visitors from all over the world, some as individuals and some on Tour busses in groups, hoping for a docent to show them the high-lights.The 86 stained glass windows cannot be missed, along with the largest one that is claimed to be the largest of a religious theme in the world, (67x24 feet) depicting the Council of Ephesus in 432, affirming that Mary is “The Mother of God.” The Gothic arches, the mosaic Stations of the Cross, and the three pipe organs are other specialties. Among the art treasures are two murals by a local artist from Covington, Frank Duveneck (1910)  Now of international renown, his works are on permanent exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
       On this particular feast, I would point out the ascending Madonna at the tip of the baldacchino in the sanctuary. (See right)  She was the one who announces in the Magnificat, “All generations will call be blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” ( Lk 1:48-49)  And I would take the group to the front of the Cathedral to see the sculptures by a local craftsman, Clement Barnhorn, who did the relief of the Assumption of Mary into heaven accompanied by the Angels, above the main doors, as well as the central statue he called “The Alma Mater” with child.  They are outstanding works of art.
       Let us all give praise and thanks to God for the Gift of Mary and for her being gifted with eternal life with God a prefiguring of our future glory, in the words of the Preface of today’s Mass:
“For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim peoples; rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.  And so, in company with the choirs of Angels, we praise you, and with joy we proclaim:  Holy, Holy, Holy..”

       Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Editor's Note: For a great picture of the baldacchino where you can see a close up of the ascending Madonna go to

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Living and Knitting in Color

        I love starting a new color. Here I am talking about my knitting, specifically the shawl I am making, designing as I go, whether this is a good idea or not. A couple of years ago someone gave St. Walburg Monastery a lot of yarn – about 5 big plastic storage containers full – it seems like they are mostly left-overs from projects, many balls/skeins without wrappers which name the color and give specifics regarding the fibers.
        For the most part, the items which have been made have washed well and the acting assumption is that they are polyester. Several of our sisters have made lovely afghans, lap robes, shawls and other items. 
        I have been making different kinds of things that use multiple colors because there is not enough of any one color of yarn for a big project. I have made some large items like afghans, as well as smaller ones like hats (for cancer survivors), baby items, etc.
        A few weeks ago I picked out “yarn” that is really thin, probably 2 ply, more like cord for wrapping packages. There were several balls of various colors and I decided to knit them into this shawl I am currently working on. Because the yarn is so fine, I use small needles (size 4) and it is taking about an hour to work across each row. So you know that it is going to take a long time to finish the shawl. With each color I also vary the pattern for those rows. It’s a way for me to stay interested and I am a little surprised at how it’s turning out.

        All of this, of course, is a metaphor for life. We don’t have control over the yarn/ gifts that come to us, but we do have choices about how we use them. We seldom have just what we want or enough of it, but we find ways to “make do” and, if approached with a positive attitude, that usually works out well. The gifts and people who come into our lives bring with them blessings and challenges. And, when we let the Spirit guide us, we can come up with works of art (or develop into Works of Arts).  All colors be welcome!

       Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Sunday, August 5, 2018

An Annual Retreat and the Questions of Life

            From Sunday evening, July 29, through Friday afternoon, August 3 the community was engaged in our annual retreat. Our retreat director was Abbot Paul Mark Schwan, OCSO, (pictured below right with Sr. Aileen Bankemper, our prioress) from The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. Fr. Paul was our first Cistercian retreat director and he was a delight and blessing to our
            The title of the retreat was For what have you come? and Fr. Paul focused on some of the questions in the Rule of Benedict. He began by talking about the art of the question, particularly the questions God addresses to us in our daily living of the Rule. Each talk centered around one of the questions from the Rule:
  •             What does the Spirit say? (RB  Prol  2)
  •             Who is it who desire life and longs to see good days? (RB Prol 15)
  •             What can be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord inviting us, dearest sisters? (RB Prol 19)
  •             Lord, who shall dwell in your tent or who shall rest upon your holy mountain? (RB Prol 23)
  •             Do you not know that patience of God is leading you to repentance? (RB Prol 37)
  •             How could you see a speck in your sister’s eye and not have notices the plank in your own? (RB 2:15)
  •             For what page or what words are there in the divinely inspired Old & New Testaments that are not a most direct norm for human life? (RB 73:3)
  •             Are you hastening toward your heavenly homeland? (RB 7:3)

            In each conference Fr. Paul’s unique approach was telling a story from the Gospels that he related to each question. He was good storyteller and didn’t try to draw direct parallels to the questions and the Gospel story. It was up to each of us to explore the Gospel and relate it to the question from the Rule. Sometimes that left us with more questions. As I listened I was reminded of the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke about the great questions of  life.
            Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . .       Live the questions now.
           Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the
            Fr. Paul’s closing conference, entitled When does the journey end?, explored the Christology of the Rule and illustrated the centrality of Christ in the monk’s life.
            On Friday evening we had an informal discussion with Fr. Paul beginning with a brief video on the Cistercian life at New Clairvaux. We were impressed by the work of the monks’ hands—harvesting walnuts and plums for prunes. New Clairvaux also has a thriving vineyard which produces internationally acclaimed wines. The community has recently completed a capital campaign that allowed them to use stones from an 800 year old extinct monastery in Spain, brought to the US by William Randoph Hearst, to build a new chapel. Our discussion with Fr. Paul allowed us to understand the Cistercian life and charism better as it is lived in this young, diverse monastery. We now feel a connection with the monks at New Clairvaux and will always have an interest in their well-being and an affection for their abbot.

      Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sad Jobs

          A silver maple located in front of our Infirmary wing was cut down this morning.  I
t had been trimmed many times as it was under the former electric lines so it was looking sad and some branches had quit producing.  But it still had many green limps although for safety reasons it had to come down. As I passed one of the workmen sweeping up the leaves I remarked, “Sad job!” and he responded, “I love trees.”  What a dilemma to love trees and yet have to cut them down.
         I began thinking about other occupations that involve a degree of sadness: demolition crews, firefighters, undertakers, miners and road construction crews who have to rearrange the land, persons who have to deliver bad news such as illness or death, military persons.  Even those in airport security who have to inform you that your luggage has problems or the cashier that informs you that your credit has run out can be added to the low point of a job.  I’m sure you can add more. Perhaps you are living one of them.
        Some of those tasks seem like a recipe for depression!  What does it take to endure these positions?  Some ideas came to mind.  For some it is knowing that you are providing a necessary service.  Some present challenges which are definitely incentives for those who are problem solvers.  Ingenuity and creativity often come into play which upon reflection are life giving.  The worker develops a skill which is personally exhilarating and puts talent to use for good.  And the list goes on.
         How happy and grateful I am for those men and women who can face these “sad jobs“.   I pray for their safety and their perseverance.  I thank God for them and ask God’s continued blessings for such very special people. 

          Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Truth and Reality

       I am reading a book by M. Basil Pennington entitled The True Self/The False Self.  The book has very good insights into our true self being our identity in God, being made in God's image and likeness.  For most of us this discovery takes a life time and is aided by prayer and contemplation.

       I think also that Jesus gives us a prescription for finding our "true self" in the Gospels. For an example, if we look at the Beatitudes, we can see this prescription.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us
     "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they
      who mourn,
      blessed are the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst
      for righteousness, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are
      the peacemakers and blessed are the persecuted." (Mt. 5:1-12).

       I think these beatitudes are all attributes of Jesus, of God who became one of us.  Jesus is calling us to be like God in whose image we are made.  Can we identify with any one of them? Perhaps we are called to strive for them and to recognize ourselves in each of them because they are a sharing in God's image and likeness.

           Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Thursday, July 12, 2018

What would St. Benedict Find?

A reflection given on the July 11th Feast of St. Benedict

       Have you ever thought about Benedict as in St. Benedict coming to visit here? Well the thought came to me in a dream. What would he find at St. Walburg Monastery? What would Benedict experience? I think he would be gratified at how central to our lives is “the work of God” praying the Liturgy of the Hours and lectio. This community takes our prayer life seriously that we are to prefer nothing to the love of God as expressed in our communal prayer and in community life.

       I believe Benedict would be humbled by the way the community cares for one another – seeing that even those infirmed are quite solicitous of the other. He would observe countless small ways in which we try to lighten the burden of each other. He probably would be amazed at all our rollators! And at the same time be impressed at the desire of each sister to stay involved (the best she can) in doing the work of the community. We are rather unique in our self-sufficiency despite the fact that we have a significant number of lay helpers. Perhaps Benedict would even give a positive remark about the longevity of our lay staff: “your community must not be excessively demanding ! or your lay staff must really love you!”

       Through Benedict’s teachings and example a love for learning has been handed down for over 1500 years. We do come from a long line of educated women and have continued that tradition. Whatever our professions are now or have been in the past, a love for learning, is one we share, have shared and is central to this community.

       We are not a perfect community – Benedict might hear a bit of murmuring. However, since he commented on it so often in the Rule hearing a bit of murmuring might even make him feel at home!

        And, what might he say to each of us personally? He might ask; how much do we practice and use the tools of good works? Where are we on the climb of the ladder of humility? Do we practice the good zeal that monastics ought to live? And so on.

       I think that perhaps Benedict would give me a “pass – for now” as prioress – as I have only just begun. But I know I would have to answer as a community member. Benedict would likely take the opportunity to counsel me “to daily read over and put into practice Chapters 2 and 64 of the Holy Rule describing the qualities of an abbot or prioress. By the way, both chapters seem daunting and impossible!  I do have hope and take consolation in words from Joan Chittister regarding chapter 2 “Once chosen, it is their weakness itself that becomes the anchor, the insight, the humility and the gift of an abbot or prioress. . .but only if they themselves embrace it” knowing and realizing that it is in the acknowledgement and acceptance of my weakness that I am strong. It is with vision and understanding I can see myself strive to undertake the role.

       At the end of the visit I believe Benedict would encourage us to: continue our community quest for God, be attuned and disposed to God’s will and presence and through our mutual love and support journey together onward to God.

Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: Insight for the Ages, New York, Crossroad Publishing Company. 1992

       Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Socks and Our Times

I began knitting socks 4 years ago after a year in which I lost my mother and a very good friend. This new project required concentration which provided a needed distraction from my grief.  The rhythm of the stitches brought me a sense of comfort. I delighted in my emerging sock and in the women with whom I connected during lessons.  I learned patience as redid some parts and laughed out loud when I tried on my first sock only to have it slide down my ankle. 
            After a long hiatus I picked up my sock knitting this past weekend. In the quiet, with only the gentle sound of my wooden needles and the feel of the yarn I remembered my ea
rly days of sock knitting. My thoughts then moved to today and what lessons my sock knitting offers in light of our current times of violence, separation and unpredictability. 
·                                 Just as stitch after stitch forms a sock so do our actions, prayers and meditations make a difference in our world as we practice daily.
·                                 Focus is necessary in navigating the anatomy of the sock. We are created by love for love…our task is to remove the barriers to love and to hold our focus amidst the changing world.  (Sometimes have to circle back and repair when things don’t go as planned.)
·                                We need company. We are wired from birth for relationships which nurture and help us learn the lessons of life (or in knitting). We are also often spurred into action by our compassion for another.

            May we each one stitch/step at a time persevere in our prayer, hold our focus on the call we have received, and seek to take actions which foster connection and compassion.

          Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB