Wednesday, November 18, 2020

November 2020


    It has been years since November has topped my list as a favorite month. The trees without their crowns, left unadorned stand out in stark beauty. Shades of brown replace much of the landscape. It is often a quiet month, with fewer distractions (well, with recent elections, maybe not this year). The simplicity of physical surroundings draws one to a deeper connection with the Holy. November lends itself to reflecting on the essentials of life and the importance of relationships tops the list. The month is bookended with remembrance of deceased loved ones at the beginning and ends with Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude for the persons in one’s life.

    However, this November is like no other.  What occurred at the end of October provided an interesting challenge for the community. Due to a positive COVID-19 case our main kitchen staff were quarantined. This meant we were on our own for all the meals! Many of us have had the experience of cooking for 4-6, but cooking for 35 plus is another type of experience! It was heartwarming how many in the community volunteered and helped in myriads of ways. The food was plentiful, varied and delicious and no one has lost weight! (though some of us wish we did!). We are also most grateful to a generous benefactor who provided several evening meals from local restaurants.

    This year the celebration of Thanksgiving, too, will be different. As is true for so many, there will be no guests or visiting with family at the Monastery. What rejoicing there will be when this pandemic is over. The promise of a vaccine does give hope for life beyond the virus.  In the meantime, during this November of 2020 my daily reflections are on gratitude and the many blessings in my life that have multiplied.

    Our community continues to pray daily for those suffering from COVID-19 and those isolated from family members.  We are grateful for all the blessings we have received from our friends and family. 

                                        Sister Aileen Bankemper

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tears in a Bottle


    November is the month when St. Walburg Monastery , like many church communities, displays a Book of Remembrance for our Dead, especially those who have died within the past year. In some churches the names are read aloud and the bell is tolled. It calls us to reflect on what these individuals have meant to us during their lives on earth and how they are present to us in our Eternal Home.

    Today, Veterans’ Day, we especially honor those who have served our country in all the armed services throughout the history of our country. Along with other first responders, law enforcement and peace keeping personnel, they put themselves between us and danger to uphold the ideals of freedom, equality and justice.

    As I walk to our cemetery mourning for all my sisters and brothers my thoughts are drawn especially to our Veterans and their sacrifices. I mourn for them and also for the death and diminishment of the ideals for which they died and endured hardships. I mourn with them whenever we, the people, allow or act with hatred, injustice and indifference.

·            I mourn for the people stuck at our border, especially the children – the thousands I did not meet last summer when I worked there, because these have had no chance for asylum in our country even though they are in grave danger and cannot go home.

·            I mourn for all who are affected by Covid-19 –patients, their loved ones who are not able to be with them in their last agony and their heroic care givers.

·            I mourn for Black men, women and children who have been deprived of their history, safety, dignity and rights as citizens for centuries.

·            I mourn for all who are affected by death, dying, persecution, oppression, and violence of every sort.

·            I mourn for the diminishment of truth in public speech.

·            I mourn for the greed that we each hold in our fearful hearts.

·            I mourn for us all in our struggling need for God to awaken us

 from the deaths in which we are entombed.

O God, you notice all my sorrows.

Have you not collected all my tears in your bottle?       --Psalm 56

 Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Where is Hope?


    What do you do when you receive news that pushes the bottom out of your heart, news that fractures any sense of stability you‘ve held on to despite the pandemic? I think about how many people have been in that position of getting news that someone they love has had their world turned upside down by addiction, accident, job loss, or other calamity. This, on top of pandemic, can shatter most anyone.

    When someone gets this kind of news, the question often surfaces: What can I do to help the situation? Often the answer is “not much” or even “nothing.” This feeling of being alone and without help when there is a crisis is enough to raise a cloud of frustration, even despair in most of us.

    Questions arise: How much more can a person carry?  Where is God in all this mess? In her head a Christian knows the answer is that God is present in the midst of it, but this question itself comes not from the head but from the heart. Answers are less black and white and more a matter of faith or trust.                  

    But where in this maelstrom of pain, disappointment, and helplessness does a person with faith find any hope? If God is there, hope has to be there as well, but in our current days where so much is nebulous, hope can be hard to find. Sometimes it helps if we try to open our ears and eyes, then look around.

    Do you notice the food servers and dish washers in that small restaurant where you picked up a lunch? They likely need to be there despite health risks. How about the folks who collect the trash you put curbside? Have you thought about how medical workers and teachers risk their health to do their jobs? What about generosity of carpenters who make free in-home desks for poor kids who have to go to school online? Each one is a manifestation of God’s care for us.

    But it’s not just adults who reveal God’s presence. What about kids who step up to do odd jobs for neighbors? How about kindergartners who make cards for shut-ins? Then there are older kids who go out of their way to relieve their parents by giving extra attention to their siblings.

     In other words, God is revealed in the actions of people who reach out to those who need help, and believe it or not, there’s a lot of that giving going on all around us. I think we see it, but often it doesn’t register as something special. The Uber driver, the cop on the corner, the grocery store clerks, postal workers, and many others are risking health to be of service and trying to keep their businesses afloat.

    When hopelessness, anxiety, and frustration surface in our daily lives during these trying times, try to recall the nearness of God’s love by paying special attention to its manifestations in our neighbors and even ourselves. Hope is around and within; we just need to pay attention to the ubiquitous signs of its presence.

           Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Challenge to Respond as Christ


Recently I was enjoying an evening walk with a friend, both of us masked and keeping some distance from one another.  We were approached by another walker who with raised voice said, “Democrats, right!” as he walked past.  Initially shocked we both looked at each other with disbelief, asking did that just happen?  My choice to wear a mask is not politically motivated but rather is about safety and a sense of doing my part to reduce the spread of Covid-19.  Knowing this, I felt myself becoming angry with this man, his assumptions about my motivations and his seeming disdain for us.

            Later, we and others to whom I told the story came up with many retorts that could have been hurdled back.  It may be just as well that in moments like that my mind slows and my tongue goes silent keeping words I might regret from escaping.  This experience left me with a larger question, how do I respond as Jesus Christ would have in moments like this one?  Jesus expressed anger at times but more often than not responded with a sense of compassion and care for the other person.  He offered a parable or a question to effect change on the other party.  His goal was to find ways to soften hearts, heal and draw people together.  In these days of Covid-19 and our approaching election which seem to exacerbate differences I pray for the grace:

·         to see the other with the compassionate and caring eyes of Christ

·         to listen with ears that seek to really hear and understand even when I disagree

·         to speak words that foster healing and connection

·         to live with a soft heart that remains open and vulnerable

·         to respond as Christ to whatever I encounter along the way

       Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Please, not in my backyard!


Fourth stage of developing

    Amid the destructive forces of nature a new threat has emerged in the United States—the spotted lanternfly. I first met this bug while making a campground reservation in Pennsylvania last year. The park’s website asked visitors to report any sightings. We canceled our reservation because of Covid and have yet to see one. 

    The October 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine tells a story that brings shudders to owners of vineyards, hops-growers, orchards and nurseries.  The spotted lanternfly first appeared in mid-Atlantic states, and is making its way west.

Adult stage of Lycorma delicatula

        Voracious in appetite, it penetrates the vascular tissue of a plant/tree, draining its nutrients.  Its favorite is the tree of heaven, but has since diversified.

 Ag-based businesses throughout the U.S. hope for a solution from researchers who study each stage of the lanternfly’s life cycle. Ironically, it’s a beautiful bug with a melodious scientific name. 

The lanternfly story got me thinking of the relationship between good and evil, beauty that hides a sinister face. I would rather have approached it from an attitude of “seeing the good” behind the darkness. Instead it seems to be one more thing to be challenged by, as we struggle with injustice, racism, truth and natural disasters. 

One song that keeps recurring became popular in the early days of the charismatic movement. It gives me hope in every circumstance. Sing along with me:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

God’s mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning, new every morning;

great is your faithfulness, O Lord,

great is your faithfulness.

            Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB 


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Pope Francis: Caring for the World and Everyone in It

      With climate change being one of the primary issues of our time, along with a consistent life ethic, it is the year to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’, the first papal encyclical focused on the environment.  Through this letter, addressed to “every person living on this planet, Pope Francis made an “urgent appeal…for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” (LS 14)

This prayer, one of the two found at the conclusion of the letter, reflects 
many of the encyclical’s key themes:  God’s love imbued in every speck of creation, the inter connected-ness of everything, and the necessity to hear and respond to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (LS 49). Perhaps the most profound is the insight that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis.

                                                          A PRAYER FOR OUR EARTH

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.                                                                                                    Bring healing to our lives that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor of the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day.                  Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.                                                                                        – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (246) – photo of Francis sneaking out at night to feed the poor in Rome. 

     From September 1 (the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation) to October 4 (the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi) we celebrate the season of creation, a special time when Christians unite in increased prayer and action for our common home.  It is a privileged time to reflect on our relationship with God as Creator and with all of creation.1)

       On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, the Pope will be going to Assisi to share another encyclical, on the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’, Brothers and Sisters, All.  This encyclical is on the social, political and economic obligations that flow from a belief that all people are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters to one another. This encyclical will indicate to the world a style for the future and will give the church and people of goodwill the responsibility for building it together.  The pope is clearly inspired by Francis of Assisi who, in following Jesus, recognized in fraternity, lived under the sign of mutual and loving service, the horizon of a fulfilled and happy humanity. This encyclical is expected to echo many of the themes Pope Francis has been discussing in his general audience talks on Catholic Social Teaching in light of the pandemic: human fraternity, the equal dignity of all people, the preferential option for the poor, the universal distribution of goods and the obligation of solidarity.  Care for the environment and the virtue of peacemaking are also expected to be part of the encyclical.  The text is expected to be published in a variety of languages the first week of October.

       Also, at this time, at new book featuring his conversations with Pope Francis, Italian environmental activist, Carlo Petrine, said he hopes the published discussions will contribute to the groundwork laid out by Laudato Si’. The book, titled Terra Futura (Future Earth): Conversations with Pope Francis on Integral Ecology, is meant to highlight the importance of the pope’s encyclical on the environment and its impact on the world five years after its publication in 2015.(2) 

    1.  Source:  GUTD, Sept. 2020, p. 8-9, Christina Leano.

             2.   Catholic News Service, Cindy Wooden & National World, Vatican City                        

We thank and bless Pope Francis for all his inspiration to us, the people of God, and all the world.

              Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB                                




Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Squirrel Goes to Jail


            Yes, that really happened. What’s a squirrel doing in jail, for heaven’s sake?

Was there a crime? Maybe not, he evidently went of his own free will.

            First, a little background:

            I have been a regular correspondent with a man who has been on Death Row now for seventeen years, probably more, for committing murder. I am old enough to be his mother, and until she died, I did write also to his mom, living in a small coal-mining town in the Appalachian mountains. Since then, he has called me his adopted mother. I have visited him several times. In our conversations, I discovered a talented poet and writer. We were able to get the poem published, and he has been in contact with a publisher interested in making known his other writings. In the meantime, one of my last letters (May 2020) from him had such a humorous story in it, that when I shared with some of the Sisters, and my friends, we laughed and giggled without end.

            So I asked him if I could share it with our readers. He gave me full permission. I have it here just as I received it, with his original expressions:


Now yesterday there was some excitement on death row. This cell house is 3 floors and death row only takes up the bottom floor. Yesterday while they were having a general population let in, a squirrel ran in and came on death row. I was out working, getting some newspapers passed out and Gabby was dust mopping the rec. area. So the guard had us trying to catch the squirrel. The squirrel was a little over half grown. So we got net bags and was trying to corner him and catch him with the bags without hurting him. Which is easier said than done. Smile. Which Gabby and I were raised in the country so we knew what it would be like going in. The squirrel runs into Gabby’s cell and gets in the bottom of his locker. So Gabby holds a net back over the opening while I reached in from the side to try and catch it. And yes, he could have bit me but I’ve been bit by countless animals and dogs well over 100 pounds. Of course the squirrel is jumping all over the bottom of the locker trying to keep me from getting hold of it. Gabby pulls back the top of the net bag to watch me try to grab it and the squirrel jumped out of the little opening, ran over his head and hung on to his back. Smile. I was trying to get up in time to grab him off his back. When I raised up, he jumped off Gabby’s back and ran back over to the walk I live on and ran into my cell. I was laughing so hard that I was having a difficult time trying to keep up. My cell door is closed. The squirrel jumps up on my bed, then lays on my pillow with all 4legs laying straight out, like he was getting him a good rest. We got to the front of my cell and he just laid there looking at us and flipping his bushy tail around as if to say you can’t catch me. Smile. It took a few moments for our lazy guard to get down to my cell and ask the control tower to open my door.

            When my door opened and I started in, he jumped off my pillow, ran under the toilet and out the bars. He gets half way down the walk, stops and looks back at me. As I walked toward him, he ran into the rec. area. Again he stopped and looked back at me. When I got close to him he ran out the bar gate on death row just as the main front door opened. He ran out the door and less than 10 minutes later he was sitting on the wall behind this cell house eating an apple core. I never thought I’d be squirrel hunting on death row but this really happened yesterday. Smile.

So what?  An innocent squirrel finds himself with inmates on Death row in a state penitentiary. He brings excitement, and a bit of joy and fun to men who seldom have occasion for either. And the story brought joy to me too. I pass it on to you. Sometimes God sends one of His creatures with a message for us of His love and care, and His sense of humor.

What has God sent you today?

Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB