Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Constant Call of Thanksgiving

            This is the hardest blog I have ever tried to write.  Thanksgiving?  A wonderful, family gathering.  Warm with good food, stories of other thanksgivings, love shared and the joy of just being together.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.
            The recent terror attacks in Paris and the plight of the Syrian immigrants as they escape the tyranny of their own country to find an unwelcome in many of the countries (and states) to which they turn.  This is a time of anything but thanksgiving.
            But, we must be a people of thanksgiving.  God is in charge.  We have messed up big time but God is still God.  And, there is a plan.

            Some of the verses from Psalm 138 tell us how to be thankful. 

                        “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart,

                        for you have heard the words of my mouth.

                        I will worship at your holy temple

                                    And give thanks to your name.

                        because of your kindness and your truth…

                                    you have made great your promise.

                        When I called you answered me.  (Vs. 1-3)”

            Giving thanks is not just a one day affair.   A famous person once said: “If the only prayer we have is one of thanks, we will have prayed enough.”  Eucharist is our great prayer of thanksgiving.  It is God present in the Body and Blood of Jesus in our everyday life.  Tragedy is not removed from life, but we are given the strength to bear it.  We need only to trust.  We must be thankful.

            Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once wrote:

                         At this table we put aside every worldly separation

                        based on culture, class, or other differences. 

                        This communion is why all prejudice,
                        all racism, all sexism,

                        all deference to wealth and power must be banished

                        from our parishes, our homes, our lives.”

            Let this be our Thanksgiving prayer:

                        “All powerful God, fill the hearts of your people
                       with gratitude

                        that the hungry may be filled with good things

                        and the poor and needy proclaim your glory.”

                                                                        (Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers)
Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Misericordia and The Year of Mercy

On Saturday, October 31, Msgr. William Cleves, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Bellevue, Kentucky, presented a day of reflection entitled  The Quality of Mercy at our monastery. Throughout the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy the approximately 120 attendees and I will be processing and mining the many ideas and insights Fr. Cleves shared with us.
    Fr. Cleves talked about the many words for mercy in the Judeo-Christian tradition including the Hebrew words hesed and rahamin used in the Old the Testament and the Latin word misericordia. Misericordia is the word that resonated with me and it is the official word used by Pope Francis in decreeing the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
During the past months I have been moved—often to tears—by news items in the newspapers and on the Internet about violence and cruelty done to innocent babies, children, and animals. I’m beginning to find myself not wanting to see any news feed or hear any news broadcast. I read a book last week written by an emergency room doctor at the Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, New York. She spoke of finding herself “emotionally incontinent” in response to the many circumstances she encountered in the ER there. What she meant by the phrase is the almost involuntary spasm of emotion that wrenches the gut and leads to tears that cannot be contained, I thought what a wonderful phrase it was for the times when we cannot help but weep for the world.
And that brings me back to the word misericordia, coming from miser and cor or cordis, which mean a misery or suffering in the heart, a wrenching of the heart. Fr. Cleves told us that in earlier times cordis did not so much refer to the heart but to the core of a person, the viscera or the gut. So misericordia can also mean a wrenching of the gut.
If that is what happens when we are moved by events, stories and the plight of those we love, is it not what happens to God when God is moved by our circumstances? Fr. Cleves talked about the ever present mercy (misercordia) of God throughout salvation history. When Pope Francis established the Year of Mery, he said, “… mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us, not limiting it to merely  affirming his love, but making it visible and tangible. …Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it is something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is loving concern for each one of us, desire for our well being, for our happiness, full of joy, and peaceful.”
Pope Francis concludesIn this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society. … How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! … Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own. “
           During the coming Year of Mercy, may we experience the misericordia of God for us and be one with God in our misericordia for others. Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christ in the Guest

In 2006 I was asked to care for the visitors who come to stay at our Guest house, a beautiful old home dating possibly from the Civil War. It has a long history and has housed many individuals including the first girls who were boarding students at our academy. But that is another story.

           I never thought I’d have this job. It has been so enriching! Today I am thinking of how I have been gifted by serving the needs of those who come to stay for a day, a weekend, or sometimes longer. It’s more than providing clean linens for their bed and bath, however important that is, or some fruit and soft drinks in the refrigerator. Sometimes I just need to listen. Writers, artists, widows, retreatants, and relatives of the Sisters are the most frequent. It’s beautiful when they share their creativity in a story, or a written meditation, or a drawing or painting. Others just need a time to be away, to pray and think, to rest, to gather strength to make some decision. Always we invite them to pray with us at the monastery, and many do.
            I’ve hosted a Methodist ministers’ group, travelers on their way somewhere else, visiting teachers from Denmark, a Costa Rican family attending an ordination, a group of visiting priests from India, string teachers and their high school students who made music all weekend, and then gave us a concert! St. Benedict instructs us in his Rule for monasteries that the guest is to be received as Christ.
           We also are to receive the stranger, and one time, I did receive a stranger, one whom many might have considered a vagrant. Yet this one man, more than any other, reminded me of Christ, who “had nowhere to lay his head.” He was gentle and idealistic. He had a dream for alleviating hunger in the world, and no transportation other than a bus ticket, and his own feet. “My shoes are my wheels,” he said.
           I have also learned a new appreciation for those maids who daily go from room to room in a motel, picking up soiled laundry, cleaning bathrooms and making one bed after another.  If I happen to be staying somewhere, I now feel impelled to speak to them, saying Thank You. Their work is hard! They too are Christ in their humble service to others. We can find Him everywhere.
Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Memories of the 1937 Flood

           A few weeks ago as I was looking through some old photographs, I came across a picture of  Holy Guardian Angels Church and School taken during the 1937 flood. Fr. John J. Laux, the pastor, stands behind the church on a dry all in a black overcoat, hands in his pockets, with a white scarf and a black hat.
            An article written forty years  after the flood, from the Diocese of Covington’s newsletter The Messenger, dated June 20, 1976, reads, :”The water was so deep in the church that it covered the statues, and some of them were found floating around in the water. After waters had subsided,  Fr. Laux with the help of parishioners and many friends, remodeled the church, bought new statues and beautified the Church as it was before.”  I wasn’t among those people who restored the church, but as a  9 year old, I happily scrubbed mud covered desks in the school.
            As I look at the photograph today, I cannot imagine the water being that high! Again, the article explained, “Since the town had low level near the Banklick Creek, it was flooded by the back waters of the Licking and Ohio Rivers.”
            I don’t remember how long we were out of the church and school but I do remember that our family went to Mass at St. Cecilia Church in Independence. Later when school reopened, we went to school on Saturdays to make up for the lost days.

            I remember with deep joy and gratitude that this was the sacred place where my love for God and Church was instilled and deepened. Here, too, I had Benedictine Sisters whose way of life drew me to become one of them. My family played an essential role in the choice, of course. But that is another story.   Sr. Justina Franxman

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Pattern of a Vocation

The Pattern of a Vocation
First there is the Call!
Then the Discovery of the Call!
And finally the Response!
      In the Gospel for last Sunday, Mark (10:46-52) tells the story of Jesus on his final journey from Jericho to Jerusalem with his disciples. A blind man, Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road, hears that it is Jesus of Nazareth coming by, and cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stops and says, “Call him.” Then the disciples called to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”  He sprang up, throwing aside his cloak and came to Jesus. Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Dear Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he receives his sight and instead of going his way, he follows Jesus on His Way, becoming a disciple. 
     The story of Bartimaeus discovering his Call as a disciple of Jesus is so clear in this Gospel.
Each of us has a similar story of our call, our vocation.  
     On Sunday October 18, our Benedictine Oblates had the opportunity in our Reflection time, to consider their call to be an Oblate as a vocation. Just as God calls some persons to be monastics, others are called to live the monastic practices in their everyday life, as an Oblate We listed many of these:
  •  awareness of silence;
  • daily duties well done;
  • simplicity;
  • solitude in prayer;
  • obedience to God and God’s agents on the way;
  • humility;
  • respect of persons and all God’s creation;
  • hospitality;
  • stability to this family;
  • being open to wisdom;
  • seeking God;
  • preferring nothing to the love of Christ.

St. Walburg Monastery Benedictine Oblates October 2015
         Oblates offer themselves to God to live these practices. Oblation means offering self to God.  It is a continual work to live this life well.  We need the support of others on this journey. 
          In quiet prayer each of the Oblates reflected on his/her call; discovery of the call; and the response. Then they all had time to share their stories with the others around the table.  This was the first time that many of them have taken time to reflect on their call and share it.  They found the experience very meaningful.  Following this time, the Oblates assembled in Chapel with the Sisters for Noon Day Prayer, which included the Ritual of Renewing their Oblation as an Oblate of St. Benedict with this Benedictine community.  Together we are travelers on the way to everlasting life in union with Jesus.     
          On Sunday, November 1, we will celebrate with all the saints in heaven and on earth, those who follow Jesus on the way.
                                                                            Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Remembering Pope Francis in America

     A real historic moment in our history was when Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24,2015. Besides the Congress, the Supreme Court and the members of the president's cabinet were present.The pope said that he was "most pleased to address you in the land of the free and the home of the brave."
     Francis began by addressing the Congress and those present by citing four famous Americans and their accomplishments to society. They were: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. They are three sons and daughters of this land.
    Francis urged Americans to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. Every life is sacred. He said society can only benefit from the abolition of the death penalty. He offered encouragement for rehabilitation. He spoke of welcoming immigrants, stating that we are descendants of immigrants ourselves.
   The pope urged that we keep in mind all those around us who are in a cycle of poverty. Part of the cycle is the creation and distribution of wealth, and he urged the development of an economy that Is moderate, inclusive and sustainable--one that seeks the creation of jobs in service to the common good.
    He said that we need conversation on the environment. We must re-direct our steps, we can make a difference. He urged Congress to play a courageous role: protect nature, combat poverty, put technology at the service of that which is more human and more social. Congress can make a big positive contribution in the years ahead
 . The pope also spoke of the richness and beauty of family life. I am sure we will be hearing more on this as the Synod on Family Life comes to a close this month.
     Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Deer, the life of trees and memories

       On a recent bright and sunny afternoon, I was staffing the monastery front desk, looked up and saw three young deer munching acorns fallen from the standing oaks lining the walk to the monastery door. One, two then three, cars passed at intervals; the deer absorbed in their feast did not budge. But soon the steady parade of cars arriving to pick students distracted the deer; they took off for the tree covered hillside
        Here in Kentucky trees have been in the forefront lately, particularly the ash tree. Everywhere we see stumps of these trees. Not too long ago a visit to our cemetery shocked me. Many dead trees had been cut down; stumps and logs covered the cemetery. The abundance of stumps and logs had been too large for the maintenance crew to clear away quickly. It took some time but now the cemetery is clear, green, beautiful again with a few healthy young trees. A short distance beyond, behind a wall of trees, is a regular mountain of logs. Periodically someone will call for permission to take one or two, perhaps to create a bird bath in their back yard.
       A road trip between local hills reveals several large patches of dead trees, mostly ash. It will be interesting to see what falls brings when the live trees will no longer be obvious—but what will next year show?  My absorption seems to be with dead tress! I must come back, however, to those mighty oaks which line the walk to the monastery entrance. They are, a great source for memory, gratitude, beauty.
       I remember as if it were yesterday that long ago day, September 8, 1944, when my parents and two very young brothers brought me to St. Walburg Monastery to be postulant. The present oak trees had not been in the ground too long but had many branches and lots of acorns. We walked up steps, met Sr. Domitilla and Sr. Germaine, and I went through the steps of becoming a postulant. Then my family left, going down that same walk, my young brothers in tears. I look at those large oaks today and think of the years in between.The oaks bring many memories of all the happenings in community and family life that have occurred during the years. The oaks have been there through it all.
       May our newly planted trees have healthy ground and weather, and our community of St. Walburg Monastery continue to serve God and the Church through our Benedictine life. All this from a three deer visit to the front lawn!

                                    Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB