Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Transforming the Future for the Children of the World

     Gibran’s The Prophet,* offers that children’s “souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.” This rings true, especially with the pace and magnitude of change in our world today. Children, especially, need to be able to believe, to trust in the future. They depend on parents and society to build the foundation for it. How important the foundation!
    In the Romero Prayer, the author speaks to me of our niche in transforming the future for those we love, for next generations. On the chance that you’ve not yet experienced this reflection, I’m passing it on.

(Actually composed by Bishop Ken Untener,
 but has become attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero)

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that
the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing
that.This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between
the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

May the children of our world have reason for gratitude and continue
to build a better future for all!        

*The Prophet, by Kalil Gibran, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, NY, 1923

       Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Monday, July 27, 2015

Seeing the Risen Lord

       Last Wednesday, July 22, was the feast day of St. Mary Magdalen, who is called the "Apostle to the Apostles" because she witnessed the resurrected Jesus. She was told to go and to tell the apostles that Jesus had risen and was alive.
      She told them in her excitement that she "had seen the risen Lord!".
      Jesus is alive and among us today. How do we see the risen Lord? Do we see him in others, in the poor, in the stranger, in those needing a home? Do we see Jesus in our family, our friends? Do we see Jesus in those we have a hard time getting along with?
     What is our witness like to others who meet us? Are others able to see the risen Jesus alive in me? If others have a hard time seeing Jesus in me, then perhaps we need to be a little more recognizable as Jesus.
       Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Mystery of God

            When I entered the monastery in 1964 at age 17, my image and experiences of God were unformed. As a child I remember wondering how God could possibly keep track of the good things and the bad things I did, the prayers and activities for which I received indulgences and the graces that I received,, much less those of everyone else. It seemed to me to be a lot of math.

            One of the first writers I encountered in the monastery was George Bernard Shaw. In the novitiate library there was a book on Shaw’s relationship and correspondence with Dame Laurentia McLachlan, a Benedictine nun. I found it more interesting than the other theological or devotional works. Somewhere Shaw said (as this is a paraphrase) “God made humanity in his image and likeness and humanity has been doing the same thing to God ever since.”This quote stirred me to think about how I viewed God and who God really was.
            Later I encountered the book, That Man is You by Louis Evely, a Catholic spiritual writer from Belgium. The book, printed in 1964, made a great impact on my spiritual life because Evely wrote about the Gospel in a readable down to earth style. In the book he tells the following story:
              In one of his plays, Jean Anouilh describes the last judgment as he sees it.             
             The good are densely clustered at the gate of Heaven, eager to march in, sure of their reserved seats,keyed up and bursting with impatience.
            All at once, a rumor starts spreading: “It seems he’s going to forgive those others too!” For a minute, everyone’s dumbfounded. They look at one another in disbelief, gasping and sputtering, 
          “After all the trouble I went through!”    “If only I’d known this…”   “I just can’t get over it.!"
          Exasperated, they work themselves into a fury and start cursing God; and at that very instant they’re damned. That was the final judgment, you see. They judged themselves, excommunicated themselves.
           Love appeared, and they refused to acknowledge it.
           “We don’t know this man.” “We don’t approve of a heaven that’s open to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”
          “We spurn this God who lets everyone off.”\\
           “We can’t love a God who loves so foolishly.”
            And because they didn’t love Love, they didn’t recognize Him by the way He loves.

                 I have never forgotten that story. I think it was the first time I really understood the Scripture: “God is love.” Instead of imaging God as a theological bookkeeper or severe judge, I began to see that God is not limited by our finite images and notions of who God is. God is totally free and loving.
            The next quotation that has developed my image of God is similar to the two above. It appears in the book Your Word is Near: Contemporary Christian Prayers by Huub Oosterhuis (1968). In a litany of names and images of God, Oosterhuis calls God:

            You not God as we think you;
            Furnace of silence, difficult friend.

            My current image and experience of God have been shaped by years of reflection on these three pivotal quotations. And that reflection has brought me to my own quotation: “God is more than our finite human imaginations can image. And God is infinitely better than the best of us.  '
             Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Independence Day

“Freedom Isn’t Free…You gotta pay a price...You gotta sacrifice...for your liberty” – words from a song spread by an international group of young people called “Up With People.” They’ve been traveling around the world singing and spreading the message for 50 years, and I am reminded of this song as once again our holiday nears.

It’s July 4, 1967. I’m a student at CUA in Washington DC. At our Mass the priest uses an excerpt from my brother’s letter from Vietnam. Weeks later I visit him, wounded, in Andrews Air Force Base Hospital.

It’s August 1976, our Bicentennial year. I’m in Philadelphia for the 41st Eucharistic Congress, attending Mass at JFK Stadium sitting next to a man from Bangladesh, and surrounded by Catholics from around the world, making us aware of their hungers for freedom of religion, for justice, for peace, for life itself in repressive countries from which many of them come. I can barely make out a tiny blue and white figure near the platform for the altar, and I know it is Mother Teresa. That’s as close as I get!

It’s July 19, 1986, Cuernavaca, Mexico. I’m in the cathedral with several other Benedictine Sisters from around the USA. We silently pray for the rest of the group carrying a large banner in a parade celebrating Nicaragua’s independence under the Sandinista government, after overthrowing Somoza. His terrorist troops have reunited; now call themselves “contras.” Our banner reads, “Benedictines for Peace Oppose Aid to the Contras.” Remember the Iran-Contra scandal? The Nicaraguans celebrate their hard earned freedom on this day. It’s threatened by US aid to the contras.

                 It’s July 1, 1989, Paris, France. I’m touring with a group of high school students. It’s the centennial of the Eiffel Tower which is lit up: “100 ANS.” (for the tower) The French are celebrating the independence that began with the storming of the Bastille on July 13, 1789, their bicentennial. We can see the outline on the ground where the Bastille had been, gilded gates through which executioners took the unfortunate prisoners doomed for the guillotine. We are told that it took 100 acrobats to build the Eiffel Tower; every seven years it is repainted by acrobatic painters to protect it from rust. The French treasure their freedom.

It’s June 20, 1990, Vienna, Austria. Two teachers and I had taken a tram to see the Belvedere palace. An elderly woman gets off with us. She overheard, and understood, our conversation on the ride, and is eager to tell us to be sure to visit the red marble room in the palace. This was the scene of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty by the foreign ministries of Great Britain, France, USSR and USA on May 15, 1955 with Austria, officially ending World War II and the subsequent 10 year occupation by the four Allied Powers. Austria had been annexed by Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II. (Remember “The Sound of Music?”) She very proudly shows us the entrance way and proceeds to tell us of her feelings while her country was occupied and then freed again after ten years. It is touching. She points out to us on the map all sorts of wonderful places to visit after the Belvedere.

It’s July 1, 2003. I’m concluding my Jubilee trip with my three sisters and we have to catch a plane in Montreal, Canada. We come across a parade downtown featuring the Royal Mounties. They are celebrating the passage of the British North American Act, establishing Canada as a self-governing entity within the British Empire in 1867, and their Independence Day.

Then on July 29, 2014 my two Vietnam war veteran Marine brothers stand, holding the folded American flag presented to them at the funeral of our youngest brother, while the poignant melody of “Taps” resounds outside the entrance to the church. They had been ready to pay the price, for “Freedom isn’t free, …you gotta pay the price,… you gotta sacrifice,… for your liberty…

Were these occasions coincidental? I have much to think about on this Independence Day 2015. 
Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lessons from My Dad

Father’s Day was Sunday, June 21. I have never written about my father before. Now seems the right time to do so.
                My father was “Daddy” to me. He called me “his pretty little girl.” I was the oldest. He five other “pretty little girls” until he had his longed for son. My brother became the apple of Daddy’s eye. When we were old enough to go to the corner of our street, we’d wait there for Daddy to come home so he would let one of us sit on his lap and “drive” the rest of the way. He played baseball with us in the lot next to our house. He was always the pitcher—for both teams. The teams consisted of a mixture of the Ryan kids and the kids in the neighborhood.
                One visiting Sunday after I’d been in the convent a couple of months, he held me and listened as I cried telling him how homesick I was. Although I know his heart was aching, he did not rush to tell me to come home. He must have understood that that was part of the process of leaving home and growing up.
                My Dad wasn’t perfect. He had his faults. But, I never doubted that he loved my Mother and “his kids.” He had an accident about a year after I’d entered the convent and that removed him living in the family. From then on, he was the Daddy we cared for.
                Although my memories of him are few or faded, he will always be the one who first showed me how to love. My recognition of his weaknesses, late in my life, helped me recognize my own weaknesses. I learned to be more accepting of the humanness of others.
                My Dad has been dead for 40 years but his father-love is still there. I think he would tell me he is proud of that I am one of “Ryan’s daughters.” 
     Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trust and Validate

Trust: faith, hope, reliance, expectation, confidence, dependence, custody, care, responsibility, protection.

Validation: substantiation, confirmation, legalization.

        This morning I learned a concrete lesson on how to sustain relationships from a gentleman who shared a practice he and his wife have shared over their years of marriage. Without being specific about what they do, he remarked that each year he and his wife exchange or express trust and validation. Trust I get. No relationship exists, grows or deepens without trust. That’s the glue or practice that protects common endeavors or works, such as, monastic life, school communities, parishes, work sites, etc., etc., etc. 
       The more I have thought about validation the more I got an understanding and appreciation of what that can mean on the practical level. Validation means more than just a renewal or remembrance of what I did over fifty years ago. The image that helped me appreciate the use and act of validating, is the difference between the one-time public signing of my name on my profession document in 1962 and the community’s annual renewal of vows once a year during our retreat. 1962 was a leap of faith and a hope that I’d be happy and faithful to my choice until the end. This August during our renewal of profession I will remember to do more than renew. I will validate and confirm what I really did in 1962. 
      Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Salt of the Earth

     Yesterday at Mass the Gospel reading included Jesus’ words: “You are the salt of the earth.” Our chaplain, Fr. John Cahill, shared a homily about that phrase. It included the idea that salt was so valuable in early times that it was used as currency. The homily also included the idea that salt makes a difference in the taste of foods. 
     As I often do, I immediately began thinking of my own experiences with salt. Last summer I went on a school trip with Villa Madonna students and families to Austria, Switzerland and Germany. One of the highlights was a visit into a salt mine outside of Salzburg (meaning Salt City), Austria. Several miles below the surface we saw how the salt was mined in the past and how it is still mined today. When we resurfaced we went to the gift shop, of course, where I wanted to get something that would remind me of the trip and the importance of salt. I purchased a salt and pepper grinder with salt from that mine that I use in cooking almost every day. 
     Without salt everything takes bland. Salt does make a difference. Even sweet things need a little salt to bring out the sweetness. Every brownie or chocolate cake recipe includes salt in some form. Mashed potatoes without salt are basically inedible. I’m sure you have your own examples. 
     The phrase “you can make a difference” has been used way too much in my opinion. In yesterday’s homily, however, with the idea of us being “salt of the earth” it makes sense. We should be making a difference. We should be enhancing the lives of the people around us. 

     We are the salt of the earth! Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB