Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Comites Christi: Companions of Christ

After the joy and glory of the feast of Christmas on Dec. 25, the series of saints’ feasts in the next three days come as a sober, startling reminder of the Paschal Mystery. The feasts of the “companions of Christ” seem to be in the wrong season but have been celebrated on these dates for centuries. The companions are Stephen, the first martyr on Dec. 26, John the Apostle and Evangelist on Dec. 27 and the Holy Innocents, the children Herod killed in Bethlehem on Dec. 28.
Each of these feasts illustrate what it means to be a companion of Christ. Each exemplifies the consequences of walking with Christ and giving testimony about the “Good news.” Some commentators view them in terms of martyrdom. Stephen experienced a red martyrdom, spilling his blood for the sake of his faith; John the Evangelist lived a white martyrdom being sent into exile on the Island of Patmos; the Holy Innocents suffered an innocent martyrdom because they had been born around the time of Christ’s birth.
This year I am particularly struck by the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Some time ago I was given a trip to Israel in December and went to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. All of the memorials were moving but the Children’s Memorial was heartbreaking.  It is a memorial for the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust, hollowed out from an underground cavern. You walk through the dark cave lit with memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, reflected infinitely in the dark space. The candles create the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background. I wept as I walked through it. When I returned home, the first feast celebrated was the feast of the Holy Innocents and I wept again.
  In this year of 2012 the feast of the Holy Innocents is made flesh again. We think first of the children murdered at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, then with just a little imagination we think of all the children murdered by drive by shootings or by weapons in the hands of people, who like Herod, are afraid, who have too much power and who think only of their own motivations. We also think of the children who are abused and murdered by their own families. It is no consolation that all of these children are companions of Christ.
            On Dec. 28 we can only pray in the words of the Book of Common Prayer: "…Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace."
         Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dwelling, Healing and Calling

I have been struck by the range of emotions as holiday cheer increases mixed with a deep sadness of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The following words from Psalm 147 keep coming to mind:
God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
In less than a week we will celebrate Christmas…God becoming flesh in our midst.    God who knows our joy, sorrow, pain and hope.  God who mourns with us and moves us towards healing.  The scar remains however we abide in hope that God is with us and will bring us new life.  At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ, a tangible and concrete hope.  Our invitation is to continue to find hope in daily life with its subtleties and ups and down.  For God is truly dwelling in our midst, healing our broken hearts, binding our wounds and calling us to a deep abiding hope. 
Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Complexity? Simplicity? Incompatible?

“Why are things always so complicated? Nothing is simple anymore!”

     This phrase came up the other day while dealing with just a normal, ordinary human activity, not some technological puzzle. It launched a chain of questions:
            About complexity: Were things always so complex in human life, or did it arise from millennia of change leading up to today?
            About simplicity: What is it -  really?

     Simplicity seems to connote wholeness / completeness without a lot of parts. An apple is “simple”; an airplane isn’t. A child’s block is simpler than a Barbie doll. On the other hand, designers often describe Apple i-phones and i-pads as “simple yet elegant.”  But how can something have thousands of parts and still be “simple?” Is simplicity something different from a minimum of parts? Maybe simplicity has to do with not just how many parts something has, but its overall plan or design. How do the various parts work together? Are any parts unnecessary?

     I got to thinking about all of us who live in this age where change is constant and our society is becoming more interconnected as each day passes. This means each person’s life has many facets that interact with those of others. We’ve become like a global mobile where frequent movement and resulting changes make it harder and harder for anything to remain normal, usual or ordinary. Certainly this makes life more complicated and far from effortless.

     Jesus told his disciples they should become like children. There are lots of interpretations as to what he meant, but the notion of simplicity is often part of them. Does the complexity of today’s living mean this is no longer possible? Maybe not.

     When Steve Jobs designed his computer products, he had a basic vision and everything else had to fit into that. All aspects of the mac,  i-phone and i-pad had to be beautiful and easy to use while they filled their intended amazing functions. Maybe that is our challenge. Maybe we need to develop for ourselves a basic vision, one that will embrace all the threads of our life. For example, Brother David Steindle-Rast, OSB, speaks of life as thanksgiving; everything that we encounter is dealt with in the light of a spirit of gratitude. Benedict himself put everything into the context of finding God all around us, in members of the community, in guests, in strangers, in scripture, and in ourselves.

     There are many other points of focus people could choose to guide their decisions. For some it might be to bring justice to the poor, to preserve nature or to heal the wounded. For some it might be self-betterment in one way or another. For some it could be to shape stronger bonds within their family.

     These reflections bring me back to my starting point.  I’m thinking that our lives are not going to become less complicated unless we bring to them a sense of unity about where we are going and what we want to accomplish. If every challenge is handled as a separate entity invading our personal space, we will find more stress than we can reasonably handle. If, on the other hand, we look at each one to see how it relates to the overall vision we have for ourselves, we will be moving from increased complexity to increased harmony in our life. Simplicity will begin to reappear on our horizon, and we will find more peace.

     During these upcoming holidays as we celebrate God’s gift to the world, maybe we can make God’s vision our own as we gift others with our hospitality, our presents, our presence, our decorating….  Maybe it will help simplify for each of us this very complex season of the year.

                             Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Feast of St. Nicholas

     This feast on December 6 has been around for a long time. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in both Roman and Orthodox Churches, and remembered by families everywhere in various ways. Nicholas, we are told, became a bishop of Myra in southwest Turkey c. 300, was imprisoned during Diocletian’s persecution
 (303-05), and attended the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325). He was famous for his pastoral care, and because of the many legendary stories of his charitable deeds he became the basis for the figure of Santa Claus.
     The customs continue even to today:The other day  Sr. David Ruschmann told how her family struggled during the great depression to put food on the table, but still found a way to give each child an orange for St. Nick day. I remember how we in my family would put out a bowl at the foot of our stairs in our farm house the evening before his feast, and in the morning when we came down the stairs, it would be filled with oranges, apples and nuts. The bowl became big stockings for each child as years went on. There might also be a small lump of coal in one or other stocking if that child had now been behaving as expected.
  When I came to the community, we found little boxes of candy hanging on the banister for 3rd down to the ground level, one for each Sister.  When I taught the children in school, grades one or two for some 13 years, St. Nick would come to homes with many kinds of foods or toys, etc. by Dec. 6th.  These children would come to school very excited, telling their friends about their surprises that morning.  There were always children who did not receive anything but the next day, those children would come to school telling what St. Nick left for them. It always made me smile, how the parents got the message about St. Nick from their children.  Children always spread the good traditions, and they never forgot about St. Nicholas, the generous Bishop who loved the children and cared for the poor.  I know there will be a basket of goodies in the living room of our floor at the Monastery on December 6th. How about you?  Does St. Nick still come to your home? 
              Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent: our time of waiting

     Have you ever had the experience of waiting for a baby to come?  There is much anticipation and excitement while getting ready.  There is expectation and hope and much preparation. 
     This is our Season of Advent.  We are indeed waiting for a baby to be born.  The baby is very special, He is our Savior!  While the Jewish People were awaiting the Messiah and Mary and Joseph were awaiting the birth of Jesus, there was much hope and anticipation. 
     Although Jesus was born over 2000 years ago, we must also live this reality in our own lives to make it present to us today.  We do this through our celebration of the various feasts of the Church.  We do this through our celebration of liturgy and our celebration of the Church’s liturgical year. 
     The liturgy of Advent is rich and meaningful.  Through it, we enter into the mystery of Jesus and the mystery of waiting and anticipation.  This is why the Church insists on the Season of Advent as a time of waiting and preparation.  However, our culture is such that we must always be very busy about so many things.  Like the Gospel, when Jesus tells Martha, his friend, “You are worried and busy about so many things, only one thing is important.”  In Advent, that one thing, is preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus into our hearts, to live Jesus’ way of life, and to prepare for the final coming of Jesus at the end of time. 
     This Advent, let us become less concerned about so many “things” and center in on the real meaning of the Season.
     Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What are You Doing?

     A high school classmate called me recently and after a short chat about news about other classmates, asked the big question, “What are you doing these days?”
     This question puzzled me because I no longer have a specific “job”, like Spanish teacher or diocesan tribunal assistant or ecumenical coordinator to give as s simple answer. Here is a list of the scattered activities I do. I attend meetings: community, committee, liturgy, vocation, retreat, special events meetings. All require some preparation and follow-up as well as attendance. There are also my regular household tasks at St. Joseph House and work I do at the monastery as the need arises. As for prayers, I meditate and take part in the Divine Office daily. I can’t, however, respond to the question above with just a list of tasks, of things I am dong.
     I believe that these activities are truly work, the “labora” that St. Benedict requires of his followers. “Ora et labora” shape Benedictine life. Practically speaking, the “the Work of God” means prayer and work and is my primary job. Daily prayer in common, morning, noon, evening and night, along with personal lectio meditation provide the spiritual energy essential for all the other work in and out of the monastery. Both ora et labora shape our every day and whole lives.
     What am I doing these days? Essentially the same things I have been doing since I entered St. Walburg Monastery sixty years ago: praying and working as St. Benedict directs. Truly regular and very life giving!
     Sr. Martha Walther, OSB 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Haiku for November

All soul's month is here
Come November every year
Pray for the deceased. 
We hold them so dear
But see them on earth no more
Stil so close they are!
Communion of saints
Drawing us close again
So united still.
"Come to me God says
No more suffering no tears
Come, now dwell with Me."

Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We Are This Temple

St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome

      This coming Friday (Nov. 9) we celebrate the dedication of the basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of the city of Rome, once a royal palace and basilica which belonged to the Roman emperor Constantine and his family. 
     At one time to say “the Lateran” was equivalent to saying “the Vatican” today. This continued up until the 14th century. When the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon for 70 years, the Lateran basilica fell into ruins from lack of use as well as from several earthquakes which ravaged it. The church was rebuilt several times. Its present appearance dates from the latter part of the seventeenth century, from a renovation carried out by Pope Innocent X. 
     The Liturgy of the Hours of this feast reminds us that “the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.” We are the church in which God dwells. No earthquake will damage this holy place, nor threaten its foundation, built as we are on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. St. Thomas of Villanova compares us further to the temple in which God walks about: “Whenever you feel within yourselves the movements of good desires, the pangs of contrition, or the fire of devotion, recognize the steps of God, the signs of the Holy Spirit, walking in the temple.”
     Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Communion of saints

              The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality notes that “the wider communion of saints unites across the boundaries of time and space. This communion includes those at the margins as well as those in the mainstream of Christian Traditions.”
               The canonized saints as well as the unlisted saints make up a large canopy over us that strengthen and encourages us to create the path/way that can lead each of us individually to reach the full communion of saints within the Body of Christ. A uniting factor is an uncompromising commitment with a willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of reaching a perfect relationship with God within the communion of the Trinity.
               Some of the variety of Saints in October liturgies are:
               Oct. 1. St. Theresa of Lisieux who in 1873 wrote “I am only a very little soul who can only offer very little things to Our Lord.”
               Oct. 15. St. Theresa of Avila (1515) wrote volumes on the stages of prayer with a great sense of humor. Once her travelling carriage turned over and she fell into streams of muddy water, exclaiming to God; “How could you let this happen?” God replied, “This is how I treat my friends.” Her answer: “No wonder you have so few of them.”
               Oct. 17. St. Ignatius of Antioch (107) wrote on his way to Rome to be martyred by the being to beasts. “Let me be fodder for wild beasts if that is how I can get to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ.”
               As we reflect upon these saints and many more, let remembere the Letter to the Hebrews 12:1ff. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes on Jesus, the leader and perfection of faith.”
                              Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Prize

     Several weeks ago a group of sixth grade girls from a local Catholic school invited us to a Tea in honor of the Year for Women Religious in the Diocese of Covington. I was delighted with the idea. Someone asked, “Are you going?” I said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
     A group of us, almost twenty, were welcomed by smiling girls happy to greet us. We were ushered into the school where we were greeted with more smiles and led to a spread of delicious cookies and drinks. After a while we were invited to play Bingo. The cards had autumn and Halloween designs. The callers were free spirited and unentangled by rigid rules. When one Sister said that her card did not have a pumpkin under B-6, the callers discussed the problem among themselves and announced that as long as we had a pumpkin on the card, it would count no matter which column it was in.
     The part of the game that touched most was the prize. When we got a bingo, one of the hosts would come to our table with a bag of candy. She would reach into the bag and take out one small, cellophane-wrapped green Jolly Rancher and graciously place it on our card. As the game and distribution of the prizes continued, I became more and touched by the simplicity of it all. I thought to myself, “No wonder God loves children.” I shared that thought with others as we left the Tea and the thought of it remains with me still.
     On Sunday, the day after the Tea, we heard St. Mark’s Gospel (chapter 10:14-15), “Let the children come to me … for the Kingdom belongs to such as these.” and “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” I kept the Jolly Rancher that I had won in a place where I could see it and remember.
     Sr. Justina Franxman

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Autumn’s Gift

Of the four seasons,
some of us resonate most
 with autumn.

October!  With its final burst
 of nature’s color,
its cooling air-touch,
its brilliant clarity
in sun-rinsed days
and sparkling nights
that  make you  want to linger outdoors
to listen silently
to what it is
 that we are seeking 
 in all its fullness

until our restless hearts
are stilled,
 and with quiet gratitude
we can move on,
 graced into winter.

Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

     My whole religious life has been lived in the milieu of the Second Vatican Council. I professed my vows 50 years ago in August, 1962. The opening session of the council was convened October 11th of the same year. Reading my well worn and highlighted copy of The Documents of Vatican II from 1966 still sets my heart on fire with the presence of the Holy Spirit in word and message. This anniversary of the council helps me to realize that the event and its resultant theology and guidance have powerfully permeated my life and ministry through all these years. I know that everyday and in every way, what happened at the council influenced me to be who I am today.
Here are a few of the highlighted texts in my copy of the documents:
  • “Christ is the light of all nations…. By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind.” Dogmatic Constitution on The Church #1
  • “For it is through the liturgy, especially the divine Eucharist, that the work of our redemption is exercised.” Constitution on The Sacred Liturgy # 2
  • “The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this view, teaching that all men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor, and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods. If a person is in extreme necessity, he has the right to take from the riches of others what he himself needs.” Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World # 69
  • “Government, therefore, ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the people and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare…. Religious bodies are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.” Declaration on Religious Freedom #4
     Join me in blessing God Who gave us more than we asked for or could have imagined through the wisdom of Second Vatican Council.
     Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Seasons of Monastic Life

          I love the changing seasons. There is a unique beauty in each of them. Autumn literally blew into our part of Kentucky on September 22. The trees have just begun to change color. The sky was a brilliant blue and the air had that autumn nip to it.  It’s time to start to get out the long sleeves and the warmer clothes.
          In Saint Benedict’s rule he allowed for the seasonal changes. As the hours of daylight increased or decreased, the daily schedule was adjusted. The monks were to pray and take their meals by daylight. Even the austere menu of two cooked dishes was enriched by a third dish of fresh fruits and vegetables in season. The monks also received clothing that took into account the variation in temperature. In Chapter 41 it says, “From Lent to Easter, Vespers (Evening Prayer) should be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating, and that everything can be finished by daylight.”
          Saint Benedict also made special provisions for the young and the old --a kind of spring and autumn of life. This summer I spent seven weeks in our infirmary recuperating from foot surgery. I always knew that we were blessed with good people to work in our infirmary and our kitchen.  The nurses and aides tried their best to meet each individual sister’s needs. The kitchen staff supplied us with more than just two cooked dishes plus dessert. I was especially impressed by the high school and college age girls who aided during the summer. Their care and respect for each sister was genuine and delightful.They were a joy to have around.  Even on “bad days” the girls had a cheerful smile specially designed for that particular sister. They were truly a breath of spring awakening a smile from the sisters of autumn.
       Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meditation and Intentional Breathing

        I recently finished an excellent book, Christian Meditation, by James Finley. It was a theoretical yet practical guide to meditation that I really appreciated. I strongly recommend it to anyone seeking to renew or refresh one’s relationship with God. 
       Finley’s ideas call for an hour of meditation a day, which I haven’t been able to achieve yet. I doubt that I will until a ripe old age. He does, however, accept the fact that some of us won’t have the time or use the time each day in that way. What he does advocate is quieting ourselves for as long as possible to allow the presence of God to permeate us. 
       I’m not sure how other people experience meditation or that quieting behavior, but my mind does not stop thinking very easily. I really appreciated Finley’s advice to let the thoughts come and pass on, not holding on to any one of them. Keep breathing intentionally and the thoughts will diminish and an openness to God’s presence will be more apparent. 
       I find myself practicing that intentional  breathing at quiet moments, not necessarily in one long session but at the beginning, the end and numerous times during the day. It has helped me more than I thought it would, to be more aware of God’s presence everywhere in everything. I’ve always believed that (or said I did) but now I know it more clearly. 
       There are many other good ideas in Finley’s book, but this is one that I have carried with me. I hope you find it helpful. 
       Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Life with the Saints

     Apologies to James Martin, SJ for borrowing the title of his book My Life with the Saints. I read the book when it was first published and began a second reading just before our annual retreat, the theme of which was “Renewing Our Desire to be Holy.”
     Have you ever had a habit, an expression, a trait of which you were entirely unconscious but could annoy someone else? I did, and a good friend told me and raised my consciousness to a whole new level. That information made me more attentive to the small things which annoy me and those in myself which annoy others. This year’s retreat offered time to reflect on and renew my desire to be holy in “my life with the saints” of my community.
     When I find something that annoys me in another, I try to stop, reflect and be thankful. I realize my life is among saints. Their many acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, their generosity, devotion to duty, appreciation of beauty and much more have softened my heart to great patience. The retreat director recommended that each morning as you put your feet on the floor, give thanks for a new day—and I add—for my life among the saints in my community. A word from the wise can open my eyes, if only I listen.
       Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Exaltation of the Cross

       September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross, truly a counter-cultural feast. Many times we forget what an ignominious symbol of humiliation, suffering and death the cross is—a symbol of a death reserved for criminals in the Roman Empire. This feast celebrates that God sent the Son to endure such a death for the salvation of humanity and that Jesus Christ willingly endured this death. Many spiritual writers have pointed out that God’s love and mercy toward humanity is almost irrational and no one captures that thought better than Catherine of Siena in one of her prayers.
       In certain years on this feast we read Cathrine’s prayer as a non-Scriptural reading at Morning Prayer  and I’m sharing it with you.

O Trinity, eternal Godhead!
We are trees of death and you are the tree of life.
What a wonder, in your light, to see your creature as a tree
  you drew out of yourself in pure innocence.
You planted it and fused it into the humanity you had formed from the earth’s clay.
You made this tree free.
You gave it branches: the soul’s powers of memory, understanding and will.

But this tree broke away from innocence;
 it fell in disobedience and from a tree of life became a tree of death,
 so that it no longer produced any fruits but those  of death.
And you, high eternal Trinity,
   acted as if you were drunk with love, infatuated with your creature.
When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit but the fruit of death
  because it was cut off from you who are life,
You came to its rescue with the same love with which you created it:
You engrafted your divinity into the dead tree of our humanity.
You, sweetness itself, stooped to join yourself with bitterness.
You, splendor, joined yourself with darkness;
You , wisdom, with foolishness;
You, life, with death;
You, the infinite, with us who are finite.
What drove you to this
 to give back life to this creature of yours that had so insulted you?
Only love, as I have said,
And so by this engrafting, death is destroyed.

And was it enough for your charity to have effected such a union with your creature?
You, eternal Word, watered this tree with your blood.
With its warmth this blood makes the tree bear fruit, if we engraft ourselves into you,
  to join and make one with you our heart and affection,
  binding and wrapping the graft with the band of charity and following your teaching.
So through you who are life we will produce the fruit of life.
          Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB for Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gregory the Great, Pope, Saint, Doctor of the Church

This past Monday was not only Labor Day but also the feast of St. Gregory the Great, one of my favorite saints and definitely my most favorite pope. Gregory (b. 540) was the son of a Roman senator and member of a wealthy family. He was educated in Roman law as well as in Greek and Latin. He served as an administrator of the city of Rome for two years and after his father died, he gave a large amount of family properties to the Church and founded six monasteries in Sicily and one in the family mansion in Rome. In 574 he joined this monastery which followed the Rule of St. Basil.
  Gregory would have been happy to spend the rest of his life as a monk, but history had other plans for him.  In 578 he was appointed one of the seven deacons of Rome and in 579 when Rome was under siege by the Lombards, he was sent to Constantinople to ask the Emperor for help. There he became a skilled diplomatic but became involved in a doctrinal dispute and was unable to get the military and material support Rome needed. He was recalled to Rome in 585 and went back to his monastery.
In 589 the River Tiber flooded, destroying Rome’s grain supply and the plague followed. Pope Pelagius died of the plague and the cardinals were unanimous in their choice of Gregory as Pope. Gregory resisted and spent his time organizing disaster relief for the city. This work probably made him even more attractive as a papal candidate and he finally submitted and was consecrated on September 3, 590.
Gregory continued his effects to provide food and relief for the people of Rome and reorganized papal estates to provide funds for this program. He also dealt with the political ramifications of the Lombard threat to Italy. He improved relations with the churches throughout the Western Church. He extended the missionary effort of the Church to the Anglo-Saxons sending forty one missionaries to England. He was the first pope to call himself the servant of the servants of God (servus servorum Dei).
Gregory admired St. Benedict and his Dialogues (Lives of the Saints), with its book on the life of St. Benedict, became a popular source for what we know about St. Benedict. In his writings Gregory wanted to present the faith in a way easily understood and his Homilies on the Gospels and his work on the Book of Job were important works throughout the Middle Ages. His interest in liturgy and liturgical music and the codification and adaptation of plainchant (Gregorian) was foundational in the development of the Church’s liturgy. He is credited with the placement of the Our Father in the Mass and the Christmas Preface and the Prefaces of Easter and the Ascension are credited to him. Finally his book, Pastoral Care, became the medieval management book for bishops, kings and other rulers. After his death in 604 he was buried in St. Peter’s with the epitaph, “Consul of God.”
Gregory lived at a time of great political and social upheaval and unrest. He was always a practical Pope interested in the social and material needs of the People of God but also concerned self aware of his own weaknesses and shortcomings. He loved and respected the Benedictine monastic life and was a great promoter of the monastic lifestyle and virtues. 
Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


In these dog days of summer I find myself contemplating perseverance.  This week I have experienced both the delightful fruits of perseverance and an invitation for continued perseverance.  I am reminded once again of the value of the process…the steady determined steps which one day become the goal.  I also find my heart filled with gratitude as I contemplate God’s perseverance in maintaining the covenant even as my steps may wander and falter.  May we each have the grace to persevere as we live out the richness of the journey to which we are called.
     Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Falling upon God

     I am a visual learner. For example, when I need directions, a map or printed words clarify things for me much more than oral description. Since our recent retreat, I’ve been reminded several times of how I relate to images. 
     During retreat one of the psalms spoke of God’s love being poured out, and in my mind I saw someone being filled like a vase is filled with water. Now I’m finding this concept makes it a little easier to deal with difficult people. I guess it’s harder to stay upset with someone when you can visualize how much God loves them. 
     Then just the other day I was reading again Daniel Ladinsky’s renderings of poetry by the 14th century Persian Hafiz. (The book is called I Heard God Laughing.). Here’s the quote that jumped out to me this time:
“Pulling out the chair beneath your mind and watching you fall upon God…”
Wow! I saw myself in the air and gently falling into a cloud after the chair of my expectations/plans/whatever was pulled out from beneath me. 
     I wondered if I could I ever get to a point where I could “fall upon God” this readily when my best laid designs go awry? I can only pray and keep working at it. 
      Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

PS: If you are also someone fascinated with imagery, I put more of those used by Hafiz into my personal blog. You might be interested in checking it out. It’s at

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

     August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.  It is a feast of mystery.  There are many mysteries in our Faith.  I guess that's the meaning of faith.  I am reminded of the famous saying: "Life is a mystery to be lived and not a problem to be solved".
      We know from Scripture how Mary lived. We know how she humbly listened to God. How she echoed Jesus' words, "Not my will but yours be done".  Mary is truly an example of faith for us and a model of how to live and be true disciples of Jesus.  She has many lessons for us. On August 15 and every day, we pray "Mary, lead us to eternal life with Jesus".

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Retreat Jottings

     The annual community retreat always leaves me with a spiritual high and this year’s was no exception. Directed by the Most Rev. Joseph L. Charron, C.PP.S., Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, the July 29 to August 3 retreat raised the bar for inspiration, or more truly, for the certain presence of the Holy Spirit. 
     The Word of God in the celebrations of Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours, and in Bishop Charron’s person and conferences, spoke powerfully to all of us. While the soil outdoors baked in extreme summer heat, the community’s soul was drenched with grace. 
     We were reminded that “without silence words lose their meaning,” and that every day the Good News is that Jesus is knocking at our door with promise and mission for us. We were encouraged to be free, honest and humble enough to come close to Jesus and to respond to the will of God as Mary did. Yet conversion is an ongoing process, so forgiving and receiving mercy are integral to community life. Because we are tempted basically by “plenty, pleasure and power”, our religious profession calls us to be generous, hospitable and obedient as members of a monastic “communion”. 
     My favorite conference was on hope. Bishop Charron used the scriptural image of the potter shaping and re-shaping the clay to illustrate how God creates, shapes and sustains us so that, hand in hand with God, we become messengers of hope. Grounded in God’s powerful love, hope enables us to expect the positive, to grow in patience, forgiveness and generosity and above all, to trust God’s creativity without doubt. 
     The whole retreat provided a “time-out” and renewal for community members. We are grateful to God for Bishop Charron, for Sr. Martha Feder’s library offerings, for employees and for each other who made the 2012 retreat a highly holy journey.
      Sr. Martha Walther, OSB

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Own Prayer

     While looking through a set of books someone was discarding, I found one with an 1981 copyright that, though old, seemed to call my name. The Breath of Life by Ron DelBene with Herb Montgomery proved to be a spiritual treasure for me.
      As the book suggested, I made up my own prayer using a title for God followed by a petition of my own. The prayer was to be 7-8 syllables and rhythmic. My prayer was, “Lord, let me feel Your presence.” Since I began the practice, my prayer comes very frequently and I feel more consciously connected to God’s presence throughout the day. Although the book  suggested using the same prayer for a month, I find myself including other short prayers such as, “Lord, keep me focused on You,” or “Lord, please help (insert name and mention intention.)  
      I am aware that this prayer form may not be attractive to everyone,  but I thought it just might give someone else the joy it has given me. 
     Sr. Victoria Eisenmann, OSB

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Real vacations are not like online

         Planning a vacation with online data, maps and photos makes us think we are in control of it. Better to let go of that. When one takes stock of the trip afterwards, it is the unexpected, unplanned moments that delight, and often the things that go wrong that provide the best stories.           
            Take weather—a big deal on a camping trip. It is a test of one’s flexibility and ingenuity when the weather is less than ideal. A thunderstorm is inconvenient at home, but very difficult to ignore in a tent. 
            The open, unwalled space of a campground makes neighbors of people from Kentucky to Connecticut to Scotland. They may be thru-hikers headed for Maine on the Appalachian Trail, staying off-trail to use showers and laundry. This year we got the chance to do some trail magic for two of them. (Trail magic is an unexpected gift of food or drink bestowed on a thru-hiker.) 
            On Sunday we were amused to find ourselves at singing practice at the church we attended. The assembly was learning the last piece of the Heritage Mass from Breaking Bread. We felt right at home.

Sr. Christa Kreinbrink

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Amazing Day

     It’s another hot and humid day here in Kentucky. “I don’t do humidity.” That’s my mantra! That’s also my whine for today.
     I realize how small that sounds and wish I were more noble, but I’m stuck with myself to a certain extent. No one can change me but me. How many times have I heard that or said that before?
     All morning I’ve been remembering the first line of my favorite poem by e.e. cummings: “i thank you, god, for most this amazing day.” No matter the weather, the work, the people, the feelings, this is an amazing day. I’m here and I’m part of the day. What will I do with it? Will I truly thank God for it?
     Join me in thinking about and appreciating the many gifts this day brings. Not all gifts are really positive; many are crosses we bear or difficulties we try to understand. All of them are gifts from God.
     “We thank you, God, for most this amazing day…”
               Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Benedict's Rule: a Holy Leaven for Earth

              The vocation of a Benedictine is to seek God. Since the 6th century the Rule of St. Benedict has aided women and men in that search by proposing to create an environment which enables persons to became aware of the sacred in the ordinariness of everyday life. St. Benedict calls the place where his followers learn this reverence the house of God. He makes his followers aware of the holiness of time by creating a rhythm of prayer and work. Human relationships are sacramentalized by recognizing the divinity present in every person, especially the sick, the poor and the guest.
               As we, the Church and monastic women and men and Benedictine Oblates throughout the world, celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, Patriarch of Western Monasticism, we might ask why the Rule which we call holy, has lasted so long. It is flexible, having within itself the dynamic for change. It is moderate, encouraging the weak and challenging the strong. But most of all it is humble, embodying values that have touched human experience for centuries. The Rule recognizes the need for solitude and for stable community life. There in mutual love and obedience conversion is possible.
               In the poem “Birches” Robert Frost writes, “Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” St. Benedict believed that. Because it is of earth and blessed by God, the Rule has lasted.
      Sr. Justina Franxman, OSB

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sun, Sand, Sea and We

 Last week, on a rare and wonderful vacation
with my family, I sat on the veranda of a seashore house,
and, for the first time, watched the sun rise on theAtlantic Ocean.
I have seen many beautiful sunrises, but none quite like this,
with the sky lighting and the tiny orb rising gradually out of the massive sea.
Compared to it, I felt myself as a grain of sand.
Yet the sun, the sand, the sea and we – all are held
in the arms of a loving, creative God.
O Holy One, O Creator of undreamed possibilities,
on this Independence Day, draw us
out of darkness, into your own most wonderful light!
Sr. Portwood, OSB 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Moment

You Ask of Me a Moment
[author unknown]

God of eternity, maker of time,
you ask of me a moment, a pause, a glance.

Yet, I dare not stop to be with you when
I am needed at the front. I must respond
to a frantic world; I have so much to do.

God of silence, bringer of peace,
you ask of me a moment, a stillness, a calm.

But my mind is racing and my heart beats fast
as I tend to the noises that demand my all.

God of the Sabbath, fount of repose,
you ask of me a moment, a respite, a sigh.
Time is of the essence; the day is always
filled. Perhaps when all the work is done
I may take to rest, perchance to pray.

God of love, tender of souls,
you wait for me until I come.

May I pause for you,
take a moment for you.
That’s all you ask of me.

Submitted by Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20--First Day of Summer

Summer is here!
Children giggle and squeal as they splash one another in the pool.
The yellow-green of spring’s trees has given over to full-leafed, deep green of summer.
Flowers are everywhere.
Bright rainbow colors: red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.
They delight the eye.
Their scent perfumes the air.
Backyard cook-outs are the order of the day.
Mouth-watering aromas come from the grill.
What a feast when corn on the cob, homegrown tomatoes and strawberries are added!
Sunlight lasts into the evening.
As dusk settles over the land, a time of quiet peacefulness follows.
Summer offers some free time.
A time to play, renew and relax,
Summer’s gifts are to enjoyed and shared.
Be thankful for summer.
Take time for summer!
                                                               Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Celebration of 50 Years

     Last Saturday we celebrated my Jubilee of 50 years of commitment as a Sister of St. Benedict. The event has certainly been a time of rejoicing all around. The gratitude I experience for the love and support of my sisters at St. Walburg Monastery, our Oblates, my own family, and friends at Mother of God Parish and Catholic Charities is so deep and heart felt that it is beyond adequate expression.
     A very meaningful quotation from the Rule of Benedict that was used by our Prioress Sr. Mary Catherine in blessing me is “as we advance in the religious life and in faith, [may] our hearts expand and [may] we run the way of God's commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.” This text has always been a source of assurance for me when life was easy and when life was difficult, from the time I was in high school and considering entering the convent. The promise it holds has been fulfilled during these five decades and I know to be trustworthy for the future. 
     Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shakespeare Behind Bars

It is with great anticipation that I look forward to next week. Shakespeare Behind Bars, a 17 year old Kentucky organization, composed of inmates of Luther Lucket Correctional Complex in LaGrange, KY, is presenting Romeo and Juliet.
Although a few of our sisters had attended earlier productions, last year’s dramatization of The Merchant in Venice was my first experience of SBB and one I won’t forget. It was as though I had returned to the Shakespearean Era1! I had read or seen many of the bard’s plays but had never seen one with all roles assumed by men as was the case in Shakespeare’s time. As the play progressed, the men became real persons whatever the name, Portia, Jessica—all were excellent in a wonderful performance.
After the play those involved in production came before a most appreciative audience to answer questions of all kinds. Their honesty, humility, camaraderie and concern for one another were evident in their attitude and remarks. It was a lesson in human rehabilitation to everyone. Statistics indicate that Shakespeare Behind Bars has been a blessing to participants and to others as recidivism rate are 67% nationally, 29.5% in Kentucky and 5.4% for those in SBB. Other penal institutions have inquired and perhaps have initiated programs of their own.
It is obvious that I am most anxious to return to LaGrange for Romeo and Juliet. Will the cast be the men we met last year as well as new actors. No matter, it will be another unique and inspirational experience.  Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Coming Soon...

     Since December I have been working on an Arcadia book about the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery. Starting in 1993 Arcadia Publishing has produced a series entitled “Images of America” which focus on “general visual histories intended to tell in broad strokes the story of the title community from its earliest days.”
     While looking for pictures that tell the story of St. Walburg Monastery, I’ve come across delightful pictures and stories. One of the stories is about our community’s service in the 1918 flu epidemic. Below are excerpts from the Community record book

Today [Oct. 30] Rev. Regis Barratt [sic] of the U.S. Army at Camp Zachary Taylor called at St. Walburg’s and demanded to have Sisters sent to the Kentucky mountains to nurse the Influenza-sick. I [Mother Walburga] promised to send four sisters.
Oct. 31 Today at 2 pm the four sisters left for Lexington, Ky to report ot Major McMullon at St. Joseph’s Hospital from when they will get their orers to go to whatever district is pointed out to them. The Sisters were Sr. Alphonsa Spatz, Sister DeSales Fox, Sr. Armella Klein, Sr. Bernadette Klinker…
Nov. 1 Rev. Father Regis came back for four more Sisters. We sent:
            Srs. Edith Hoffmann, Loretta Fox, Sophia Saelinger, Eleanor Falangan [then a postulant].
Nov. 11 Peace was officially proclaimed and we hope the terrible World war will now be ended
Nov. 16 At 12:0 am the first four Sisters who had been sent to nurse the “Flue-sick” returned and at 7 pm the other four Sisters came back by order of the proper authorities. All were well except Sr. Alphonsa who had the “Flue”
Nov. 16 As the schools were closed again by the Health Officers on account of the Influenza epidemic, our Sisters were called out to nurse the sick in the city [Covington] until Dec. 6 when the schools were re-opened.

      None of the sisters at that time had nursing experience or training, but from that point on, Eleanor Flanagan, who became Sr. Callista Flanagan, wanted to serve as a nurse in the Kentucky mountains. In the 1940’s when the community was asked to establish a hospital in Hazard, Kentucky, Sr. Callista finally got her wish.
     For pictures of Sr. Callista and Sr. Alphonsa and other pictures of our community’s history, look for the book entitled The Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery which will come out from Arcadia Publishing in September or October.
Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Easter Journal, 2012

Love one another as I have loved you.
You did not choose me; I chose you.
Abide in my love.

            I try.
            I believe.
            I do.
            I’ve found it in this monastery.
                       Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Making Space

             As spring unfolds I find a growing desire to make space.   Sometimes it is literally making space as I spring clean at home or settle into my recently moved office at work.  Daily I make space in my schedule for prayer, appointments, walking, or time with friends.  More recently the invitation to make space is in my own attitudes and perspectives.  
            In the shifting of my internal attitudes and perspectives I become keenly aware of the challenge of being stretched in my understanding to create space for a wider perspective.  In this space, I come to see possibility where the view was once limited.  In this space, compassion is fostered towards others and self as we mutually work with our respective attitudes and perspectives.  In this space, moments are graced with God’s presence and the movement of the Spirit. 
            Perhaps this is the beauty of spring… for how can I doubt the possibility of change and growth as spring’s beauty leads to summer and supports both my external and internal work to create more space for God’s work in my own life.
            Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Power and Pitfalls of Non-verbal Communication

     The other day as we began morning prayer, I made the sign of the cross and was suddenly struck with the power of this silent act. What hit me wasn’t the meaning, but rather how much an unadorned action can say:
* I believe in Christ’s saving act
            * I believe in and live Christianity
            * I acknowledge how much God loves me
            * I am committed at this moment to both
                      personal and communal prayer … 
     I could go on, but you get the idea. An intriguing development, though, was that this flash of insight later took me further afield. My background in communication kicked in, and I thought about other forms of non-verbal communication. These often silent actions also have multiple meanings but are much more easily misunderstood. 
     Here are some examples of wordless communication and a few multiple meanings:
*Silence in a conversation – Agreement… Disapproval
            … Questioning .... No comment …
*A shrug – Don’t know …Don’t care… Doesn’t  
           matter … Who knows …
*A smile – Gladness … Embarrassment… Self-   
           consciousness .... Nervousness ….
*A frown – Puzzlement … Sadness … Disagreement…
           Aching joints or an upset stomach ... 
     Interpreting silence, facial expressions, or voice intonations can lead to greater empathy in listening to someone’s story. On the other hand, it can be a tricky business. I think all of us need to be a little less certain of what we think we are hearing in a conversation; we need to check it out. This is especially true when people are strangers or there is a history of friction. 
     As with church rituals, the non-verbal fleshes out human interaction with much richness. Ritual actions in worship, however, can fall prey to becoming repetitive, even mindless. The non-verbal elements of our interpersonal interactions can lead us into traps of their own, such as a false sense of certainty about others. 
     Both these forms of silent communication need attention now and then. This Easter season may be a good time to refresh the nuances of both good worship and good  listening.
      Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB