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