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