Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mary, Mother of God

Today’s liturgy is the celebration
of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. This is my favorite feast of the whole Advent-Christmas season. Throughout the Advent season I sing our opening hymn for Morning and Evening Prayer looking at a copy of Michelangelo’s, the Madonna of Bruges. My focus is always drawn to Jesus’ hands and Mary’s face. Mary is no longer a young maid of Nazareth. She knows she is the Mother of God and that Jesus is her child. Their hands are joined—his right in her left; his left tight against her thigh. Both faces anticipate the Pieta.
                                                   Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB


   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Remembering the Gifts of Christmas

        On Christmas we celebrate our greatest gift, God’s Son our Lord Jesus Christ! In remembrance of the gift each of us has Christmases we shall never forget. As the oldest of eight, (the youngest only 10 months old when I came to the community), I rarely trimmed a Christmas tree because believers in Santa thought that was his “job.” Our celebration was on Christmas Eve. Those old enough to walk traveled across Latonia to our aunt and uncle’s house where we awaited the call that Santa had arrived. They accompanied us home all piled into their car. All received a gift--some requested, other a surprise. Always it was a joyful, loving family occasion.
        Once as a teen, I requested a “trench coat”, a fad then. It was an expensive item in those days but my mother bought it for me, and then I begged her to let me wear it before Christmas. She acceded, telling me it was my gift. There was nothing for me under the tree that Christmas but I learned a lesson—no gifts before Christmas.
        I entered St. Walburg Monastery on September 8 and in the few months before Christmas that year suffered some of the most miserable days of my life from homesickness. Only God’s grace enabled me to survive in the community. At that time, we did not make home visits but had a monthly visiting Sunday when the family came to visit us. My mother wrote frequent letters except during Advent. That Christmas we had a packed house in the monastery parlors, a wonderful day. But the next three days I was physically sick. When I recovered I felt like a new person and never again experience homesickness. It was one of my greatest Christmas gifts
         I saved all those letters my mother had written during that postulant year. The novice directress had actually requested that I ask my mother to write less frequently. Several years ago I typed up those letters and made them into a booklet, a Christmas gift to each of my siblings, grown up with children and grandchildren of their own. That booklet actually represented a year in each of their lives for they were always the subject of those letters. It was a gift lovingly given, loving received and appreciated.

        May the gift of God the Father, the coming of Jesus Christ as flesh among us, and the gifts we have received throughout our lives warm our hearts with thankfulness today.
Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Busyness and Waiting

During these days of Advent I have been struck by the cohabitation of waiting and busyness.  Advent invites us to wait for Christmas in quiet, joyful anticipation even as the prophets and hymns urge us to hurry and make our hearts ready.   The climax builds as Christmas draws closer and we celebrate God incarnate.
Our society is busy about shopping and making preparations.  I find myself rushing around a store on my lunch break to get a bargain and then waiting, for longer than planned, in the line to check out.  Full days at work are followed by evenings of furious knitting or baking.  This is a season of great generosity and giving as people make donations of money, goods and time.
I have found this year  in particular a sense of gratitude for the waiting amidst my busyness.  Those moments have become opportunities to experience the joy and recognize Christ presence in the midst of it all.  Seeing Christ in the generosity and kindness of people reaching out to strangers.  Seeing Christ in the opportunities to give and to receive.  Seeing Christ in the delightful children waiting in line in front of me who brought smiles to the face of many and kept impatience at bay.   May we each be graced in these last days of Advent with moments of waiting and busyness as we prepare our hearts, complete our to-do list and celebrate with great rejoicing God incarnate.       Kimberly Porter, OSB
  


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Changing Perspective

     The early snow gently dressed the green blades in crystal, while fiery leaves quietly asserted their presence.
     This image came to me one morning as I was walking back from the monastery to the Guest House where I live. Autumn was holding on, but winter had crept in with a shower of ice diamonds. The sun was dancing over both seasonal displays. 
     Fast forward about a week. It was a dark, cold night, and I was chipping, hacking and scraping layers of ice from doors and windows of the car I need to drive early the next morning. This time there was no sun to give light or heat, just a continuously running motor to help loosen the doors and undermine the ice's hold on all the windows. After about an hour and a half, I could get most of the doors open and had clear vision through all the important windows. 
     Later, I was rummaging through my thoughts to prepare a blog entry when it struck me: I just experienced two starkly different perspectives about ice; there have to be some kinds of truth buried in this not uncommon occurrence. 
     The first thing I realized is that this kind of one-thing-then-another experience happens to us often, with people, events, even ordinary objects like electronic devices. Sometimes we see one facet; another time we see a quite different one. For e.g., trying to learn a new "gadget" can bring us delight at the thing's potential, then total frustration when it doesn't do what we think we told it to do. We can plan a party and gladly anticipate the reception of guests, then afterwards find tinges of bittersweet because some parts didn't go as intended. Friends and relatives can be sources of joy at one point, then at another time push all our buttons and drive us to the brink. 
     If we are honest, we can frequently see this multi-faceted reality in ourselves. There are times we live up to our own expectations of ourselves to be responsible, kind, or understanding, only to later seriously disappoint ourselves (and others?) when these traits slip out of sight in a given situation. 
     There's a saying: "Nothing is simple." I certainly believe this. At times we can look back at past cultures or even our own personal past thru gold-tinted glasses. If we romanticize our American frontier days or some Golden Age in another country, we're not seeing the complexity of things like trying to create a society in harsh, violent places or becoming a full person in a culture where wealth and class dictate how one lives. 
     For those among us who like things to be simple, to be one thing or the other, not both/and, contemporary life can be quite challenging. Personally, I have experienced that many of us belong to the "either/or" branch of society, and not so many are from the "both/and" department! To realize that almost nothing in our human experience is black and white is, for me, a key to recognizing life's complexity and helping us make choices. During a difficult argument, for e.g.,we can pigeonhole someone to a slot in our pantheon of unpleasant people. Making an effort to remember some of the more positive sides of the person can weaken our judgmental walls. This is really hard to do under these circumstances and requires both faith and a lot of courage. 
     To be a "both/and" person is a major challenge when there is so much pressure today to reduce fundamentally complex questions to clear black and white answers. Alfred North Whitehead's observation to "seek simplicity, but distrust it" seems a useful compass. It acknowledges that there is always more to something than meets the eye, and what's unseen may be really important. 

     Decades ago, when I was very young in religious life, a wise sister told me that our faults and our gifts are two sides of the same stick. I have never forgotten it. It's a symbol that helps me both to know myself better and to gain insight into others. It says we are integrated human beings, not easily compartmentalized into good and bad. It's a great symbol for the "both/and" approach to life, a key to accepting both the ice crystals glistening in the sun and the frustrating sheets clinging to car doors and windows in the night.
     Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Emptiness; God’s Fullness

     There are many themes for Advent: peace, hope, joy, love, waiting patience, desiring, preparing, expecting, longing, and emptiness. In this reflection I would like to consider emptiness.
     The experience of emptiness can bring up disconcerting/scary feelings of fear, loneliness, alienation, and is most often avoided. However, the emptiness of Advent offers us something different. Mary’s emptiness and receptivity allowed her to be open to the Word becoming flesh. In Carryl Houselander’s book the The Reed of God Mary’s emptiness opened her to be “a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song.” Mary continually received the breath of God, embraced this breath which guided her entire life. The melody of her life continues to encourage and inspire us also to be conduits of God’s abiding life. 
     In becoming flesh Jesus emptied himself, redeemed and graced our lives. What he asks of us is to become partakers of his life and channel the Divine love to one another. As the image of the empty, hollow reed allows the breath of God to be transmitted through us; our humanity is used by God to channel God’s goodness to humankind. How we pray, cherish one another, respond to human needs is a manifestation of how open we are to God’s funneling ongoing redemption through us. For as Christ has told us “whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me.”
     Whether considering myself a “reed” or a “channel” the need for emptying of self  through patient listening, letting go of interior clutter and chatter, and openness to the indwelling of Divine love are essential.
     Perhaps a question to consider this Advent: How can I allow my life to become a hollow reed so that God’s love can be channeled through me? How can I open myself and be more vulnerable to the transforming love of Christ who continually gives life?
     Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

     Reflecting on Thanksgiving of course brings me to how grateful I am living in this country. Despite its problems it has provided a rather soft life and since I am a wimp I feel terribly blessed as I am sure many others do as well. i cannot imagine living anywhere else.
     So as I compiled my long list of thanks that I am sure resembles yours I paused at technology. For it enables us to enter the lives of persons and peoples living at great distances.We see those suffering great traumas of war and disasters, famine and disease. I am grateful. It gives me another way to be Christ to my neighbor.I usually think of Jesus in terms of kindness, charity, forgiveness, etc. But Jesus suffers. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, “How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her young under her wings.”(Luke 13) I can be part of that Jesus as well and ever more so thanks to our many media sources.  Please join me in celebrating that we are one.
     For another take on gratitude I invite you to revisit Sr. Aileen's blog posted July 17,2013.
     Enjoy the holidays.   Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Visio Divina

     “Visio Divina” or Divine Seeing, or Seeing the Word - is much like the prayer form, “Lectio Divina” or Divine Reading, or Praying the Word.  Only here I pay attention to what I see, how God is revealing God’s self to me through the sights, things, art works, people around me.  These are some examples that come to mind:
     Right now the fall foliage is breathtakingly beautiful. How can we help seeing God’s beauty, and stand or sit in awe and wonder at what God has done and does seasonally in this climate.  Praise God! Take time to notice, allow it to fill you, feel the love and warmth of God’s unconditional live.  Such a variety of trees; Ginko, Maple, Oak, Sycamore, Sweet Gum, Moses Bushes displaying their leaves in all shades of yellows, oranges, rusts, reds, browns and even blacks, all shades of the flames of Spirit fire, consuming the leaves as they ready for the death of winter, and anticipate the resurrection of spring.  This is a symbol of the Paschal Mystery.  Every tree, every leaf is special, as we are each unique and special to God.
     One of our Oblates just shared with me another experience of “Visio Divina” using the illuminations from the new St. John’s Bible.  Each of the three sessions of the workshop she is attending is centering around one of the illuminations.  The first was from the Creation Story from the Book of Genesis that the artist, Donald Jackson, depicted so creatively.  The group listened to the scripture text and allowed the word to dwell within them.  Then gazing on the Creation illumination in seven panels asked God to open the eyes of their hearts and enable them to see what God wanted them to see.  Finally they prayed for inner transformation for themselves and each other.  Laura was amazed and moved by this prayerful experience, and called me to share.  She was eagerly waiting the next two sessions.
     This brought to mind our community retreat a few years ago, when Sr. Irene Nowell, OSB, used many of the illuminations from the St. John’s Bible in much the same way, projecting them on the chapel way, where we were overwhelmed by their beauty and power.  I was profoundly moved by this experience, and realized that this is what the committee behind the Bible did to come up with these powerful illuminations of the Word of God. It was truly “Divine Seeing”.
     I believe that Julian of Norwich must have prayed in this way as she allowed the hazel nut in her hand to speak to her of the God who made it, who loves it, and who preserves it.  From her “Revelations” she shared that she saw in it that “God is the creator and the protector and the lover.  And that we are not fully at ease because we seek rest in things that are so little.  We must come to recognize our God, who is all powerful, all wise, all good - who is our true rest.”

     Let us open our eyes and as well as our hearts to what God has set before us in so many ways night and day. Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We Remember ...

       We have had prose and poetry on our blog but no jokes.  So I will break the tradition, it also goes
with my blog.
       “A couple of friends were talking recently and they agreed that the one who died first would let the other know what heaven was like. One of the friends died and went to Heaven. She got word to her earthly friend. Heaven is wonderful! I have good news and bad news for you.The good news is that they have a beautiful big ball field! The bad news is that you are pitching tomorrow.” 
       On November 1, we celebrated All Saints Day and on November 2, we celebrated All Souls day.  It indeed was a celebration on both days of the Communion of Saints.  All of us have had close relatives and friends die and we still grieve their loss. These days help us to remember them and pray to and for them and know that some day we will be reunited with them.
       Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Way to Pray

          Three essential items get me started every morning, namely: a pen, a notebook and a bible. These facilitate an awareness of God’s presence and help me begin the day with God. Usually God’s words in the day’s Mass reading sparks questions, comments, exclamations in mind and heart and result in a short period of wordless prayer. Sometimes this is a mixture of thinking, questioning, or responding in awe.
         Other times my prayer requires sheer perseverance to read the scripture passage several times and be patient in listening more openly without forcing a “conversation”.  The active listening itself becomes my prayer.  Whatever personal presence, will and time are given, I believe the prayer is always heard by God.
       I count on it.   Sr. Martha Walther, OSB

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What a Litany!

       As the feast of All Saints was approaching, I wanted to think of a special way to celebrate it this year. The first thing that came to my mind was the Litany of Saints. I remembered hearing that litany at the annual Easter Vigil ever since I was in the seventh grade! 
     I discovered that the litany was used in Rome as far back as 590 and that it is one of only six litanies authorized by the Holy Sea for public services. An abbreviated form is used at infant baptisms. A longer form is used at the election of a New Pope, at the blessing of an abbot, the dedication of a Church and at some religious professions.
     As I read the Litany of Saints, I began to feel overwhelmed. I felt as if I was trying to count the stars in the universe or the sands on a sea shore. The litany includes three intercessions to Mary, and at least 50 saints are mentioned by name. Then saints are grouped into categories, e.g.,  all ye holy monks, holy priests and  levites, holy bishops and confessors, holy doctors, holy martyrs, holy virgins and widows, holy men and women, angels, archangels, apostles, evangelists, innocents, patriarchs and prophets. 
     After looking at all the categories listed, I realized that one of the categories includes all of us who strive to live a holy life and our holy deceased loved ones!
Only a graced and Spirit-filled author could compose such a comprehensive litany.
When I pray the litany I’m going to add the names of some holy people that are part of my life. I enjoy that idea, but I may need to pray the litany in parts. 
      Writing this post became a gift for me as I have never before experienced identifying  at such depth with the entire Communion of  Saints.
     Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Festivals of October

    
         The leaves are slow to turn this year, it seems. Taking a day off to meander about the commonwealth, we were graced by a beautiful day with deep blue skies and mostly green leaves. No frost yet should have been a clue. Scenic Byway Route 68 South brought us to Blue Licks Battlefield State Park, the site of one of the last battles of the American Revolution. Nearly 70 Kentuckians were killed by the British and Indian tribes in the 15 minute-battle on August 19, 1782. Kentucky was then part of Virginia.
         At my brother’s family’s recent Pumpkin Fest, I learned that one can watch a video of selected fireworks before purchasing. No doubt there are even reviews online. Tony’s firework finale was spectacular. While I was at Pumpkin Fest, the community was enjoying an Oktoberfest meal. No fireworks, but homemade pretzels and a variety of October-styled beer. 
         The theme for Halloween party costumes this year is “Art Masterpieces”. Prior years’ themes have been Old and New Testament characters, Benedictines throughout history, Disney characters, and Aesop fables. The party is a yearly display of creativity, humor and the ability to come up with something at the last minute. 

         One day soon there will be a frost followed by splendid leaves all about. If that day is also warm and sunny, we may seek out another scenic byway.
                        Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Religious Communities Against the Death Penalty

       Almost two decades ago Sister of Divine Providence Alice Gerdeman, now Director of Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, approached me to begin a conversation that led to the loose association of those of us in vowed life who have active ministries in the state of Kentucky and who have a passion about justice and a felt responsibility to address the needless and merciless killing of people by legal execution.
      In 1996 we organized Religious Communities Against the Death Penalty to educate our own communities about capital punishment, to promote healing for victims and families and to pray with and for all those who are involved in carrying out the death sentence. On May 22, 1997, a little over 2 months before Harold McQueen was executed by the people of Kentucky we began was has become an almost yearly practice of visiting and praying with the men on death row at Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville KY.
       We are now planning for our 2013 Fall visit where we will pray and chat with the men from death row who will be coming to chapel where we usually gather in a group. Our conversations are always inspiring. We have come to know some of the men pretty well over these years as we recognize them as God’s children who have made horrible mistakes.
       We also hold the victims of murder and their families (cf: www.mvfr.org) in our hearts as we pray in the sure confidence that Jesus calls us all to assist in the process of reconciliation with one another.
I feel incredibly blessed to be involved in this ministry of support and reconciliation. It is amazing what a wonderful choice it has been for me to become a Benedictine sister because it is this vocational path that has brought me to this point.
                           Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB



Friday, October 11, 2013

Sunshine and Shadows

Sunshine and Shadows
Green warmth of summer; crisp colors of autumn.
Mist rising on a Smoky Mountain morning;
Smog blanketing the Cincinnati skyline.

Six month old teasing with her smile;
Delighting her new parents.
Sweethearts nervous as they await
the celebration of their 75th wedding anniversary.
Single mom babysits by day, works at McDonalds by night.
Her five little ones hardly aware of why.
Kentucky Benedictines enjoy the hospitality of the Benedictines
who live in the backyard of the Windy City.
Teen-age girls work at the Monastery.
Some serve the meals; some gently tend the sick.
Ninety-eight year old dies, so filled with life;
Twenty-two year old dies, life too much.

Hawks screech on their perch;
then glide majestically on the thermals.
The scent of new mown hay; a favorite of my mother.
A soft breeze; the tinkling of the wind chime.
Zinnias color the garden; adorn the table.
The hum of life as heard;
from the country front porch.
Sights, sounds, scents that change with the seasons.

The anticipation of a wonderful gift fulfilled.
A smile and a wave; you’re okay!

Thank you, Lord, for another day.

Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Witness

       As some local readers may know, there’s currently a lot of road work, with one-lane traffic in Cincinnati, and in this instance, on Liberty Street in Over the Rhine. As I sat at a red light last Friday, I saw a man and woman and behind them, a small, frail-looking lady pulling her hand cart, start across the wide street.  My eyes checked out the traffic up ahead, the pedestrians on the sidewalk and the nearby houses.  Glancing back at the crosswalk, I realized that the woman with the handcart had fallen to the ground in the construction lane.  At the same instant, I saw two people, one black, one white,  move toward the intersection.  The woman hurried out into the street before the man got to it. She was at the woman’s side as the light turned green.  As I stepped on the gas, I knew I had witnessed the Gospel in action.  And it made my heart sing. 
            Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fifty Years of Monastic Profession

     On August 3, 2013 at St. Walburg Monastery, we celebrated Diamond and Golden Jubilees at Evening Prayer. Prior to the celebration, Sister Mary Catherine, Prioress, asked each of the jubilarians to reflect on 50 or 60 years spent living her profession in this Benedictine community. At the ceremony we were invited to share our reflections with all who were present at the celebration.
      The reading for Evening Prayer was Eph. 3: 14-21. This reading speaks of being firmly rooted and grounded in love so that we will be filled with the fullness of God.
      As one of the Golden Jubilarians I was led by Spirit to give testimony as below. I hope it gives you a glimpse into the power of living in this community in the School for the Lord’s Service as St. Benedict calls the monastery.
     As a senior at St. Henry High School in the spring of 1960, I attended a vocation retreat at Marydale Retreat House. Father Evanston, the director, asked each retreatant individually, “If Jesus stood before you today and asked to come, follow him as a religious sister, would you consider saying yes?” To this question I gave a resounding NO. Then on August 22, 1961, after hearing a persistent call to enter religious life by Jesus, I entered St. Walburg Monastery longing for God and stability and naively thinking to escape the trials of life.
     Today I stand before you knowing that I am deeply rooted and grounded in the love of Christ and in this amazing group of Christ-centered women whose lives, love and affirmative support through the years have provided the rich soil allowing this growth to occur. Our life in prayer, work and communal living heave bonded our lives firmly together in intertwined rootedness as we faithfully seek God together until we arrive together into the eternal kingdom of God.
     Without this rich soil I know I would have been too weak to answer if God said, “Today I set before you life and death. Choose.” Today I give a resounding YES to choosing to serve God anew in this Benedictine community.

            Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Praying for peace on 9/11

     As we mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania I am asking myself if anything has changed.
     In many ways we are still dealing with terrorism, worrying about terrorism and praying about terrorism. 
     On Saturday we at St. Walburg Monastery joined with Pope Francis and thousands of Christians to pray for a peaceful solution to the situation in Syria. We prayed for an end to violence and war. We prayed for a culture of cooperation, a culture of dialogue. We continue to pray that the first moves toward a peaceful removal of chemical weapons in Syria will occur. I am hopeful that yesterday's news that President Assad of Syria will end the chemical attacks will be true. It is a step--what can be considered a big step toward less violence and suffering. 
     We thank God that our prayers are being answered in this way. 
     Join us in our continued prayer for the victims and the perpetrators of terror. May God bring comfort to those who suffer and a change of heart to those who bring suffering to others.
     We can have peace. We pray we will have peace. 
      Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Do My Words Give Grace?

     Every other Friday at Night Prayer we hear this instruction from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: 4:29  “Speak the truth to each other, for we are members of one another…. Speak only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
     And each time I leave the Chapel with those words echoing in my mind and heart.  My words are to give grace to those who hear.  Grace is God’s life, to be passed on by my words.  How mindful am I of the words I speak? - so unmindful at times. 
     God’s Word spoke creation. God’s Word became one of us, and showed us how to live and die and rise again.   Jesus’ words definitely built up the human race again, giving us grace - His Life.  The last two days Luke gives us examples of Jesus’ words making a difference to those who heard him:
     Luke 4: 16-30 When Jesus read from the Scroll in the synagogue….”all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
     Luke 4: 31-37 Jesus rebuked the unclean demon and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!”  The people were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word?  For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out. And news of him spread everywhere.” 
      Our work is to imitate Him – through our words, giving His Life to those who hear us.
St. Benedict, being aware of how ones speech can build up or tear down another, has some warnings in the Holy Rule calling us to be alert and responsible for what we say:
Ch. 4:28 “Speak the truth with heart and tongue.”  51 “Guard your lips from harmful and deceptive speech.”  Ch. 7:56 “The 9th step of Humility is that we are to control our tongue and remain silent unless asked a question.” And when at the Work of God he says in Ch. 19:7 “Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our mouths are in harmony with our voices.”
     In the Psalms we hear other reminders of mindfulness in our thoughts and our speech:
Ps. 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, my rock and my redeemer.”  Ps. 139:4 “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold O Lord, you know the whole of it.” Ps. 49:2 “My mouth shall speak wisdom.”  Ps.106: 48 “Let all the people say, ‘Amen,’ Praise God.”

     Reflecting on this important instruction from St. Paul has helped me to be more alert and pray that my “words may give Grace to those who hear.”
       Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Living the Eucharistic Readings, May through August

       I have become accustomed to using the Scripture readings for Eucharist as lectio divina. Although booklets are available, easily handled and most helpful, I prefer to start with my ancient well-used Bible. Often in the Eucharist readings, selected verses are joined with some large sections understandably omitted. But the reading is very clear and coherent. By first using my old Bible, I can get a bigger picture.
      With the Easter season ended and feast days having special readings, the Old Testament readings from June 28 until August 25 traveled through Genesis (13 readings), Exodus (13), Leviticus (2), Numbers (3), Joshua (20, Judges (3) and Ruth (1). They took me from Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt until Ruth’s movement with Naomi back to the land of promise. This year’s readings made a great tour of ancient places at ancient times to think about.
      The Gospel readings for these same days were from Matthew. Tightly adhering from day to day with few skipped passages, I could travel on a short time segment of Jesus’ earthly journey. Some days the first and second readings had a relatively common theme such as feeding the people. On August 3 St. Walburg Monastery celebrate golden and diamond jubilees—Srs. Sharon Portwood and Joan Gripshover (50), Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann (60). It was a true coincidence that the reading for that day was a description of the Jewish Jubilee Year with its almost unbelievable restoration of property, freedom and identity. During this time period I also had the opportunity to attend a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. A delightful experience with song and dance—and a bit of omission!
      Benedictines pray Liturgy of the Hours four times each day. Although this has been a part of my life for many years, lots of the psalms spoke to me a bit more loudly each day as they recalled the blessings, trials, struggles, sins of God’s people that had been proclaimed in the daily readings.
      On Monday of this we began the letters of St. Paul in the Eucharistic readings, continuing with the Gospel of Matthew. My reflection on the first reading will necessitate a bit of reorientation.

     Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Formative Phrases

          Recently we had a community gathering where we discussed a bumper sticker proclaiming Less judgment-- more curiosity. (A large part of the conversation was around whether the correct spelling of judgment was with or without an e after the g!)
Listening to the conversations about how to move from judgment to curiosity, I thought about the idea of “formative phrases” and that prompted me to reflect upon the other “formative phrases” in my life.
       I am aware of a number of formative phrases in my life. Of course, St. Benedict’s Listen with the ear of your heart and Prefer nothing to the love of Christ are two of the most important in my monastic life as well as many passages from Scripture. But the five that bound forward almost without thinking about it are the ones below:
       Lord help me to remember nothing will happen to me today that You and I cannot handle together. This was a consoling and helpful phrase at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I could handle life. I’m not sure who the original author was but I have it on a plaque that attributes it to Thomas Merton.
       You not God as we think you
       Furnace of silence
       Difficult friend.
This is a phrase in a litany type prayer by Huub Oosterhuis from the book Your Word is Near. Oosterhuis' prayer style and phraseology have had a strong impact on my own prayer style.
       Live your questions now and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along someday into your answers. Rainer Marie Rilke
       For surely I know the plans I have for you, says God, plans for your welfare … to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29: 11  Even though I can never remember the exact chapter and verse, this phrase has given me hope and comfort.
       I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. Anne Lamott I'm still reflecting on the mystery and truth of this.
      All of these phrases have sifted down into depths of my soul and formed me in my relationships with God and others. What are your formative phrases?
      Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To Really Hear


I often tell parents with whom I work that instructions need to be repeated three times before a child hears it once.  This summer it has become apparent to me that I too sometimes need to hear the same thing three (or more) times before it takes root.  In my experience, this is even more so when it comes to my relationship with God.
On three separate occasions in the past two months I have been reminded that God loves me, God is faithful and my task is to practice fidelity to the monastic way of life.  This I’ve lived and known but I heard it in a different way.  Why?
First, I had to step away from the busyness to even realize the clutter which needed to be cleared.  There is so much to see, hear and do that it becomes easy for me to lose my focus in small ways which accumulate.  Each time I heard “God loves you; God is faithful; and to practice fidelity to the monastic way of life” it penetrated deeper.  I heard the words with my ears, then in my thoughts and somewhere during the third time with the ear of my heart. 
Only then did I really hear and embrace in a new way what I have known…that which calls me to God and gives me the strength and courage to practice fidelity to the monastic way of life in community through prayer and work.  May we each find ways to really hear God’s love and faithfulness in our midst whatever our task.

Sr. Kimberly Porter OSB

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guess Who's Here!

          We had a community retreat last week led by Sr. Karen Joseph, OSB, from our daughter house in Ferdinand, IN. A number of her quotes and phrases struck me. One of them was this: We are always guests in the house of the Lord. When I heard it, the first thing that popped into my mind is that here, in this community, in this monastery, I live in the house of the Lord. I am a perennial guest. 
          I let my mind wander about what this might mean.  Here are a few musings:
If this is God's house, then God is the host who sees to my needs and wants me to feel at home.
If this is God's house, then all of us here are guests; this adds another aspect to the complex realities
       of relating to each other.
If this is God's house, then nothing is really mine; it all belongs to God.
If this is God's house, everything here is holy and must be treated with reverence. 
          I was realizing how integrally all this relates to St. Paul's theology of our being the Body of Christ and how much it sounds like Benedict's Rule. Then my mind took another turn.  I realized that everywhere is God's house ... this city, this state, this earth, this cosmos. God is the universal host, and in every aspect of my life I am a guest. 
          Now, if I apply my earlier conjectures to this line of thinking, I come up with questions:
Does the way I use the earth and its gifts change if I see them as belonging to God?
Does this realization affect my perspective and responsibility re contemporary issue like government
      (local, state, national and international), ecology, economics, justice, etc., etc., etc.?
Do I have a different accountability to others if all of us equally are guests in God's house? 
          One realization emerging from these mental meanderings is that if everywhere is God's house and all of us are guests, I should be able to use this awareness to experience God in any place, time, or circumstance. This Host is all-embracing and always present in some way within me and in each person I meet. All of us are guests at the same "house party" because the Host who invited us loves each of us with equal intensity. 

          The challenge for me in all this: Within the people and situations I encounter, can I find elements of the divine love that brought us together? When I find people really difficult, does it help to remember that we are equal guests of God on this planet? Will it help me to remember that in no circumstance will I have to guess who's there with me? It should. God the Host has welcomed me. I am here! God is here!
          Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lord, help me to see!

          This year we have a summer garden, replete with the usual tomatoes, zucchini, carrots (in 5 colors!), herbs and peppers. Our most widespread and productive plants are the pickle cucumbers. Over the three weeks I’ve picked 30 or more a day, ranging in size from 3 to 5 inches long. Every once in a while I find a few that are a bit longer. This morning after I’d been up and down the tangled area twice I found one about the size of a butter squash! 
          I walked for some time saying to myself and others, “How did I miss something that large, right under my nose and close to my finger tips?”Next I wondered, “In any given day, what else do I miss?” This brought back memories of the time when I was struck by a car that I didn’t see coming. I was constantly asked why I didn’t see it. I’ve tried to answer the why many times.
          Tonight I’ve concluded that I’ll keep trying to answer the why questions, but I will put more effort into seeing—seeing who or what is right in front of me. 


         Lord, help me to see!    Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Retirement

          I have just retired from 50+ years of teaching. I loved my work but I knew it was time to say good-bye while my dignity was still somewhat intact! Little did I realize what a bushel basket full of emotions would ensue. When the first person  said “congratulations”, I was dumbstruck. 
          Now I can say “thank you” and be gracious about it.I do have more time to just “be” and that is awesome. But I know that retirement does not mean sitting around eating the proverbial bonbons. When asked, I usually say my new title is “help-as-needed”.  This past week, July 17, I got hit between the eyeballs by the story of Moses and a short commentary.  Moses approaches the burning bush and God tells him something like “I have heard the cry of the Israelites held in captivity.” Moses is probably thinking “Great! Now God will do something.”  Lo and behold, God turns it around and tells Moses he is the one who will be sent to free the people. Oh, my!!! But God also promises to be with Moses for the duration. 
          I am reminded and inspired by the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict. Among many things we are told that every time we begin a new work, we must pray to God to bring it to perfection. Secondly whatever we do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord. Also we have many good gifts given us by God. So with a deep breath, fervent prayer, knowledge of God’s presence and my many blessings, I embrace the unknown future. And I ask your prayers as well.

Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Grateful Heart

     I am not sure of the reason but especially in recent summers my awareness of a grateful heart has grown. And, this summer I am particularly grateful. 
     For the past ten years I have had the privilege of meeting weekly with men and women who are coping with a cancer and all that this diagnosis entails. Many in the group relate experiencing a desire to be with others who are going through similar experiences. In time individual concerns are expressed, group connections are made, bonds are formed, and community is created.
     In listening to them I experience a deeper appreciation for the preciousness of life and its fragility, being mindful of the beauty of each day and endeavoring then not to get caught up in the small stuff of life. Listening to their statements similar to “it is ironical but cancer taught me how to live;” or “if I hadn’t got cancer I don’t believe that I would have reconciled with my daughter;” or “I don’t take anything for granted” and “I try to live a full life as much as possible, and make every moment count” has had a deep impact in my life.
      With deepening awareness and commitment, I try to put into action each day what this group practices and Galen Guengeriich recommends “Breathe a prayer of gratitude. And give those you love an extra measure of affection. Life is fleeting and love is precious. Cherish both.”  
     Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Friday, July 12, 2013

St. Benedict—Feast July 11

St. Benedict (480 AD-547AD) lived in Italy. He was born in a town called Norcia (sometimes spelled Nursia), a village high in the mountains of northeast Rome. His parents were wealthy and sent him to Rome for classical studies but he found life in Rome too degenerate. He went to place southeast of Rome, called Subiaco, where he lived as a hermit in a cave for three years. He was looked after by a monk named Romanus.
               A group of monks discovered Benedict and asked him to be their spiritual leader. He agreed. The monks did not like his leadership in the monastery and they tried to poison him. When he went to drink the poisoned wine, he blessed it and the cup broke into pieces. Benedict left this monastery and began his own monastery in Subiaco. He eventually established twelve monasteries.
               In 529 he moved to Montecassino about 80 miles southeast of Rome and built a monastery there. It was here that he wrote the Rule for Benedictines. St. Benedict is called the “the Father of Western Monasticisim.
               St. Benedict’s rule speaks of “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work). This is what identifies Bendict’s community. The prayer is the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) and the work is manual labor. The “Opus Dei” is a name for the “work of God” and this refers to the Divine Office.
               St. Benedict had a twin sister, St. Scholastica, who founded a community of women religious near St. Benedict’s monastery.
               St. Benedict’s Rule is practiced today by Benedictines all over the world. He died in 547 while standing in prayer. You might say that he died as he lived because he lived a life of continuous prayer!
               He has two feastdays: July 11 (the date celebrated by the Universal Church) and March 21 (an additional date celebrated by Benedictines). He is also called the Father of Western Europe.
      Sr. Barbara Woeste, OSB

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lectio Divina

       “Lectio Divina” or Holy Reading is a very early monastic practice. When I entered St. Walburg monastery in 1952, Lectio Divina was called “spiritual reading” and referred to a particular part of the daily schedule i.e., a half-hour in late afternoon. During that time an older Sister read from a spiritual book aloud in the community room/library to the whole community. Meantime, the hearers darned socks or embroidered or just listened. (At the time I thought the hand sewing was advocated so we wouldn’t fall asleep.) 
       Communal morning meditation was another daily spiritual exercise at 5:00 a.m. in chapel. It consisted of a Sister’s reading aloud from a spiritual book after which each Sister would meditate in silence for a half-hour. Quite a challenge for postulants! During my later years in community my perception and experiences of these two separate activities changed. As I studied and worked in various ministries I tried to integrate reading and meditation because both had the same goal, namely, love. 
       Recently I read a quote attributed to Dom Columba Marmion, 1858-1923, an eminent spiritual guide, author and the third Abbot of Maredsous Abbey, Belgium. The quote is: “Read under the eye of God until the heart is touched, then give yourself up to love.” These words really resonate with my daily exercise of lectio/meditation to open my mind and heart to the Word of God in scripture, liturgy, life experiences and conversation with Christ. It is indeed the prayer of holy reading under the eye of God which makes all the difference in my life of love. Sr. Martha Walther, OSB

      

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thankfulness Born of Tears

          My brother has been an invalid for 20 years. During this time he has been able to feed himself with his one good hand and walk from room to room with a walker. His family worked out a schedule and helped him with all other needs. His pain has led to depression and addiction to his pain medication. About two months ago he simply gave up and could no longer feed himself, walk from one room to another, or even want to try. All he could do was scream for the pain medication. 
          His “residence” has changed from Christ Hospital to Drake Care Center, where he made minimal progress. Currently he is at Mt. Washington Care Center. When I visit him, it is difficult not to burst into tears and run from the room. How painful it was to see my only brother so very clear in mind and so totally helpless in body. I managed to contain the tears until I got back to the monastery and let the tears flow. 
          Having visited him several times, I no longer feel depressed but am filled with gratitude. I thank and praised God that I can get out of bed by myself, stand up, walk, and take a refreshing shower. I experience deep gratitude that I can get my hand to my mouth to enjoy a cup of coffee. I feel truly alive, positive and take nothing for granted. There is a new pleasure in going down the steps to chapel to pray with the community. I am shocked that I have taken for granted so many of God’s gifts. When I ironed the linens used for Eucharist yesterday, I praised and thanked God for my ability to iron for the Lord. I asked God to open my eyes and grace me with a moment to moment gratitude for God’s overwhelming goodness to me in my senior years. I ask the Lord that this grace of gratitude may be ongoing. I made a mental picture of a poster that reads, “Live with an attitude of gratitude.”Then I wrote that quote on my heart.
        Sr. Victoria Eisenman, OSB


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

John the Bapist (Feast: June 24)

John the Baptist bearing witness
(ca. 1600-1602) by Annibale
Carracci
        What was John the Baptist like? How many years did he spend “in the wilderness”? The gospels say he grew and became strong in spirit living in the wilderness until he appeared publicly. The locusts, wild honey, and camel’s hair garments suggest one who lived simply, from the land, as he listened to the Holy Spirit with whom he was filled at his birth.
       John spoke convincingly enough to have followers who believed his message. He does not seem to have lacked courage, “proclaiming the good news with many exhortations”. Even Herod liked to listen to him.
       The angel Gabriel described Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son as having the spirit and power of Elijah, as being the prophet who will turn many to the Lord and make straight the way. Yet John is not filled with his own importance, but declares “He must increase; I must decrease. I am not worthy to untie his sandal.” Courageous, charismatic, humble.
       In the wilderness the word of God came to him. He was to speak the word for a short time only. Jean DaniĆ©lou says that “He had first to be gripped completely by an interior vision and possessed inwardly by the Lord…in such a way that [the word] can be handed on to others.” Let us pray to be gripped by that same spirit, so as to hand on that same word.    
       Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The End of a Perfect Day

          A couple of weeks ago I entertained the members of Mother of God Parish RCIA Team at St. Mary’s, the small house where I live on the St.Walburg Monastery grounds. As all events go that have a good bit of preparation, I had a lot of details to take care of. I believe my guests had a good time, we enjoyed our friendship, conversation and food. The weather was perfect, the cats well behaved. As I cleaned up after everyone else had departed, I was satisfied – with the party, with life, with myself. The phrase my grandmother frequently used to say came to me: “The End of a Perfect Day”.
          I am not sure that I ever used those words before. And, naturally, with them, Granny came to mind and I had a bit of a one-way conversation with her. What was her criteria for having a perfect day? She really seemed to have a lot of them. Maybe the good days and the good friends and the good times seem more perfect and more precious when you get older or wiser, or come to appreciate that all is God’s gift. Lately, I have been reviewing my days through what may be Granny’s criteria, and I am finding that I use my grandmother’s expression a lot more.
         Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Greenness

          Spring is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Each year I have waited and watched for the first violet and the first daffodil. This spring, however, something changed. It was the grass that caught and held my attention. I stood in front of our monastery and looked around in amazement and delight at the greenness of the grass. I don’t remember ever having seen it look so green. When I casually mentioned that to a friend she gave me a book about St. Hildegard of Bingen, a highly gifted and holy Benedictine woman who lived in the twelfth century. 
           One of Hildegard’s terms may have given a name to what I was sensing. For greenness she uses the Latin word viriditas which is a dynamic and energetic word. According to Hildegard this viriditas enters into the very fabric of the universe. The world in the height of the spring season is filled with it. Even “the smallest twig on the most insignificant tree is animated with viriditas.” (God breathed the breath of viriditas into Adam and Eve, of course, but that is subject for another blog!) Finally, Hildegard writes, it is the sun that brings the life of viriditas into the world. That thought is beautiful to me and immediately my mind transfers “the sun” into “the Son”. 
            Our monastery, like Hildegard’s, is enclosed by trees of all shapes and sizes and shades of green. All are rooted deeply, except for the newly planted saplings, in earth covered by a blanket of green. We sisters find it a blessing to gather in chapel four times daily to praise the Creator from whom all greenness comes.
        Sr. Justina Franxman, OSB