Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reflecting on the Past

            St. Walburg Monastery saw four sisters go to their eternal reward between Dec. 20, 2012 and March 7, 2013. For a while it seemed weekends and Mondays were reserved for funerals. The loss of good friends, older and younger, can make one increasingly aware of many things. For me one message was “get rid of stuff!” I have begun. To date much has been committed to the shredder but one rediscovered envelope touched my heart with memories.
            At my father’s death in 1990 his correspondence, including that from WWI, was given to my brother. In his correspondence was a letter written in French to my grandmother (as well as its translation) dated October 13, 1918 from the town of Pouille in France. My father was a Marine, wounded in action at Belleau Woods and carried a life-long limp. In those days the wounded were sent to the south of France and later my father told me many stories about that time—of a teacher, Emma Brault, her niece and nephew and treading the wine press. His stories revealed a great admiration and love for the French people. A translation of the letter to my grandmother follows:
Dear Madame,
            I can’t find words to thank you enough. Instead I am offering you this letter which reflects my deep appreciation for what you have done for our country France.
            Your son came here and I learned to appreciate his feelings for our country. I also asked him to bring you these words of appreciation from us as a souvenir.
            Your act of goodwill, through your loved ones, who are sent here to help our country by sacrificing their lives can be very well seen here.
            The stakes are very high as we try to fight hard in order to maintain our independence. We hope that all this will lead to the end of our misery so we can once again see the peace. We are also hoping for the day that you can see the return of your loved one back home. Meanwhile I promise I’ll do my best so you son will feel at home while he is here in exile.
            You son, by smiling, is sending you also his endless regards. He wants you to be joyful. I would love to receive some news from your other beloved children only if this is not too much to ask. My parents also send you their best regards.         

            The Armistice ending WWI was signed on November 11, 1918.
            Later in 1940 when Germany occupied France, before the United States entered into World War II, I urged my father to write to the school teacher. He did and received a letter in return—in French. I took it to the French teacher at school who translated it for us. Although I lost that letter, I remember well that it was written by the Emma Brault that my father had spoken of. She told of her niece and nephew and the occupation.
            In these days of “small” wars all over the globe affecting friends and close relatives, these words of a woman of another time speak to the heart.
            Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Conversatio and Conversation

      In preparation for a talk I gave to the faculty and staff at a Benedictine school, Woodside Priory School in California, I did some research on the Benedictine profession of conversatio. Conversatio morum is one of the three vows Benedictines profess. (The other two are obedience and stability.) The term conversatio has had many interpretations over the centuries and currently it is understood as fidelity to the monastic way of life.
     Whenever I type conversatio, my word processing program wants to change it to conversation and that seems to be more than linguistic programming. Brian Taylor, an Episcopalian priest, writes about Benedict’s Rule in his book, Spirituality for everyday living: an adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict. He says that conversatio is at the root of growth in grace for all who seek God. Conversatio calls us to be open to the community and to be willing to be responsive to the “the judgment of God as expressed by other people.”
     Such a “take-a-deep-breath” thought! It was startling to me then as a firestorm of opinion blazed about recent events at Villa Madonna Academy. It remains startling to me whenever I find myself in conversation with anyone who holds a point of view different than mine and I want to dismiss that view. And it haunts me and halts me whenever I read about any church and/or political ideological point of view.
      Today I read an article about Bishop Robert Vasa in Santa Rosa, California, who had sent a letter to pastors and teachers in Catholic schools requiring that the teachers sign an addendum to their 2013-14 contracts. He consequently revoked that requirement saying among others things that he had failed to engage and consult the pastors of the diocese and overlooked “a proper engagement of the principals” and “erroneously chose a path of informing rather than mutual discernment.”  I was impressed by the action of conversatio in that statement. I wonder about the true conversation and humility it must have taken to write those words. Apparently Bishop Vasa heard the judgment of God expressed by other people.
     We engage in conversation in all aspects of our lives and if we are serious about conversatio, growing in grace as we seek God, we must be willing to be responsive to the judgment of God as expressed by other people. And how difficult that is.   Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hidden Possibilities

     This month marks a year since my office has moved to the current location. I drive by a house which has a bush cut to look like an elephant. The whimsical touch in the midst of the ordinary makes me smile. It was green last year when I first took notice and then brown and bare through the winter. Today I drove by and it was a beautiful shade of yellow. Forsythia shaped like an elephant, what an unexpected surprise. It led me to ponder the hidden possibility in what we think we know but may have a different dimension we can or do not see initially (or even after long periods of time). As spring unfolds, I pray for openness to see the “splashes” of God’s presence in the midst of the mundane and familiar. 
      Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From Earworms to God’s Songs

           Have you ever had some song or fragment of one stick in your head and refuse to go away? I have, and I found out just the other day on National Public Radio that these things are common enough to have a name. Called earworms,* this radio article caught my attention because only a few days before I had been reflecting about one psalmist’s experience with musical memories.  
          In Ps.42 the writer says:  “… at night your song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” When I encountered this line, it evoked the memory that God often speaks to us at night, or in some moments of silence during the day if/when we step away from our frenetic activities. It suggested to me that these uninvited songs or other snippets taking up residence in my mind could carry insights from “the God of my life.” If I were to give them some extra attention, maybe these uninvited fragments would shed some light on my relationship with God, others, or even myself. Why this song? Why these words now? Is there something going on inside me that makes them particularly significant at this moment? 
            This Octave of Easter has brought another level of insight for me. During this time the liturgy tells stories of how the risen Christ often called individuals by name, people like Mary, Thomas, and others. Somehow these scripture texts reinforced what I’d been thinking about God’s voice in the musical or poetic fragments that sometimes inhabit my brain. They reminded me that if I pay some attention to these earworms, it’s quite possible, that like the psalmist, I may hear my own name and be called to an interior place I didn’t even know was waiting to be visited. 
            Next time you receive an earworm, try giving it some time and attention. Who knows, it might call your name and take you on an inner journey. What better time than Easter to try something new!
        Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB