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