Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Catherine of Siena

On April 29 we celebrate the feast of one of the great women mystics and a female Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena. The modern mind finds Catherine a little difficult to take. Born in 1347, the 24 of 25 children (this is not the size of the average contemporary family), Catherine was the daughter of a wool dyer, fairly prosperous and almost middle class for the time. Catherine packed a lot of living into her 33 year life.
At the age of six she experienced a vision of Christ and decided to dedicate her life to God. The next year she made a vow of virginity. When her older, much-beloved sister, Bonaventure, died in 1362 she cut off her hair in defiance of her parents’ plans for her marriage. Her parents dismissed the house maid and Catherine was put to work for the house in her place and began to eat only bread, water and raw vegetables. At this point contemporary family services would declare the family dysfunctional and encourage therapy for all members.
When her father found her praying and saw a white dove hovering over her head, he became convinced that Catherine was following a true path even if he didn’t understand it, let her have her own room for solitude and prayer and forbade anyone in the family from interfering with her wishes. He even gave her permission to give alms from the family’s goods. Catherine took full advantage of this, to the benefit of the poor of Siena. Family members learned to lock their doors. At some point she learned to read.
In 1368 Catherine’s father died, Siena was struck by famine and Catherine no longer could tolerate bread. She received a vision telling her to leave her solitude to serve others. From that pint on, Catherine became actively involved in caring for
the plague-stricken, preaching a crusade and working to keep a break between the republics of Italy and the Pope from happening. By this point she had received the stigmata, could no longer eat solid food and consoled a young man to be executed to such an extent that he asked her to be with him and catch his head in her hands when he was executed.
By 1379 Catherine had attracted a large number of followers for whom she was spiritual director, counselor, mediator and “mama.”Many of them lived a communal life with her and worked for the unity and reform of the Church. On April 29, 1380 Catherine of Siena died in Rome at the age of 33. This is a very brief summary of Catherine's life and does not do justice to her activities and influence.
In the chapter on Catherine of Siena in her book Enduring Grace, author Carol Lee Flinders describes Catherine as a “blessedly eccentric individual.” Flinders also notes that Catherine’s intensity was “like the wine of Siena—very red.”
I find Catherine’s life strange, full of contradictions and give thanks that I am not called to it
but I find her writings attractive, mysterious and worth reflection.. My favorite prayer of Catherine is one about the Trinity.
         I shall contemplate myself in you. And I shall clothe myself in your eternal will,
         and by this light I shall come to know that you, eternal Trinity,
         are table and food and waiter for us.
         You, eternal Father, are the table that offers us as food the Lamb, your only-begotten Son.
         He is the most exquisite of foods for us, both in his teaching, which nourishes us in your will,
         and in the sacrament that we receive in holy communion
        which feeds and strengthens us while we are pilgrim travelers in this life.
        And the Holy Spirit is indeed a waiter for us,
        for he serves us this teaching by enlightening our mind’s eye with it and inspiring us to follow it.
       And he serves us charity for neighbors and hunger to have as our food souls
       and the salvation of the whole world for the Father’s honor.

     Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rezoning Land

       Many of you have seen the recent newspaper article and TV segment about the rezoning of our land. The community has been discussing this process for some time and now the public is being asked to offer their input at a public meeting on May 9. 
       About 80 acres of unused land on our property is of special interest as it may be sold for development. The proceeds from the sale will provide funds for the continued maintenance of our land and buildings as well as the needs of the sisters going forward. With the assistance of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) the community has been working to make plans to overcome our underfunded retirement account and to reduce expenses wherever possible. Their help has been invaluable. 
       Since the rezoning process and sale of the land has become public we have received many comments from local residents and friends of the community. While many wish we would not sell the land they realize that it is necessary. They have expressed their desires for many uses including more residences or fewer residences, green space and walking trails, a 9-hole golf course and even an organic farm with farm to table stands to sell their produce. The meeting on May 9 should bring even more ideas. 
       As treasurer of the community I know the financial need that has prompted the whole planning process and know how important the sale of the property is. To some I may seem heartless because I don’t worry about the deer, turkeys and coyotes that will have to move on (or make their home in the future development). The community wants to continue to serve and be an asset in the city of Villa Hills and to be a spiritual presence there and in the Northern Kentucky area. Offering Benedictine hospitality and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are
essential. Having the funds to do that is paramount in my view. 
       I hope that our neighbors will come to the meeting and voice their views to the Planning and Development Services who are leading the process. The mayor and city officials are our partners in this rezoning effort. All of us will benefit as we move forward—that is our hope. 

       We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we continue the process in the coming months.

      Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Meditation on being stuck in an elevator

     The elevator was small and stuffy. It was nighttime. Was anyone still around?  The elevator stopped.  It was between two floors and the door refused to open. The alarm! Who would hear the alarm. I didn't want to be stuck there all night.  Would I suffocate?
    One of the sisters did hear the alarm. Now to find the sister who knew where the emergency key was kept AND, how to use it. I was scared. At least one of the sisters stayed outside the elevator door and talked to me so I'd know someone was there. The key clicked in the lock, the door opened and I climbed out.
    The second elevator was much bigger. Complete with a wooden chair...for the longer rides. The timing was better. it was early evening and there were sisters around.This second experience wasn't so frightening. I knew I would get out. But, finding the key AND  the right combination for it to work took 45 minutes.
    It was winter.The elevator was cold.I walked back and forth in every configuration I could dream of.  I hadn't done my stretch exercises that morning so I did those.Then I sat on the chair. Imagination took over. How would this space compare to a solitary confinement cell in a prison?
   The walls were solid. There were no windows. My space was clean, hope-filled and time-limited.  A prisoner's cell (I imagined) was windowless, cold, dingy, lonely, hopeless and almost eternal. I'm an outdoor person so I can't imagine being cooped up for 23 of 24 hours a day in such a space. My situation had the creature comforts lacking in a prison cell of solitary confinement.
    Imagination turned to reality. What are we doing to make our prisons more humane? Do we think of prisoners as "those people" or do we respect their God given dignity? Can't we do more with rehabilitation and less with punishment? A recent 60 Minutes' Report showed how Germany rehabilitates its prisoners.  They have a very low rate of repeat offenders because they are trained for jobs, social skills are developed and the general public has a different attitude toward those who have committed crimes.Is Germany's prison system something we ought to look into?
      Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Old Face in the Mirror

Have you looked in the mirror lately? I mean, really looked. The last time I studied the image I saw there, I said to it, “Hey, you’re getting old! I see the lines in your face, and I hope they are smiley lines, not frowning lines.” I remember when I was a young Sister, and saw the older ones, I thought I would want happy wrinkles someday like theirs, not sad ones. I’ve been working on that all my life, but many times I need to be reminded.
I look at my hands – they are old hands but they can still play the piano, the organ, and write letters to prisoners. I see my feet, they are old too, but they still take me where I need to go, though they complain a lot lately.
Sometimes it seems to me that everyone and everything around me is getting old; some are quite infirm, some more forgetful, and some are also beautiful examples of grace, of selflessness, of wisdom that needs to be tapped.
I work in a building that is one hundred ten years old, and it is full of memories of days gone by: the tiled floors, the beautiful woodwork and stained glass windows, our Sisters who lived and worked here, the countless boarders for whom it was a second home, the walls that have such stories to tell! And being school archivist, I deal with these things every day.
I am reminded of a poem that was given to me when I was a very young Sister at one of our diocesan teachers’ meetings. I was so happy to be able to find it today, and so I share it with you. I intend to make it part of my daily prayer:

Let me grow lovely, growing old--
 So many fine things do:
 Laces, and ivory, and gold,
 And silks need not be new;
 And there is healing in old trees,
 Old streets a glamour hold;
 Why may not I, as well as these,
 Grow lovely, growing old? 
                            By Karle Wilson Baker

Here is another one you may like:

Old things are more beautiful
Old things are more beautiful
than many things brand new
because they bring fond memories
of things we used to do.
Old photographs in albums
love letters tied with lace
recapture those old feelings
that new ones can't replace.
Baby shoes, a teddy bear,
a ring that Grandma wore,
are treasures waiting there behind
a door marked "Nevermore".
Old things are more beautiful,
more precious day by day.
Because they are the flowers
we planted yesterday.
    Author: Clay Harrison
    Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB