Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lessons from the Saints of March

This blog started out to be about some of the Saints of March.  Some well- known; others less well-known. But, every time I tried to write, the political issues of our times kept interrupting. So, what I wanted to be a clear article became a series of disjointed musings.
March 7:  Saints Felicity and Perpetua two young mothers who were martyred for their Christian faith. One was a slave the other her mistress yet they went to their death with their arms around each other.  Is this not religious intolerance?  Is it not the inhuman separation of mothers and children? 
March 17:  Saint Patrick captured, sold as a slave came back to Ireland when voices called him to “come and walk with us again.”  Is this not an example of human trafficking?  How would Ireland be converted?  Where would the monasteries be that preserved the world’s literacy?
March 19:  Saint Joseph, a carpenter, was known as “a just man.”  His call to be Mary’s husband and the foster father of Jesus was announced to him in a dream.   He did not know what he was being asked, yet he took Mary as his wife and supported her and Jesus by manual labor. Where are all the ordinary jobs by which people can support a family? How realistic is it to think that they will return and quickly?
March 21:  Saint Benedict fled the high life of Rome to seek solitude and closeness with God.  His holiness spread so that many followed him. But, his life was threatened several times by some of the same monks who wanted to follow him.  Saint Benedict’s simple rule respected people of all kinds. He taught respect for things as simple as the dishes. Where is our respect for life, for the earth, for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land that supplies our food?  Can we still say that there is no such thing as global warming ?
March 25:  The Annunciation:  Mary was visited by an angel with a tremendous request; to be the mother of God.  As a young unmarried Jewish girl, this had to be complicated and perplexing.  What faith and courage it took for Mary to say “yes” not knowing what the future would bring.  Where is our courage? What kind of faith do we have?  Do we trust?  Can we, trust in a bigger plan?  Can we trust the plan of a loving God who created us in His image?
Perhaps it’s time to look to those who have gone before us.
   Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Thursday, March 16, 2017

St. Benedict on Suffering and Patience

The following is Sr. Mary Catherine's Ash Wednesday talk to the members of St. Walburg Monastery.  

            Like many of you, I have given some time since Saturday thinking about the presentations we heard from Fr. Ken Overberg. Quite a bit of conversation that day was given to the pros and cons of offering up our suffering to make atonement for our sins and failings—a concept that is familiar to us, especially at the beginning of Lent. I wondered what Benedict had to say about suffering. 

           Benedict uses the word suffering only once in the Rule. It’s found in the last verse of the Prologue: Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Benedict does use the word patience, a word that has the same Latin root as suffer, at least 10 times in the Rule. Sometimes the reference is to God’s patience; sometimes it is about patience with other members or with myself.

            That led me to reread Chapter 49 with a different focus. Benedict’s words are very clear, concrete and proactive in what he says we ought to do. Keep your life pure. Wash away acts of negligence. Devote yourself to prayer, reading, compunction of heart and self-denial. Add to the usual measure of service by way of prayer and abstinence from food and drink. Do not indulge in evil habits. Benedict’s Lent asks us to correct our faults, not atone for our sins. Benedict asks us to put our lives back on track. That is to live each day putting into practice active fidelity to our profession to seek and find God in this community. Our monastic life and practices and behaviors are not suffering that is offered to God. The daily round of common prayers and meals, sharing house hold tasks, caring for the characters we all can be are the stuff of every day—the glue of community life here on earth and the path we follow to eternal life.

            The commentaries on that last verse of the Prologue acknowledge a difficulty in translating the obvious close connection of patience and suffering in the phrase: through patience share in the sufferings of Christ. RB80 refers us to Colossians 1:24 where Paul writes that he rejoices in his suffering for their sake and is completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church.

            Terrence Kardong’s commentary on the closing of the Prologue picks up the same theme and the verse from Colossians, noting that patience is a central theme in the Rule. In his wry way he notes that the practice of patience is essential given the stress of living community life with a variety of characters (2.31). We’ve all learned to some extent that you cannot offer up characters to God. They don’t go anywhere until God calls them. Benedict’s Rule requires patience if we are to have community. Terrence Kardong further remarks that the monastic life has the reputation of being ascetic and a hard life. But Benedict’s vision of monastic life is essentially joyful and dynamic. In living the life, not offering it up, we will grow in love of God and others. Kardong concludes his commentary by saying that this kind of growth needs nor has an end.

            I encourage you to use the Prologue of the Rule for Lenten lectio sometime during Lent.

                        Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Friday, March 10, 2017

On "Offering It Up"

            We recently hosted a Day of Reflection entitled “The Mystery of God and Suffering.” The speaker, Rev. Kenneth Overberg, SJ, explored the many ways humans view suffering and whether suffering is something that a loving God wants for us and from us. The content of Fr. Overberg was stimulating and more complex than I can spell out in this brief post but I want to share some of my reflections on the day.
            I became aware of how much the phrase Offer It Up is deeply embedded in the way I think and act. I frequently use the phrase in self talk, and as I thought about what it means to me, I discovered it holds many different messages for me.
            If I offer my difficulties, inconveniences, troubles, problems, hassles and even suffering to God, why do I think God wants them? What does the idea of offering those things up say about my image of God? Does God have a cupboard where all the things I offer up are stored and eventually act as credits for my salvation? Is the God to whom I offer up it a God who keeps a ledger of all my transgressions and voids one of them when I offer something up?
            That image of God is not my image of God. My experience and image of God is a God of love who loves and cares for us more than the most loving and caring human being. My God wants what is best for me more than my parents, friends, teachers and those who wish me well in any way.
            So what I do mean when I say to myself, Offer It Up. In some cases I mean, “Get over it. You’re not the center of the universe.”—especially when I’m being inconvenienced or am impatient. Sometimes I mean, “Stop complaining. Stop whining. It's not that bad.” Sometimes I mean, “Come on. This is a good thing for you do or experience. You will be a better person for it.” And sometimes I’m saying, “This really hurts, God. Help me get through it. Let’s talk about it”
            I don’t know if I need to stop saying to myself, Offer it up. I think it is my shorthand for other speeches to myself depending on the circumstance. And perhaps it is my reminder to myself to take the events of my life to our loving God and strengthen our relationship. Perhaps I can work toward saying to myself and God what I really mean instead of using Offer It Up.

                                                           Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reawakening and Solidarity

This year, unlike in years past, I have found myself looking forward to Lent. Words like anticipation, opportunity and invitation kept coming to mind as I prayed and reflected on Lent’s approach.  Why the different attitude?  
Lent brings with it a sense of starkness in both liturgy and practice. I am craving the absence to enter more fully into the richness through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  During this season we each are called, so there is a built in solidarity with others who are marking this holy season.

Pope Francis writes:  “Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”  Lent calls each of us in different ways to “awaken” both individually and communally.  During Lent when I commit to prayer, fasting and almsgiving I do so in solidarity with my fellow pilgrims on the journey towards Easter. Here lies the power because as each of us commit to reawakening it spreads to those around us, and we together shake off our lethargy and move into action.
           May the practices we choose this Lenten season reawaken us to God and to our solidarity with one another as pilgrims on this journey not only through Lent, but through life.
      Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB