Friday, October 27, 2017

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

              Early this month I had the experience of a lifetime.  I was one of forty people who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  A “pilgrimage” differs from a “tour,” since there is daily Mass and Scripture reflection.  For me it was an atmosphere surrounding us.
              Here are some of my impressions, special places, inspirations.
            The first three nights we stayed at the Mount of Beatitudes Retreat House where we overlooked the Sea of Galilee. From there we traveled through the north of Israel through very barren area where all the buildings were the same color as the sand and rocks. Caesarea, Herod the Great’s Palace, was right on the Mediterranean—a beautiful sight.  Mass was at Mount Carmel. Dinner and a good night’s rest were much appreciated.              
At Nazareth we visited the birthplace of the Blessed Mother. Then, in the wedding chapel at Cana, the 18 married couples renewed their wedding vows. The simple ceremony of these couples vows’ “in good times and bad,” inspired each of us.
Capernaum had special meaning because we could look through the glass into the ruins of Peter’s house where Jesus stayed when he cured Peter’s mother-in-law.  Riding on the Sea of Galilee in a boat similar to one like the one Jesus rode in when he rescued Peter from drowning was more than just a boat ride. At one point the captain cut the engines giving us a few moments of silence to absorb the holy atmosphere.  It was a perfect thing to do!
The beauty of the light coming through the stained glass windows in the chapel in the Church of Transfiguration had an aura that spoke “Transfiguration.” Mass for me was special here.
On to Bethlehem and the Grand Park Hotel for the next two nights. 
The story of the Jewish peoples’ courage and endurance at Masada can’t be measured. Then, to actually be within a walking distance of the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found was like an archeological expedition. We stopped at a beach on the shore of the Dead Sea where some of our group tested the “you can’t sink” in the Dead Sea theory.
We stayed our last three nights at Notre Dame Center. Bethlehem is much different than I pictured.  It is no “little town” any more.  We waited in line, in the Church of the Nativity to get to the grotto to kneel and kiss the large silver star on the floor marking where Jesus was born.
            The last couple of days focused on the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane,The Via Dolorosa and Mass at the Holy Sepulchre Church. In groups of four, we walked the Via Dolorosa carrying a cross.  This was one of the holiest moments for me.
            Our last supper in the Holy Land was in Joppa along the Mediterranean Sea. That evening we drove to Tel Aviv to board the plane for home. The pilgrimage is an experience I will never forget. 
                     Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Christmas homily in October

         This week I have been working on the community’s Christmas card for 2017 and looking for a good pithy quote for the interior. (Sr. Emmanuel designs the front of the card and it is, as usual, beautiful.)
          I like to look through the writings of the Eastern Orthodox fathers because of the transcendent language they and because they are generally unknown to most Catholics. I came upon the following brief nativity sermon which is much too lengthy for a Christmas card. But it’s much too beautiful not to share.
          So here in the middle of October is a preview of Christmas! Unlike business retailers I’m not trying to sell anything. The brief sermon gives me hope for these unsettled times and reminds me that Christ is made flesh in our midst not only at Christmas but also in every day and season of the year.

This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One –
Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One –
Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy –
Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will –
Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace –
Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
– St. Isaac the Syrian (d. 700 AD), Nativity Sermon

Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Has it really been this long?

        Recently I was requested by Sister Rosemary McCormick the community’s “roving reporter” for our in-house “Word Within” newsletter to write about my 15 year experience as a volunteer at the Women’s Federal Prison Camp in Lexington, Ky. The following is a summary adaptation of what I wrote.
         Over the years listening to the women’s stories at the prison – some horrific, has made an indelible impression on me. No one chooses to be born into an addicted family; or in a family in which abuse – physical, sexual, emotional had become a pattern; or in situations in which abject poverty was the norm. And yes, for some of the women their early lives were neither harsh nor dangerous. And yes, some women do have a real attitude! There is always a mixture of women in the groups that I conduct.
         How to be of help can be a huge challenge. I envy Jesus who looked directly into the person’s soul and knew what was needed! For me, it is listening, providing mental and emotional health education and most of all being attuned to the matters of their hearts – that seem to lead to a positive change.  
        Through the years I have met many remarkable women. Women who own up to the crime(s), take responsibility for their mistakes and use the opportunity in prison to reflect on their lives and begin making necessary changes. Many of them offer kindness and acceptance to the other inmates especially the newly arrived women in the Camp.
        Often, when people come to see me on the Monastery grounds they remark how sacred and holy this space is. This does not surprise me. I am surprised, though, at how often I have felt a sense of sacredness when meeting with the women at the Prison Camp. So often there is vulnerability and openness that makes the space feel holy, and at times, the workings of the Spirit feels palpable.
        I believed then as I do now that incarcerated women are underserved. Through the years I have experienced many challenges! Now seldom do I experience the feelings of dread and anxiety when I drive up the long driveway – but I continue to feel a sense of hope and gratitude when I leave the Camp.

        Sr. Aileen Bankemper, OSB

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What’s in a Name?

                My baptismal name was Audrey Jean. Somehow I hated the name Audrey and asked my mom how I happened to get that name. She told me that my father wanted to name me Angela, but she wanted to call me Audrey after a street in Ludlow. What? A street in Ludlow! One of my teachers even introduced me to a visiting priest as Jean Autrey! By the time I started High School I didn’t even tell people my first name, so I glided along from then on as plain Jean.
                 After graduation from high school I entered St. Walburg Monastery with six other young ladies. When the time to receive the habit and receive our nun name arrived, we were asked to submit three names in the order of our preferences. My first choice was Victoria after Mary’s title, Our Lady of Victory. I was excited to receive my first choice and to have Mary as my patron. The day after the ceremony the superior informed me that my feast day would be December 23, feast of St. Victoria. I asked whether I could celebrate on October 7, the feast of “Our Lady of Victory.” After a little thought the superior said that the recently deceased Sr. Victoria celebrated on December 23, Feast of St. Victoria, and that changing the date would only confuse people. Believe me I was both confused and unhappy.
                 Shortly after it was time to elect a new prioress, I decided to try again by explaining to her my desire to celebrate my feast day on October 7 in honor of Our Lady of Victory. No problem!  By that time most in the community would not remember when the departed Victoria celebrated her feast day.  Years later Pope John XXIII changed the title of the feast to the “Feast of our Lady of the Rosary.” That event actually expanded my love for the name.
                 When the sisters of our community had the option of returning to our Baptismal name, I chose to remain Victoria. The name had created a close bond between me and my heavenly mother. My baptismal name would not provide such a frequent reminder of that intimate connection. The name Victoria also seemed to have a joyful ring, and I wanted to reflect joy and surrender as Mary so often did. A quotation I discovered recently provided a perfect reason to associate joy with my name.  “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” My final reflection is that the life I live and the good I do will lend beauty to my name as it will to any name.
 Sr. Victoria Eisenman , O.S.B.