Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jonah & his plant: a parable for us?

            "Darn it! Why won't this thing work?"
            "Who put that cup of coffee there where it could be knocked over?"
            "Who on earth left that shoe where someone could fall over it?"
            Have you ever been surprised at your reaction when something very ordinary doesn't go as expected?  Maybe frustration approached real anger when you spilled your latte or the keys you just had in hand disappeared.
            I got to thinking about this when I re-read the story of Jonah and the gourd plant. (Jonah 4:5-11). He was angry because God was so willing to forgive the people of Nineveh. In Jonah's mind, they deserved strict justice, not God's mercy; in his mind, God was wrong.
            Steaming with frustration, Jonah rigged a shelter from the sun and desert wind and settled down to rest. Then God caused a leafy bush to grow up overnight to give more shade. Jonah was delighted.
            The next day, though, God provided a worm to destroy the plant; Jonah's pleasure died with the plant. Jonah expressed his frustration: "It's better to be dead than alive!"  God asked him: "Why are you so angry?" and reminded Jonah he wasn't the one responsible for the plant; it was God. God then reminded the prophet that if he could be so concerned about one little plant, shouldn't God be concerned about a great city with its 120,000 people and many animals?
            This really hit Jonah in a vulnerable spot because earlier (4:2) he'd admitted that God's willingness to forgive "those people" was the reason he ran away from the mission in the first place. His frustration and anger were coming from a dark place in his heart, one that judged easily and made personal priorities his prime considerations. God's vision and his were poles apart.
            There are also places in the New Testament where human and divine visions don't mesh, as in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. When the owner paid the late-in-the-day workers as much as the early morning ones, many had trouble seeing that  mercy & compassion could balance the scales of  hourly wages.
            Both these examples show me that surface reactions to circumstances have the capacity to reveal  our hidden value system. Where are our emotions? What is it we are holding on to that skew our vision and temper? If our blood comes close to boiling because of lost keys or spilled coffee, where is the heat really coming from? Are we angry with someone we need to forgive? A sibling? A co-worker? Ourselves? Are we struggling over the same issue Jonah struggled with, putting compassion over justice, mercy over revenge?

            Maybe this season of Lent is a good time to consider our reactions to ordinary circumstances. Are they in harmony with their source, or could they be out of balance?  If they are, we're not alone, and Jonah may have something to say to us. Have an insightful Lenten season.

          Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018

Editor's  Note: In monastic communities the prioress gives an Lenten address to the members of the community on Ash Wednesday. This is Sr. Mary Catherine's 2018 address.       

The purpose of Lent according to Benedict is to purify our way of life and to wash away negligence—to make reparation for what we have done or failed to do. He names five practices to help us: refuse to indulge in evil habits, devote yourself to prayer, reading, compunction of heart and self-denial. No one of these is unfamiliar to us. This evening I would like to lift up one phrase from verse 4 as a possible focus for our reflection and practice during this Lent: Devote yourself to prayer. Devote commonly means to give one’s all or much of one’s time or resources to a person, cause, goal, etc.

        Benedict speaks of private prayer here in chapter 49, as well as in chapters 20 and 52. In chapter 20 he instructs us to keep our prayer short and pure. In chapter 52 he reminds us that the oratory is to be a quiet place that is used only for prayer. Timely reminders to us this evening!

        On average we are daily together in the chapel for around 1½ to 2 hours at Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist. That experience and practice of prayer is primarily with words—lots of words, spoken, chanted and sung. Much of it we know by heart. Our minds may wander or drift off at times but our eyes and ears are on the words and actions.

        This Lent finds us living in an extraordinary time of insecurity, fake or threatening news, unrest and violence of every sort and the usual worry about the unknown and the future.

        My recommendation to us this Lent is to find and make part of your private prayer a few words from a Liturgy of the Hours antiphon, psalm or the closing prayer. Our Lenten liturgy provides numerous images, phrases or a word that can capture our prayer and carry us and others through the day and the season.

Here are only a few of the ones that we have heard today alone:
v  Have mercy O Lord.
v  Rescue the weak and needy.
v  Teach me wisdom.
v  Create in me a clean heart O God.
v  Give a future with hope.
v  Forgive and you will be forgiven.
v  Do not be like a horse or a mule.

Let us hear God’s word and pray it as our own this Lent. 
        Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB

Thursday, February 8, 2018

What do we really know about St. Scholastica

       At the North American Association of Benedictine Oblate Directors’ Conference in July at St. Scholastica’s Monastery in Duluth, MN, one of the presenters lead us on a creative journey through St. Scholastica’s  story - in words, various artists’ interpretations, Scholastica as twin of St. Benedict, and Scholastica alone.
       We read the brief account in the Dialogues of St. Gregory of the last encounter of the twins that is familiar to most everyone, where the rain storm kept him from returning to his monastery as his rule prescribed. After Scholastica’s tears they were able to continue their dialogue about spiritual things the rest of the night.  Three days later Benedict sees the soul of his sister ascend to heaven in the form of a dove, somewhere around the year 543.
       We understand that Scholastica was born a twin of Benedict in 480 to a noble Roman family in Nursia of Umbria, and was dedicated to God at an early age. It is thought that she probably became a nun even before her brother underwent his conversion and became a monk.
       From my visit to Nursia in 1999, I became aware that there were Augustinians in that area early on. St. Augustine is in the large painting of the twins’ baptism in their church. The tour guide, Sr. Aquinata Bachmann, OSB, shared that she is of the opinion that Scholastica gathered with young women who followed her, at the family’s summer cottage, which is outside the walls of Nursia. Now the grounds include a small church called St. Scholastica and the local cemetery. The frescos on the walls depict her with young women, and with Benedict as an older man painted over her as a young nun. It would have been very risky, and dangerous for woman to be in the area around Monte Casino until much later.
      So, it is presumed that Benedict traveled back to Nursia to visit his family and discuss with his sister the concerns about leading a group of nuns or monks. It would have been much later that she, as Abbess, would have moved her community to Plombariolo, near Monte Casino, where it is thought that their final visit took place.  Benedict and Scholastic surely helped each other in finalizing the Holy Rule, as we know it today.
      Sr. Teresa Schumacher shared slides of many artists’ featuring  Scholastica, both alone and or with Benedict.We noticed many symbols in the various pictures: Dove (seen at her ascent to heaven) crozier and pectoral Cross (signs of an Abbess), rain, Rule in her hand. Other characteristics included: youthfulness, listening, moving forward, attentive, crying, strong and powerful woman, equal in intellect and holiness to her brother, yet a gentle soul able to communicate with, nurture, challenge and delight in her brother.
       Following these observation, we were asked to be a bit creative by pairing up and developing a new interpretation of her story. Some members of the group then read their stories or poems. Sr. Teresa was very interested in our creations, because she is hoping to publish a book of many interpretations of the Story of St. Scholastica for future generations to enjoy as well. 
        I hope to do a similar project with our Oblates at our Gathering on the Feast of St. Scholastica, Feb. 10th

         Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB