Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Longest Night


As I write this on December 21, we are officially 9 minutes away from the winter solstice occurring at 10:58 a.m. EST. The shortest day and the longest night. On Wednesday, December 22, the people will–as they have for thousands of years–be celebrating the solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. This monument was constructed around 4500 years ago, likely by farmers and herders. Ancient cultures built such structures to align with the sun at specific times, some performing sacred rituals at sunset each day to ensure its return the next day.

 According to a Newsweek article, “When people talk about the winter solstice they are often referring to an entire day. But technically this astronomical event occurs at a specific moment in time—the point in the year when the Earth's North Pole is pointing farthest away from the sun. The solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the beginning of astronomical winter in the Northern Hemisphere. The day on which the December solstice occurs in the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest daylight hours and the longest night.”

How appropriate that this takes place during our Advent, our season of waiting. During Advent we quickly approach the darkest night of the year. Our days are shorter and colder. This is part of a cycle that repeats year after year, age after age. Pre-Christian peoples associated this natural phenomenon with their religious beliefs. They experienced the disappearance of the sun as a loss of life. Yet, they had rituals to lure back life and hope. Nature and mystery were combined. They seemed to suffer from, what we call, separation anxiety. They longed for light and life. They thought ritual observances would restore their precious sun. Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt. 

We do experience a loss of light, perhaps even a feeling of separation during the season of Advent. Yet, we, like our ancient ancestors, have customs and rituals that symbolize our longing for Christ, our Light. At evening prayer on December 17, we chanted the first antiphon of a seven-day series. These O Antiphons are to be sung at the Magnificat on the seven days before the vigil of Christmas. As our natural world waits in stillness for a brighter dawn, our own anticipation and longing grows as even our liturgy pleads to our Savior with the cry “Come!” The fifth antiphon is addressed to the Morning Star. It falls on December 21, the darkest day of the year. “O Morning Star (Zech 6:12), brightness of eternal light (Heb 1:3) and Sun of Justice (Mal 4:2), come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

We long for the splendor of Christmas. The excitement is palpable. Decorations are in place, special cookies are made, gifts are ready (for the most part!). We are ready. Today marks the first day of winter in the world. But, for Christians, winter is over. The time for love has come. 

Merry Christmas! --Sr. Eileen O'Connell, OSB

P.S. On a personal note, I was lucky enough to visit Stonehenge several years ago. It is fascinating and does not disappoint! To learn more about Stongehenge or to view the sunrise earlier this morning, visit this website: English Heritage Stonehenge

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

There Is Room in the Inn!


With all the refugee families coming from Afghanistan, we made it known to the refugee agencies that we had space available to house one or two families, depending on their size.  St. Joseph House, the three-story house next to the monastery building has plenty of room.  There is a fully equipped kitchen, dining room and two living rooms on the first floor.  There are 8 bedrooms on the second and third floors.  It is ideal for housing a family rather than individuals
    We were anticipating the arrival of some folks.  In the meantime, Sr. Nancy and several members of the community readied the house with new bedspreads, linens and other supplies. We also filled their grocery needs from a list of foods proper to their Muslim tradition. 

A family of six arrived today: Mom, Dad, three girls and one boy, ages 1 to 8. They are getting settled. None of them speaks English so it will be a major adjustment for them. The Kentucky Refugee Ministries is providing support and volunteers to help them adjust to their new life. We are happy to offer them a safe place to live.

     In the Holy Rule, St. Benedict has much to say about the Reception of Guests in Ch.43: “Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received just as we would receive Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day we will say:  I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (vs. 1) The greatest care should be taken to give a warm reception to the poor and refugees, because in them above all others that Christ is welcomed. (vs. 4) One God-fearing member of the community should be put in charge of the accommodation for the guests, which should be furnished with sufficient beds and bedding, for this is the house of God and it should always be wisely administered by those who also are wise themselves.” (vs. 6)

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A reading from the Golden Legend on Joachim and Anna


On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception I thought it fitting to remember a story of Joachim and Anna, Mary’s parents—it’s an Annunciation story.
A reading from the Golden Legend
on Joachim and Anna
Saint Jerome relates that Joachim, who was of Galilee and of the town of Nazareth, took for his wife Anna of Bethlehem. Both were just, and walked without reproach in all the commandments of the Lord. They divided all their substance in three parts, allotting one part to the Temple and its ministers, and another to the poor and the pilgrims, reserving the third part to themselves and the uses of their household.

Thus they lived for twenty years, and had no issue of their wedlock; and they made a vow to the lord that if He granted them offspring, they would dedicate them to the service of God. For this they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the three principal feasts of each year.

And once, when Joachim and his kinsmen went up to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Dedication, he approached the altar with them, in order to offer his sacrifice. A priest saw him, and angrily drove him away, upbraiding him for daring to draw near the altar of God, and calling it unseemly that that a childless man, who gave no increase to the people of God, should stand among men who bore sons. At this Joachim was covered with confusion, and was ashamed to return to his home, lest he have to bear the contempt of his kindred, who had heard all.

But one day when he was alone, an angel appeared to him, surrounded by dazzling light. He was frightened at the vision, but the angel bade him be without fear, saying: "I, the Lord's angel, am sent to announce to you that your prayers are granted. I have seen your shame, and heard the reproach of barrenness wrongfully cast upon you. For God indeed punishes not nature, but sin; and therefore, when He closes a womb, it is only that He may later open it more wondrously.

Did not Sara, the first mother of your race, bear the shame of barrenness until her ninetieth year, and yet bear Isaac, to whom was promised the blessing of all nations? Did not Rachel also long remain barren, and yet beget Joseph, who was the ruler of all of Egypt? Who was stronger than Samson or holier than Samuel? Yet both of these were the sons of barren mothers! 

Thus Anna thy wife will bear a daughter, and you shall call her name Mary. In accordance with your vow, she shall be consecrated to the Lord from her infancy, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother's womb.

And as she will be born of a barren mother, so will she herself, in wondrous wise, beget the Son of the Most High. Whose name will be called Jesus, and through Whom salvation will come to all nations! And this will be a sign to you: when thou shall come to the Gold Gate of Jerusalem, Anna your wife will meet you there, who now grieves at your absence and will rejoice to see you!" And with these words the angel left him.

Meanwhile Anna wept bitterly, not knowing where her husband had gone. Then the same angel appeared to her, and revealed to her the same things which he had announced to Joachim, adding that as a sign she was to go to the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, to meet her husband at his return.

Thus it was, following the angel's command, they came face to face at the Golden Gate and shared their joy over the vision which they had both seen, and over the certainty that they were to have offspring. Then they adored God and set out for their home, awaiting the Lord's promise in gladness of heart. 

Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Are You Ready?

 Am I ready? From December 1st until the 31st or from the beginning of Advent until Christmas Day many of us seem to be assessing our preparedness for holiday observances. There may be shopping and gift wrapping involved; there may be card writing, phone calling, reservation making, cookie baking, and visiting on our “to do” lists. And, of course no preparation is complete with taking the time and energy to rest and reflect on why we do what we do.  

Our First Sunday of Advent Scriptures shout to us, “the days of fulfillment are at hand”. There is a sense of the cycle of life embedded in this message. A season is ending; another anticipated – just like in the garden where the annuals have died and need to be taken out and the daffodils and other bulbs planted for spring. As in the garden, the preparatory transition will go better with gentleness and patience. If you are like me, you get focused on what needs to be done and lose the spirit of the season. So perhaps the invitation here is to be alert to opportunities to be kind and to be thoughtful of others, so that our festivities at Christmas and other holidays will truly be what we intend for them to be, celebrations of love and bringing “the whole family” together, in spirit if not physically.

This year, especially, as the threat of Covid continues to haunt us, we are reminded to respect the needs and choices of others. Indeed, family members and friends may be at a distance geographically, but are kept near in our hearts. Likewise, the serious divisions within our society are in need of our acceptance and healing. The promise of Messianic fulfillment is the Reign of Justice and Peace. Let us be ready for the coming of the Lord first of all by fixing our hearts on this and then directing our hope, love and caring outward from ourselves to all of creation. Come, Lord Jesus Christ! -- Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Thanksgiving is always, well usually, a very pretty time of year in northern KY. Today, The sky is bright blue; the air is close to 40; leaves, though nearly gone, have a bit of color. Best of all, I just saw, for the first time, a hawk sitting in the grass finishing off lunch. Usually, I see them in the air looking for prey.

Thanksgiving is also a time when I remember my parents who were married on this date in St. Bernard's Abbey Church in Cullman, AL. On that day, the abbot told them "to send one back." I am grateful I'm the one who entered this community of Benedictine women. I've never regretted that decision.

May each of you have a very happy Thanksgiving as you gather with family and friends.

Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Christ the King Ends the Liturgical Year

 1925 Feast has Local Connection

The feast we celebrate on Sunday, instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, was born from a desire to combat the secularism and nationalism of the times. One year later the pope gave his consent to the first church to use the title, Our Lord Christ the King Church in Mt. Lookout, Cincinnati, then operating out of a pharmacy. The church was constructed in 1927; the parish thrives today.

Novena for Religious Liberty: US Bishops

The US bishops urge Catholics to pray a novena for religious liberty preparatory to the feast of Christ the King. Half of the world’s population live in countries where religious freedom is under attack. Hate crimes with a religious bias, vandalism of places of worship and religious symbols, and violence against believers of all faiths are increasing. Below are a few of the intercessions the USCCB website suggests: 

  • May God give us the grace to remember the dignity of all people.

  • May governments respect the consciences of all people who care for the sick and vulnerable.

  • May Christians in the Middle East be free to live in peace.

  • May the freedom of the Chinese Church and the rights of all religious minorities in China be respected.

  • May all Christians serve Christ the King and bear witness to his reign. 

In such manner, let us pray together.

Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


Have you ever thought about the role of habits or routine in your life? Some of us are more habitual than others, but I think everyone is to some extent. It could be as simple as how you comb your hair, use a phone, or feed the dog.

Habits can make life easier and more comfortable because they eliminate hundreds of minute decisions every day. On the other hand, habits can be detrimental. Author Samuel Beckett says “Habit is a great deadener.” I can see how at times this could be true because judgments and creativity aren’t often tapped when habit already has the plan laid out.

Habits or routine can also make us blind or deaf. If we are sure we know what is going to happen or what someone is going to say, we don’t expect anything other than what is already in our own head. As Jean Cocteau said, habits keep things covered and prevent us from seeing. In fact, they can lock us into routines that become semi-rules we expect for ourselves or others and prevent something new from ruffling our expectations.

These thoughts about habit are not exactly theological language, but God’s life-giving actions don’t follow the rules that we humans create for ourselves. In fact, God breaks rules a lot.  Have you ever noticed how many times the OT prophets did irrational things following God’s commands? One strange story has Jeremiah buying new underwear then burying it so it would rot. (Jer. 13:1-11) Then, in the New Testament, Jesus’ life was one unexpected action after another, beginning with a virgin as mother. Time after time he broke with the expectations of religious leaders and his own apostles. In the end he broke out of the box of a tomb. All of this was the surprising work of God.

These scripture stories tell us God’s ways are not ours, but we often unconsciously act as though the divine will and our will is the same. We forget or ignore the fact that the God of surprises is beyond our grasp. This situation should make us more attuned to not letting our habits get the upper hand in our daily lives. As St. Augustine said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.”

Where does this meandering leave my thinking? I need to continue to give time to reflection about God’s value system and the way Jesus exemplified them; I need to pay more attention to the people around me and how God loves them; when I pray, even for the end of horrible things, I need to remember that God has shown us many times if we pay attention, that good can emerge from evil. The crucifix is our perpetual reminder of this.--Sr. Colleen Winston, OSB