Thursday, December 30, 2010
Today, we had some new choir members join us for our sung prayer at Lauds and the Mass following. They were a bit high, but their enthusiasm made up for the loss in pitch. There were, however, a few members of our community who were less than excited that these new folk joined us on this gray and drab December morning...some of the sisters don't like bats.
Yup. Bats. The chapel was filled with sisters reflecting in silence before Lauds began, but after the first verse of the call to prayer antiphon with organ accompaniment, the bats decided to join in our song of praise. One or two started out fairly quiet and unless you knew, they sounded like a squeak in our ceiling fan high above on the Gothic ceiling. But as our prayer progressed, those one or two began to sound like a few and grew louder. The bat choir chirped, squeaked, and chattered from the choir loft down to the sisters in our pews. They were quite respectful and did settle back down during the Eucharistic Prayer. I imagine we disturbed their winter rest.
Those of us sisters in the back of the choir looked across the aisle to each other with a smile and then up into the choir loft. We knew that a few of the sisters would gather their Divine Office (prayer book) and make a break for the chapel door if they knew who was singing with us this morning. However, there is not much we can do. The bats can creep into a building using the very smallest of spaces, and it's cold out there in the South Dakota winter. Besides...Daniel's canticles remind us that all of God's creatures, the great and the small, bless the Lord. Even some of the Psalms reflect on all of creation praising God. Maybe our bats decided it was time to join us for a little Christmas prayer : )
Saturday, December 25, 2010
The morning silence of Advent was dashed with bright exclamations of "Merry Christmas!" As we met each other in the hallways, refectory, and spaces in between, the quiet greetings of a nod and smile were replaced with cheery wishes of a "Merry Christmas" or "Christmas Blessings" and hugs . The joy of the day flowed into our prayer at Lauds; the simple chant tone for the Benedictus was replaced with a festive mode. Smiles were contagious as we faced each other 'in choir' singing the Psalms and praises of the Benedictus to each other and God. The celebration of our Christmas Eucharist continued the prayer of praise as our guests of family, friends, and visitors from town settled into the Chapel to join us in prayer.
The remainder of our day is fairly open to allow for sisters to gather for games, retreat to their rooms for prayer, and just rest in the blessings of this day. We will come together this afternoon (after the sisters return from singing at the Christmas Mass for the Federal Prison in town) to sing Christmas Carols, share some treats, and open some community gifts. A celebratory supper will be followed by a solemn Vespers for our evening prayer. It is simply a gift to be together as a family of Benedict in Christ.
Merry Christmas...May God Bless you during this new year of life in God's Spirit.
Friday, December 24, 2010
The Nativity is ready to welcome guests, but there is still much to do as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Christmas!
However, the jobs are accompanied with humming of Advent and Christmas songs, laughing with sisters, and happy chatting of sisters catching-up. It is a wonderful time to be home and working to together to prepare our celebration.
This noon will be our main meal here at the monastery; however, I'm waiting for supper tonight, we have a simple meal of soup, sandwiches, and pie! Christmas Eve supper is a tradition here: potato soup (my favorite) & oyster soup, cold cut sandwiches, and cherry (my favorite) or Christmas cream pie!
It is after supper that our Christmas liturgical celebrations begin. We have a special Vigil prayer for our Vespers tonight. The readings and Psalms combine to lead us in our hope-filled wait for Christmas morning Mass tomorrow. The prioress (or a sister chosen by her)
also shares a special Christmas message during our prayer tonight. Ah, it's Christmas and there is no place like home.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
There are always certain works that must be completed on December 23rd. Most importantly, this is the day that we take down the Advent liturgical colors and symbols and decorate the Bishop Marty Chapel (known as the Upper Chapel in-house) for the Christmas season!
All the purple banners hanging from the pillars of the Chapel are replaced with gold and white. This can be a delicate operation considering the sister wielding the staff used to wiggle the pole and its banner stands on a pew looking straight up into our high Gothic ceiling while trying to balance the banner pole on the staff and not drop it onto the sister below...who is waiting to catch the pole just in case. The purple brocade curtain behind the high altar is drawn back and the white is revealed to celebrate the feast.
There is a whole crew of sisters and our Chaplin the monk assigned to tree assembly as well. Four to six trees between 7 and 9 feet tall are arranged on either side of the high altar. The evergreen stands out beautifully against the sandstone walls and gilded carvings in the altar. However, those trees need to be assembled first...and this has proven a challenge. The tree I tackled with sister grade school teacher and the Chaplin monk was all contained in one box (luckily). We fluffed our 9 and 1/2 foot giant into beauty, branch by branch. Some of our fellow tree workers were not so lucky. One tree assembled well, but its stand left it kitty-wampus and needing the support of a wall. Another tree began with a sturdy base, but the sisters soon realized that their tree in a box was really two or three different trees--a hybrid! It took some time, but the final four trees in the Upper Chapel are beautiful and tomorrow they will be framed with brilliant red and white poinsettias before afternoon prayer. Sister liturgist floated between groups to help with trees and locating needed supplies and step stools. Her work continued after we left as she arranged white Christmas candles set off with gold material where the Advent wreath once stood.
The final group of sisters set up the Creche in our gathering space outside the Upper Chapel. This year's Creche is a wood carved setting with beautiful, yet muted colors and form. As it goes with artists' eyes, it took a few turns of rearranging and standing back to observe the affect before all the sisters were in agreement over the final design. Evergreens with white lights frame the back and sides of the Creche and a bench is set nearby for those who wish to sit and pray with the Christ child. It is lovely; a wonderful pray to reflect on the wonder of this celebration of our faith. And you will have to wait until tomorrow to see it too...
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
These final days of Advent are a mix of busy silence here at the monastery. The mornings are still filled with silent waiting in the halls and refectory until after breakfast. The daily chapel is still unadorned except for the stained glass lights marking our time through Advent. We are still waiting for the coming of the Christ child...however...
I admit we had a good time telling tales of hallways past and singing a few Christmas songs
made up to fit the event of day. We also enjoyed the SNOOPER-visors that stopped to visit and check our progress down the hallway. The joy-filled decoration seemed to bring a smile to all that happened upon our work for the day. A few had suggestions about how far to space certain colors or where to fill-in an empty space or two, but all left with a bit more bounce in her steps.
Tomorrow we will begin decorating the upper chapel for the Christmas season. My favorite is the crib scene that we display in the gathering space outside of chapel...and all the poinsettias that brighten our chapel with brilliant reds and whites.
However, it isn't Christmas yet. Our O'Antiphon wreath is still in the main hallway, reminding all who pass by that we still await our King!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
The Rule of Benedict begins with a phrase that condenses how we Benedictine folk approach prayer, God, and each other... "Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui" ... "Listen carefully, my child, to the master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart." This includes listening to my dreams like Joseph in the Gospel for this 4th Sunday of Advent; "an angel of God appeared to him in a dream...When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him."
Hearing what others have to say is simply not enough. Listening with the ear of my heart calls me to set aside my own preconceptions and try to understand God's call in the wisdom that another is sharing with me. I should be open to this listening not only to the prioress or superiors, but also listening to my sisters, family, coworkers, and students; there is no telling from where God's wisdom might come to me if I'm open to it.
My first year in community I learned a lot from one of the most unassuming of folk. I was in a funk and unsure of why I was staying and felt that all my choices were being taken or that maybe I had left all my choices at the door. Then one very wise junior sister cornered me and shared her wisdom, "There are always choices, there are always decisions that we can make...it starts with one decision, do you stay or do you go?" I will be forever grateful that I was able to hear her with the ear of my heart. Since then I've often brought myself a little guidance when in a confused funk by using her words, do I stay or do I go?
You never know who your wisdom will touch or what effect it will have on those who are listening.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Classes moved into finals preparation on Monday; the anxiety level of freshmen and upper class men could be palpably felt in the hallways. Teachers also began to exude a vibe of increased focus as tests were written and rewritten. The only folk immune from the end of the year jitters were the sophomore boys, go figure; but even they began to carry extra books, type notes into outlines on laptops, and talk to themselves in study hall.
Wednesday, the finals began with the 'short' periods being combined into one longer test period. I started with all of my freshman in a combined test period...one hour to complete five essay questions. This was their first 'major' test for finals week and I thought it might be best to teach them a little bit about pacing during their time with me. As always, I included a few cartoons (a Calvin & Hobbes Christmas mix) to create natural breaks between every two essay questions. About every fifteen minutes, I would remind the boys of the time remaining and ask them to rest their brains for a minute and enjoy a cartoon. Once, I skipped the cartoon recommendation and asked them to pray for one minute instead. The point? Relaxing or pausing to de-stress every so often would help them work on the test in the long run...I hope they consider that as they continue their finals week today.
Anticipation also floods the halls this week. We begin a two week Christmas break on Friday afternoon! The 5 day boarders will be going home for an extended visit, and the 7 day boarders (many of them students from distant states or countries) will be going home for the first time since school started! I asked one of our students from Korea what his first plans were going to be and he broke into a broad grin, "Hug my mom and eat everything she cooked for me!" The same question posed to one of our boys from way out of state was answered a little differently, "My sisters and I are going to have a Christmas movie marathon." The anticipation of getting to go home and be with family seems to be the focus of the excitement...and I'm excited for them as well.
Me? I'm excited to be going home to the Monastery for two-weeks too! The first week will be the end of Advent and the air of silent preparation will still be settled over the halls of our monastic home. While I could hardly stand the quiet at the beginning of my life with the sisters, now I find myself craving the intentional silence that fills our refectory, chapel, and bedroom hallways. I will also be arriving at home just in time to begin the preparations for Christmas: setting up the trees in the carcent for our elderly, decorating cookies in the bakery, and replacing our advent purple with Chrsitmas white and gold in the chapel. I won't be alone mind you, there are always a few of us from the schools that are excited and willing to volunteer when we come home for the holidays. It will be good to be home.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Advent grows rosey as we reach the third week of our waiting for Christmas! This week of Gaudete! Rejoice! reminds me that I need to be filled to overflowing with the joy of the coming season. It is not only a time of hope and faith, but also a time of celebrating the anticipation of our Savior's coming again.
This video of a 'flash mob' mirrors our own soul's overflowing with rejoicing!
Friday, December 10, 2010
Mundane: relating to, characteristic of, or concerned with the commonplace; ordinary.
The daily events of life can be mundane, but it is the mundane horarium (schedule) that Benedict says will transform our lives. To live the daily with an awareness of God brings my prayer out of the oratory and into the world in which I serve.
My service takes me out to the world of high school teaching; what could be more unpredictable than a courses filled with freshmen and sophomore boys. Yet, the mundane filters into my life here too. The schedule of courses, the responses of each student, even my own responses to certain gentlemen can become so predictable, so everyday that the mundane has slid into a very unpredictable environment.
However, it is in the mundane that I can push myself to look into that dailiness to see God. God laughs in the silly humor of my freshmen boys and celebrates the variety of life in their interests. Recently, they poured down the steps at full-tilt, hit the tile and slid into the classroom, ties flung over their shoulder and bookbags dangling from their hands, laughing as they compared how far they could slide. God reveals His loving care as the boys support each other in times of sickness or academic crisis. We begin class with prayer and the freshmen share the concerns and intentions of their life. God's flexibility is evident in the sophomores as they continue to grow and change so quickly day by day. There are the guys that show up right after the bell to visit and banter; others linger after the bell for one last word or two before they go to the next class.
I continue to teach my boys and daily grow in my knowledge and care for them. I begin to see God in them and find that the mundane reveals the diversity that is hidden within.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Our school celebrated with Mass and music for the monks, boys, and staff. I spent a good deal of my theology class time with a Q & A session about the feast of the day. I had forgotten how many folk misinterpreted this celebration of Our Lady.
I have recently grown in my own understanding and love for this feast. I realized that God's seeking to prepare Mary for the coming of Christ was also God looking forward with anticipation to becoming more active in our lives. God's forethought shows his desire to be with us in the dailiness of our lives. The commemoration of the 1854 declaration of Mary's sinless nature from the time of her conception is not only a feastday for her alone. We celebrate God's love for us and the spark of the divine which is within each of us.
It was a beautiful day to remember Mary and her pure love for God. It was also a beautiful day to see God's love for us in the desire to make all things holy.
The picture of this simple statue of the Virgin was snapped by my sister Lisa on her trip to visit my last spring. Marquette's Joan of Arc Chapel hosted this 16th century bronze...my favorite place to pray on all of the campus. Her gentle, rounded shape with the infant
Jesus propped up on one hip seemed so natural and real in it's depiction of her motherhood.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Advent is a time of joy-filled waiting for the Lord. So, I believe it is a time we should make merry and set some time aside for holy laughter! Enjoy this video that was shared with me a couple of years ago...
Praise God with Laughter!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Today is the beginning of my favorite Church season. Advent's hope-filled waiting and melodies have always been a time when I find the most peace in the music, readings, and prayer of the season. The music of the monastery's chant is a bit more simple in both rhythm and melody which brings out the harmony of voices, Isaiah calls out to us to be aware and look about for the Messiah of God, and the prayer of the Church and her people directs us to a new awareness. The new year has begun in hope, and I hope to keep this focus throughout the year.
We have set up our Advent Wreath here in our convent apartment. The candles in a spiraling brass stand, set off with a few faux greens and a purple sash, but an Advent Wreath nonetheless, and our only decoration until we reach Christmas! As the lights climb, I hope that you will all be filled with the hope of this new season as well!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Yesterday, we celebrated the 130th anniversary of the founding of Sacred Heart Monastery! I happily shared with all of my classes about our community's travels from the Swiss Alps to the vast flat lands of South Dakota. It was a wonderful day.
Then I realized something quite startling...our founding celebration is in the middle of November! If we were celebrating our founding, I was almost done with my first semester at school!
Balance, one of the central virtues in our Benedictine life, has been lost in the hyper-drive of my growing into this new ministry. Between figuring out how to teach a whole room of boys, relearning (or learning to teach) my catechism, navigating a new city, and trying to be a good partner to my sister, I've lost my balance. A good way to visualize my momentum is to consider the picture of the tiny cable car that took us up to the top of the Musenalp of Rickenbach, sliding down the mountain took only a fraction of the time that it took to get to the top of the mountain! The view was amazing, but it was hard to take the time to be aware of God in all the beauty.
I'm learning a lot from my boys, books, and the brothers (I love alliteration) of my new school, but it is all happening so fast that it is hard to bring it all into balance. I'm trying to keep my prayer and call to reflection on scripture and other holy reading in some equity with my work; however, my textbooks are on the desk more often than my candle is lit. I keep trying to slow the speed of my cable car as it rattles down the mountainside, I want to take time to be aware of God in the midst of my classroom and convent and commuting. I am most grateful for those I know are supporting my balance or making up for it from home...I remember with gratitude a whole monastery full of sisterly support .
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Two Prayers...maybe a story later...
Pour down on my soul those graces with flow from Your love.
Let my heart be untied with Yours.
Let my will be conformed to Yours in all things.
May Your Will be the rule of all my desires and actions. Amen.
Friday, November 12, 2010
I love the first hard freeze in the autumn.
Stepping out into the crisp autumn morning, breathing in the air; so clean and new that it bites the back of my throat and lungs. I had to stop and just breathe in autumn.
Leaving the hard cement, I strode onto the lawn, listening for the soft snap of each blade of grass. It was a marvelous, miracle to behold such simple creation painted with a delicate shimmer of God's glory.
Driving to school, I was drawn to watch the fields. So recently shorn of their bounty, the stubble from wheat and corn roll on and on over the hills like bolts of white silk.
Finally, I discover the the amazing work of the frost and nature. Stunned, I quietly touch the glistening leaves firey bright from the cool air. Yesterday, a simple shrub darkening with the end of the summer; today, a brilliant symbol of autumn and the joy of the change in creation.
Praise the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
in the living flame of the burning bush.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
To the left of the chapel is his presiders chair, center the table top, and above St. Charles is pictured presiding at a mystic sacrifice.
Since his is my patron, I lit a candle (one of the few real ones in Rome, usually you light electric candles for some Euro) to ask for his intercession in finding a ministry position in teaching. He and God work in mysterious ways; my prayers were answered with a ministry position right before school started in an area that is new to me in a school with a very different population...but considering my patron was a reformer bringing a focus of pastoral outreach and care to the people, I shouldnt' be too surprised.
Monday, November 1, 2010
I hope you are having a wonderful Feast of All Saints. As a theology teacher, I took advantage of my role to pull together a little prayer with my sophomore classes. I found a looooong litany of saints and inserted their patron saints from confirmation (mine too). I also brought in a few more of the women saints of our Church (doctors and foundresses) to round out the litany. A reading from St. Bernard's reflections about the Feast and our prayer was set.
All things considered, prayer went well. Different students led the litany's different sections and only a few saint names were creatively pronounced by my boys. We all sat fairly respectfully in chapel while praying; a few did drift into a more meditative state. But I was surprised by a question from both classes.
"What are those things over there?" The 'things' were the monks' display of reliquaries at the front of the chapel. While I borrowed the above picture from a general website, the monks display was quite beautiful. Some of their reliquaries were designed to look like church towers with all four sides encased in glass to display the relics of the saints; others were simple cross displays such as those above. I invited the boys to respectfully gather around the display and ask their questions. They wanted to know what the relics were, why we have these 'bit's and pieces' of the saints. They also asked about the elaborate displays and who the saints might be. As I shared about these ideas, it struck me that I hadn't thought about these things for a long time and took for granted that others knew and understood this collecting aspect of our Church. We were both amazed at how much I remembered about the topic.
May the Saints Bless you,
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Today I learned a valuable lesson from my sophomore boys; when presented with a situation that offers only laughter or tears, choose laughter. Well, maybe I'm posing it a bit dramatically, but you get the point.
The 7th period sophomores offer me a challenge in learning and teaching most afternoons, and I believe I'm becoming a better teacher because of it. Today they tromped into class as they always do, a mix of goofy gentlemen. However, today I heard whisper as they milled around before the second bell rang; "1:05?" "Yeah, 1-0-5." and then they would giggle (yes, sophomore boys giggle). I filed this information in my head and jumped into class as the second bell rang.
There were a few notes I wanted to give to the class as a whole, and then the class would present the notes they created in different small groups. The first group went fairly well; I did pause the note givers for a moment to inform the rest of the class that respect meant listening and thus silence on their part. About 2 minutes before the second group came up, the clock showed 1:05PM...and most of the boys stuck fake mustaches and beards to their clean-shaven faces.
Camouflage, duct tape beards and mustaches...so...do you laugh or do you cry? I choose to smile and help the boys giving notes wrap up their presentation. The next duo had a beard and mustache covering their grins as they came up to the board. I didn't say anything, but I kept using my friendly teacher voice and continued to redirect note givers and note takers to particular ideas that connected. Finally, one brave soul asked, "Sister, did we make you laugh?" I thought again for a moment, smiled, and said, "Gentlemen you are so odd today; laugh at what?" And they all giggled.
We finished class without any great incident, but just before the bell I gave a few recommendations myself. I suggested they use a little of their mom's cold cream to soothe the duct tape irritation, and reminded them to take the fake facial hair off before going to their next class.
So...was I right or wrong in my approach? I don't know, but I found more life in choosing to laugh with my students today than in choosing to be angry at their laughter.
Blessings of Laughter,
Sunday, October 17, 2010
There has been much interest and speculation over the recent suppression of a religious group in the diocese. They were pray-ers for the world, and my heart goes out to them. Their public association of the faithful was ended which means that those who had been vowed are no longer bound to their sacred promises...their habits, rings, and other signs of professed life as a consecrated religious are no longer valid and should not be worn. Thankfully, the Shepherd who discerned the need to first guide and then suppress the association is continuing to guide and support the earnest search of the members to serve God.
My heart and prayer keeps returning to the professed and newly joined members of the association. The difficulties and challenges in their faith and commitment must be immense. The question of the unknown is daunting and their community is in the midst of it all. I can't imagine it...truly, I don't know what I would be if not a member of my Benedictine community; and I don't know how I would live if not as a vowed religious. Please pray for those vowed members of this former public association and for their continued discernment with the Shepherd of the diocese.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I've been checking with the boys, and apparently the two deans have a bit of a sweet tooth for chocolate. I'm going to bake up a batch cupcakes using my mom's awesome chocolate cake recipe and also try for a couple dozen of homemade chocolate chip cookies too. A small price to pay for their generous help and good will.
I finally feel like a teacher again. We are just reaching the first quarter mark here at my Benedictine school of boys, and nary a gentlemen has visited the door of my office. It made me wonder what I was doing wrong...too easy? too hard? too unfriendly? hmmm. Actually, there was nothing wrong but my mindset; I was new and unknown.
Today marked a new change in the air. I had three different visitors during their study hall times! The sophomores have a test over confirmation this afternoon and a couple of guys popped in to check their notes with mine, and cheerfully try to talk me into an open book exam (good luck). Later another fellow came by to gather upcoming assignments to cover an absence. All of these quick chats and double-checks make me feel like a teacher again.
I know that I have been serving in the classroom for the last 8 weeks, but this interaction begins building connections with the students that I missed while I was going to school. The ministry of teaching's best moments (in my book) are the little ones that happen in those seconds between class periods. I'm glad to have them back.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
The Serra Club in my area of Omaha invited all the women religious in the area to celebrate our vocation and to thank us for all we do. It was a great morning...we started the day by celebrating Mass with Archbishop Lucas at one of the city parishes. I enjoyed his take on the reading of the day.
"While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out...and Jesus replied, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Luke 11:27-28
He pointed out the energy and exuberance of the woman who called out from the crowd, and asked us if it reminded us of our beginnings in religious life: full of energy and idealistic passion. Then he smiled and added...but it was the daily commitment to observing the word of God that held us to the call. All the little choices each day that add up to the lifetime of a vocation. Later on I told the Archbishop that I appreciated his point of view in the homily.
After Mass, we met up for a lovely brunch with all the sisters, Serra members, and the Archbishop. It was nice to meet more of the sisters from the city area. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of sisters and nuns in my own backyard! I had lunch with two sisters from Nigeria and a Servant of Mary from the city. However, others came up to greet me and show connections between my community or new work and themselves. The networking was wonderful. There was also a lot of laughter and catching up among those who see each other around the city during their ministries.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Today the Church celebrates Our Lady of the Rosary in honor of some long ago battle that was won after much 'spinning of the beads'. No matter why the feast began, I like the idea of celebrating this prayer within the Church. In my own family, the rosary was a regular part of our prayer with both my parents and grandparents.
I remember visiting my maternal grandparents and the evening always ended with a rosary. They would sit in their recliners, but we kiddos knelt with the support of our own comfy chair as we prayed. Grandpa & Grandma are still one of the fastest rosary pray-ers that I have experienced; however, I can look back now and see that it was the absolute familiarity and surety of the prayer that allowed for the speed of the beads. It was with my grandparents that I memorized the little prayers that our family added on to the recitation of the rosary...the Fatima prayer, the act of contrition, a short litany, and a couple extra prayers for Mary's guidance and intercession. I still think of their devotion whenever I pray the rosary and I hope their prayers are still supplementing mine.
The rosary was also a fixture at home. I remember hearing my parents praying, switching off who lead various mysteries, as I fell asleep at night. It was also a handy form of behavior control when we became less than cooperative on longer car rides. Mom & Dad would lead the rosary and we three girls were response from the back seat of the car...until we fell asleep or quieted down. Not a problem, Mom assured us that our guardian angels finished those prayers we didn't complete; I still like to think my angel finishes up those prayers when my Lectio Laxios after a long day.
Today, I shared this devotion with my freshmen boys. Each of my classes met by the chapel to deposit the overloaded book bags and armfuls before going to the back of the chapel where the monks have a side shrine to Mary. I even made a little 'liturgy aid' for the Catholics and Protestants alike...a reminder of the prayers and a short scripture reading to connect to the mysteries of light that we prayed today. Things went fairly well, as freshmen go. Only one or two fell asleep (sitting on a tile floor!) and needed to be poked by a helpful neighbor. All joined in on the prayers, but the volume did fluctuate as they quieted down and grew used to the rhythm of the prayer. There were also a few eager folk who seemed happy to join with a prayer that was familar to them. Overall...a successful day of prayer with the boys.
PS...The image is a painting at Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. There a many side chapels and one of them is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. It was a wonderful place to stop and pray.
Friday, October 1, 2010
The longer I live in community, the better I understand St. Theresa's vocation to Love. Her heart longed to do all things in the Church while living within the enclosure of her monastic home surrounded by her sisters. Even though I live with a freedom to teach and do that she did not have, there are times when my heart calls out to serve in new ways away from my own monastery home. However, the vocation of Love that the Little Flower taught brings all the other ways of serving to me. To do all things with love becomes prayer and doing all things for your sisters with love changes you day by day.
Benedict said that God loves a cheerful giver; Theresa might say the same thing about those who live with love for all they do. With this attitude in mind, the smallest chores or assignments become a new way to show me care and love for the sisters I live with and the students, teachers, and staff that I serve with...Love changes everything...myself included.
"I feel in me the vocation of the priest. I have the vocation of the Apostle. Martyrdom was the dream of my youth and this dream has grown with me. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I desired to see myself in all of them. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places...in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love...my vocation, at last I have found it...My vocation is Love!" ~ Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Today we celebrate the power of the unseen in our lives. The holy Archangels, servants of God who are active in our midst. While the feast includes Sts. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, our school celebration focused on our own patron (and that of the Abbey), St. Michael the defender.
The Archbishop celebrated the festival Mass with us and spoke well at the homily. "The creed," he reminded us, "speaks of God creating things seen and unseen. Today we remember that part of creation and the creatures we cannot see, but believe." I hadn't really thought of the 'seen & unseen' before. It is so easy to be caught up in the beauty and wonder of what I can see in God's creation, that I forget to remember the unseen powers He has also set in motion.
The heavens and all the divine heavenly host...the Archangels. The unseen Power of our unseen God working in our midst to Announce great news, to Defend & Protect, and to Heal with Guidance. I wonder if I have ever missed one of these great Angels, mistaking them for the ordinary while God was trying to touch me with the extraordinary in my daily life. When I look back at the struggles of my life, I wonder if these Archangels have been part of the moment and I didn't even realize it? Could it have been Gabriel who announced my name to those who needed a teacher at the last moment? Could it have been Michael that protected me during frightening moments of travel in the winter snow? Could it have been Raphael that guided my doctors hands and that healed me with such tender care and amazing attention? This feast reminds me to look more closely at the ordinary struggles and delights in my life and see the extraordinary love of God.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
My prayer of Lectio Divina often leads me to questions that God wants me to consider. However, the quote I started with this morning was a question itself; "Who do you say that I am?" Luke's Gospel was a challenge to look deeply into my heart to see where my relationship was with Christ.
"Who do you say that I am?" The question followed me from my morning Lectio through Lauds with my Sister housemate and even crept into my day long workshops learning about the new North Central Accreditation stuff. So who...who do I say that Christ is? It is very simple at this time in my life, He is my love and way in life.
This fresco in Rome once illustrated the wall of a convent chapter room and now is the center piece in a small chapel at San Ambrogio. I was immediately struck by the love in the fresco. The sorrowful Mother's tender love embracing not only her son, but also reaching out to the women who had stayed with her. Saint Mary Magdalene's care for her beloved was evident in the humble gesture of adoring Christ's wounded feet, but this simple image caught my attention.
If my answer is that Christ is my Love and Way in life, my way of living could mirror Mary Magdalene's simple, humble way of love in how I care for others in my community living and teaching ministry.
Friday, September 17, 2010
As my community celebrates and remembers Saint Hildegard for her teaching with the many gifts of the spirit that she shared with the Benedictines and the faithful of her time, the Church in the United Kingdom celebrated the gift of Catholic education with Pope Benedict XVI.
The Pope's reflections on his gratefulness for Catholic educators and the continued need for Catholic schools recognized all the many sisters, brother, and lay educators that have spent their lives teaching others.
Blessings & Enjoy...
ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER
TO TEACHERS AND RELIGIOUS
Chapel of St Mary’s University College
I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious men and women in this land to the noble task of education…and to all the dedicated men and women who devote their lives to teaching the young, I want to express sentiments of deep appreciation. You form new generations not only in knowledge of the faith, but in every aspect of what it means to live as mature and responsible citizens in today’s world.
As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts” (Wis 7:16).
This transcendent dimension of study and teaching was clearly grasped by the monks who contributed so much to the evangelization of these islands. I am thinking of the Benedictines who accompanied Saint Augustine on his mission to England, of the disciples of Saint Columba who spread the faith across Scotland and Northern England, of Saint David and his companions in Wales. Since the search for God, which lies at the heart of the monastic vocation, requires active engagement with the means by which he makes himself known – his creation and his revealed word – it was only natural that the monastery should have a library and a school. It was the monks’ dedication to learning as the path on which to encounter the Incarnate Word of God that was to lay the foundations of our Western culture and civilization.
Looking around me today, I see many apostolic religious whose charism includes the education of the young. This gives me an opportunity to give thanks to God for the life and work of the Venerable Mary Ward, a native of this land whose pioneering vision of apostolic religious life for women has borne so much fruit. I myself as a young boy was taught by the “English Ladies” and I owe them a deep debt of gratitude. Many of you belong to teaching orders that have carried the light of the Gospel to far-off lands as part of the Church’s great missionary work, and for this too I give thanks and praise to God. Often you laid the foundations of educational provision long before the State assumed a responsibility for this vital service to the individual and to society. As the relative roles of Church and State in the field of education continue to evolve, never forget that religious have a unique contribution to offer to this apostolate, above all through lives consecrated to God and through faithful, loving witness to Christ, the supreme Teacher.
Indeed, the presence of religious in Catholic schools is a powerful reminder of the much-discussed Catholic ethos that needs to inform every aspect of school life. This extends far beyond the self-evident requirement that the content of the teaching should always be in conformity with Church doctrine. It means that the life of faith needs to be the driving force behind every activity in the school, so that the Church’s mission may be served effectively, and the young people may discover the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others”.
Before I conclude, I wish to add a particular word of appreciation for those whose task it is to ensure that our schools provide a safe environment for children and young people. Our responsibility towards those entrusted to us for their Christian formation demands nothing less. Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust. I pray that this may continue to be a hallmark of the Catholic schools in this country.
With these sentiments, dear Brothers and Sisters, I invite you now to stand and pray.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The optional Gospel readings for today say it all...
John 19: 25-27
Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, " This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed ~ and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Today we celebrate the cross; it is Exalted and Triumphant because through the cross we have been saved! A feast that celebrates the joy of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. I was surprised to learn in one of my Church history courses that early crosses were decorated with brilliant stones, metal, and flourishes to show the glory of the sacrifice; it was only later during the suffering of the Dark Ages that the corpus was added to help the people know that Christ understood their pain and struggle.
Today, I remember the apse of San Clamente and its joyfilled celebration of the cross. The mosaic depicts the cross as the Tree of Life from which all blessings spring. It is an amazing commemoration to the Triumph of the Cross! Today, I have been taking time to ponder the crosses in my own life...have I opened those sufferings to exaltation? How has God transformed my own crosses into blessings for the glory of Christ? It is amazing
to recognize the triumphant crosses in my own life.
Monday, September 13, 2010
"God is a consuming Fire. He alone can refine us like gold, and separate us from the slag and dross of our selfish individualities to fuse us into this wholeness of perfect Unity that will reflect His own Triune Life forever." ~ Thomas Merton New Seeds of Contemplation
My weekly note from Merton resounded deeply for me today. God as a consuming Fire that slowly burns away all the excess that holds me back from living for Him and with Him. The Refining Fire that purifies the dirt from the ore leaving gold. Or like the Church of Santa Scholastica outside Norcia the layers of fresco and facade need to fall away to reveal the original work of the Master.
The day we visited this decayed church commemorated to Saint Scholastica, we renewed our Benedictine Profession. It was both a joyous moment to rededicate myself to living the Benedicitne way, the promises that guide us out of ourselves and into community; and sad to see such a beautiful space with so much history connected to our life in such disrepair. Still, we only know the tender images of Scholastica are there because the other frescoes have slowly fallen away over the years.
So maybe I won't burn to perfection in a quick fire of purification...a slow letting go can also bring the beauty of God's work to the surface.
At this time, God is challenging me to let go of all I have done and move on to what I can do next. It is a difficult call, but I have a school full of freshmen and sophomores who remind me everyday that there is something more God has called me to, I just don't know what it is right now.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The celebration of Mary's birth is a simple feast away from the monastery. We remembered Mary by using the common of the Blessed Virgin and antiphons written for the feast. I chose to use the mass reading from Micah which promised a savior to be born of a humble maid. Tonight we will pray vespers with similar simple honor for Mary.
While traveling in Rome, I saw many statues, churches, and frescoes in honor of Our Lady. She was depicted in a variety of styles and forms. This statue and tapestry is in the lower level of San Benedetto Basilica in Norcia. I was touched by her simple beauty in the home of Benedict. Maybe it was being so close to my Benedictine roots or the change from Rome's frenetic pace to Norcia's quiet stroll...but I found great peace in praying at this small shrine dedicated to Mary. Asking this humble woman, dedicated to the mission of her son and our Lord for her help and prayer in my life. That has also been my prayer today...thanking Mary for the blessing of her fiat, and asking for her guidance in serving my Sons of God in my teaching.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Please note that the desk arrangement is classic Catholic school mix-match. The work desk is a small, ancient, all wood item with the old pull out board to work with student papers. However, it is too small for my technology as well as book work and coffee cups, and thus I've added the little student work desk for the lap top. My cork board is topped with our "Family Picture" from a few years back, a good reminder of my sisters at home, and some holy pictures and quotes; as well as, reminders of meetings and committees which with I have been assigned to work.
My primary classroom space is "The Crypt"; the basement below the monastery/school chapel. It is all cement and tile, vast, and echo-ey!
As you can see the space is quite vast and open! The roof and sides are 'ribbed' with the support beams for the chapel above us...it feels quite tomb-like, but the upperclassmen tell me it is a great improvement with the new lighting! The set-up at the back of the room is for the robotics team and their competition building.
The is the view of my teaching space...I do have a very cool 'active' aka smart board system that I am learning to use with the help of my boys. The little white board at the left side of the room is also helpful for the work of the day and prayer notes. The only difficulty is obvious (if you know my voice). Ahem, my booming sound fills this room and can reverberate without too much effort of my part. I have to be careful not to overwhelm them with sound : )
Monday, August 23, 2010
I had forgotten the learning curve of the first year teacher. There is so much happening all at the same time! I am learning about the course material I am teaching; keeping just a step or two ahead of the students at a time. I am learning about the school and how it is organized. I am learning about the faculty and staff; each school's ministers work together in a unique way. I am also learning about my new convent home with just one other sister; she is a wonderful help, but there is so much to learn!
Benedict challenged his monks to respond obediently to the call of the Spirit and the needs of the community. However, doing the service isn't the challenge; Benedict continues with the further call to do the work of the community without any grumbling! So...as I face these challenges and scale my learning curve, I remind myself of what I love about my new ministry. I have the opportunity to teach students in the age catagories that I enjoy : ) I have the opportunity to live with a sister from my community within a few hours drive of the monastery : ) And the faculty & staff of the school have been very supportive!
Now, back to my homework!
Saturday, August 14, 2010
I know I have been a bit absent from my stories, but I have just begun a new ministry! August 2nd I interviewed for a teacher of Theology position in Omaha and received an offer to teach at the school; August 3rd I met with my Prioress to discuss the teaching ministry and called the school to accept their offer; the rest of the week (3 days) was spent packing, organizing, and reading a bit of the textbooks that the school sent back with me. It has all moved so quickly, I hardly had time to think except to thank God for His goodness in gifting me with a school to serve.
The next Monday morning, I drove down with Sisters Kathy and Mildred (procurator) to unload my bedroom and teaching boxes; and load Sister Clarice's bedroom and office boxes. She too had been looking for a ministry position and after seven months had been offered a parish ministry position in another Nebraska city! God is good. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent between unpacking at my new school and unpacking at my new convent. Between unpackings, I also tried to keep reading and developing some lesson plans because school starts on Monday, August 16th! This Thursday and Friday, I began to meet faculty and staff at the inservice and retreat meetings...I feel overwhelmed with information, but blessed by good folk with which to serve and minister to the students of the school.
"Monastics who work so far away that they cannot return to the oratory at the proper time--and the abbot determines that is the case--are to perform the Work of God where they are, and kneel out of reverence for God. So too, those who have been sent on a journey are not to omit the prescribed hours but to observe them as best they can, not neglecting their measure of service" (RB 50: 1-4).
Sister Marietta has been wonderful community as I transition from student to teacher and monastery to convent life again. She is flexible enough to help find a time for our lauds and vespers together each day...even when school starts and I need to pray by 6:15! I feel blessed to share our convent home life and service with her.
Now for two stories about my new school!
The first includes the Abbot/President of the Benedictine school. He came to visit me as I was looking about my little office space trying to determine how to arrange my desk and file cabinet. "Sister! You don't have an air conditioner," he made this statement as if he was accusing himself of some negligence. "No Abbot, but it isn't supposed to be this hot for too long and I can buy a fan to carry me over." The Abbot nodded with a grandfatherly wisdom and strode out of my room without another word, but he returned within thirty minutes with a work study student in tow. The student set up a fan as the Abbot explained, "tomorrow there will be an air conditioner installed before the morning is over. Thank you sister for your patience." I thanked him for his consideration and thoughtfulness, and inwardly did a dance of joy for the promised air since the heat index was topping out at over 100 for the next week or more!
The next story is more of an observation; I have not felt so feminine in my life :) Now that I am working at a boys school for a Benedictine monastery, I am outnumbered by men in an educational setting for the first time in my life (there are only 5 women at the school itself). The monks, male teachers, and boys have been offering to carry boxes, open doors, and all sorts of odd jobs since I arrived. I jokingly told them they had best not spoil me too much, I am one of the sisters who is to lift, carry, and serve as errand runner when I am at our monastery! They assured me it wouldn't last too long.
Please pray that I am able to keep my nose above water as school begins on Monday after only 10 days of preparation!
Thursday, August 5, 2010
"The monastics should serve one another. Consequently, no one will be excused from kitchen service unless he is sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, for such service fosters love" Let those who are not strong have help so that they may serve without distress, and let everyone reieve help as the size of the community or local conditions warrant"(RB 35: 1-3).
The cooler has been filled with three pickup loads of sweet corn and the sisters have just about had their fill of the fresh ears at supper; now it is time to begin the corn parties! Before the "Corn Party" sign goes up, some sisters volunteer to gather to husk and wash the corn of their silks. On my way to the corn cutting station, I happened upon a group yesterday as they were laughing, talking, and husking their way through several bushels of sweet corn.
The corn cutters gathered in the kitchen with knives, boards, and a few specialty corn cutters from the South Dakota Corn Palace. We were a bit quieter as we sliced our way through the cooled bushels of steamed ears. (The 'Corn Zipper' was an awesome tool to removed kernels from the cob without cutting too close or slipping!) Later a couple of sisters took away the barrels of husks and cobs and dumped them back in the field to mulch the future harvest.
Last year we cut and froze almost 500 pounds of sweet corn to eat during the rest of the year. Each bite is a treat from summer and a promise of the next year's field. It is also a great reminder of how much we can do together as a community.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
The only story we have of Saint Scholastica, the sister of our founded Saint Benedict, retells the last time she met with her brother. To keep her brother from returning to his monastery and ending their holy conversation, she prayed to God with her head bowed as tears flowed from her eyes. A storm settled over the small house just as she raised her head from her hands and it rained so hard that Benedict needed to stay over night with his sister talking of the glories of God.
Dear Scholastica...please stay the rain! The skies opened over Yankton just after 11 AM and it rained over an inch and a half in the first two hours! It slowed a bit after 1:30, but just an hour later it is beginning to rain harder again. The difficulty is that there is nowhere for the rain to go. The summer has been so wet that the rivers are brimming over and the soil is saturated. The monastery is high on a bluff over the Missouri, but surrounded by little pools of water in every low spot on the grounds. It is also seeping through the stone walls of the chapel and into the sandstone blocks on the inside! So, please Scholastica, answer our prayer and stop the rain.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The availability of possible ministry positions in education has narrowed greatly since returning home from my travels about Italy and Switzerland. While I was very hopeful when writing letters and calling schools during March, April, and May, the search in July and maybe even August has me loosing heart at times. My prayer up to this point has been to "seek God's will"; however, I changed my prayer to a more simple and much more challenging focus: "I will trust in God." This is very difficult when all seems to be going wrong and life is being lived in the great unknown of God's timeline.
I returned to Julian of Norwich's "Revelation of Love" to remind myself of God's great care and attention to each and everyone of us. My favorite quote comes from her Thirteenth Showing in chapter 31. "I may make all things well; I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and I shall make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well." I have always found great comfort in God's assurance that He is a part of all that is occurring in my life and in the lives of those I love. However, it is the following quote from chapter 32, explaining part of her understanding of the quote I just noticed today and it has helped me to reaffirm my trust in God.
"One was this: that He wishes us to know that not only does He take heed of noble things and the greatest, but He also attends to the little and small, to low and simple, as much to one as to the other. This is His meaning when he said, "All manner of things shall be well"; for He wants us to know that the least thing will not be forgotten.
"Another understanding is this: that there are evil deeds done that we know of, when such great harm is taken that it seems to us that it were impossible that they should ever come to a good end. And we look upon this with sorrow and mourning, so that we are unable to rest in the blessed contemplation of God as we ought. And the cause is that the working of our reason here and now is blind, so low and simple that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and goodness of the blessed Trinity. This is His meaning when He says, "You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well," as if He had said, "Take heed now in faith and trust, and at the last end you will see it truly in the fullness of joy."
I may not see the blessings of this time now, but I shall if I keep my faith and trust in God and grow in the compassion and care of my Benedictine community. For I can not see the long design or understand the future to come, but I will continue to trust that God is in the details of my life.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sister Gift Shop Guru had a new idea for our holiday sale ~ noodles. Another of our sisters had been making noodles (in smaller batches) to give as gifts; when these two connected, this idea was developed into a plan that required many hands to work with the noodles. The "Nun-Better Noodles" would be mixed, kneaded, cut, and dried by our sister volunteers at the monastery for the family, friends, and serious shoppers this winter.
I hope you have enjoyed this little view in our "Nun-Better Noodles" production and I pray that our nun made noodles will be a great seller at our holiday sale!