Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Prayer to Scholastica


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

Advice from Julian of Norwich


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

Noodle Party!


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.

The mixers were none other than the two sisters who dreamt up the plot to create the "Nun-Better Noodles"! Sr. Margo had been tweaking and double checking her noodle recipe for the last few months...just the right balance of flour, salt, and egg was needed to make the proper consistency for the noodle dough.

The noodle kneaders were a hard working group of sisters! The noodle dough needed to be kneaded for at least fifteen minutes to create the proper glutton strength. Some of us had to knead our one pound of dough for thirty minutes to create the sister had to knead for almost an HOUR! While the stiff dough did challenge the noodle kneaders, we had a wonderful time visiting, singing, telling stories, and pondering how all twenty-five of the one pound lumps of dough would look as noodles.
Even the prioress joined in the noodle activity as she rolled out sections of the dough through one of the two noodle cutters we used. The whole pound of dough would not fit through the noodle cutter; so each pound was cut into slices or sections by another sister assisting the one cranking out the noodles. This part of the production moved from the monastery bakery to our refectory (dinning room). In fact, the noodles soon covered over half of the tables!
After being cut, each noodle was laid out one by one on our sheet covered tables! Soon there were sisters moving between the tables in a carefully choreographed dance of the noodle. Some chose to catch the noodles as they were cut and then pass them on to those setting them out. Other sisters preferred to catch and lay out the noodles. The refectory was abuzz with the activity of the noodle production. The sisters had to be very careful that the sisters did not touch while drying or they would stick permanently.

These are three of the NINE tables bedecked with noodles drying in the refectory! To aid in the drying process, the air conditioning in the room was turned way down to combat our ever present heat and humidity during these late July summer days. Soon the next crew of sister volunteers will come together to break the noodles in proper sizes and weigh them out to fill each bag with 1/2 pounds of noodley goodness.

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!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apple Pies and Community


Since I've come home for the summer, our sub-prioress has been helping me find odd jobs around the monastery. I'm glad to be giving back to the sisters in all these little (and big) ways and thankfully they usually involve working with some of our elders.

My favorite work so far has been the 'apples'. Our monastery has a large garden and orchard in our backyard. One of the trees is a summer apple that is called a Transparent Yellow even though is shines a pretty light green when ripe for the picking. The one tree was overflowing with the crisp, tart fruit this year; our gardener sisters came in with 10-12 boxes of apples from just the one tree! This abundance has provided the sisters who prepare the fresh produce with much to do in the mornings. The sub-prioress asked that I help work with the produce as well.

I LOVE my morning work. There are four of our elders that gather regularly to prepare the community's produce for the table. Each of the sisters has her own 'job' for each type of vegetable or fruit. Considering the apples: one of the sisters uses the peeler, two core & quarter the apples, and another empties the buckets of trimmings/peelings and transfers the apples from table to table. All of this work is done with the quiet, easy efficiency of a family who has served together for years. However, they joyfully welcomed the addition of this 'young sister' who is home for the summer. Tucked between those who were coring and quartering the apples, I've been trying to keep up with their able hands while listening to the stories and tales of a combined total of over 200 years of religious life. It has helped me remember that I need to keep aware of trust in God in the midst of my current search for a teaching position. So many of their stories hold twists of difficult times bringing them back to an awareness of Christ or surprise of how God lead them to their ministry. So much to learn...

But the lessons from morning work weren't over! Yesterday, I was borrowed by the community baker
to help make pies! The apples we had been preparing are perfect balance of crisp tartness for sauces, crisps, and pies. She had filled dozens of pie pans with her flaky crusts in anticipation of an apple day. I filled the pans with heaping piles of sliced apples all dusted with a sweet-cinnimony seasoning and three dabs of butter. The baker would then roll out the cover, set it, and crimp the edges...beautiful. The bakery was quiet except the rhythmic sounds of our work. The space was warm and scented with the peanut butter, oatmeal, and snicker doodle cookies being baked by another assistant in the bakery that day. A wonderful place to contemplate while working.

I decided community is little like one of our summer apple pies. There might be one tree of apples, but not one of them looks the same! Each one needs the individual attention to be picked, peeled, and cored. Some need to be trimmed of bruised spots or worm bites, but once they're cleaned; all the apples are tossed in together to be washed. After being sliced for the pies, the apples are mixed together, a combination of odd sizes and pieces. It is the final preparation that brings them together. Piled into a crust to hold them all together, generously dusted with spices to counter the tartness, dabbed with butter to mellow them, and sealed with a lid of more flaky dough; the apples are now a pie. One does not resemble the other in appearance or taste, being together and responding to the tender loving care of the baker makes all the difference.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Prayer & Vocation Advice from Pope Benedict XVI


I found a portion of this address from July 4th on another community's website and felt it was so powerful I needed to read the entire message. I did trim some of his speech that was directed to the city specifically, but the meaning is clear.

“You have just asked me: how does one recognize God's call? Well, the secret of the vocation lies in the capacity for and joy of distinguishing, listening to, and obeying his voice. But to do this it is necessary to accustom our hearts to recognizing the Lord and to having an awareness of him as a Person who is close to me and loves me. As I said this morning, it is important to learn to live in our days moments of inner silence in order to hear the Lord's voice. You may be sure that if we learn to listen to this voice and to follow it generously, we have nothing to fear, we know and feel that God is with us, that God is Friend, Father and Brother. In a word: the secret of the vocation lies in the relationship with God, in prayer that develops, precisely, in inner silence, in the capacity for listening, hearing that God is close. And this is true both before the decision, that is, at the time of deciding and setting out, and afterward, if one wants to be faithful and to persevere on the way

“And here I would like to say something else to you: true prayer is not at all foreign to reality. If prayer should alienate you, remove you from your real life, be on your guard it would not be true prayer! On the contrary, dialogue with God is a guarantee of truth, of truth with ourselves and with others and hence of freedom. Being with God, listening to his word, in the Gospel and in the Church's Liturgy, protects you from the dazzle of pride and presumption, from fashions and conformism, and gives you the strength to be truly free, even from certain temptations masked by good things. You asked me: how can we be "in" the world but not "of" the world? I answer you: precisely through prayer, through personal contact with God. It is not a question of multiplying words Jesus already said this to us but of being in God's presence, of making our own, in our minds and in our hearts, the words of the "Our Father" that embraces all the problems of our lives, or by adoring the Eucharist, meditating on the Gospel in our room or participating with recollection in the Liturgy. None of this removes us from life but instead helps us truly to be ourselves in every context, faithful to the voice of God who speaks to our conscience, free from the conditioning of the time! … And the guarantee of truth is God. Those who follow him have no fear, not even of denying themselves, of giving up their own ideas, for, as St Teresa of Avila said, "Those who have God lack nothing".

“Dear Friends, faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength, in a way that is worthy of the human being and also more serenely and effectively. If we look at the history of the Church we see that it is peopled by a wealth of Saints and Blesseds who, precisely by starting from an intense and constant dialogue with God, illumined by faith, were able to find creative, ever new solutions to respond to practical human needs in all the centuries: health, education, work, etc. Their entrepreneurial character was motivated by the Holy Spirit and by a strong and generous love for their brethren, especially for the weakest and most underprivileged. Dear young people, let yourselves be totally won over by Christ! And start out with determination yourselves too, on the path to holiness, that is by being in contact, in conformity with God a path that is open to all because this will also enable you to become more creative in seeking solutions to the problems you encounter, and in seeking them together! Here is another badge (distinctive sign) of the Christian: he is never an individualist… at the service of the community, open to others, it is never in opposition to the community's needs. Hermits and monasteries are oases and sources of spiritual life from which all may draw. The monk does not live for himself but for others and it is for the good of the Church and of society that he cultivates the contemplative life, so that the Church and society may always be irrigated by new energies, by the Lord's action. Dear young people, love our Christian communities, do not be afraid to commit yourselves to live together the experience of faith! Love the Church: she has given you faith, she has introduced you to Christ! And love your Bishop and your priests: in spite of all our weaknesses, priests are precious presences in your life!

“After Jesus suggested to the rich young man of the Gospel that he leave everything and follow him, the young man went away sadly because he was excessively attached to his many possessions (cf. Mt 19:22). In you, on the other hand, I read joy! And this is also a sign that you are Christians: that for you Jesus Christ is worth much, even though it is demanding to follow him, that he is worth more than anything else. You have believed that God is the precious pearl that gives value to all the rest: to the family, to studies, to work, to human love... to life itself. You have realized that God takes nothing from you but gives to you "a hundredfold" and makes your life eternal, for God is infinite Love, the only love that satisfies our hearts. I would like to recall St Augustine's experience. He was a young man who, with great difficulty spent a long time seeking something that would satisfy his thirst for truth and happiness. Yet at the end of this process of seeking he understood that our hearts are restless until they find God, until they rest in him (cf. The Confessions, 1, 1). Dear young people, keep your enthusiasm, your joy, the joy that is born from having encountered the Lord and may you communicate it also to your peers! I must now depart and I must say that I am sorry to leave you! With you I feel that the Church is young! But I am happy as I leave, like a father who is serene because he has seen that his children are growing up and growing up well. Dear young men and women, walk on! Walk on the path of the Gospel; love the Church our mother; be simple and pure in heart; be gentle and strong in truth; be humble and generous. I entrust you all to your holy Patrons ... especially, to the Virgin Mary, and I bless you with deep affection. Amen.”

~Benedict XVI, Meeting with young people at the Cathedral of Sulmona, Italy

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Solemnity of St. Benedict


Happy Feast Day! Today, we've been celebrating the life and death of Benedict here at the monastery. Our priest in residence, a monk from North Dakota, had a wonderful homily sharing our Benedictine life and vows to the many visitors from the lake and from around town.

A central theme to his homily was the importance of community life. It was community life that I missed most while attending university in Milwaukee. Community becomes our family in religious life; my sisters hold me up in my times of need and I support them when the time comes. A small reminder of this care for each other happened yesterday during first Vespers. One of our elders who is 102 and has celebrated over 80 years of religious profession was seated in her wheelchair at the front of Chapel. Partway through organizing Vespers her carefully organized prayerbooks slid to the floor. Without missing a beat, another of the sisters slid across the aisle and shared books so prayer continued to flow. A small gesture? Maybe, but our life is filled with these little moments of community life; none of us can make it alone.

The statue in the picture is of the death of St. Benedict. This sign of community is in one of the central courtyards at the monastery of Monte Cassiono. Benedict is looking into the glories of heaven while two of his brother monks hold him up
to help him pray down to his last breath. This story was told in Gregory the Great's version of his life.

"In the same year when he was to leave this life, he foretold the day of his most holy death to some disciples living with him and to the day of his most holy death to some disciples living with him and to others living some distance away. He told the former to keep silent about what they heard and explained to the latter what kind of sign would be seen when his soul would leave his body.

"Six days before his death, he ordered his tomb to be opened. Soon he was attacked by fever and was weakened with severe suffering. As the illness grew worse every day, he asked his disciples to carry him into the oratory. There he strengthened himself for his departure by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. While the hands of his disciples held up his weak limbs, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and breathed his last breath amidst words of prayer."


Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Celebration of First Vespers


Tonight we began our celebration of the Solemnity of St. Benedict! I was excited to be home for our Vespers on the eve of the feast. After all the travel around Rome and the foundations of our Benedictine life, to simply be in chapel with our sisters to chant the Psalms was a blessing. The melodic rhythm of our call and response between choirs and the poetry of the psalms is more than singing lyrics; it allows us, well me, to rest my heart in the ancient prayers of God's Chosen People. My heart also rests in the prayer of my sisters as we share the Liturgy of the Hours together...each of us upholding the other.

Our reading tonight was a portion from the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict. It is always a reminder for me of our Call to monastic life and of Christ being the one who Calls us all to follow our Father Benedict.

"Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to God from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for Jesus, the Christ.

"First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection. In God's goodness, we are already counted as God's own, and therefore we should never grieve the Holy One by our evil actions. With the good gifts which are in us, we must obey God at all times that God may never become the angry parent who disinherits us, nor the dreaded one, enraged by our sins, who punishes us forever as worthless servants for refusing to follow the way to glory.

Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: "It is high time for us to arise from sleep" (Rom. 13:11). Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out this charge: "If you hear God's voice today, do not harden your hearts" (Ps. 95: 8). And again: "You that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 2:7). And what does the Spirit say? "Come and listen to me; I will teach you to reverence God" (Ps. 34:12). "Run while you hve the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you" (John 12:35).


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monastic Service


While I continue to seek a teaching position in area high schools, I have been reminded that there is more than one way to serve my monastic community.

My day has a rhythm to its horarium that I missed while we were in Rome. The day begins with the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass; the remainder of the morning is given to various works around the monastery. Yesterday, I helped our 'retired' sisters prepare vegetables and fruits from our garden. We pared fresh kohlrabi for the kitchen to cut and steam for supper before sorting through two large boxes of lettuce and Swiss chard. Finally, we picked over a couple gallons of gooseberries!

I love the berries, but they are a labor of love. Our sister Rosina Ann did the trickiest part, picking the berries from the thorn covered bushes. We joking call them "martyr's row"; each reach into the bushes can result in scratches and pokes to sister's fingers and arms! However, she covered up with long-sleeved flannels and gloves and picked more than a few gallons of the little berries. Our kitchen prep group took the next step with picking the berries clean of little stems and flowers. The berry itself has a wonderful sour~tart bite to it while raw or sauced or in a jam or cooked in a pie! Hmmm...

After lunch and noon praise, my afternoon continues with service to the community by continuing to seek for teaching positions. I rework the resume & cover letter and look for connections online and through my contacts in other schools. The horarium wraps up with vespers, supper, and time to visit with our sisters who have been ministering in other areas during the day.

It's good to be home.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Home Sweet Home


The plains of South Dakota greeted us as we returned home from our travels in Rome and pilgrimage to our founding Monastery in Switzerland. After mountains, valleys, lakes, and musenalps, I was ever so happy to see for miles and miles to our horizons here at home.

Switzerland was absolutely marvelous! First, we went to Marienburg; our Foundress Mother Gertrude established this community after leaving America to return to Switzerland. This house of 13 sisters welcomed us into their semi-cloistered home with much love. We had the opportunity to spend two and a half days with them at prayer and meals. A high point for me was the time to pray at the grave of Mother Gertrude. It is set in within their simple, quiet, cemetery at on the sisters grounds. It was beautiful to sit there and listen to the birds, cow bells, and contemplate our connections to the past and future.

Next, we traveled to Maria Rickenbach set in the Alps not far from Luzerne. We traveled by train and CABLE CAR to reach the monastery! At this community, we stayed in their guest house (the original building that was used as their convent) and ate in the guest dinning room. Despite this degree of distance, I felt as if I was one of their daughters here on the mountainside as well. We prayed and celebrated Eucharist with the sisters, and one evening Mother Andrea had a wonder visit with us through another of the sisters who speaks English. We also traveled up the Musenalp via a second (smaller) cable car.

Amazing...all you could see for miles and miles were the tops of other mountain tops, speckles of towns and villages in the valleys, and the grand 'sea' of Lake Luzerne. Beautiful and Astounding, we spent our time on the mountain in prayerful silence. How could our first sisters have left this for the wide open plains of South Dakota? There is a beauty and grandeur of our plains, but the hill sides of trees, flowers, and cow-bells must have been difficult to leave behind. Our only answer was the one answer we all followed...The Call of Vocation to Seek God. God's grace in following our vocation is the only answer.