Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Hope

A barn in the autumn woods, taken by
Sister Carleen Schomer

St. Benedict left us with tools for good living. Reading Michael Casey’s book Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living has been enlightening and important during this pandemic. It offers reflections on the fourth chapter of Benedict’s Rule. Questions of “How am I using the tools of helping others in time of trouble, reaching out to strangers, providing comfort to those in pain, and other attributes which guide living a good life.”

Committing hope in God comes to mind today as rain saturates the earth. Yesterday, we planted 100 trees on the farm land. The land is a habitat for God’s creatures and will belong to our grandchildren in the future. Growing these trees is a labor of love, and nature will determine which ones live or die. But, we still plant.

Growing up on a farm, I learned from my parents every year when the crops were planted it was a risk. A risk they were willing to take to feed the family, feed the cows, and feed the hungry in the world. Farmers, above all others, understand committing hope in God. The rain today would have been called “a million dollar rain” by my dad. His reasoning was the crops are in, now we need the rain from God. Trust and hope in God were the mainstays of a farm life. Prayer was vital to that trust and hope. How many of us have heard at Sunday Mass the call to pray for good crops or rain?

Today, hearing the rain, I remembered my dad’s words. Yes, it is a “million dollar rain” and God has provided. This is why we plant crops, trees and gardens. Committing hope in God grows out of a stable and strong faith. Hope is an action, a choice to believe all things are possible with God on our side.

My husband and I will not be able to fully enjoy these mature trees in the future. Trees take years of growth. Yet, our hope is one day our grandchildren will. The perpetual life cycle continues and to be part of that cycle, doing good works, is what God wants of us.

It was this spring I wrote this, and now in October, the harvesting has begun. A good year most farmers here in Wisconsin would say. The trees my husband and I planted in the spring are growing too. And hope will continue to help us feel God’s presence in our lives. Today I viewed the first snow telling me the cycle of life continues. May you find hope in the days ahead of us.

Mary S. Baier, OblSB

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Taproot

An autumn tree, taken by Sister Carleen Schomer

For many of us, these are trying times. Pandemic, economic hardship, conflicts fit the news. I had to ask myself where I hope? With so much crumbling around us, what can we cling to? Where is hope? My clue came from Benedict: Place your hope in God alone. But what does that mean? It came to me, the taproot. Some trees have a taproot that grows down in the earth to give it stability and to seek water and nutrients for its life. Without that taproot, it would easily be blown over in hard weather. Hope is that taproot giving us stability and tap into God’s love. Benedict tells us. Never lose hope in God’s mercy.

Place all of your hope in God.
– Rule of Benedict 

Hope is the taproot reaching deep seeking
the mercy of God. Seek hope in your secret place,

and find in the mercy of God a mother’s heart,
urging you on, longing to enfold you,

never to lose you. Then your taproot must go
deeper splitting the rock of a hardened heart.

Growing deeper there is a greater love,
drawing you even into depths beyond

your grasp. As it grows deeper and stronger
other roots of hope extend, all rooted and

grounded, going beyond yourself, reaching
the entire world with hope and love.

The last of  Saint Benedict’s tools:
Never lose hope in the mercy of God.

Charles Wm Preble, OblSB

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Healing During COVID-19


This year's Easter prayer request cards in the Oratory

Last April, the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, everyone at the monastery started doing extra tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and writing thank you notes. One task I offered to do was signing thank you letters for our donors. With each letter I signed, I wrote an extra note including naming their prayer requests along with my promise of our prayers. I appreciated this opportunity to reach out to these friends. Many of the requests focused on health of family members and for the world as we were, and are, continuing to live with COVID-19.

One day after signing 31 letters and replying to their prayer requests, I went to the Oratory for Liturgy of Hours (LOH). As I prayed that day, each request came to mind and heart; as it did, I uttered a prayer for everyone, remembering a quote, “Benedictine women put their arms around the joys, striving, and inconsolable sorrows of the world and turn them into song.” We pray for all our donors and the world every day at Eucharist and LOH.

If you would like more information about Saint Benedict’s Monastery, please contact Sister Lisa Rose at lrose@csbsju.edu.

Lisa Rose, OSB

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lost in the Desert

Photo by Boris
Ulzibat from Pexels

Moving her hands through the grains of sand, she spread the pile on a small table and announced that it was a desert. Picture that. Then she asked, “Does the pandemic make you feel as though you are wandering in a desert? Do you feel lost? Alone? Parched?” Yes, I thought. No matter which way I look or how far into the future I dream, all I see is the desert.

“Turn to Isaiah,” she said. With her fingers, she made a straight line through the sand on the table and said, “God provides a way through the desert. God will make a way for us.” Then she made a wavy line through the sand to remind me that God provides streams in the wilderness.

Pause in your trudging across the desert expanse and read from Isaiah. Ponder the words in chapters 33 and 45. Keep watch for the highway and the river. Find hope in Isaiah’s refreshing promises.

Marge Lundeen, OblSB

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Honoring Name Days

Angel window at
Saint Scholastica Convent,
taken by Sister Nancy Bauer

In our monastic community, we honor name days every day because usually at least one sister is named after the specific saint of the day. For example, my name day is December 27, which is the Feast of John, beloved apostle of Jesus, even though it might be logical that since my first name is “Mary Jane” that I would want to honor our Blessed Mother on a Feast of Mary. However, I chose my second name because that was the name I had at home. I was “Jane” or “Janie.” Since Jane is a diminutive of John, I chose the feast of John the Evangelist.

Apparently, the honoring of name days is somewhat widespread in a Catholic world because my family of origin practiced this custom, especially within my mother’s family. Her youngest brother was Joseph, and therefore the relatives all gathered at his house on March 19 to help him celebrate his patron, St. Joseph.

On my Uncle Tony’s name day in January, we again gathered to celebrate him. It was a wonderful custom to keep up with cousins and close relatives that my relatives imitated from Grampa, my mother’s dad. He was named Paul and had a brother named Peter, and therefore on the feast of Peter and Paul in late June, we drove to his farm and got together with aunts, uncles, cousins and even neighbors. Everyone brought food so we could have a huge feast as well as spend a great part of the day together, playing games (such as horseshoe), catching up on family gossip, or trying out smoking behind the barn.

It was great fun. I loved knowing I had a huge extended family besides my immediate siblings. The same celebration extended to my father, Michael, as my mother’s spouse. Thus, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel was a great feast for me and my family. I loved the picture of the Archangel, superior among other angels leading the battle against Satan. He was a hero and extremely good guy!

Even though this is one of those delightful family memories, one realization I have had as an adult woman in a religious community is that the feast and feasting was patriarchal. Never did we celebrate my Mother’s sister, Aunt Fern (Veronica), for example, who was one of the women whose kindness to Jesus on the way to Calvary is remembered through his beloved face imprinted on the cloth she used to wipe his face.

So, when is your name day and how will you celebrate?

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Renewal and Reflection in the New Year

Mississippi River at Itasca State Park,
taken by Sister Laura Suhr

Rosh Hashanah ended tonight (September 20) when the sun went down. It was a two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year which flows into Yom Kippur next week. These are the holiest days of the Jewish year.

This morning, Shira and I walked along the Cumberland River. We came to renew our friendship as well as share the Jewish ritual she introduced me to and I brought to our Christian community several years ago.

But first, this is a season of chesbon hanefesh. It is a time, all over the world, that Jews take time to reflect on the past year. It is more like a Jesuit Examine that lasts two days than a party, though there is time for celebration. The Jews take this New Year to reflect on relationships and especially their relationship with God. Time is spent recalling what went well and where they missed the mark. An important part of this reflection is to try to make amends with persons one might have hurt knowingly, or unknowingly, during the year.

For the ritual we brought bread to the river, broke it into pieces, and threw it into the water. It is symbolic of throwing away all we have done which is sinful and hurtful. We each shared something we’d like to get rid of during the New Year and then we prayed from Micah, “…cast all our sins into the ocean’s depths…” The intent is to return to the creation God intended, or become our true selves for the first time. Tashlikh means “to cast away.” The water has to be moving water, and Jews have become quite creative in making that happen if they don’t live by a body of water. The whole idea is that the ducks/fish eat the bread and it goes back to the earth fertilizing new growth. We ate an apple on the way back to the farm as a symbol of the sweetness given to us by God through life.

The Jewish New Year is not at all like the New Year Americans traditionally celebrated with parties, dropping the musical note in Nashville, fireworks, champagne, confetti and kissing strangers in Times Square. New Year’s Eve in the United States is quite a contrast to the way Jews begin their New Year which is an introspective and holy time. With the pandemic, I truly felt the need to be and do something different even though our New Year celebration is a couple months away. Sharing the Jewish New Year today helped me look to the future with hope.

I’m wondering if the pandemic will change the way the New Year is welcomed in on January 1, 2021, across the world? What do you think?

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ruminating in Repetition

Sisters praying Liturgy of the Hours in the Oratory

“Right now, this seems to be a period of time when we’re almost caught in this sense of repetition, each day not knowing where we’re going. There’s not the sense of forward momentum in our lives,” concert pianist Simone Dinnerstein said recently, speaking with an NPR reporter about her new album, "A Character of Quiet." Recording at her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the pandemic, she chose music with “a kind of ruminative quality...reflective and introspective, and also painful.”

Every day, three times a day, the Sisters of Saint Benedict’s Monastery meet communally to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Opus Dei, the work of God. Every three weeks, the liturgical cycle repeats the same sequence of Psalms. Seventeen times a year, they pray—chant and recite—the same cycle. The same words, over and over.

This year, when the world slowed down to shelter in place, my husband and I were able to enter more fully into the Opus Dei. At home, at the same time as the sisters, we pray the same cycle of psalms, timeless cries of the soul to God, in words that are “reflective and introspective, and also painful.” Every three weeks, we repeat the cycle.

About the repetition of notes in Etude No. 16 by Robert Glass, Simone Dinnerstein says, “Even though the notes sometimes just remain the same, the playing evolves...[the] music forces you to listen in the moment, while you’re playing it. Because although it seems at first glance that it’s about repetition, actually, it’s about constant change.”

The liturgical cycle of praying the psalms and listening to scripture readings may seem to be about repetition, but actually it’s about change. We don’t pray to change God. We pray that we might be constantly changing.

The pianist plays the same pattern over and over, and yet, as she repeats that pattern, the music is not static. It is moving, transforming.

In prayer, in the salty-sweet sound of our voices, in meditating on and speaking/singing words scented with the beauty and pain of life, our minds and hearts marinate in truth. We are infused with despair and joy, need and fulfillment, longing and hope, loneliness and connection—the entirety of human experience. As we repeat the cycle of prayers and readings, something is happening. Repetition is bringing our thoughts and feelings into harmony with our speech and actions.

“But you have to be open to it,” the pianist says. “You have to be listening while you’re playing...you have to be open to hearing those changes.”

Bringing our present situations and needs to the prayers, listening to hear changes, we hope that who we are—what we do—will be more and more in harmony with the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts.

Every day to close the midday prayer at the monastery, the leader recites, “May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith.”

And we respond, “May charity be the root and foundation of our lives.”

May we be open to hearing the eternal music of our prayers, repeating, evolving. May we listen in the moment, as we are praying, while the pattern is transforming us.

Tracy Rittmueller, OblSB