Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five Days with a Prophet

Sandra Schneiders, IHM
Every once in a while someone comes into our life and gives us a message that we cannot ignore. And what a gift that is!  Last week, S. Tamra Thomas, OSB, one of our women in 1st Monastic Profession and I drove to St. Mary's College in South Bend, IN to spend five days with such a person. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, is professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. For an unknown number of years she has dedicated herself to studying, reflecting and writing on religious life in the new millennium. In fact, she has just published the third volume of a trilogy on religious life and, in case you are interested, the three volumes combined are 4" thick. The last volume alone is over 650 pages. She had much to share with the 240 of us assembled at St. Mary's, representing 48 congregations.

In the title of this blog I refer to Sr. Sandra as a "prophet". I am positive that she certainly would not call herself that and she would be embarassed to know that I am dedicating this blog to her; then why speak of her as a prophet?  On her last morning with us, the topic of the day was: "The Prophetic Vocation". We heard her say God calls the prophet, it is a vocation and one does not declare oneself a prophet.  One called can refuse, he or she has that freedom. The prophet is someone who gives him/herself over to God's purpose. How can a true prophet be distinguished from a false prophet?  The answer is coherence between the prophet's message and the prophet's life according to Sr. Sandra.  Not everyone who teaches the "Good News" is a prophet. They may be giving the right message but there could be incoherence between their teaching and their lives. Prophets always have their eyes fixed on God's people, the Church, and they witness to God's true nature. Jesus disturbed the leaders of his day.  In fact, his only crime was to challenge the status quo. For Jesus there was no inequality of power. It was never about the strong versus the weak, nor was it about someone being superior to another.

Why do I consider Sandra Schneiders, IHM a prophet for today?  Simple.  God has called her, her life is coherent with her message.  She is in her mid to late seventies now and retired from teaching.  She could now have a quieter life; yet she has a message to share and despite her fatigue last week she gave us the benefit of her wisdom way beyond what she was committed to give us.  Her gift is clarity of thought and preciseness of language. Her closing words to us were:  "Prayer should be the heart and center of our lives."  I have no doubt that she lives this day in and day out.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Toward the Eye of the Storm

Photo courtesy NSSL
I have only seen the effects of a tornado, have no idea what it might be like to be caught—outside—when the winds suddenly occur. I imagine I would be tossed here and there while desperately trying to run from it, to run toward any shelter (given my lapse of memory about what we were all taught: “prostrate yourself in a ditch and protect your head!”) I would surely be looking for another human being, equally in a state of panic, who might give advice on where to go, how to escape, where home might be. I can only imagine the debris:  falling and flying objects/trees/dust; no sunlight to distinguish east from west, panic within and without. Where is my home where I can shut doors, draw curtains, fervently pray and fearfully be with the experience?

Discernment—or any honest searching within one’s self for answers to a problem dealing with faith, a job, a relationship, a change of some dimension -- can be a similar kind of experience. I may feel as if there were a veritable storm within, but with repercussions outside myself. Could someone please tell me where to go? What to do? What is going on? Why are things so chaotic? Why is there so much debris and so little light?  Who will be affected by my decision? What can I do to save the situation? Or save myself from having to make a decision? Indeed, when will I decide to go to my room, enter the closet of my heart and listen to the still small voice that is longing to be heard, eager to bring peace and a decision?

You may have been in similar circumstances, whether large or insignificant? Tell me about it.  How did you get to the eye of the storm?

Renée Domeier, OSB

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Sacred Heart Chapel
The other day, I was talking to someone about words and their meaning. We agreed that simply shifting a word or changing a phrase slightly can make a big difference to how we perceive the meaning. The example we were using was "poor people" or "people living in poverty." The latter way of phrasing makes me more aware of a person - it's my neighbor living in poverty, rather seeing "poor people" as a category, not persons. It's the same with medical conditions. People are not their condition (e.g. "diabetics"), they are people who live with that condition. I'm very aware that, if I see them first and foremost as people, I am more compassionate, more able to empathize.

Our conversation led me to think more about words and their impact. Years ago, when St. John Paul II was in the early years of his papacy and traveling around the world, I remember hearing him say in a television excerpt from one of the huge Masses he presided over, "Can it be that God, who has given us the power to say 'yes', should suddenly want to hear 'no?'" Two such small words, but they really made me think and they've stayed with me through the years. Our lives are full of questions and challenges; it's not just that we have to say "yes" once, we have to keep on doing it. I guess that's what's meant by perseverance - and it isn't easy. But, if I am serious about wanting to follow the Gospel call, I have to keep saying "yes" because why would God suddenly want to hear the opposite?

Karen Rose, OSB

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Time to Breathe

I once read, and I apologize that I don't have the source but it was a long time ago, that a religious community such as Saint Benedict's Monastery has the responsibility to provide  opportunities for growing and maturing in the spiritual life for its members so that their love of God and their sisters continue to grow throughout their lifetime, and that at the end of their journey on earth they will "run with expanded heart" into the arms of their loving God.

There are many ways that a community like ours fulfills that responsibility.  To list just a few:  the sacraments (Eucharist, reconciliation, sacrament of the sick), a monthly day of recollection, a monthly conference given by the Prioress, a library well stocked with theological and spiritual books and periodicals, times of silence, pauses during Liturgy of the Hours: a 1-minute pause between the psalms and a 2-minute pause after the reading. Of course, we do not forget what is at the very center of our life: Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina.

A yearly retreat is a must for all consecrated women and men. In our community we are given the choice of one of four possibilities.  Partly because of our size and partly because a monastery like us cannot come to a complete halt for a week while the entire community is on retreat, there are two conference retreats held during the summer months.  During these same months in addition to the two conference retreats there is a directed retreat and a Centering Prayer retreat.

Last week we had the directed retreat and this week is the centering prayer retreat.  This is the one that I am making and I have been given the gift of being able to stay in one of our hermitages (pictured above) for the week. Our two hermitages are much in demand by both the Sisters and our guests so to have the opportunity to stay in one of the hermitages for five days is an unexpected gift. The hermitage gives us silence, time to read and reflect, and time alone with God. Centering for three hours a day for six days releases much of what one might tend to ignore or suppress in an everyday busy life. So spending quality time with the Divine Healer in between the sitting sessions is balm for the soul and gives strength to face the challenges awaiting us when we return to "normal" life. 

May you find during these weeks of summer time for your soul to take a breather. That is my wish and my prayer for you. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Las Lágrimas

If I had not walked through Chapel,
if I had not stopped to meet the gentle guitarist *
setting up his practice session,
if I had not asked his permission
to sit awhile and listen
I would not have been undone
by the haunting melody full of yearning,   
touched by the  aching timeless beauty.
I would not have known the Spanish title means Tears.
I would not have been moved by memory
of one hundred years of tears and  yearning for God,
music and prayer filling this sacred space like incense,
if I had not walked through the Chapel
that Saturday afternoon.

*Lágrima (Tear) ~ Composition by  Francisco Tárrega
*Mark Mitchell, husband of Sister Theresa Lodermeier’s niece
Kathryn Casper, OSB 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Recently I read three statements that need to be published abroad:

NOISE is noxious and nerve-wracking.  It increases by the year and injures the ear. Everywhere there is muzak and newzak, sirens wailing, lights buzzing, transformers humming, air conditioners whirring.  Yes, even in the monastery, I’m defeated by the ubiquitous lawn mowers  in summer or the snowplow  in winter.

Far worse than all these sources of noise, though, is the feckless and febrile verbosity of human beings—verbal pollution.  Most of it is twaddle and reaches a feverish and virulent pitch in a crowd  . . . .  signs commanding ‘No Noise’ should be as prevalent as ‘No Littering’ and ‘No Smoking.’

I agree. Do you? Could we ponder it together? We don’t need to talk!    

There is a close connection between tranquility and sanity, silence and sanctity.  When and where a sense of the sacred is lost, noise takes over.  Vulgarity clashes with serenity; and wonder, the basis of wisdom, languishes.  

I agree.  Do you? Let’s be still together. (This article appeared in America, 12/7/1996. If noise increases by the year, what is there to say, then, these 20 years later?)

What can we expect when even the churches are noisy?  Bishop William Temple’s lament makes sense: ‘Poor little talkative Christianity!’ Are the temples any better? Back porches and bedrooms might be more conducive to awe, reverence and wonder.  To sit mindfully in a quiet place until stillness suffuses our whole being may provide the healing and holiness we so desperately need.  What other defense do we have against the assault on our senses?

That is my question too?  Is it yours as well?  I’m thinking I will take Mary the Mother of God as my model; she was the woman wrapped in silence. And, of course, Jesus, the Word spoken from eternity by the Father: “When all things were in quiet silence,” the Book of Wisdom tells us, “this Almighty Word leapt down out of heaven.”  I want to ponder that Word, I want to live into the relationships between the Father and the Word spoken, between the Mother of God and the Word she bore. Will you tell me how you defend yourself against noise? I would love to be with you in your efforts. . .

Renée Domeier, OSB