Thursday, March 31, 2011

From Hostility to Hospitality

Saturday evening I attended a Fine Arts offering at the Great hall of Saint John's Abbey. As I was standing at the coat rack, Matthew, an SJU student wearing a student manager name tag, asked me how I liked the performance. We chatted, and then I asked him how he liked the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He responded enthusiastically. When asked what he liked about it, he said, "Everyone is so friendly."

"What makes it like that?" I asked.

He unhesitatingly responded, "Hospitality!"

Needless to say, I was very impressed by the friendliness and hospitality Matthew himself offered, in such a natural way. It was more than "Minnesota nice." It seemed to be a value he has integrated into his life at a young age.

I've been thinking about this for the last few days and find myself filled with a great hope that his experience will lead him to bring that same open hospitality wherever he goes. In his book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, author Henry Nouwen names the movements of the spiritual life: from loneliness to solitude; from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer.

Perhaps it's my Benedictine gene, but I have always been especially intrigued by the second of these movements: from hostility to hospitality. It seems to me that our world is marked by a kind of individual, corporate, civic global hostility towards what might be labeled the enemy. When our general perspective makes the other into an enemy, and our general perspective is one of hostility, what can we do but arm ourselves in defense? Nouwen explores this in the nitty-gritty of our daily lives and calls upon us to "dis-arm" ourselves of the weapons of destruction that we inflict on our families, our co-workers, our communities and our leaders. These are the weapons of mistrust, injustice, abuse, labeling and the deadly weapon of the silent treatment.

In a famous story about a meeting between a monk and a warrior, the unarmed monk confronts the powerful warrior who stands in front of his army about to wipe out the village. The monk asks the warrior to leave in peace. The warrior responds, "How can you stand alone before me, with no weapons, no defense and ask me to leave? Don't you know that I have the power to run this sword right thought you?" "Yes," replies the simple monk. "But I am the one who has the power to let you run the sword through me." The monk is strong in his inner peace and trust in God and totally disarms the warrior as no weapon could. As the story goes, the warrior and his army leave the village.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God's Overflowing Spirit

There is a Hasidic rendition of the creation story which speaks to my heart’s desire to find God wherever God is! According to the master, God took the form of a human being, placed it before her/himself, took off the highest point of the human form, its head, in order to-- as it were— pour “godness”, divinity, into the human being. Of course, all the space within the human form gladly received the gifts of God into its every nook and cranny, but, as is its wont, the limited container could never contain all the content so generously and abundantly poured into it. Understandably, the precious sparks of God’s being and Spirit overflowed the container and got encrusted in the surrounding rocks, trees, frogs, flowers, running streams. Now, it is the happy task of all rational creation to break open these encrusted sparks to find their God. How do we do that? By becoming aware of our wonderful world waiting to reveal its secret!

photo by S. Nancy Bauer

[Note: Today we welcome our new blogger, Sister Renee Domeier! We look forward to many wonderful insights and maybe even some poems from her in future blogs.]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Chatter Surrounding The King's Speech

submitted by Trish Dick, OSB

The King's Speech was the big winner at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony a few weeks ago, picking up four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (Colin Firth). A longshot at the start of awards season, it entered Sunday evening as the clear favorite, and though there was no "King's Speech" juggernaut -- indeed, for the first 2 1/4 hours of the show it came up empty-handed -- by the time director Tom Hooper pocketed the directing prize, everyone knew where this train was heading.

In the monastery dining room or in a living group it is most likely you will hear a discussion or reference to the movie, The King's Speech. No doubt it’s a great movie, but I am intrigued at the profound impression this movie has made on this Benedictine community and many other people. What made this movie so meaningful at this time in our life. It wasn’t a high-powered movie with a complicated plot line, the cinematography was not over the top, there wasn’t dramatic violence or sex. In reality, it was rather a humdrum movie depicting the life of a person who stuttered but happened to be the king of England.

What creates this impressive chatter for the movie is the humanness of the film. It’s a film about weakness, hardship, perseverance, fear and just plain hard work. All of our hearts connected with the pain of disabilities we daily struggle to live with. It just didn’t magically disappear into thin air. Most of our disabilities and weaknesses also dog us all through life. Finally, someone has caught that pain and made it real. Why is it we can connect so readily when a person in power and position shows his humanness?

I am not too sure who really was the hero in this movie. Was it the king or the voice coach? It was intriguing that many people loved the Australian and his work. Why did the viewers find this man so endearing? Was it because he was a man without social status who used his gifts to make a profound difference by believing in a person? Was it that his power and position came from being true to himself and the gifts he offered to empower others? That humanness, friendship and belief were the basic qualifications and credentials for working with the king.

The main character in the story is paradoxically the disability of stuttering. It demanded a continuous lifelong journey of knowing and being in touch with our fragility and humanness, calling us to seek help and rely on one another, live with something much bigger than ourselves. Overcoming the disability through the daily hard work of grinding away exemplified the perseverance of the soul’s journey. It called for facing something bigger – the fear of rejection and humiliation. The paradox is when the disability was embraced and the authentic self was honored, creating peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on Japan's Disaster

Like so many, I am deeply saddened by the recent earthquake and tsunami which struck northern Japan--haunted by CNN images documenting the devastation and loss of lives. The morning Star Tribune headline “Awash in Fear and Loss” carries a photo of parents looking at the body of their daughter found in a driving school vehicle smashed by the water’s force.

I learned long ago that no explanation, whether philosophical, theological or scientific, offering reasons for “natural disasters” is ever satisfactory or commensurate with the reality of such epic human suffering. I have no intention of offering any. What strikes me as worthy of sharing is this comment from a friend:

“On the one hand, I quite agree with you about the magnitude of this tragedy. Yet there is, to my way of thinking, a silver lining that is not at all Pollyanna, and that is this: the Japanese have accepted the terms of their existence on that “Ring of Fire,” and were as prepared as anyone could be to respond afterwards. Theirs is a natural and human catastrophe, but not a moral disaster--unlike either Haiti or Katrina. I say this without wanting to minimize the tragedy we are seeing unfold.”

Pondering that, I hold the people of Japan in prayer, inspired by their graciousness reflected in this lovely image: an elderly Japanese woman, trapped for 48 hours, bowing profoundly three times to her rescuers.
original photo found here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Feast of St. Joseph -- March 19

Today's blog is a guest post by Chris Eisenbacher, Maintenance Supervisor at Saint Benedict's Monastery

Every morning when I show up for work, I enter the building on the monastery grounds called the Saint Joseph Shop, named after the worker/carpenter Joseph. I enter my office where a statue of Saint Joseph holding baby Jesus overlooks my desk for everyone to see.

For at least 25 years and maybe longer, one way the Feast of Saint Joseph has been celebrated on the monastery campus has been during morning break. The physical plant director invites the housekeeping staff, maintenance crew and treasurer for treats (rolls and cookies ) and coffee, at which time workers get kind words of gratitude for the work that has been performed throughout the year and then joyous conversations take place for a brief moment in our work day.

As you walk through the campus on the south side of the Gathering Place, you can also cast your eyes on a very large statue of Saint Joseph in the triangular grass area with a bench to relax for a moment after a hard day of work. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the town where the monastery is located and of the parish church just north of the monastery. We at the Saint Joseph Shop are certainly always aware of him,
 especially on the annual feast day, March 19.

photo: statue of St. Joseph at Saint Benedict's Monastery

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Birthing a New Earth

This is an amazing time to be alive. There are so many world events that could lead us into the paralysis of fear: fear for Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami and the ongoing threat of a nuclear disaster, for rebels willing to be martyrs for human dignity and freedom, for individuals blindly feeling their way through the maze of an unstable economy, for committed politicians disheartened by structures devoid of any cross-pollination, and much more.

And yet we have all seen each crisis give birth to amazingly courageous leaders, heroes and heroines. And we have joined the loving energies of countless healers, marking times and places to converge and send compassion, love and protecting light into each new situation. May this Light break open the seed of our being so that we too can become the compassion and love that Births a New Earth … an earth filled with creative energy and Oneness.

photo: A child helps to plant seedlings at Common Ground Garden (which is currently accepting subscriptions! For more information, click here.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anniversary of Mother Benedicta Riepp's Death

Today we remember our foundress, Mother Benedicta Riepp, who died of tuberculosis at Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., on March 15, 1862. Below is a prayer written by Sister Ephrem Hollermann and a photo of Mother Benedicta Riepp's gravesite. Most of our photos of the gravesite were taken in summer, when we have a nicely tended flower plot in front of the marker. To see it on this March day, when the temperature is still in the 20s and there is icy snow on the ground, is to understand again the frontier spirit of the women who came to this place back in 1857.

Loving God,
We praise and thank you for the life and mission of Mother Benedicta Riepp. Cherishing the privilege of her call, and placing unconditional trust in your divine providence, she dared to dream of a new era for the vision and spirit of Benedict. May her life of prayer and work inspire us to move into our own uncharted future with faith, hope and love. This we ask through Jesus, the Christ. Amen. 

To read more about Mother Benedicta Riepp and the communities she founded, click here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel

During the past few days, I have been pondering Lent. Why do we always need to think about giving up something for Lent? I prefer to "do" something instead. In my earlier years, I said I would give up candy or desserts or watching TV, but I often could not persevere beyond the first week. This year, I want to open myself to the prophet Joel's words, "Rend your hearts and not your clothing."

In the Monastery, each Sister decides for herself on her own individual Lenten practice. So, this year I would like to read a spiritual book and visit our Sisters at Saint Scholastica Convent three different Sundays. I have been reading Sister Joan Chittister who says that "Lent is a summons to live anew." The way I think of this is something quite positive that allows me to truly succeed in my efforts. To "live anew" means being open to change from within, whereas giving up something seems to be external. I want to change something about myself that will become a good habit.

One of the ways we Sisters give each other opportunity to ponder change during Lent is by keeping silence at breakfast Mondays through Fridays. We carry that silence and quiet into the hallways and common spaces as much as possible during the morning hours. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we enter our dining room for the evening meal in a quiet manner, getting ready to listen to table reading.

We try to keep Benedict's admonition in mind: "The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent," and yet we know these words can be interpreted many ways. Therefore, besides the practice of intentional silence, we do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday nor Fridays during Lent. And on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, no dessert is served at the noon meal. These practices gives us a beautiful balance between the external and the internal, while encouraging an approach of moderation.

How will you rend your heart this Lent 2011?

photo: Sister Pat Kennedy distributes ashes to Sister Karen Streveler at the Ash Wednesday Eucharist in Sacred Heart Chapel on March 9, 2011.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Music at the Monastery

submitted by S. Dolores Super

We have a new exhibit opening March 27 at the Haehn Museum: Resounding Joy: Our Music Heritage. It tells the story of our music ministry, which has touched many more people than we can imagine.

Our first prioress, Willibalda Scherbauer, OSB, was an accomplished musician. We know this not from a recording but from personal copies of piano compositions she used, copies full of pencil markings and worn edges. The degree of difficulty indicates none are for the “faint-hearted.”

Music—teaching, performing, directing, creating, publishing, sharing, enjoying—are all aspects of our music heritage which come alive in this exhibit. It’s like seeing the whole of it all at once. I am so proud to stand as a musician among these many talented Sister musicians.

The income from individual music lessons given week after week to 50 or more students was a major resource for our community in normal times and in hard times. Imagine this—in 1948 we had 76 musicians in 66 locations! I stood at the map of Minnesota and wondered at all the towns and cities where our Sister musicians served. And that’s not even counting neighboring states like Wisconsin and North Dakota. In fact, if you saw our exhibit last year, you know we taught music as far away as Kaifeng, China. The Minnesota map made real a recent comment: “It is no secret that you Benedictine women shaped the cultural life of many in Central Minnesota.”

And then there is our community’s dedicated work in liturgical music. From our own daily liturgies, this ministry reaches the people of God world-wide. You will want to learn the stories of our chant tradition exemplified by the Gertken Sisters to the compositions and hymn texts of current musicians like Delores Dufner, OSB, and Christine Manderfield, OSB.

As a Sister, if you had any musical ability, it was best not to let that be known because you would find yourself directing the children’s choir or playing the organ in church. This is how someone put it: “Sister taught second grade, was local superior, was sacristan, and she played the organ in church.” Examples of this are Sister Leora Juettner and Sister Agatha Zwilling.

Come see the instruments, including a rare piano harp thought to be only one of fifteen in existence. At a listening station, you can hear music and view Sister musicians of the past and present.

Did you study music with one of our Sisters? If so, let us know about your experience below! If you have a good story about music with the Sisters you'd like to share for possible inclusion in the next Benedictine Sisters and Friends magazine, send it to

International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. In the picture above some of our Sisters and a few friends of ours got together for Noon Prayer and lunch to celebrate this international recognition of women on its 100th anniversary. I was only the photographer and not privy to their conversation but my suspicion is that their conversation went from rejoicing at the many inovative ways that women have taken their place in society to some sadness that there are still too many women who are disenfranchised.

Women have taken giant steps in the fields of science, medicine, and politics, to name just a few. Of course that is in the developed world, the northern hemisphere more particularly, but what about the millions of women who try to stand up for justice and peace in so many troubled nations of our world and are raped, attacked or assassinated by machine gun in the streets of their cities as happened on the Ivory Coast about one week ago? We have a long way to go to make the world safe and where everyone, not only women but men and children, can live in freedom and peace.

This day got me thinking of all the women in the last 154 years who have been part of this community and the many ways they have left their mark in Minnesota and beyond. In a short blog it is not possible to list the many accomplishments of these women but let me name a few anyway: the six sisters who went to China in 1930 and from whom we had no news for five years, the bold women who envisoned what is now the St. Cloud Hospital, built it and were left with a two million dollar debt that took a generation to pay back; I have wondered many times if Mother Louise Walz, the Prioress at the time of the construction, who had a Grade 8 education, lost sleep at night worrying how we would pay back this huge debt. Ten years earlier, in 1913, we built the Sacred Heart Chapel AND Theresa Hall, the first academic building of the College of Saint Benedict.

These were not privileged women and for the most part they did not have a high level of education, but they believed in service to the sick and in education. Today we can be proud of having one of the top hospitals in the country right in St. Cloud and proud of the excellence of education at the College of Saint Benedict.

One is never certain of what the future holds but one thing I do know: this community will continue networking and developing friendships with other women so that together we can build a better world around us.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Strong Women

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed a national women's week to be observed in March, primarily honoring American working women. In 1987, Congress passed a resolution setting aside the whole month of March in honor of all American women. Academics in particular have given much time and energy to highlighting the role of women in forming and strengthening this nation.

Each March a theme is selected to guide various projects in making known women who have played key roles in society—locally as well as nationally. This year's theme is "Our History is Our Strength." When I read that, I was immediately reminded of the many strong women who helped form our monastic community, past and present. Surely, Mother Benedicta Riepp and, Mother Cecilia Kapsner, early leaders during our community's founding, were strong women, braving frontier conditions to anchor Benedictine life in central Minnesota. Following them, over the next decades and generations, a long list of Sisters attests to a desire and the will to foster religious life here.

I think of such forebears as Mother Aloysia Bath, Mother Louisa Walz, Mother Richarda Peters and Mother Henrita Osendorf… the latter two whom I knew personally. They were truly strong women, capable and determined, each in her own way. We indeed stand on the shoulders of giants! I like to think that the "beat goes on"—that we inheritors of a grand history will prove worthy of these great, strong women, and in turn give a breadth and depth to Benedictine monasticism which will enrich us and those around us.

Photo: Sister Richarda Peters

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sister Michaela Hedican Elected Prioress

On Sunday afternoon, the Sisters completed a process they began in November with the election in the chapel of Sister Michaela Hedican as the 16th prioress of the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict.

Sister Michaela served as prioress of Saint Bede Monastery from 2008-2010, when the Sisters of that community transferred membership to Saint Benedict's Monastery. She said, "I am humbled and grateful for the trust the Sisters have put in me and for their support and love."

The Sisters are delighted with the way the Spirit moved, especially over the three days of the Chapter meeting, and called forth this wonderful woman as leader of the community for the next six years.

To learn more about Sister Michaela, visit our home page,

photo: Federation President Sister Susan Hutchens blesses Sister Michaela during the Rite of Acceptance and Blessing following the election.