On Monday, I accompanied Sister Josue Behnen to St. Cloud Hospital, where she was giving a "lunch and learn" presentation on prayer. Sister Josue spent most of her working life as a nurse, including 17 years on mission in Taiwan, before joining the staff of the Spirituality Center and heading up the spiritual direction program.
When we got to the hospital, S. Josue told me that she learned the route from the monastery to the hospital from Sister Mary Jude Meyer. S. Josue was just back from Taiwan in the 1980s and for some reason needed to go to the hospital. S. Mary Jude accompanied her and, at the first turn, a stoplight with a granite monument business on the left, she said, pointing: "When you see that tree, turn left."
The same thing happened at the next turn. "When you see that tree," she said, pointing to a good-sized tree and not the gas station or school on opposite corners, "turn right."
For S. Mary Jude, there were no street signs or landmarks more recognizable than the trees. Isn't that a wonderful way to see the world?
The photo above is of the monastery catalpa tree, currently in bloom. I don't remember these trees before I moved to Minnesota -- probably just because I wasn't paying attention -- and they only bloom a few days each year.
Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell and the fate of every person that livedis causing a big stir, especially among biblical fundamentalists. Rob Bell, a pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, a church of 7,000 worshippers, has generated a heated discussion about heaven, hell and universal salvation. Bell raises the possibility that "every person who ever lived" may have a place in heaven. Many Christians may be surprised to learn that this view isn't new within Christianity.
Origen of Alexandria (3rd century) believed "that not a single rational being will be lost to the darkness. … Even the most recalcitrant sinner will eventually attain salvation." For him, punishment after death is "not an instrument of eternal torment, but of divine instruction and correction ... and since the soul is essentially rational, it will eventually be convinced of the truth, and salvation will follow" (www.romancatholicism.org/origen-apokatastasis.htm). Gregory of Nyssa speculated about this possibility as well, and in our time, Karl Rahner, SJ, came very close to that belief.
The Church hasn't accepted their position; however, its teaching on purgatory and hell has been open to considerable development. There are significant issues here: the extent of free will, how grace interacts with and respects free will, the seriousness of the most heinous evil, the nature of God as just as well as loving and merciful. Many theologians, from Patristic times to the present "have interpreted the fire of hell in a symbolic sense," as a metaphor describing spiritual torment, and not to be understood literally. (The New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Joseph Komonchak, p. 458)
We find many stories in the media today about forgiveness. Some of them portray the poignant reality of true forgiveness and reconciliation. Some seem only to express remorse for having been caught in a rash and careless experience.
Here is one story of the consequences of true repentance on the part of one man. In his short story, "Capital of the World," Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son's rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. The father was bitter and angry with his son and kicked him out of the home. After years of bitterness, the father's anger ended and he realized his mistake. He began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally in desperation, the father placed an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal of Madrid, which read: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA. Paco is a common name in Spain and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning there were 600 young men, all named Paco, waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.
Closer to home, each of us has been hurt by the actions or words of another. These wounds can leave us with a grudge against someone, and at times, lasting feelings of anger, bitterness and even revenge. And perhaps some of us have been the one that has hurt others and we need to be forgiven. By this time in our lives we have perhaps learned that if we don't practice forgiveness, we may be the ones who pay most dearly. Perhaps we have made some small progress in recognizing that love and forgiveness are powerful forces that can transform the human condition.
Resentment toward another person binds us to that person as with a strong steel cord. It is up to each of us to pull out that wire. Forgiveness is a choice and decision each of us must make, that does not depend on the other, but only on our desire to find deep inner peace and inner freedom. Paco's father eventually came to realize this and made the courageous step to forego resentment and to offer forgiveness. What a truly brave and blessed thing!
Interesting things happen when you have four Benedictines on a car trip for 12-14 hours of travel each way in one weekend. All the invitations Benedict gives in his Rule related to the vows of obedience, conversatio (i.e., conversion of life) and stability have a way of expressing themselves in such close quarters.
If obedience includes the willingness to listen, to be attentive to what is being said, asked or needed at a given time, then there were multiple opportunities for obedience to manifest itself as we traveled the road.
If conversatio/conversion of life is recognizing the need to break away from common cultural values, then to choose to carry the least possible number of items and support one another by minimizing or modifying the number of distractions each driver needs to feel safe and yet alert, then we were definitely practicing conversatio.
If stability includes hanging out with the same people in the same space and allowing each other to change often while not backing away from them, then stability was clearly built into enjoying our time together.
If the common life includes laughter, then that's what we found ourselves doing after listening to the GPS and 10 minutes later finding ourselves back at the hotel we had just left. This is to say nothing about gleefully ignoring the looks of strangers when we exited our car every two hours and did our version of a seven-minute exercise at the rest stop or gas station.
Travel together is Benedictine living at a marathon pace.
Now that the school year is over, I am performing "community service," helping out where needed at the monastery. Instead of driving Miss Daisy this week, I have been driving Sisters at Saint Scholastica Convent to their eye, ear, teeth and orthopedics appoinments. Saint Scholastica Convent is our retirement and assisted living center for our elderly Sisters.
For the most part the retired Sisters no longer drive. After the nursing staff makes the necessary appointments for an individual Sister, driver-Sisters transport her to her appointment and pick her up when she is "ready."
Since this sytem has been in place for some time, the Sisters are usually very patient and accommodating to the driver. Sometimes three Sisters are ready to be picked up while the driver is in the process of delivering a fourth to her appointment. By the time the one who was finished with her appointment first gets picked up, she may have been waiting for thirty minutes or more.
I usually apologize for being late, but they are ever so grateful for the service that they board with a smile and sometimes even crack a joke. Sometimes we have very intriguing conversations if we go the almost eight miles to CentraCare Plaza where specialized services and procedures are provided at the Woodlands entrance, or River East or the Surgery Center.
Since I do not do this service every day, I often times have quite an adventure trying to find a particularly hidden location. Two times this week, a Sister and I drove around a three or four block area, even saw the place, and could not get to it for about 15 minutes. This is a great lesson in humility for me because I find my Sisters very forgiving and understanding.
Also humbling and cause for contemplation is to experience the very best in humanity while watching these dear Sisters who have given up their independence graciously accept the way that God has provided for them in their old age.
If you are interested in volunteering as a driver for Sisters at Saint Scholastica Convent and accompanying them to their doctor's appointments, contact Sister Marina Schlangen, the volunteer coordinator. It will be a blessing for you, I'm sure, as it has been for me!
Sunday we celebrated the installation of Sister Michaela Hedican as the 16th prioress of Saint Benedict's Monastery. It was a gorgeous day and both the private Rite of Installation in the morning and the celebratory Eucharist in the afternoon were gorgeous liturgies filled with energy and joy.
The Rite of Installation takes place with the monastic community and Sister Michaela. The president of our federation, Sister Susan Hutchens, a Benedictine from St. Mary's Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, presided. We also invited members of our federation, other Benedictine prioresses and S. Michaela's family to join us for this rite.
At the center of the rite is the "covenanting of prioress and community." Sister Susan asks Michaela if she is prepared to serve the community as prioress and accept this ministry. Her answer each time is, "I am, with the help of God's empowering love and the help of my community." Then the Sisters pledge to assist Sister Michaela by responding together. In the first response we say, "We have called you, Sister Michaela Hedican, to be our spiritual leader, who, by your love and service, are a visible sign of Christ's presence in our midst." The second response is our mission statement.
After Sister Susan has conferred the Rule and Cross to Sister Michaela as signs of her office, each Sister comes forward and places her folded hands into the hands of Sister Michaela. It is that moment that is pictured here. It is very profound, especially in a community as large as ours. We currently have 288 Sisters, of which almost 200 were in attendance.
The whole day was full of light, and Bishop John Kinney remarked that during the celebratory Mass that afternoon, while the Gospel was being read, a shaft of light shone down directly on Sister Michaela. We don't like to put too much emphasis on such coincidences, but it was a glorious moment that could not have been planned by any earthly liturgist.
Sunday was a day of hope and joy in the monastery, when indeed Christ was present to us in many ways.
photo by Paul Middlestaedt; Sister John Bernard Plantenberg places her hands into the hands of Sister Michaela as a sign of obedience and support during the covenanting ritual. Behind her are Sister Danile Knight and Sister Mary Weidner.
This past week, two of our Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteers, Ashley Zartner and Daisy Nevarez, showed the Sisters wonderful slides of the some of the highlights of their nine months spent with the Benedictine Sisters in Humacao, Puerto Rico, as part of the first year of the volunteer program run by the monastery. Among the slides were pictures of the graves of the first three Puerto Rican Sisters to die, Sisters Justina Diaz, Carmen del Valle (Inmaculada) and Lydia Rosa Ortiz (Providencia). As we watched, I wondered if anyone questioned why the Sisters were buried in the monks' cemetery at Monasterio San Antonio Abad in Humacao. Here's the answer!
During the time I was Regional Superior in Puerto Rico (1964-1974), the question of a burial place for the Sisters arose. We knew that we didn't have enough room on our property for a cemetery, so I asked Father Eric Buermann, Prior of Monasterio San Antonio Abad at the time, if we Sisters could purchase a plot of land on their extensive property for a cemetery. Fr. Eric assured me he'd talk to the monks to see if that could be arranged. A few days later, he told me that he had talked to his community about our request and the answer was "No, they didn't want to sell any land to the Sisters for a cemetery."
After a brief pause, he smiled and shared that the monks unanimously decided that they wanted the Sisters to be buried side by side with them in their cemetery. They said that it was only right that since the Sisters and the monks worked side by side during their lifetime, they should lie side by side after they died. So that's why the graves of our dear Sisters are located among those of the monks.
This gesture is just one of the many examples of how the monks and Sisters in Humacao have worked together in harmony since the Sisters' arrival in Puerto Rico in 1948. For those who don't know the early history of our communities, the monks arrived from St. John's Abbey in 1947 and asked our community to send Sisters to work with them in their missionary endeavors. The monks welcomed three Sisters on August 1, 1948, and did everything they could to help them adjust to a new world. Sisters Adeline Terhaar, superior and teacher, Jeanette Roesch, teacher, and Agnes Herwers, housekeeper and sometimes teacher, were the first to arrive.
--Sister Lois Wedl
photo: three graves of Benedictine Sisters in Puerto Rico cemetery, May 2011
To see video interviews with our Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteers, visit: www.sbm.osb.org/bwsc
No one can say exactly how many years it has been happening, but it's been enough to make it a "tradition," and it happened again this year… the first graders from St. Joseph's Lab School helped plant the Common Ground Garden's pumpkin patch! In early May, Ryan Kutter and I (I'm the director and production manager for the garden), walked to the school to start the seeds with the students. Before the planting commenced the students were eager to share about some of their favorite and less-than-favorite vegetables. "Corn!" "Carrots!" "Peas!" While one student glowed with delight about a vegetable, another turned up his nose to that same choice.
Planting went without a hitch, or so we thought. Each student came out to the work table one by one and we helped them fill their cups with dirt, plant a seed and water it. Next the kids marched back to their classroom and placed their cups on the windowsill to get some warmth from the sun. As the gardeners strolled back across campus we commented, "Those are really nice kids. They were polite and friendly to us and to each other." What nice break in the day.
Weeks went by and while the gardeners continued planting potatoes, tomatoes, beets and greens in Common Ground Garden, the first graders continued to water their seeds and watch in anticipation. But something didn't go quite right; the seeds didn't sprout! Their wonderful teacher, Ms. Schneider, talked with them about the occasional trickiness of germination and hoped that we could help save the pumpkin planting experience for the kids.
Ryan and Thomsens Greenhouse save the day! With transplants in tow, the gardeners welcomed the energetic first graders to the empty pumpkin patch. Most of the time the garden is a quiet place, blessed with the music of robins, chickadees, bluebirds, finches, mourning doves and crows. But we could see and hear the first graders coming from blocks away. The gardeners talked a bit about what we've been planting, how we will care for the pumpkin seedlings, and how we look forward to seeing them as second graders in the fall when they will return to pick a pumpkin. Again, one by one the students worked with the gardeners, this time digging holes in the ground and planting the seedlings with care.
When the work was done, Ms. Schneider rounded up the first graders, led them in a big "Thank you" and guided them back to school. And now we all watch and wait, weed and water. The students' energy was infectious to the gardeners, and the garden was blessed with their hope for pumpkins in the fall.
photo: St. Joseph Lab School children in 2006 pick out the pumpkins they planted in 2005 at Common Ground Garden.
This blog is maintained by a group of Sisters at Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. We try to post weekly and often succeed at that.
The opinions on this blog belong to individual writers and do not reflect any official position of the monastery. Please feel free to comment on any of the entries-- comments are moderated, but we'll publish any reasonable comment.