Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Don't Miss the Positive

Our newscasts are too often filled with violent news. I once read that the byword for newscasters was: “If it bleeds, it leads”. How sad! Lots of us are affected by such continuous negative news and it weighs heavily on our hearts. To make it worse, negative news is repeated and repeated and repeated, and the good news gets left out. Yes, we need to know what is going on, but I would wager that the number of people doing good acts is far greater than the number committing violent acts. So let’s take a look at examples of the better side of our world. 

It won’t take much to find, in our own neighborhoods, many people caring about others who are right around our corner. Even small acts of kindness make for a better world, such as neighbors bringing a hot dish, or other needed item, when a family has just experienced a tragedy. And then there’s the person across town who provided temporary housing for the family evicted from their home. And the list goes on and on.

The impact of long range programs can also bypass us. For example, many religious communities in our country continue to have an oblate or other named program--associates, affiliates or co-members—that enable lay persons to connect with their community. Through the program, lay people are able to become aware of and live the same values as the sisters or monks without becoming a religious community member. It seems that this kind of program was in effect before the turn of the century when there was an unusual growth in the number of men and women who joined such programs. In our country today, 25,400 persons are listed as having become affiliated with one of these programs.

The Benedictine community in St. Joseph, Minnesota, to which I belong, has more than 400 lay persons who made their commitment in our monastery chapel. Once invested in the program, the oblate’s main focus is to live out the same religious values we hold as they go about the ups and downs of their daily lives. They are assisted with guidance from the oblate director including periodic mailings or emailings, social gatherings at the monastery where speakers talk on relevant topics, and/or faith sharing meetings in their local groups.

Given the impact on their own and on their children’s lives, as well as on future generations, one can appreciate the significance of this widespread movement of people who choose to deepen their commitment to live a God-like life. With or without an oblate program, each person can live the kind of life our Pope Francis beckons us to live.  

Molly Weyrens, a CORE member of the Central MN Catholic Worker, summarized it well in a recent communication where she quoted Howard Zinn. The quote read: "We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” 


Janet Thielges, OSB


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Humble Presence and Graced-Delight

One of the women that lives in my monastery is known for her “awe-capacity”.  She rarely uses the word “Wow!” but you can easily hear it in her voice when she is describing something she has seen or heard that delighted her. She clearly has never lost her early childhood “capacity-to-be-de-lighted”. It’s such a hallmark of her ability to completely enter into the presence-around-her. She seems to allow those “light-scenes” and “light-stories” to ignite embers of grace in her and slowly transform her world view.  That’s why she can so humbly and spontaneously describe them to others on just the right occasions. I immediately thought of her when I read this January 12, 2017, Daily Meditation  by Richard Rohr entitled “Humility and Presence” in which he quoted Teilhard de Chardin:
“Space, time, and patience reveal the patterns of grace. This is why it takes most of us a long time to be converted. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) prayed, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” [1] Our focus eventually moves from preoccupation with perfect actions of any type, to naked presence itself. The historical word for presence is simply “prayer.” Jesus often called it “vigilance,” “seeing,” or  “being awake.” When you are fully present, you will know what you need to know in that moment.”

I pray that I may continue to learn from my monastic companion’s declarations of genuine delight and remember to give myself the space, time and patience it takes to be humbly present to the graced-delights around me each day.

Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Holiday Highlights

Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally.
This week Erin Carey who serves with the Benedictine sisters of Eerie, Pennsylvania, blogs.

Christmas at the Mount was an… experience. It was a season of celebrations, new traditions and travel back to the Midwest.

Here are a few highlights from Christmas:

A little taste of all the cookies we made!
At Saint Benedict’s the refugee teachers have been collecting items like winter clothes, electronics, dishes, blankets and home decorations to be able to give to the refugees around Christmas time. One day, the week before Christmas, everyone took a break from the classroom to simply prepare for the give-away celebration. I was part of the cookie baking crew. As groups of students came to the kitchen, we would show them how to roll the sugar cookie dough out, use the cookie cutter to make a design and then scoop it up to put on the tray. After they came out of the oven, we abundantly frosted, iced and sprinkled on the top. We made hundreds of cookies. For many people, it was their first cookie baking experience. We saved them for the next day’s celebration and the students told me, “Today: smell. Tomorrow: EAT!” The next day we feasted on cookies, and each of the refugees got to pick out a few of the give-away items. It was quite the ending to the semester!

After a generous offer from one of the sisters, I decided to try my hand at
Testing out my woodturning skill and looking a little silly…
but safe!
woodturning. Sister Audrey is an experienced wood turner and a great teacher. Thank goodness! She led me through how to use all of the tools and machines and oils. The wood would spin on the lathe as it carved my design for a candleholder into it. The speed of the machine made me a bit nervous, but I was pleased with my finished products and thankful that Sister Audrey was patient enough to help me.

The Christmas tree in all its glory…
4 hours later all the gifts would be given!
Christmas Eve and Day: We had great meals and liturgies on both days. I love when the dining room and community rooms are filled with people enjoying a good meal together. I also enjoyed watching and participating in the Kris Kringle gift exchange (similar to Advent Angel or Secret Santa). The community room was filled with sisters opening the gifts picked out for them. There were lots of hugs and “thank yous” filling the room. The sisters also did a dance around the Christmas tree before dinner on Christmas Day. We held hands and danced in a circle. There was more specific footwork to which I was oblivious.

My trip home went smoothly and was very refreshing. I got to spend time with my parents, family and friends celebrating Christmas and catching up. Everyone had questions about “those nuns you live with.”

Lake Effect Snow began soon after I made it back to

the Mount. The 20 somethings of the monastery (and a dog) decided to brave the cold on Sunday and took a walk down to the lake. It was windy and chilly, but we found some magnificent icicles, snow covered trees and the beginnings of a frozen lake. It was glorious! Our walk would be a little different now, because the temperature is back to the 40s and 50s and the snow we enjoyed then is now melting away.


After the busyness, celebrations and time away, I’m looking forward to getting back to the more familiar rhythms of life at the Mount!



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Darkness and Light

Photo: Nancy Bauer, OSB
It’s been a while since I blogged although Karen Rose (whose job involves keeping up the blog supply) has not been shy to nudge me to write!

The reason I haven’t written lately is that I have been searching and applying for jobs for last three months. The work is relentless and the emotional roller coaster is taxing and exhausting. One day hopeful, the next day disappointed. Only one person can be chosen. Feeling the searing pain of rejection, I ask, “Why God?” - I often ask with no answer. Intuitively I know and trust that God’s ways are beyond me. Yet the darkness dogs the light and even taunts it in the waiting.

With much struggle and interior fighting with God and myself I have finally come to make peace with this whole process of hope and rejection. It surely did not come overnight! There’s not been any grand revelation through my lectio time or inspiration reading. How can it be that the darkness has sustained the light and gently kept the coals aflame?

Psalm 88 ends in the NIV translation with David saying, “Darkness is my closest friend.” I have had to cry out to God and befriend my darkness. Darkness as my friend has gifted me with humility, honesty and authenticity. It helps me remember that the Light shines in me and through me. I am not the Light and cannot produce the Light even though my grandiosity and false self often tempt me with this illusion. Darkness reminds me I am not in control of either Light or Darkness.

Paradoxically, the greatest gift my friend Darkness has given me is to understand deeply that I need help and to ask for that help. Growing up as a child in a survival mode, and learning to be fiercely independent, this skill was never taught. Only in forced reluctance did I ever ask for help. I am so grateful for my friend Darkness because it is humbly teaching me to ask for help and that I need help. The resulting freedom I have experienced has mysteriously helped me befriend darkness and provided peace that all is well on the emotional rollercoaster of job searching and life’s journey.

“The Light shines in the Darkness” as both mysteriously and paradoxically sustain my soul.

Trish Dick, OSB

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Christmas of Firsts

Benedictine Women Service Corps (BWSC), an outreach of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., invites College of Saint Benedict alumnae to join the monastic community in deepening relationships that support justice and service in a new location. Volunteers strive to live out the Benedictine Gospel values that were formed during their undergraduate education in a capacity that will challenge them personally, spiritually and professionally.

This Christmas season was full of many firsts for me: first Christmas away from my family. First Catholic Christmas. First Midnight Mass. First priest passing out in the middle of Mass (he did say it was way past his bedtime! Don’t worry, he checked out just fine!) First Christmas season that I was not “allowed” to listen to Christmas music, nor did we have Christmas decorations until Christmas. First Advent season that I have celebrated. First “Advent Angel” instead of secret Santa (by the way, advent angel is much more enjoyable!) and many more…

In all, Christmas in the monastery is something that can’t be described, it must be experienced. There is no way to illustrate for others the overwhelming sense of expectation, joy and hope that fills the monastery at this special time. Many are scurrying around completing tasks that all add up to a truly magical few days. Whether they are decorating, planning, cooking or baking, everyone has a part in the magic. And when I say magic, you should have seen my face when I saw what the chapel looked like after the few days of decorating -- it was truly beautiful.

Others had tried to tell me just how great Christmas in the monastery was, and I had believed them to an extent. I didn’t push off what they told me, but the thought of not being with my family for Christmas always lingered in the back of my mind. “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams” became a truly bitter song.  Not until I fully experienced a monastery Christmas did I understand why it was so important for me to spend Christmas in the monastery rather than with my family. It’s more than just a holiday, it’s truly a celebration filled with love and joy; one that can’t be explained and must be experienced firsthand.

The second half of my year of service, I will continue to teach my grammar class for BEACON and this semester I began teaching a high beginner class! I truly enjoyed teaching grammar and, of course, I thought teaching a high beginner class would be very similar. Plot twist… it’s not similar at all. I struggled with this quite a bit and after the first two days of teaching, I truly considered quitting. I felt like a failure. My students didn’t understand and we weren’t getting through lessons at all. I would find these really great worksheets and supplemental activities to go with my lessons, but understanding the basis of the lesson was the hardest part. So we never got to my cool handouts. I chalked the whole experience up to me not being qualified to teach individuals at that level and that I just wasn’t cut out for teaching. Then I sat down for a bit, took a few days to think over what had happened and hit the books. I wasn’t going to give up and I didn’t. I only had one lesson before I left to go home for my visit, but it went great! More to come as this endeavor continues.

As for BARN, I’m really enjoying the work I am doing. It’s exhausting, both mentally and emotionally but it’s overall enjoyable and I’m learning lots. Through my short time at BARN, I’ve realized that I don’t want to work as a case manager when I’m all grown up. The system is flawed. Case managers receive anywhere from 60-80 cases in their given field. I have one case and that takes about 80% of my two days of work. Granted, I probably have a higher standard of work for myself, but I understand why the level of care deteriorates when you only have so much time and capacity, but all of these individuals to manage and care for. It’s a system where you will never be caught up and constantly just trying to keep your head above the water.

2016 brought many firsts for me and I’m excited to see what 2017 brings! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bethany Purkapile


My family and I having dinner during my visit.

Sister Andrea V., Sister Andrea W and I completing a Christmas puzzle.

Monastery during Christmas