Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cenobitic Living

Benedict is pretty clear: Be a cenobite.

When I first entered community, I have to admit, I hadn't heard of the word cenobite before, but after the Prologue in the Rule of Benedict, Benedict goes straight to a description of the different types of monks in Chapter 1.

"First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and a prioress/abbot."

Sounds good...rather straightforward. Then, he goes on to explain the hermits. Following the hermits come the sarabaites, "the most detestable kind of monastics." According to Benedict they do "whatever strikes their fancy." Doesn't lend well to obedience, does it?

But, it gets worse. Fourth and finally come the gyrovagues, those monks who never settle down. "In every way they are worse than the sarabaites," says Benedict. If you do the math, then, gyrovagues are worse than the most detestable kind of monastics. Yikes! The chapter concludes:

"Let us pass them [the other monastics] by, then, and with the help of God, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites."

Cenobites seek God in community. Another part of novitiate involves having conversations about current events with the cenobites in this community...aka my sisters.

A few months back, my conversation partner and I were reading a piece about the movie, Into Great Silence, a film chronicling the lives of a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. Laurence Freeman writes:
It [the film] is a love story. This is the secret of the film. The monks seem happy but are not in love with each other. If they love each other it is because they are in love with the same invisible yet apparently ever-present person. Unnamed, unseen, even unspoken to, God plays in every scene. At first, one assumes it is the visible actors who are the lovers. Slowly it dawns that they are mirrors. The love we speak of is not our love for God but God's love for us.
We seek God most fully with others. I am learning more and more how true this is. Sitting down for these conversations is one way I am learning this. So, how wonderful it was to receive a quote from this month's conversation partner yesterday. This is what triggered the above-quoted words to come to mind. From the book series, The Hawk and the Dove:
Something is restored in both of them as they part company. Brother Damien, walking back to the claustral buildings of the monastery, reflects that though he came out of the world to this place to draw closer to God, the main thing he's found himself encountering is raw, uncompromised humanity - not least his own. He thinks maybe those two things aren't as distinct as he always assumed.
Sure, it isn't always easy. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Benedict, whose fellow monks tried to poison him. "Raw, uncompromised humanity" is far from perfect, but Benedict knew, and these writers seem to agree, that the best way to God is to share life with others. And, if my time in this community is any indicator so far, I agree with Benedict: Be a cenobite.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Simple Delights

An essential part of novitiate is learning presence. By not having an external ministry in the community, there are many opportunities for it. The other day I popped into the room of one of our sisters. She happens to be the other slice of bread in the community's age sandwich - we are seventy years apart!

I thanked her for some photos she sent me the day before. At 99 years of age, she loves her iPad and capturing special moments on it! I looked at the wall of her room, and I saw this:


She explained to me that it was Mary having tea! It made me smile quite a bit, and she told me that another sister in our community gave her this unique tea set. What a simply joy she shared with me! Then, she asked me if I could take a picture of her so she could send it to her friends. Today I asked if I could use it on my blog, and she said yes.


What a great photo! Today she was looking through a home design magazine to which she subscribes. She not only shared with me pictures of fancy living rooms and kitchens, but she also shared her simple delight with me. She loves paging through the magazine and reveling in the creativity of the designers who put these rooms together.

'Tis the gift to be simple.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Committed to Refugees

Our community has a corporate commitment that gives focus to our vision and work. Our commitment reads:

"As Benedictine Sisters of Erie we commit ourselves to be a healing presence and prophetic witness for peace by working for sustainability and justice, especially for women and children."

As a novice, we work on a project that aligns with this corporate commitment. After a few ideas, one fell into my lap that combines a few things which are right up my alley.

I am participating in a project called "Young Peace Journalists." The youth coordinator of Pax Christi International coordinates this effort to give voice to refugees internationally. There are about twenty of us, all under 30, from the following countries: Portugal, Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Kenya, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Papua New Guinea and the US.

All of the participants have connections to refugees where they live. Through Pax Christi we are learning some basics of journalism that we will use to interview a local refugee (or more) and write his/her story for Pax Christi's "Peace Stories" blog. It has been quite an experience to connect online with people from all these countries for the trainings. (Time zone adjustments, included!) It is also wonderful to see some people who are still in high school already brimming with a passion for social justice.

The Atlantic ran a story about refugees in Erie late last year. In it, we read about the ways that refugees contribute to a local community. I am excited to help represent this part of the world, especially as Trump's second attempt at a travel ban goes into effect. (Also from The Atlantic, here is a precious video of the children in a family of Iraqi refugees.)

This is the second group of Young Peace Journalists. You can read some of the stories that have already been written at Pax Christi by clicking here.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transfigure Us, O God

One of my Lenten practices has been to read a chapter of Joan Chittister's, In Search of Belief every morning. In each chapter of the book she writes about a phrase of the Creed, breaking down the prayer. This morning I read, "He Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit."

Here is the quote that received a few underlines:

"The Spirit opened Jesus to a world beyond his own."

I thought about the implications of this, which brought a line of poetry to mind, as well as a few verses from Scripture. First, the poetry:

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that sacred presence immerses this world, and we know this is true because Jesus, the Christ, came to share his humanity, as well as his divinity with us. It was the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus to do this, to enter into the world. So, I also thought of the oft-heard Philippians 2:5-11:

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God."

We certainly aren't going to be able to move beyond ourselves and stop grasping our old, tired ways without some grace much greater than ourselves beckoning us forward. We certainly aren't going to be open to the Spirit at work in us without listening to grandeur of God all around us. This all fits quite nicely with today's Gospel. We must be transfigured if we are going to allow the Spirit to get to work in our lives.

Last night we heard a lovely reflection on the Transfiguration during our Lenten vigil. We were reminded that we must be transfigured in order to bring about the reign of God. Interspersed with the reflection was a beautiful music meditation.


Break us away from ourselves, God. Break us open to Your world, filled with Your Spirit.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

To Pray These Words Each Morning

Neither I nor the poets I love
found the keys to the kingdom of prayer
and we cannot force God
to stumble over us where we sit.
But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway.
So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting,
making friends with the habit of listening,
hoping that I’m being listened to.
There, I greet God in my own disorder.
I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions,
my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble.
I say hello to distraction and privilege,
I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus.
I recognise and greet my burdens,
my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story.
I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story,
my unloved body, my own love, my own body.
I greet the things I think will happen
and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day.
I greet my own small world
and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.
I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day,
and hope that I can hear some stories,
and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead.
I greet God,
and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.
Hello to you all, I say,
as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.
Hello.

-From Pádraig Ó Tuama, the most recent guest on On Being. Listen here - it's wonderful!

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Lenten Journey Continues...

So, this is the first Sunday of Lent, and I have already encountered the first struggle.

After choosing something I wanted to do for the season, I heard what was simultaneously the best and the worst homily this morning. (#superlatives)

Today's Gospel focused on the temptations of Jesus before he began his public ministry. Our presider reminded us that the temptations we face are not really between good and evil, but rather they are a temptation where we must choose if we will rely on ourselves or if we will rely on God.

Adam and Eve decided to go it alone. Jesus? Not so much.

Then, here comes the punchline: "The greatest (note: superlative) temptation we face during Lent is to believe that we can effect our own conversion."

I repeat: The greatest temptation we face during Lent is to believe that we can effect our own conversion.

Uh oh.

And with those words from Fr. Jim, I knew I had a problem on my hands.

You see, I had already decided how my Lenten action would help me grow into a better person. But, this morning I was reminded that it is not for me to decide.

Sure, I can choose how I want to live to my life, but I don't get to choose how I will grow and what will cause that growth. I can choose to be open to life, but I cannot choose what life will come my way.

This certainly isn't easy stuff, but it is how we are called to live.

Jim also reminded us that this Lenten journey isn't about morality; it is about wisdom.

So, I pray that however God decides to use me this Lent, that I might be open to the wisdom that lives in the experience.

May you, too, be open.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Lenten Journey Begins...

The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of our own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 1:6). In other words, let each one deny herself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. 
Everyone should, however, make known to the prioress what she intends to do, since it ought to be done with her prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the prioress will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with her approval. 
Rule of Benedict: 49, The Observance of Lent
Today we begin the 40-day journey toward Holy Week and Easter. Chapel is ready, and we received our ashes this morning.


I realize that this year will be a special Lent for me as a novice. I will have fewer distractions getting in the way of making my journey. I read this quote about/from Br. John Mark Falkenhein, OSB that gave some good perspective on novitiate and the real purpose of Lent.
So, in his mid-30s, he came to Saint Meinrad to become a monk. Although his novitiate year was admittedly difficult at times as he adjusted to his new way of life, Br. John Mark says he has never been happier. "I have felt so terribly free, because I had really renounced all the things that were important to me. It's not that they were bad, but I just had to let go and trust, deciding to act without knowing, believe without seeing. Eventually, I discovered that doesn't mean rejecting things like friends and relationships, and a career, but giving up control of them.
Yes, Lent isn't necessarily about saying "no" to everything that life offers, but rather about examining our relationship with life, how tightly or gently we grasp different parts of it, and what we value in it, which we can do by letting go of some of the things we consider normalcy in our lives - sounds a bit like novitiate, doesn't it? Joan Chittister also provides an insight in her book on the Liturgical Year:
Each succeeding year, Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our lives, here and now. But that demands both the healing of the soul and the honing of the soul, both penance and faith, both a purging of what is superfluous in our lives and the heightening, the intensifying, of what is meaningful.
So, how will I enter into this Lent in a way that allows me to immerse in the truth of my Joy? Will I be able to acknowledge and let go of those parts of my life that are not life-giving? Life-giving or not, can I practice holding everything gently? Where am I called to Resurrection this year?

The journey awaits...

Let us walk in the holy presence.