Saturday, January 31, 2009

Music Lessons

One of these days, I'd like to write a book entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from My Music Teacher. I started taking piano and organ lessons from Sr. Theresita when I entered the monastery. I apply what I learn not only to the pieces I play, but also to life.

The first chapter would be called "Slow Down." If Sr. Theresita has told me once . . . . or if she had a nickle for every time. . . . you know the rest.

One time I was playing a piece for what we called The Sisters' Recital. I must have been a little nervous because my fingers literally could not keep up. I had to stop in the middle and humbly wave my hands in the air above my head. It got a good laugh. I started again, but unfortunately kept the same tempo. Somehow I managed through to the last chord. Someone later told me I should have slowed down. For whatever reason, that had never occured to me at that moment even though I had heard it many times before.

I have learned that even though I want to play things faster, I can't start out at that tempo. I can hear Sr. Theresita now saying, "If you can't play it slow, you won't be able to play it at the tempo it's marked." Maybe I get impatient or have expectations too high for myself. I sit down at the piano and away I go. Or at least, away I want to go. I sometimes forget that there are lots of steps I have to take before reaching the final product.

Slowing down is such a necessity of life. Our lives get hectic and overwhelming. "Slow down," I can hear Sr. Theresita say. Notice what is. Look things over before you jump right in. Slowing down can also be interpreted as "Be gentle on yourself." I know I have lots to learn, but can't expect to learn it all overnight.

Here at the monastery, our prayer life slows us down and calls us back to what is truly important. The Liturgy of the Hours frames our day. We pray morning prayer and evening prayer together. We also pray midday prayer. It's usually about 10 minutes and helps us stay focused on God and the reason why we work. The pace of prayer calls us to slow down. We pause after each line so as to truly absorb the words and let them wash over us. There's a steady rhythm and tempo to our prayer that's contrary to the tempo our lives usually take with demanding careers and hectic schedules.

Because of our fast paced lives, it's necessary to slow down throughout the day and be aware of the present moment. If we don't take time to slow down, how can we ever live life at the required tempo. I think I would end up waving my hands in the air above my head all the time. I'd find it all overwhelming and get frustrated at my inability to keep up - even if it's just trying to keep up with myself.

Thanks, Sr. Theresita. After all your repetition, I am aware of my need to slow down. I tell myself that all the time when I play the piano and as I go through my day. Sometimes I get impatient and long for the finished product at the beginning. I know there are lots of steps in between, however, so I may need to be reminded some more. Knowing something and actually doing it are 2 different things.

Keep reading for future chapters. How about Patience, Perseverence, and (my least favorite, but something Sr. Theresita tells me all the time) Work on the Hard Things First. Tomorrow's chapter - Play Hands Separately.

Friday, January 30, 2009

All Are Welcome

With the storm, there have been many without power. Fortunately we have power and have been able to help out Sister Kathy's sister, brother-in-law, and 2 year old niece as well as one of the parishioners here. This has been an enjoyable experience. It has led me to reflect on hospitality. Here at the monastery, we talk about Benedictine hospitality, but I certainly learned about hospitality long before entering the community.

Everyone was always welcomed at our house. Usually for holiday gatherings, we'd have the usual family around the table, but also the neighbors who weren't with family on that day would come over as well. I remember wondering if Ms. Jane and Mr. Stockman would hook up. Both were elderly and their spouses had died. I know my mom wasn't playing matchmaker, but just making sure everyone had a place to go for the holidays.

Once a college friend stayed with my parents for a year. It was just the 3 of them. At first, my friend would ask permission to do things - like use the phone or eat something. My mom quickly responded, "Giiiirrrrrl, we gotta get something straight. You don't ask around here; you just take!" (Make sure you use a southeast MO drawl when you say those lines.)

Another friend of mine used to come over almost everyday when we were in high school. The first day, he mistakenly came over while we were eating supper. No matter how much he protested, my mom insisted that he eat with us. The next day, he came much later in the evening. That didn't matter to my mom. She insisted that he still eat, so she got a plate and warmed up some food for him. After that she always fixed more food in case he'd come. He'd just help himself. Sometimes we didn't always know if he was still at our house. My brother and I might be doing homework, and he'd be in the other room watching TV. He was welcomed at our house as one of the family. He just made himself at home.

Another time in college, my brother, a friend of ours, and I arrived at my parents' house unexpectedly at midnight. My mom (would you call this love, crazy, or both?) got up, found some food for us, and then stayed up with us for 2 hours talking and sharing funny stories.

OK. OK. Lots of hospitality stories. There are lots more, but here's just one last one - a classic. One afternoon, an elderly woman came to our front door. My mom invited her in, and they sat on the couch in the living room and talked. I was in the other room, so I finished up what I was doing and headed to the living room to say hello. Just as I was getting there, my mom was showing the lady out the door.
"Who was that?" I asked.
"I don't know."
"You don't know who that was?"
"I have no idea."
"Why did she come in?"
"Well, she came to the door, so I invited her in. I didn't know who she was, so I invited her to sit on the couch. I thought if we started talking, I'd figure out who she was. She was actually at the wrong house. She wanted the people down the street."

If I don't know what hospitality is, I must have grown up in the wrong house.

Snow days

Yes, as you've been reading- Louisville has been blanketed with snow and ice. Luckily, we have not lost power at my house for any extended pieriod of time, so I've had 4 unexpected days of time to catch up, read, relax, and do fun things for myself. Indeed, sometimes God does bless us with unexpected surprises! I have been able to read ( I have finished 3 books!), write letters, play guitar, hang out and crosstitch- all things I enjoy.) Yet, I have been praying for those who have lost power and have no electricity or heat. Last night, we lost power for about 20 minutes. I got cold in bed, even though it was only 20 minutes! I can't imagine what it must be like those who have been without it for days. May God be with them and protect them and keep them safe. May power be returned soon to them!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Initial Formation Weekend

About once a month, the sisters in initial formation get together. Sometimes we just hang out together, talk and catch up on what's going on. Other times we have a class or a day of reflection. This past weekend, we did both!

Our time together began Friday evening with Evening Prayer and Supper with the monks in initial formation at St. Meinrad Archabbey, an event we do together about once a year. On Saturday morning, after Morning Prayer and Mass, we spent time just talking and really listening to each other. Saturday afternoon, we headed to Huntingburg for an afternoon at the bowling alley! Most of us only bowl about once a year, so it was certainly an afternoon filled with excitement watching each other throw the occasional gutter ball as well as the strikes and spares!

Since I live away from the monastery, it was a nice time to get together with my sisters, and it's always nice to get together with my peers. It helps me remember that we are all on this journey together! Enjoy the pictures!

Here Sisters Jeana and Ann Francis prepare to take their turns!

Sister Gail gets ready to throw a strike!

There's No Such Word as Bored!

We've been out of school since Tuesday because of the weather. The first snow day is always fun. I can catch up on some sleep, do some extra reading and journaling, and like Sister Jeana mentioned have some impromptu retreat time or time to practice music. After a while, however, you long for your regular routine.

I remember when we were growing up, we would proclaim, "Mooooooooom, I'm bored." My mom's response was always the same, "Bored? Bored? There's no such word in the English language! You can't be bored." She would then tell us we should clean the kitchen or help with laundry if we were bored. Of course, we weren't bored when she mentioned that and we found plenty of other things to occupy our time.

Because of my mom's wisdom, we learned to find things to do or new things to learn rather than stating we were bored. I remember also declaring there was nothing to eat right after she got back from the grocery store? Did anyone else ever do this?

Nowadays I find myself repeating the things that my mom used to say to me when I was growing up. Do you do this? You know, the things that your parents would say that would annoy you at the time, but now make perfect sense.

I am truly grateful for the many lessons and words of wisdom my mom has taught me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Like many others across the Midwest, we received several inches of snow on top of a substantial layer of ice. Though it is a beautiful sight in some areas, it also wreaked havoc with the trees. We have already lost many large limbs of many treas across the monastery campus. Even the broken trees could not take away from the beauty of the snow cover grounds and buildings. I hope wherever you are you are safe and can also take the time to enjoy the beauty.
Are you in a place that received this winter storm? How did it affect you?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pure Joy!

I decided I needed to take a quick break from my day and write about something that happened last night. During these long, cold winter evenings, it is not uncommon to find Sister Betty and I in Saint Gertrude playing on the Wii that was donated to us. We have been playing for some time and find the activity both good exercise and great fun. We especially like the sports. Each time we play, which is once or twice a week, we usually go through all the sports: bowling, golf, tennis, and baseball (we pass on the boxing!). Sometimes we also like to race the cows or go fishing.

Anyway, last night after many weeks of trying, Sister Betty reached the Pro level on the bowling. Oh how I wish I would have had a video camera! Her pure joy at finally attaining what she has been working so hard to achieve was contagious. I think maybe everyone in the monastery heard her! :)) Congratulations Sister Betty!

Are there any other Wii Pro bowlers out there?

Friday, January 23, 2009

A day in the life of a Sister of St. Benedict

Believe it or not--sometimes life is CRAZY BUSY! Really! Sometimes we get so caught up in the doing that we forget the being! I have a poster in my office that says "God made Human Beings--not Human Doings! Be Still and Know that I am God! (Ps. 46:10)" I'll have to admit, I haven't been doing very well at living as a human being! Alright, alright, I'll just come out and say it: I'm a workaholic! But it's so hard not to be a workaholic! I mean, I LOVE the work that I do as the Director of Music Ministry at St. Paul's Catholic Center and Newman Center of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana! To see so many young people totally on fire for God is one of the most rewarding parts of my job! Praising God through music with so many wonderfully talented music students from one of the best schools of music in the midwest is a second rewarding part of my job! And working with three wonderful priests and an extremely supportive staff is the third!

I'll admit and especially after six funerals in my parish this month alone (even though we are a university parish, we still have resident parishioners of all ages!), sometimes I forget that God wants us to PLAY and HAVE FUN too! Life's not all about work! It's about BALANCE! That was what I did this past week! In an effort to have more FUN, I left the laptop at the office, directed my phone calls to voicemail, and headed out with the sister I live with for an Indiana University-Purdue University Women's Basketball Game. Now, if you don't know about these two teams yet, they are each other's rivals! In every sport, the IU-Purdue game has the largest attendance and always has the most energy!
And energy there certainly was on Monday night! The IU Women beat Purdue Women 71-57 in the final minutes of the game! Throughout the game, there were a lot of IU fans, including myself, holding our breath! IU would score and Purdue would return the points! We yelled and cheered, gasped and shouted at the turnovers, the rebounds, the defense, and the missed free-throws. In the end, IU ended up on top and my housemate and I went home laughing and smiling! Towards the end of the game, we even got good at the IU cheers and school song!

It was a great game and a great night! Probably what was the most fun was being able to sit back, enjoy some time with my sister in community, and just BE.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Keep It Down - You're Not Meeting My Expectations!

I walked into the computer lab today at Indiana University Southeast and found myself getting frustrated. I needed to do some work, but there were people around me talking. There was one person in particular who was very loud and announcing to everyone what she was having trouble with. Another guy who I thought was the lab technician was just as loud and came over to help her. I wanted to say, "Hey! I'm trying to concentrate and get some work done. Do you mind keeping the computer lab quiet?" Something the lab tech said later made me realize that he wasn't really the lab tech; he was the teacher. The reason the woman was announcing things she didn't know to the whole room was because she was one of the students. I had walked in on a class.

(Cue the music from Law and Order: dun, dun, dun)

I looked around. How was I supposed to know this? There was no sign that indicated the lab was being used for a classroom. I made my mistake known to the teacher.

I found the whole situation interesting. Without complete information, I was becoming irritated by a woman asking questions when in actuality she had every right to do so. Once I realized the situation, it all made sense.

It made me realize how easy it is to make judgments. When we judge too quickly, our judgments are based on incomplete information and only our own perception. Without all the information, our judgments are inaccurate. I wonder what those in the lab thought when I walked in on their class. No one said anything. Maybe they thought I knew they were in the middle of class and they were wondering what I was doing. Who knows?

The point is I didn't have all the information. When I wasn't getting what I expected - a quiet place to work and print off a few papers - I became frustrated.

I'm sure we have all been on the giving and receiving ends of inaccurate and negative judgments. It ain't pretty. Communication is so important. There are reasons why people behave the way they do. Do we seek understanding? Questions are always better than judgments. Can I put myself in someone else's shoes and see it from their perspective? Do I have a complete picture or have I taken a few facts and my expectations and made a judgment?

Dear God, please help me to be open and to seek understanding.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


We have a room at the monastery where we enter and leave community life. It is the room where we have our entrance ceremony and welcome new members. It is also the room where we gather when a sister dies, and we welcome her into eternal life. We recently did this for Sister Mary Aquin, who suffered from Parkinson's, a terrible neurological disease.

My Aunt Mary Emma (affectionately known as Aunt M'Emma) suffered from a disease that has been likened to Parkinson's. Growing up, I knew somewhat of the effects it had on her and my family. Because of this, when I got older I wanted to help.

My freshman year of college I worked in the neurology department at a hospital. I did mostly filing. I got to know the secretaries, the nurses, and one of the doctors. It was my hope that indirectly my working there would help find a cure. I was doing what little I could to help the doctors who were treating the patients. It is still my hope that with time and medical advances, we will improve the lives of those with neurological diseases and eventually find a cure.

Those of us who knew Sister Mary Aquin saw her lose her capabilities and her ability to work. The disease progressively and brutally robbed many things from her. We believe that she is now at peace. I believe also that although she is at peace, she has more work to do now than ever before. She has to intercede for us, for those who are affected by neurological diseases, for their families and friends, for the doctors, nurses, researchers, secretaries, financial contributors, and even those who do filing or sweep the floors or empty the trash.

All of us together can work for a common cause - to improve the lives of others in the ways we are able to do so, however little that may be. We are all connected and what we do affects those around us. We can't underestimate our abilities or our contributions. All I did when I worked in the neurology department was file, but it was necessary. It freed up others to do the things they were capable of doing.

Many advances have already been made, but more remains to be done.
Sister Mary Aquin, intercede for us and may God grant you eternal peace and comfort.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

National Vocation Awareness Week

Right now I sitting at Panera Bread writing this post. I am spending the week in Louisville, Kentucky, which is about an hour from Ferdinand. This is National Vocation Awareness Week and I am going to 8 different schools doing 10 vocation talks to students in grades 2-8. I have done 4 so far and have 4 more to go. I am in between talks right now so I found a place to get wireless to catch up on my email. This is a whole other world for me. There are people everywhere here on their laptops. Some are doing personal things, Check Spellingothers are college students, and others are having business meetings. We are an extreemly mobile world now - with our cell phones, laptops, blackberries, and wireless signals all over, we can be connected practically wherever we are. This can be seen as good or bad. I see it as both. For the times it is necessary it is a good thing; however when we are ALWAYS attached to others it is not so good. We need down time and time for ourselves and for God, too.

Please please pray for all the young people across the nation who will be hearing vocation talks this week. Also, pray for those religious who will be talking to them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reflection for the Baptism of Jesus Mark 1:7-11

Over the past several weeks, we have read many fantastic stories surrounding Jesus’ conception, birth, and infancy. We have read about an angel appearing to a young girl to tell her that she would bear a son and name him Jesus. We have heard of an angel appearing in a dream to the girl’s betrothed to tell him not to be afraid. We have heard of this miraculous child’s birth in a lowly manger, and of visits by shepherds. We have heard of three kings who followed the star and brought the child seemingly odd gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If we were to wonder who this child is about whom we have read and who he will become, our answer may come in the excerpt from Mark’s gospel that we read tonight.
As we listened to this reading, we witnessed the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John. With all of the wonder surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the certainty that this extraordinary child has grown to be an extraordinary man, it seems strange that Jesus would choose to be baptized by John – yet this baptism continues to help us unravel the mystery of who Jesus is. As John baptized Jesus, Mark tells us, Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At this point if we had not already believed so, we would have known that Jesus is no ordinary person, and that Jesus’ acceptance of John’s baptism is yet another event that heralds the dawn of the messianic era and tells us that the new world is finally to come into being.
As we follow Jesus through the gospels, the elements of wonder and awe never leave. Through many stories, we hear Jesus challenge, teach, and heal people so that they and we may get a small glimmer of understanding of the tremendous love that God has for all people. Jesus is truly Emmanuel – God With Us. What a precious gift God has given us in Jesus! If that were not enough, God sent the Son not only to live with us, but to endure suffering and death so that God might welcome us into eternal life, into dwelling with God forever in love. If we view Jesus’ baptism with the same measure of wonder and awe with which we approach the nativity, we cannot help but be amazed and humbled by the magnanimous love of God for us. How very lucky we are! This love, which echoes through the ages, is made known to us through our own baptism.
Through baptism, we are born into the wonder and mystery of God, set free from our tendency towards sin and isolation, and welcomed into a community of believers. Through baptism, we can rejoice in the many gifts that God gives to us and come to know the supreme Love that surrounds us. These gifts stretch beyond the bounds of this life and lead us into eternal life – back to our home with God. This call to live in God’s love through baptism does not end at the moment that we receive the sacrament, but extends beyond that moment and impels us to receive others as Christ would receive them and so build up the community of believers. It is our responsibility to share the love that we have received.
The waters of baptism are the waters that change the face of our world. Baptism restores us into right relationship with God and is the threshold of even greater things to come. This evening, as we remember the Baptism of Jesus, let us gratefully celebrate the great gift of God’s love to us and to our world by reaching out to others and helping them come to know Emmanuel – God is for us, God is with us, God is in us. How very blessed we are.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Scandal of the Particular

This week I started a new semester, teaching Social Justice to my high school juniors. I always feel a little overwhelmed teaching this course, as Catholic Social Teaching is ever bumping up against current events, economics, poverty, politics. Anyone who would facilitate such an exploration must learn to dance delicately: one must allow the Gospel to challenge one's students, without seeming to shove anything down anyone's throat. At the same time, delving into how our faith calls us to live with each other, today, keeps everything fresh. I feel like Social Justice class is God's way of keeping me on my toes, keeping me from becoming too complacent, too at ease in the comforts of my own life.

I opened the semester with a reading from an excerpt from Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, paired with a story of Marion Maendel, a young woman who served for several years as a Catholic Worker. Her story resonated with my own experience working as a Jesuit Volunteer for two year before entering the monastery. Within the first month, Maendel discovered that serving on your own steam won't cut it. Cuban-American theologian Roberto Goizueta calls this the "scandal of the particular." Exalted ideals of working for justice serving the poor are fine and good, but when it comes to serving this particular poor person, working with this particular reality of an imperfect system, living alongside these particular neighbors- it's going to take something beyond my own limited wealth of kindness to keep me engaged.

When I realize that I don't have all the answers, that the answers I have don't all fit into nice tidy boxes, only then can I make room for the Holy Spirit. It is when our own "savior complex" is crushed and we realize our own limitations that we come to know solidarity with the poor, with each other. What is a preferential option for the poor when over half the world is trying to live on about $2 per day? Who am I to think I can make a difference when our systems of education, health care, criminal justice, and economics are so twisted as to wring out certain people almost no matter what they do? I am one little person, and I don't have all the answers.

Moreover, I am humbled when I look at my own consumption patterns: where does my clothing come from, and how fairly were those workers paid? How does my buying the cheapest possible version of something at a big box store affect a local family trying to run a smaller business? How is my food produced, and how do those modes of production and sale affect the environment? Whether I like it or not, my own life is complicit in a web of systemic injustices. Given all this, what is God calling me to do with my own little life, today?

Living in community is in itself a step toward greater justice in the world. When we share what we have, individually we need less. When we carpool, we emit a little less pollution into the air. When we garden together, we put to good use the earth we have been given and produce food in a sustainable way. In community we challenge each other to consider what we need, and to let go of what is superfluous. In a world where some people are unable to obtain necessities, who are we to hang onto what we don't use?

Community also provides the opportunity to practice solidarity with my neighbor. One contribution Jesus made to world religions was to expand the notion of loving God to include loving one's neighbor. If I really love God, I need to love the sister who drives me crazy, even if I don't like her. If I really love God, I need to be flexible enough to allow for another sister's perspective on our situation together. If I really love God, I need to be willing to help care for my sister who is sick. When I can get out of the notion that my life is all about me, then I can start to understand what it means to love my neighbor.

By God's grace, if I can learn to love the people I see and know, perhaps eventually I can learn to love those who I cannot see, those I do not know. That is the first step toward social justice is our world: "for what you did for the least of these, that you did unto Me."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Paul - An Inspiration

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Paul. The reason I like him is because he was simply who he was, and no matter what happened he kept preaching about God. Apparently, though, he wasn't much of a speaker. In Acts, it mentions a man who had fallen asleep while Paul was speaking and ended up falling out of a window. He might have fallen asleep out of boredom. Paul was known to be long-winded. I was told by a theology teacher that the reason Paul wrote so many letters was to clear up the confusion he left when speaking to the people. Speaking of letters, I find his writing interesting also. A whole paragraph may be one sentence.

Paul certainly wasn't perfect, which is why I like him and can relate to him. Despite his shortcomings, Paul used the gifts he was given and persevered. There's no question that people didn't like him or his message. His life was in danger many times. However, Paul seemed to have never lost sight of his mission - to spread the Word of God and to teach others about Jesus. Paul is an example to me to be who I am, to accept my gifts and limitations, and to persevere regardless of what others may think, say, or do.

I pray that I may be like St. Paul - staying focused on the power and grace of God working through me. As Paul says in The Letter to the Phillipians, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." May I rely on this strength and not my own. May I persevere come what may. May we all learn from St. Paul.

St. Paul, pray for us.


Well, it snowed all day yesterday. It was beautiful to watch out of my classroom window. BUT, it melted once it landed on the ground. I just chose not to look at the ground but watch it floating through the air. And today it is so very cold! Burrrrrr!
I don't mind the cold if there is snow on the ground. I do feel bad for all of those states that are having record snowfalls. That is too much snow! So for all those who are six feet under the white stuff, God bless you and may you have less snow in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Back in the Saddle

As a teacher I look forward to the Christmas break,the New Year and the beginning of a new semester. I like the month of January. It is a quiet time in the calendar. Not much going on. There are basketball games, but for the most part not to many activities are on the schedule. I always hope for some snowfall that will brighten up the dullness of a cold winter day. It also seems to add to the quiet stillness of winter. One teacher wrote a reflection about winter being a time to recharge ourselves. Taking time to be with family and friends and to enjoy the quietness of winter. On this cold wet winter day I am reminded of her reflection to take time to enjoy the winter stillness before the school schedule picks up with Spring activities.


It is great to be back on a regular schedule. Christmas and New Year break was wonderful, but I never thought about how my body liked being on a regular schedule. The second semester has started. My fourth graders are ready to get started.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Summing It Up

If people were to describe you using only one word, what word would it be? I was thinking about this for myself and for those I love. Definitely, with my grandma the word would be "loving." Always when I was in her presence I felt loved. I believe, without a doubt, that I was her favorite. I also believe that everyone in the family can say, without a doubt, the exact same thing. Each one of us was her favorite. I didn't have to say or do anything special. I was loved for simply being.

It took awhile for me to think of one word for my mom. There were several, but if I could only choose one it would be "generous." She has literally given me the shirt off her back and the wall hanging off the wall. One time when I was in college, I wasn't sure if I was going to have enough money to pay the rent. She got out every piece of spare change she could find. We counted up pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters until I had enough. When visiting from college, I learned that I couldn't make the comment that I liked anything that was new at the house because I would later find the object in my bag after I arrived back at school.

If I could choose one word for myself, it would be "blessed." Things haven't always been easy or the way I would want them to be. My family has had some difficult times and the future is a mystery. I know, however, that I am truly blessed. I have been blessed by God, and I am truly blessed to be a Ferdinand Benedictine.

I could go on and list other family members and one word descriptions of them, but go ahead and try it for yourself. How would you describe yourself? Do you want that word to be different? How do you want people to remember you? What are ways that you can make that word a reality?