Friday, December 30, 2011

Valuing People

Sometimes when I was growing up, my dad would ask, "Do you want to go with me?" My response was always, "Where are you going?" He'd say, "That shouldn't matter." So, I'd say, "Well, what are you going to do?" I'd get the answer, "That shouldn't matter either. It's more important who you're with than what you're doing?" I understood the message he was trying to get across, but I still wished for a clear answer.

Since entering the monastery, I find myself doing activities that I didn't care for before, not because I all of a sudden like the activities, but because over the years I've learned, "It's more important who I'm with than what I'm doing."

I was never into jigsaw puzzles, but have found myself putting pieces in if that's what the group is doing.

Sledding???? I hate the cold, but I've even found myself all bundled up having a great time. Not because I enjoy sledding, but I enjoy the people I'm with.

I'm not a huge fan of checkers either, but played around 700 games with Sr. Carla. (We kept a tally. I haven't played checkers since she died in 2008 at 104 years old. I enjoyed being with her even when she kicked my tail.)

Now don't get me wrong. I have my likes and dislikes, but the activity is secondary to the people I'm with.

I was recently invited to watch a movie with a group of sisters. The actual watching of the movie wasn't that important to me as just being with the group. I would have said yes to playing cards, working on a crossword puzzle, or sitting around twiddling our thumbs. That's why when we spent about an hour trying to figure out the DVD player and still couldn't get it to work, it didn't bother me in the least. It was the people I came to be with, not the movie I came to see.

We worked hard to get the DVD player working. We called a few people and even got so desperate that we looked at the instruction manual. We finally switched to a different TV and DVD player in another room.

As a kid, it was annoying to ask my dad what we were doing or where we were going and not get a clear answer. I did learn the lesson though and live my life accordingly. People are more important than places or activities.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Joy of Giving

Maybe you've heard or seen on the news stories about Christmas angels coming in and paying off layaway bills or going up to complete strangers at different stores and giving them gift cards. Last week, I got to be a part of a group of people who were those Christmas angels.

When I went to MO a few days before Christmas, I got together with a high school friend and some members of his church. They had been collecting donations and then went to Wal-Mart and bought 15 $10 gift cards and 1 $100 gift card. We all met in the parking lot one evening, broke up into 5 groups and handed out 3 gift cards each. We prayed before passing them out and were told to use the gift of discernment. I thought everyone looked like they could use a little extra help and money, so I tagged along and left the discernment up to the others in my group.

We then met together as a large group, talked about our experiences, and then headed off to give away the $100 gift card. There were probably around 30 of us all walking around the store together. We then handed the $100 gift card to a woman who was there with her husband and child. She and her daughter both started crying. It was a beautiful sight.

As we celebrate this Christmas season, let us all be aware of the many ways that we can be Christ's hands and feet.

Merry Christmas!

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” (Luke 2)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing… For a child is born to us, a son is given us… They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9)

Our wish and prayer for you this Christmas season and throughout the new year is for good news, great joy, peace, and love.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blessing of the Greens

The "blessing of the greens" is an annual ritual we observe in our monastery about a week before Christmas. The message is, "Let the decorating begin." Our prioress, Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, blesses sprigs of evergreen and gives one to each of the deaneries (groups of sisters living in the various residential areas of the monastery), to represent the beginning of Christmas decorating in our monastery. During the first few weeks of Advent, we focus more on the internal, spiritual preparation for Christmas. That continues, but the external preparations also become important this final week of Advent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gospel Reflection - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Here's a reflection I gave at the monastery on the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Advent.

Reflection: Mark 1: 1-8
I’d like to share a true story. Well, as true as I know it to be. Sr. Mary Mark shared it with me a few years ago. As I tell the story, I’d like for you to imagine yourself actually in the story. Take in the sights. Hear the sounds. Ask yourself how you would respond and what you are thinking as you see the events unfold? At the end, think of how you would live your life if you truly believe the message of the story. Would your life be any different?

Imagine that you are at St. Meinrad at the archabby church.
It’s before the current renovation, so there’s still a balcony. You’re simply sitting and praying when you notice Sr. Mary Mark come in with a family whose little girl goes to Madonna Learning Center in Memphis, TN. They are taking in the beauty of the church and fail to notice the girl slip away from them, climb the stairs to the balcony, look at everyone below, and proclaim in a very loud and clear voice so that the entire church can hear, “Jesus is going to be here in 10 minutes.”

Now tell me, what would you have done?
I know if I had been there, I would have looked at my watch and waited around at least 15 more minutes. I would have even given Jesus ½ an hour. I would have stood a little straighter and been on the look out. After all, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. God spoke to others in a whisper or a dream. Our Gospel reading today quotes Isaiah, which reads, “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” Who’s to say God’s not sending this message to us through a little girl from Memphis, TN? I certainly would have waited around a few more minutes to find out.

The more important question though, is not what would you have done for the next 10 minutes or so, but what would you have done after you waited and realized that this proclamation was not going to be fulfilled?
What would you have done after an hour? Would you still have stood a little straighter? Still be on the look out? Would your life have been any different?

Does knowing that Jesus may come at any minute change the way you think, act, speak, or feel?
Does knowing that Jesus is present with me right now as I stand up here and speak affect how I live my life? Does it affect how you love and how you express that love? Does it affect your priorities? Does knowing that Jesus is here present within each person, that God created us and calls us all beloved, that we are all created in God’s image, that we are all God’s children, brothers and sisters in God’s family, affect how I treat the person next to me, the person I pass in the hallway, the person I get stuck with at table, the person I live with, the person who is getting on my nerves yet again?

Advent, as we know, is a time when we prepare for the coming of Jesus.
How are we preparing the way for the Lord? How are we living our lives so that we can become more fully aware of God’s presence at all times?

In the Gospel, we hear about John the Baptist.
We are called to follow his example, minus the camel hair, locusts, and wild honey, and prepare the way for the Lord. The girl from TN was following his example, and her message would have woken me up. But if I live my life fully the way God intends, those 10 minutes waiting to see if anything would happen should not have been much different than how I live my life all the time.

As we prepare the way for the Lord, we begin first by getting to know ourselves.
Theresa of Avila said that you cannot know Jesus if you do not know yourself. This “getting to know myself” was felt most intensely for the first time for me during my novice year. When someone asked how my novice year was going, I responded, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.” Getting to know ourselves can be painful and challenging as we discover and uncover things we had always kept hidden. Then, of course, after that, as we continue to journey forth toward getting to know ourselves and the God who dwells within us, it’s a lot of hard work. You all know that and model that through your perseverance.

We prepare the way for the Lord by getting to know ourselves first.
In so doing, we come to know the God who dwells within us. We can then radiate God’s light and let God’s love shine through us.

We don’t have to wait or wonder when Jesus is going to be here.
It won’t be in 10 minutes. Just look around and within. Jesus is already present.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent blessings!

One lighted candle on our Advent wreath in cloister hall, outside our church doors, reminds us that we are in the first week of Advent, the liturgical season when we wait in hope, longing for God's coming among us - Emmanuel. On Saturday, November 26, Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, our prioress, blessed the Advent wreath and lit the first candle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


As my mom's health continues to decline, and we look into making major changes, I'm aware of how our home hasn't really changed too much over the past 30 years we've lived there. Well, that's not entirely true. We did have a few major changes. When I was around 10, we added 3 rooms to our house. At some point growing up, we built a shed in the back yard, but beyond that our house and our actions, for the most part, have stayed the same.

I wrote one time about when my brother and I were home from college and he went to the grocery store to buy toilet paper. When he went to check out, the cashier said, "That isn't the kind of toilet paper your mom usually buys."

A few years ago, my mom wanted me to go to the store and buy cheese. I was surprised when she asked, "Do you know what kind to get?" I responded, "Mom, we've bought the same cheese for 30 years." (Maybe she was remembering the toilet paper mix-up a few years earlier.)

It's not that anyone in my family would be against trying something new. I just think we all unconsciously fell into a comfortable routine. I remember being so surprised when my mom rearranged the living room furniture. Of course, that was around 15 years ago, and I'm a little more used to it now.

One thing that has changed a lot is my mom's mobility. She uses a walker to get around the house. Because of this, I moved the dining room buffet about 6 inches to make the maneuvering a little easier for her. As I moved the buffet, I was very much aware that this was probably the first time the piece of furniture had been moved in 20 or 30 years. A small incident, but a sign of a major change.

One thing that has remained constant at our house that I'll carry on as long as possible is the candy dish on top of the buffet, which has always been filled with M&Ms. My mom no longer eats them, but I always make sure the dish is replenished when I'm there. (I guess that's only fair since I do my part to empty it.) I'll buy a different kind of toilet paper or cheese before I say good-bye to the M&M dish.

Of course, these are all little changes compared to the major decisions and changes that lie ahead of us and the changes that we've already had to make. Not having my mom greet me when I come home and not having her wave for 2 blocks as I drive back to Ferdinand have been difficult changes. It was tough being at my niece's wedding and not seeing my mom being escorted down the aisle by her 8 year old grandson. Everyday from here on out, there will be more letting go.

I do find it interesting that my mom's illness really reared its ugly head soon after I made profession in October 2008. After entering in 2001, my mom waited 7 years to see me make profession. I'm convinced that she was doing all she could to hold off the disease and make it to profession. When I went home at Christmas that same year, it was like night and day as far as my mom's health.

Through all of this, we'll continue making difficult decisions. We'll continue moving furniture, getting rid of things, and filling up the M&M dish. Many things will change, but I will always be aware of my mom's sacrifices and unconditional love for my brothers and me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day!

We remember… and we honor and pray for all veterans of war and for men and women who are currently serving their country. We pray for peace among all nations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

When Times Are Tough

I work with the best people ever here at Notre Dame Academy in Louisville, KY. It's a real family, and everyone pitches in to help each other. Some of the teachers have given me gas money for when I go home to visit my mom. I couldn't ask for a better place to work and a better group of people to work with.

A lot of times we say or hear people say, "Let me know if you need anything." It's always nice when people think of things on their own and take action. I wouldn't ask my co-workers for gas money, but how thoughtful and kind of them to think of me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All Souls Day

As part of our observance of All Souls Day on November 2, a special day to remember departed loved ones, we processed to the monastery cemetery for the conclusion of our Evening Prayer. We placed a wreath at the crucifix, blessed the graves, and prayed for the dead, including those whose names were sent to us by friends, families, and benefactors.

Congratulation to our jubilarians!

Jubilees are important occasions for our community. On Sunday, October 30, five of our sisters observed their jubilees - special anniversaries of their monastic profession. Five sisters - 325 years of prayer and service. With great joy and gratitude we celebrated their faithfulness to the monastic life and their commitment to years of ministry. Sister Mary Charlotte Kavanaugh (75 years), Sister Martha Marie Tempel (70 years), and Sisters Joanna Trainer, Lorraine DeVault, and Mary Dominic Frederick (60 years).

During the jubilee ceremony, the sisters renewed their vows and commitment and prayed for the grace to remain faithful.

Front row: Sister Martha Marie Tempel and Sister Mary Charlotte Kavanaugh
Back row: Sisters Joanna Trainer, Mary Dominic Frederick, and Lorraine DeVault

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Moved to Clapping

Have you ever been so in awe of God's presence that you were moved to clapping? I think that's what happened to my students today. I have church singing practice with 4th-6th grade once a week in the church. The students were singing beautifully. It couldn't have been any better. We sang through a new Mass setting that we'll be using in Advent. Then we sang a song by Janet Vogt called Thank You, God. It was beautiful. When they sing and participate well, I let them choose a few songs, so we sang through I Danced in the Morning and Anthem. (They never get tired of these.) Then we sang a song called Give Thanks. At the end, they all started clapping. It was absolutely beautiful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Get by with a Little Help from My Students

One thing about preparing the children’s liturgies here at school is that you never know what will happen. I could practice 100 times with a student, but that morning, the student may be absent. Today’s liturgy for All Saints Day went really well thanks to the students. We did have 2 substitutes for the ministries because of absences (and maybe a candy hangover from Halloween).

I announced to the students before we started that we were going to sing the Gloria. Well, when the time came for us to sing, I had already forgotten and had the music set up for the Responsorial Psalm. Creature of Habit. We usually don’t sing the Gloria on a regular weekday, but did today for the Holy Day.

Then after the First Reading and Responsorial Psalm, I had my fingers on the piano keys ready to play the Alleluia. A student in the choir, thank goodness, said, “Do I go up now?” She was reading the Second Reading that day. Had she not said anything, I would have forgotten. Another change for the Holy Day that we don’t normally have on other weekdays.

After that, I think everything else was the same.

Sometimes I’m the one helping the students with the liturgies. Today, it was the students helping me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Learn Something New Every Day

Today one of the 2nd graders who is new to our school saw me in the hallway and said, "You know, I'm figuring out that I like music. I think it's kind of fun." I'm glad to hear that she likes music. I think it can be used by her as a way to open up, feel more comfortable, and make new friends.

Music can be used to express feelings or thoughts that are otherwise difficult to express. For me, it has certainly changed my life. I truly was not aware that I had any musical talent before entering the monastery, and now here I am. I've been a music teacher for the last 8 years. It's amazing how God works.

Music is the tool that is used to help me become more fully who I am called to be. It connects me to people and opens me up to love and the God who dwells within me.

I'm glad that little girl is discovering that she likes music. Hopefully, through her enjoyment and having fun, she too will develop a closer relationship with God.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Live Fully

I went home this weekend to see my mom. She spends most of her time in bed, so I don't get to spend a whole lot of time with her, but I value the time I do get. Someone told me that the best thing I can do for her is to live my life fully. That makes sense. It's tempting, since my mom is suffering, to suffer right along with her. I don't believe my mom would want that though. Sure, it's difficult to watch her decline, but that doesn't mean I have to spend my life moping around.

This is hard to explain, and I hope it doesn't appear insensitive. Robert Wicks talks about this in his book Riding the Dragon. When his daughter was in the hospital, he thought he had to appear gloomy or else his neighbors would mistake him for not caring. He thought the more forlorn he looked, the more it would seem he cared about his daughter who was sick. When he went to visit her, she told him that he looked worse than she felt. It was then that he realized that his being miserable was not helping him or his daughter.

I do live my life the best I can, taking advantage of every opportunity and learning as much as I can, so I can become more fully the person I was created to be. I have no doubt my mom is proud. After all, I am her favorite daughter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sisters' suggestions for books on Benedictine spirituality

You can read the fall issue of our magazine, Seek. Pray. Share., on our web site! Just go to this page and download it.

Want to learn about Benedictine spirituality? Our book column on page 20 describes seven books that some of our sisters have recommended as a good place to start. We couldn’t fit all of their suggestions in the magazine, so here’s the entire list. The first seven are the top picks. Happy reading!

St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living by Jane Tomaine, 2005
Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, 1991
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Sister Joan Chittister, 2010
Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality by Esther de Waal, 1998
A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal, 1995
Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, 2010
The Song of the Seed: The Monastic Way of Tending the Soul by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, 1997
A Good Life…Benedict’s Guide to Everyday Joy by Robert Benson, 2004
Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary by Terrence G. Kardong, 1996
Benedict's Way: An Ancient Monk's Insights for a Balanced Life by Lonnie Collins Pratt, 2001
Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today by Laura Swan, 2005
Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life by Abbot Christopher Jamison, 2006
Man of Blessing, A Life of St. Benedict by Carmen Acevedo Butcher, 2006
Praying with Benedict by Katherine Howard, 2004
Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary and Workbook on the Rule of St. Benedict by Norvene Vest, 2004
Saint Benedict for the Laity by Eric Dean, 1989
Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict by Brian C. Taylor, 1989
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, 1997The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock, 1991
The Motley Crew: Monastic Lives by Brother Benet Tvedten, 2006
Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina by Thelma Hall, 1988

These were mentioned as books appropriate for the reader with some background in Benedictine spirituality:
Lectio Matters: Before The Burning Bush: Through the Revelatory Texts of Scripture, Nature and Experience by Mary Margaret Funk, 2010
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, 2007
Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating, OCSO, 2006
Sermons on the Song of Songs by Bernard of Clairvaux, 1980
Strangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict by Michael Casey, 2005
The Institutes by John Cassian, 2000

Monday, October 10, 2011

Best wishes, Margie!

Here are a few photos from the retirement dinner we had yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 9) for Margie Bowman and her family.

She worked here as a Certified Nursing Assistant, CNA, for almost 31 years before retiring this spring. Notice there's one photo with her and her sister Verena Kays, one of our pantry aides.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fulfilling Our Calling

Today and yesterday, we’ve been having Parent, Teacher, Student (PTS) Conferences at school. This involves the homeroom teachers, so as a music teacher, I fortunately don’t have to do them unless there is a specific need.

There are many things homeroom teachers do that I do not do, but there are also things that I do that the homeroom teachers do not have to do. We all have our specific calling and talents. I’m grateful that I can use my gifts as a music teacher.

Every teacher does have different responsibilities, depending on the age of the students. As the 3 year olds were leaving my classroom the other day, I heard the teacher tell one student, “Hold on. Let me hold your hand. Your pants are falling down and your shoe’s untied.” You probably wouldn’t hear the teachers of the older students say that. I’ve heard them discuss other important things with them, such as the importance of wearing deodorant every day.

Teachers really do have many more responsibilities each day beyond teaching. It all depends on what our gifts are as to what subject and age level we teach.

Let us be grateful for whatever our calling is in life and fulfill that calling to the best of our ability – whether it’s tying shoes or reminding students about personal hygiene.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Organization & Planning???????

Organization and planning have never been strong characteristics of mine or even characteristics at all. They really weren't in my vocabulary until a few years ago. I don't know how I managed, but somehow things worked out. I still think back to the day during my first year of teaching. It was probably April and I came home and said, "Mary Celestin, did you know people plan?" I think she was waiting for me to finish the sentence, but that was it. That was the revelation I had had that day. It was a new concept for me. I was more used to having ideas instead of plans. I didn't have a lesson plan book, but a lesson idea book. Sometimes I did what was written, but more often than not, I made it up as I went along. I didn't know what my plans were until after I was finished. I really didn't know any other way.

This is now my 8th year of teaching (7th year at Notre Dame Academy in Louisville, KY). My lesson plan book today looks a lot different than my first years. Thank goodness!

I still struggle with organization and planning, but I'm working on it. This year, in particular, I need lots of organization and planning. I have two choirs - a 2nd & 3rd grade choir and a 4th-8th grade choir. Before starting the 2nd & 3rd grade choir, I asked our principal if therapy or counseling would be covered under worker's comp in case I go crazy. She said, "It didn't cover pre-existing conditions." How’s that for support?????

Actually, it’s going really well. I do need to be organized and well planned. There are around 25-30 students in each choir, so I’ve divided them up into teams. Then if there are different jobs or instruments that need to be played for Mass, I choose a team for that week. Brilliant! But this kind of thinking doesn’t come naturally. I’ve been stretched and have learned along the way. It is paying off. One kid today said, “Sr. Catherine, how come you’re choosing this year to be so organized?” I just laughed and said, “Because there are so many of you.” It really is a necessity.

So, after 8 years of teaching, I think I may be getting the hang of things. By the time I’m ready to retire, you should look out. I may actually know what I’m doing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Surrendering to New Life

"I surrender" doesn't have a very good connotation. I think of being defeated, overpowered, conquered. In the world, it means "I give up. You win." In the spiritual sense, however, I believe it takes a lot of strength to surrender. Even though I'd like to hold on to the familiar, it sometimes takes a lot of work and energy to hold on and do things the way they've always been done and be the way I've always been. It takes much greater courage and trust to let that all go and surrender to a new way of being. To give up familiar ways and surrender to God's way.

I'm not a person who gives up control easily. I like being in charge. However, I can't surrender in the worldly sense; I have to surrender in the spiritual sense - to give up my own will and desires and embrace fully God's will.

Jesus surrendered to God's will and it led him to the cross. The story didn't stop there, however. There's a resurrection - resurrection to new life if we are first willing to surrender and embrace change and the unknown, trusting in God's steadfast and unconditional love. Surrendering, no doubt, will lead me places I'd rather not go. It may cause me to change or do things I'd rather not do. But it won't end there. When I surrender, I am opening myself up to new life.

Congratulations, Sisters Jill & Kathy!

Today we celebrated the perpetual profession of two of our sisters -- Sister Jill Marie Reuber and Sister Kathleen Marie Cash. It was a beautiful ceremony for two wonderful people! Congratulations and God's Blessings to both of you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

20 days

I have not posted in a while and was browsing the blog and thought it would be time to start doing this again. I am very excited in 20 days Sr. Kathleen Marie and I will be making our Perpetual Profession to this monastery. It is a very exciting time. I am sooooo excited!!!!!!!!!!! I am kind of nervous at the same time because there are going to be lots of people at the ceremony including the Bishop. I will fill you in with more details coming soon.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kid Stories

Kids say what they think, don't they? I used to be able to draw stick people and get high praise from my younger students. These students, I guess, have grown up. The other day when I tried to draw a guitar, I got, "That's kinda good." I guess if it were really critiqued, I would have gotten, "What in the world is that?"

They're spelling is always interesting too, and it's good to remember that they're young and just learning to spell. I'm having the kids write cards for someone who is leaving. One little girl wrote, "I'm sorry you are living." I'm sure it's a spelling mistake and nothing personal. It's hard to spell when you have a southern accent.

As with most things, I can't take anything that's said or done too seriously. I mostly just laugh and have fun.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Birthday Surprise

I'm a people person. I like to be around people and get to know them, but I also have a belief that if the people at McDonald's know you by name, you probably go there too often. One summer in college, I worked at McDonald's. I usually didn't know the people by name, but often the same people would come in, so I knew them by order. As they walked in, we'd get their regular order ready for them. Rarely did it change. We're creatures of habit.

Today, I stopped off at McDonald's for breakfast to celebrate my birthday. The lady who took my order was so nice. Extremely friendly. She's the type of person who you'd want to stop by and order from, regardless if you're hungry or not. I told her it was my birthday. She then started singing to me like someone on American Idol. It was hilarious. She now knows me by name, rather than "a sausage biscuit and Diet Coke."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Community Days at the monastery

July 27-30
Every July, all of us sisters come together for our summer Community Days at the monastery. We pack a lot into those four days - community business and updates, ongoing formation presentations, "open forum," strategic planning and review of goals, prayer and rituals, and fun activities, especially our Familien Fest. Our time together concludes with our "missioning" ritual followed by Mass and dinner. During the missioning ceremony, each sister receives a blessing from the prioress and a commission to go forth to serve in ministry. This year we were privileged to have Bishop Charles C. Thompson, newly ordained bishop of our diocese, to preside at Mass on the last day of our community gathering. (Sister Paulette Seng)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Welcome, Postulant Beth!

Today our community officially received Beth Fritsch into our monastery as a postulant. The simple ritual of Beth's reception into the monastery began in the cloister hall at the entrance doorway as Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, our prioress, invited her to enter the monastery. After being called forth into the gathering of the community, Beth listened as Sister Michelle Catherine Sinkhorn read from the Rule of St. Benedict about receiving postulants into the monastery. Sister Kristine Anne then placed a medal of St. Benedict on Beth and presented to her a Liturgy of the Hours Book and an apron, representing prayer and work, key elements of our Benedictine life. We warmly accept Beth into our community life and pledge our love and support. (Sister Paulette Seng)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do Not Be Unbelieving, But Believe

I've been meaning to post this for some time, but never got around to it. This is a reflection on the Gospel about Thomas. Hope you enjoy.

There’s something special about being a twin. There’s a bond that’s hard to describe, but understood, I believe, only if you’re a twin. When my brother and I were younger, we were best friends. We shared the same experiences at the same time. Now, along with this close relationship came difficulties. For starters, we shared the same experiences at the same time. Although this could be nice, it also led to people comparing us. We were known as “The Twins.” We were so much a pair that I would often unknowingly answer in the plural even when I was the only person around. Once in kindergarten, the teacher asked me to move to a different desk, so my brother decided to move with me. He thought he was supposed to.

We were a pair, but as we grew older, we wanted to be treated more as individuals. This is something you really have to work hard at if you’re a twin. I read somewhere that maybe this was why Thomas was away at the time. Did you ever wonder why the other disciples had locked themselves in a room, but Thomas was out and about? Was he the bravest one? Maybe Thomas was trying to sow his wild twin oats. Maybe he needed to get away where he could be thought of as an individual and not as “the twin.”

Regardless of why Thomas was away, I do know for a fact that all of his descendants ended up in MO. Thomas said, “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my fingers into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Sounds like a true Missourian to me. His descendants had to have ended up in MO, which is known as “The Show Me State.”

In fact, since having twins runs in families and since Thomas’ descendants ended up in MO, and since I’m a twin and I’m from MO, that must make him my great, great, add a few more greats, uncle or grandpa.

I certainly can relate to his disbelief and wonder if I can blame that on genetics. Many times, I do blame it on my MO heritage, but Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

I’ve been reading a lot lately about living in the present moment. I’ve either been reading more about it or I’ve been in the present moment enough to be more aware of reading more about being in the present moment. The idea is that when one feels fear, like the disciples who had locked themselves away, or worry or regret or in Thomas’ case, doubt, to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. Somehow we’ve lost our focus on God by worrying about the future or brooding about the past. God, as we know, is a God of the present. In the present is where we meet God, not in the future with all its worries and uncertainties, not in the past with its mistakes and regrets, but here in the present.

I know what you may be thinking, “I’ve heard this before. Easier said than done.” We’re called to not just hear it or to think it, but to live this way – to live focused on the present moment. The disciples, however, were wrapped up in their own fear and had taken their eyes off God.

Jesus came, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Genesis, God breathed life into Adam. From God’s breath, we were created and given life. Can it be that when Jesus breathed on them, he was giving them not only the Holy Spirit, but also new life - new life to see things in a new way. New life filled with peace and the ability to forgive sins.

This sounds wonderful. It sounds reassuring. They’ve seen the Risen Lord. He’s brought them peace and has breathed new life into them. That should be enough to get them going. Why is it a week later they are still in a locked room?

Does this remind some of you of your teaching days? You tell your students something and a week later, it’s as if it never happened. Or you come back from spring break, and it seems like it’s the first day of school again as the students get reaccustomed to the rules and routines.
Learning something new or living in a new way takes time and repetition. It takes falling and getting back up. The disciples didn’t get it the first time. We certainly don’t get it the first time. One thing I enjoyed learning when I came here is that it’s a lifelong journey. Thank goodness. Learning that certainly took a lot of pressure off.

Thankfully, we are all on this journey together. It takes daily prayer and lectio. It takes reading and living the Rule. It takes faithfulness to spiritual direction and yearly retreats.

Over time, we grow and change. Some of the changes in our lives are drastic, but many occur slowly over time like the way the rough edges of a rock are worn away from constant and steady drops of water.

We may not get it the first time, but our God is a patient God who keeps coming back even when the doors are locked. We’ll still have our doubts from time to time. We’ll still come up with excuses, like blaming things on genetics, our environment, our personal background, or in my case, my MO heritage, my being a twin, or my being a descendant of Thomas, but how fully are we living in the present moment? How fully are we believing and trusting in God?

Jesus comes in our midst and reassures us, “Peace be with you.” He is always present, breathing new life into us. Jesus tells all of us, even those of us from MO, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Positive Side of Loss

I recently went home to MO to visit my mom. During the trip, I listened to Robert Wick's Riding the Dragon. The book is full of great wisdom. One thing he talked about was how we look at loss and change.

Wicks was telling the story of members of a L'Arch community, a community for the mentally challenged. The founder, Jean Vanier, asked the members what the most challenging aspect of being in the community was for them. One member commented on the sense of deep loss. She went on to say that they get to know each other and become a family, but over time members of the group, either the employees or the residents, leave. Vanier acknowledged that as being a difficult part of living in community, but then challenged them to look at it in a different light.

Those who were leaving, he said, were leaving as new people, having been formed and transformed by their involvement with the other members in the community. In a sense, those who were staying were forming each other. Those who were leaving were able to take all that they had learned from the others and use it in their new ministries and environments.

I've heard that same philosophy spoken here as women leave the community. Just because a woman comes to the monastery does not mean she is stuck here. It's a discernment process. It took me 7 years before making perpetual vows. Over time, I've seen people come and go. These women were open to following God, gave monastic life a try, and then realized it wasn't the right fit. It wasn't where God was calling them to make a lifetime commitment, but it was where they felt called temporarily. It was where they received formation, grew in their spiritual journey, remained open to God's call, heard God calling them to something else, and then felt free enough to leave.

I believe leaving is difficult for those who are leaving as well as for those who are being left. It shows that we cannot hold on to anything too tightly. We can, however, be grateful for the time that we have with each other, acknowledge what we have gained in the process, and then use that knowledge in other areas, with other people.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Federation Chapter ‘Expands Our View of the Benedictine World’

The 24th Chapter of the Federation of St. Gertrude (June 30 to July 6) brought 54 sisters to Ferdinand from 15 monasteries in the U.S. and Canada. The Chapter marked the beginning of the observance of the Federation’s 75th anniversary, which will take place in April 2012. Each monastery received a binder that included copies of historical documents and submissions from the member monasteries.

“One of the gifts of hosting the Federation Chapter was the opportunity for our community members to participate in parts of the Chapter,” said our prioress, Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau. They were able to attend some of the talks and receive some “food for thought.”

Sister Celeste Boda was one of the Ferdinand sisters who took advantage of the opportunity. She called it “invaluable” to be able to “interact with so many sisters from so many Benedictine houses. It expands our view of the Benedictine world. We see the gifts that each community brings. There’s different input from different perspectives. Large communities may see it one way, small communities may see it completely different. Yet we’re all speaking from a Benedictine framework.”

Sister Kristine Anne had a similar observation. “Realizing that in essence the Benedictine charism and life is the same, no matter where it’s lived, is really strengthening. There’s that sense that we’re not alone in this, that we are together on this journey.”

Our own Sister Joella Kidwell is president of the Federation of St. Gertrude. Delegates representing Monastery Immaculate Conception at the Chapter were Sister Kristine Anne, Sister Jane Will, subprioress, and Sister Jean Marie Ballard, treasurer. Other community members who took part were Sister Mary Carol Kinghorn, secretary for the Chapter; Sister Jane Becker, presenter; Sister Maria Tasto, facilitator; Sister Kathryn Huber, former president of the Federation; and Sister Mary Dominic Frederick, chair of the 75th Anniversary Committee.

Top photo: Those attending the 2011 Chapter of the Federation of St. Gertrude gathered Sunday morning on the monastery steps for an “official” photo.

Above: The Federation President and Council. Council members were elected during the Chapter. Front row: Sister Barbara Rinehart, House of Bread Monastery, Nanaimo, British Columbia; Sister Myra Schmeig, Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Crookston, Minnesota. Middle row: Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli, St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas; Sister Jacquelyn Ernster, first councilor, Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton, South Dakota. Back row: Sister Joella Kidwell, Federation president, Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand; Sister Jill West, Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, North Dakota.

Right: Sister Penny Bingham (Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton, South Dakota), Sister Lynn Osika (Mother of God Monastery, Watertown, South Dakota), and Sister Mary Dominic Frederick (Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand) review publications produced by the Federation over the years. Sister Mary Dominic chaired the 75th Anniversary Committee, which provided each monastery with a binder documenting the history of the Federation and its members.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Benedictines: Liturgical Powerhouse for a Liturgical Transition

This past week a number of our sisters who are musicians attended the National Pastoral Musicians convention in Louisville. A major theme of the week was the role of musicians in preparing parishes for the new English translation of the Roman missal, to be implemented starting this coming Advent. As many of you probably know, the new translation of the mass is richer Scripturally, and is closer to the Latin base text produced by Rome. As many countries use the English translation as well as the Latin to get a meaningful version of their own, it is important that our words actually capture the meaning intended by the Church. Lex orandi, lex credendi is our traditional saying that we pray what we believe. We need to make sure we're getting the words right.

Of course new words mean new music. Composers have been hard at work writing new masses, and at this point it's anyone's guess as to which one will be the next "Mass of Creation," the one that everyone knows. The directives coming with the new translation also call for common knowledge of particular chant versions of the mass. Both presiders and the congregration will be chanting more of their parts at mass. Benedictines, as major keepers of chant, have written most of these new chants in the missal. At the the NPM conference, the meetings on chant were packed. Frs. Anthony Ruff and Columba Stewart were teaching and sharing their new work, as well as former Benedictine Charles Thatcher and oblate Paul Ford. People want to know how to do chant well, and they want to know how to introduce it in their parishes so that people will find chant engaging and beautiful, not slow and ponderous. Done well, it can actually flow more quickly than some traditional musical settings.

Benedictines also are physically producing the new translation of the missal. Liturgical Press, a work of the monks of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, is producing an edition of the hefty tome, along with various worship aids that will help the average parishioner follow along in the first days of the new translation. Their missal also features the artwork of Br. Martin Erspamer, a monk from St. Meinrad.

Our sisters will be on the front lines as music ministers in parishes and schools, helping to prepare people for this transition in Catholic liturgical life. Keep your eyes and ears open over the coming months. November 27 will be here before you know it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brothers and Sisters

When I entered the monastery eight years ago, I looked forward to gaining a bunch of new sisters. Little did I realize that I also would be gaining a whole set of new brothers, too! Our monastery is about five miles from St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology, and the lives of our sisters are intertwined with the lives of the monks there. Not only are the monks our chaplains, but as new sisters, we take formation classes at the school alongside the monks and seminarians. We often collaborate in parish and retreat work, and occasionally work together on musical endeavors.

This past week, we jointly hosted the Monastic Worship Forum, a conference for Benedictine men and women across the U.S. involved in liturgy and music. While attending some of the talks at the archabbey, I had a chance to catch up with some monks with whom I've worked and studied. A few of our sisters joined some monks in recording some new chants to be used when the new translation of the Roman Missal goes into effect. A monk friend and I put in some practice time on some music for violin and cello. Yesterday several of us joined them in singing a special song at mass as they celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, St. Meinrad's patroness.

From the beginning of the order, St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica both shared in the work of helping people seek God in the everyday stuff of life. How blessed we are to share in Benedictine life as sisters and brothers today!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Love Will Set Us Free

If I think of the things that bother me, maybe someone's negative comment, an inconsiderate act, worry, difficulty, family situations, or things going on in our world, it's like adding links to a chain. This chain gets heavier, wraps itself around me, and weighs me down. What if, one by one, I broke the links to that chain by sending out love?

That cruel comment. It doesn't do any good to hold on to that. Whoever said it has issues of his/her own. That person spoke out of his/her own pain and insecurities. What if I acknowledge it for what it's worth - a cruel comment and then pray for that person, sending out love and peace?

The same goes for any inconsiderate act or situation to which I have no control. I can control, however, how I respond. What good does it do to respond with hatred? I'm just adding more hatred to the world - the very thing we don't need. What if, instead, I respond with love? What a difference that will make in my own being, in the situation, and in how I relate to the other people involved.

Instead of letting things or people or comments or situations weigh us down, as if adding links to a chain, let us respond with love.

Take a look at Romans 12:9-21 on mutual love.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Risk Being Heard

I remember the first time I started playing the organ for prayer and Mass. Someone made the comment afterward, "You did well, but you can be a bit louder." I responded, "But people will hear me!"

As soon as I said it, I realized how ridiculous it sounded. Being heard, obviously, was the point, but I was brand new and very unconfident. At this point, I probably wasn't even playing the pedals even though I would still put on my organ shoes. Eventually, I did gain enough confidence to get louder and also get my feet moving.

I do find this incident to relate to life - the fear of being exposed, of being too vulnerable, wanting to hide and not let certain aspects of who we are and what we do not be seen or heard.

I was afraid of being heard when I played the organ. No doubt I was afraid of making mistakes. Fortunately I've made lots of mistakes, so I had to conquer my fear by facing it head on. I've been there, done that. And, you know what? I survived! The world didn't come to an end. I'm accepted regardless and am encouraged to continue.

It is difficult to be exposed, to be vulnerable, to take risks. The community certainly does hear me when I play. There's nothing I can do about that. I could have let fear and worry control me, but like everything else in life, I had to begin with the first step.

Is there something you've been hiding or keeping secret, hoping others won't find out? Why is this? Pray about it. What's keeping you from being who you are? What's keeping you from trying new things and letting others know? Nothing, of course, is hidden from God. Just look at Psalm 139.

Nothing is hidden from God, who created us, knows us, and loves us unconditionally.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

I've been meaning to post this ever since June 25 - the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. You can see how crazy things get here at the monastery. I'm working hard on my "to do" list since I start retreat on Friday.

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Here at the monastery, we have the opportunity for daily Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. We are called to become the Body and Blood of Christ. We are called to be broken, poured out, and given to others. We are called to be Christ for one another. We prepare ourselves by feasting on God’s Word, partaking in the Eucharist, and becoming more of the person we are called to be, but so much of our life is spent comparing ourselves to others. This, unfortunately, begins at an early age.

Children today seem to be dealing with certain issues at earlier ages. What was once considered in the past to be more of an adolescent issue may now be experienced in the primary or intermediate grades. “They’re only in 2nd grade,” or “They’re only in 5th grade,” are common remarks that I hear in the faculty room as teachers talk about negative peer pressure and concerns regarding low self-esteem.

There’s no doubt that children have it rough. We can place the blame lots of places. Families do the best they can, but many children do not come from very stable homes. Models in magazines and on TV keep getting skinnier. Advertising wants us to see our flaws so that we have a need for their product. Whatever the excuses we come up with, the truth is that we often do not see the beauty within ourselves, and consequently, compare ourselves to others. Comparison can lead to feelings of failure, low self-esteem, low self confidence, or defensive behaviors such as jealousy and judgment of others. We may spend our time trying to be like someone else rather than the person we are called to be.

It is easy to lose sight of our beauty. To lose sight of who we are and who we are called to be. We may obsess over our weight, our social or professional status, our inabilities, or our appearance, but do we know who we are? We are the Body and Blood of Christ. We are God’s creation.
Before coming to the monastery, I worked with children who were mentally challenged. Someone once asked me, “Why do you want to do that? With all your work and effort, you won’t have much to show for it.” If I look at the progress of each child, that person was right. With all my work and effort, there really was not much visible progress.

I spent days, if not weeks, trying to get one child with autism to simply wave and say the word “Mama.” I kept going for the mom’s sake. I taught another child how to respond to simple questions, such as “What is you name?” and “How old are you?”

It was challenging and the progress was often slow or unnoticeable. The knowledge I gained, however, was invaluable. Here was the Body of Christ. Pure, without need for comparison, without any concept of low self-esteem.

I worked with another child who had Down’s syndrome. Was she aware of what she could not do? Possibly. Did she belittle herself or others because of her lack of ability. Not to my knowledge or observation. She was the person she was called to be. She seemed to love others wholeheartedly and delighted in simple pleasures. She honored God by using her gifts to the best of her ability. Here was the Body of Christ for others.

I remember one summer, absorbed in trying to map out the rest of my life. I was worried about finances and which college classes to take. A hundred things were spinning around in my head. At the time, I was working at a camp with an adult who was mentally and physically challenged. The camp was coming to a close, so I asked him, “What are your plans for the future?” “Well,” he said, “I guess I’ll go home and make a sandwich. Then I may take a nap.” My mind was swimming with the 100 things necessary for the months and years yet to come. He simply delighted in the here and now. Here was the Body of Christ. Pure, simple, living in the now.
The progress I made when I worked with those who were mentally challenged may not have been earth shattering or even noticeable. The knowledge I gained, however, moved mountains.

Be present to the moment.

Be who you are called to be. Without comparing. Without belittling yourself or others.

This, I believe, is how we can truly celebrate this feast – the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The feast where we recognize the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, in our brothers and sisters, and in ourselves.

Don’t we know who we are? We are the Body and Blood of Christ. We are broken, poured out, and given to others.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Golden Jubilee 2011

We appreciate our Benedictine sisters, our families, colleagues, and friends who celebrated our golden jubilee with us on May 28 and those who were present with us in spirit. We had a wonderful and memorable day. And we continue to celebrate our 50 years of commitment to our Benedictine monastic life. With God’s grace and the support of all who journeyed with us those years, we have ministered to many people and have remained faithful to our monastic profession. We are profoundly grateful, and we continue to minister and to support others with our prayers. (Sister Paulette Seng)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A salute to our volunteers!

Some very special people joined us for the midday meal on Saturday, May 21: 43 volunteers, along with their eight guests. They were recognized for their generosity in donating their time and effort to help our community.

Above: Sister Mary Philip thanks the volunteers. Right: She gave each volunteer a notepad with matching pen. Pictured is Betty Schmitt (right), from Ireland, Indiana, who does quilting. She's the sister of Sister Corita Hoffman (left).

Sister Mary Philip Berger, director of volunteers, reports that 158 individuals have served as volunteers in the last year. They range in age from 16 to 90, and they’ve helped throughout the monastery in such areas as activities, archives, Simply Divine bakery, For Heaven’s Sake, hair care, Kordes Center, Mission Advancement, quilting, yard sale, and yard work.

Would you like to be a volunteer or become more involved with our community? You can read about ways to be involved on our web site.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring at the monastery

If you walk around our monastery grounds these days, you can smell the fragrance of a variety of blossoms. I sometimes take a camera with me when I go walking so I can capture some of the beauty that surrounds us...and some of the new life that's nested on window sills. Many of the flowers around our monastery have been planted and tended by "the twins," Sisters Mary Carmen and Mary Carmel Spayd, and by Sister Geneva Stumler. I hope you enjoy this bouquet of flowers.

-Sister Paulette Seng