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.