Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve at the Mount is hardly a wild affair! No one goes out to a club, some go to family or friends in the early evening, but most stay at home. We do have a party of sorts, with great snacks and a movie or two. Some of us manage to watch Dick Clark's Rocking New Year's Eve (he's still on?!), but most go to bed before midnight. We also have beautiful prayer, both for Evening Praise and then on New Year's Day itself, which is a Solemnity of Mary, too.

Here is something I've shared before (see December 10). It's from a rather old little book that is turning out to be a gem. The copyright is 1994 and although it has a very attractive hardcover, it is only about 5" x 8" x 1/2" in size. The title is Meditations..on the monk who dwells in daily life, by Thomas Moore.

Each of the 100 or so pages has a short reflection on some aspect of monastic life, coming from the dozen years he spent in a monastery as a young man...and his reflection on such years later. They are so simple, so beautiful and so right on.

Here's one to start the new year:

Withdrawal from the world is something we can, and perhaps should, do every day. It completes the movement of which entering fully into life is only one part. Just as a loaf of bread needs air in order to rise, everything we do needs an empty place in its interior. I especially enjoy such ordinary retreats from the active life as shaving, showering, reading, doing nothing, walking, listening to the radio, driving in a car. All of these activities can turn one's attention inward toward contemplation.

Mundane withdrawal from the busyness of an active life can create a spirituality-without-walls, a spiritual practice that is not explicitly connected to a church or a tradition. I have never forgotten Joseph Campbell's response when he was asked about his yoga practice: laps in a pool and a drink once a day. Anything is material for retreat--cleaning out a closet, giving away some books, taking a walk around the block, clearing your desk, turning off the television set, saying no to an invitation to do anything.

At the sight of nothing, the soul rejoices.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Traditions

Photo by Susan Freitag, OSB

The answer to the question, Where did we put the large Christmas tree in chapel this year? is, we didn't. It was replaced by two average size trees right at the entrance...and that worked out just fine. The manger scene that used to be in front of the glass doors was placed in one of the alcoves in the back of chapel and was just perfect. Everything about the Christmas Eve "Midnight mass," held at 9:00 p.m., and the Christmas Morning liturgy at 9:30 a.m. went beautifully...and again, the acoustics in the chapel just "blew people away."

Personally, Marilyn's annual rendition of O Holy Night was Number 1 for me. Every note just soared through the space and when she hit that note at the end...what is it, upper G? A flat?! I think the congregation almost was so beautiful.

The weather, too, cooperated---with just a light covering of snow that presented no problem for drivers---so everyone was able to get around to visit family and friends.

One somber note...after 22 years, Brother Thomas's annual Christmas gift of pottery wasn't in the community room's glass display cases. Many of his pieces were brought out and placed around the house however and in that way it did seem as if he was present with us again.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

"Ask for a sign from your God; let it be deep as the nether world or high as the sky....Therefore God will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall be living on curds and honey by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good."

"What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1,400 years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time...? We are all meant to be mothers of God." Meister Eckhart

"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it...His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst." Thomas Merton, OCSO

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas at Last

We really do love Advent, but after 21 days of living in the Advent "bubble" as Christmas explodes all around us, it's time to change over and this is the week! The smell of anise and vanilla is wafting through the house since the big 2-hour pitzelle-making party this week. Complete with unofficial contests on who could make the perfect pitzelle in each waffle iron.

Christmas cards have begun appearing as decorations on doors and other very subtle changes are starting. I even saw a cart of poinsettias going down the hall Monday.

Friday will be the real transition day as we have our annual Trim the Tree party right after supper. It's really a Trim the Whole House time as the whole monastery will be transformed Friday and Saturday. The Dickens village will come out on the buffet in the dining room, as will the train that goes around the ficus tree. The huge manger scene, minus the Christ child and Magi, will go up in the community room and most resident halls will have ribbons or candy canes or some other decoration the length of them.

Only the chapel will remain in its Advent mode...until Monday after morning praise and then it too will transform.

I'm glad Christmas is on a Tuesday. Last year when it was Monday things really were bizarre, there's no other word for it! Saturday night was the last Advent vigil service, Sunday morning was the 4th Sunday of Advent, Sunday night was the Christmas vigil and Monday morning was Christmas Day. Next year the 25th is on Thursday...perfect!

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Antiphons

For those who have ever prayed the daily Divine Office of the church--Opus Dei--you know that today is the beginning of the week of the beautiful O Antiphons said during Vespers. I believe they also appear in one of the prayers of weekday Masses this week. There are many translations of these names of's just one:

December 17: O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

December 18: O sacred God of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19: O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples: kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

December 20: O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

December 21: O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 22: O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

December 23: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people; Come and set us free, Lord our God.

A few years ago a small schola of the community recorded the O Antiphons to music written by our Sr. Mary David. You can hear them online this week at Benetvision.

An extra: our Sr. Ellen Porter, who is the final stage of metastasized breast cancer, is a marvelous writer. Starting today and every Monday hereafter, seven of her poems will be posted on a new site, Ellen's Poems. Give it a try, I think you'll like her thoughts as much as we do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mission of Friendship

In 1971 the Diocese of Erie and the Diocese of Yucatan established a cooperative relationship with each other and began the Mission of Friendship in the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It has expanded over these 36 years to include numerous ministries with the people, especially with children. Four of our sisters have spent extended time there and another dozen or so have had short visits, either by themselves or accompanying mission experience groups. This week one of our sisters is returning from ten days there with physical therapy majors from Wheeling Jesuit College.

The rest of us try to contribute as we can. My favorite is the yearly display of four or five dozen little summer outfits for young children. We help by "buying" one for the child whose name is on the clothing--Jose or Angelica, Hernando or Maria. I always pick the ones with matching sandals!

One of the co-directors is a former member of our community and Benedictine spirituality permeates the mission in its prayer and philosophy. We even have a dozen oblates from the Mission of Friendship area. Our Latin America connection!

Monday, December 10, 2007

An Advent Afternoon

Twenty-five oblates were with us all afternoon Saturday. They stayed for dinner and for the Vigil of the 2nd Sunday of Advent, too.

Every Lent and Advent the oblates have a Saturday afternoon retreat...translate that to mean quiet time, together time and reflection time... right in the middle of the two most well-known liturgical seasons.

Our oblates are very active and have been for years. Recently we added an "Oblates Only" section to our website, where the director can post information and announcements to our 200+ lay members.

There are quite a few websites for oblates, and even an international, ecumenical Oblate Forum site. And the premier Benedictine website has links to numerous sites that would particularly interest Benedictine oblates, too.

If you missed it, see the October 25 entry here for a list of some of the latest books on Benedictinism for the laity...or as one is titled, How to be a monastic and not leave your day job!

More on reading: I'm reading a little book by Thomas Moore that I accidently came upon, Meditations: on the monk who dwells in daily life. Moore entered a monastic community at age 13 and spent twelve years there...all just before the Vatican II Council. His take on the essence of monastic life is very good and these small reflections are powerfully apropos today. Here's one:

In an age of profound cultural transition,
religion itself appears to be going through
its own rite of passage.
For some it is in a time of crisis,
for others a period of vibrant change.
I see religion moving toward a diminishing of dogma,
authority, membership, and belief
and an increase in everyday ritual,
poetic theology, social engagement,
guidance in contemplation, and care of the soul.

In this new setting monasticism, too,
can become more a spirit than an institution,
one element among several
in establishing a soul-centered life,
and a style that invites beauty and culture
into a life of pragmatism and efficiency.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jolly Ole' Saint Nicholas

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Such a lovely legend especially with the put-out-your-stocking part. Yes, we have stockings here...doesn't seem to matter if you're 5 or 50, 8 or 80...outside of everyone's door on December 6 a stocking appears like magic.

One of our sisters, who has been recovering from bunion and hammer toe surgery for 8 weeks, took the opportunity to make a set of family stockings for each of her siblings' families. She just finished and are they beautiful. Each family's was made with the same red or green material, not plain material, material that had Christmas-y patterns. At the top of each is a 3" band of complementary material and the name of each family member that she cross stitched. They are quite large and could hold a dozen oranges and apples, not just one in the toe!

At our house we use to look forward to the stockings as much or more than the wrapped presents. What do kids get in their stockings these days? Still special, large Sunkist oranges or apples, packs of socks, candy bars and gum, your own private toothpaste and a new brush, and those little hand toys from the dollar stores? Or are they filled with DVDs and CDs and games for the family Wii?

Oh, by the way, here's what was in ours this morning: a pocket pack of kleenex, chapstick, a pad of Christmas post-its, a small bag of M&Ms, 1 fat Tootsie Roll, 1 Cow Tales, 5 Christmas cards, 3 Christmas postcards (already stamped), 1 pack of self-stick gift labels, a 2008 calendar, and a $5 bill. I kept reaching back in: where was that Sunkist orange?

For weather watchers: yesterday's weather in Erie.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Advent-Week 1

Right now everything seems to revolve somehow around Advent. The weekends, for instance, are liturgical "festivals." Every Saturday night we have a candle-lit vigil at 7:00 pm. A small group leads the singing and a member of the community gives a short reflection. The people from around Erie who attended this week included a group of young adults who had spent an Advent reflection afternoon here at the Mount on Saturday.

Sunday liturgies are rich and creative. Yesterday's included: the addition of this year's Advent wreath, four large candles each sitting in a bed of evergreens and poised on four graduated stands in the very middle of chapel, a gift time piece by the community schola, "Long Is Our Winter," and a modern chanting of the Second Reading of the day by four cantors.

Even weekdays are a little different, as we use a special hymn booklet of Advent songs that we seldom hear the rest of the year.

Tonight we have a special Evening Praise, using an AIM USA prayer service to commemorate World AIDS Day. A number of our Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, particularly those in Africa, are ministering to children, adults and families that are suffering the multiple effects of HIV/AIDS. AIM USA is assisting them in a special way this year by collecting donations for communities running orphanages, food programs, home visitations, and local clinics. AIM USA developed and distributed this prayer service to increase awareness in the broader monastic world of this still very real pandemic. It is available online at the AIM USA website.

Photo by Susan Freitag, OSB