Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude For All Things Roman

Glimpses of the other side of Rome: In St. Peter's, Pope John XXIII; outside, members of the Swiss Guard. Their 500th anniversary.

One of the hundreds of halls in the Vatican Museum; one of Rome's famous outdoor plazas. This one was a kind of artist's colony but I was struck by the balconies of the apartments that surrounded it. They were stunning and this was just November. In the summer they must be breathtaking.

And just one more thing: What was my favorite experience of all during my one-week trip to Rome? This.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back from Rome

This week, Monday and Thursday, I want to share some photos from Rome. Today I'll show some of the more "interesting" ones. Thursday, Thanksgiving, I'll save for the ones of the beauty you'd expect from such a city---and give thanks for it all--the uniqueness that is Rome.

My first day, under the effects of jet lag, I stumbled into a local grocery/department store and was suddenly in a Christmas world--complete with Winnie the Pooh and the whole Disney gang everywhere. I'm in Rome?

One of the great advantages of touring with a resident is that you get to see how the "regular people" of the city live. This truck was on one of the side streets, servicing, I believe, one of the hundreds of small restaurants throughout Rome--yikes!

The Vatican museum was breathtaking. The facilities afterwards: the same everywhere. This teenager was on a bus and gladly obliged when I asked if I could take a picture of his T-shirt. This is all the Europeans wanted to talk about.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Days in Rome

This week I am in Rome for the annual meeting of the AIM International Council. We are staying at the "Casa," the generalate of the largest Benedictine community of women, the German-origin Tutzing congregation. They have over 1,400 sisters and have communities in 19 countries, including large groups in Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea, Tanzania and Germany itself.

Even though email makes communication a daily event, I'm not really up on the "daily" back home. I know the choir that is going to sing at the SBA Alumnae Christmas Dinner, December 2, had its last rehearsal this Wednesday. It is made up of about 100 women--SBA alum and Sisters. On Monday was our annual dinner for the Fairfield Fire Fighters and their families. They are the volunteer department that services our area.

When I was in Belgium in October, everyone I met wanted to talk about the U.S. presidential election and how I thought the chances for an incoming Democratic presidency looked. This time it is exactly the same except instead of the questionning and serious faces, I am met with wide grins and silent congratulations and thanks. So many of the monks and nuns here are well-versed in international politics and many have American connections, so they can discuss issues from the states with broad knowledge. It is a real pleasure to talk with them.

P.S. I also know from checking the weather sites that I missed the first big lake effect snow storm of the season: 4-6" at our place and 12"+ south of I-90. And here it's sunny and 60+ degrees.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monastic Lexicon #6


Common phrases you're apt to hear around the Mount.
"I'm on bells tomorrow."
"She has to leave for bells."
"Bells end at 9:00 now."
"Can you switch bells with me?"

Back when the motherhouse was downtown there was an elaborate coding system for calling each sister that involved a kind of Morse Code of ringing a bell. It was hung in a central hall where the sound echoed throughout the convent. Each sister had a code--ie: 23 meant two rings, pause, three rings. When a sister was needed that bell code was rung and she knew to come to the front hall.

Today the process of sitting at the front desk, handling the incoming phone calls at the switchboard, offering hospitality to all who come to the front door and even overseeing the portable phone throughout the night is still referred to as "bells"--even though there are no real bells involved at all.

We do, however, still hear the sound of bells as our electronic carillon and the bell tones it produces to call the community to prayer and other functions are a lovely ringing of bells.

When you are "on bells" these days this is one of the views you get in the front foyer: an antique sedilia from the original motherhouse.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Here!

We woke up Monday morning, November 10th---to this. Three inches of the heavy, wet quick-melting kind, but it's also the accumulates-on-every-branch kind. It's the very first of the season. I stuck my camera out the door as soon as I thought it was light enough, about 7:15. Those are not white spots on the lens--it was coming down like hail at that moment!

I always forget how beautiful these first snows are. Here's Mary Oliver's take on them.

by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain-not a single
answer has been found-
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Healing Ways

Ten years ago a local judge acted on a long-time awareness he had on the present incarceration system for women who have minor children. He wanted to find an alternative option for them that could include their children. After a year's study, House of Healing was formed.

Today, House of Healing offers an alternative program for women convicted of non-violent crimes, that enables them to be with their children. It is housed in a former large convent and can have as many as 5-6 women and their children. Most residents are serving short sentences and often stay only a number of months.

One of our sisters has been the administrator of House of Healing since its beginning. Along with numerous formal grants to cover expenses, House of Healing sponsors mega-garage sales (warehouse sales, really), courtesy of donated space for storage and presentation by a local business.

This weekend, with the help of many volunteers including a number of sisters, the autumn mega-warehouse sale took place. Luckily, the weather was great, the shoppers many, and the resources for House of Healing grew.

For those in the greater Erie area, watch for notice of the next House of Healing Extravaganza...coming in early spring.

And speaking of children, here's a display of the main characters in some popular children's books--courtesy of the Erie Book Store. How many can you name?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New Dawn

Here is the first long line I ever had to stand in to vote---it's outside the Fairfield Fire Department. Our entire process took 1/2 hour. One of our sisters was #1 at this polling place. She arrived at 6:20 a.m. the doors opened at 7:00 a.m.

One sister who voted on her way home from work at 5:00 p.m. was #1,008--that's a huge number for our little place.

Another one of our sisters was a poll worker all day in an older neighborhood of downtown Erie. By noon they had had 150 voters--that number equals what they were used to having in a whole day.

"Give us, O God, leaders whose hearts are large enough to match the breadth of our own souls and give us souls strong enough to follow leaders of vision and wisdom....Give us insight enough ourselves to choose as leaders those who can tell strength from power, growth from greed, leadership from dominance, and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity..." Joan Chittister, OSB

Will you look at this! My 30-year old cactus decided that this was the week to "go wild"

with its first bloom of the season! Maybe it knew something we didn't know....until Tuesday.

If you enjoy browsing here are some newspaper covers from November 5.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Faith and Halloween visitors

The November-December issue of our diocesan magazine, Faith, has been delivered to homes of all registered parishioners and Catholic places throughout the diocese. I tweaked three entries from this page for my column. Here's one:

If you are a Weather Channel watcher, and you probably are since it is one of the three top cable channels in the country, you’ll surely see us, the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, at least once every winter as the main weather story–right there in all our snowy glory. Along with other cities on the southern or eastern shore of a large body of water such as Lake Erie, we experience lake effect snow, especially in the early weeks of winter before the lake freezes. The Weather Channel personalities will gleefully give the official snow totals, shaking their Atlanta-based heads in wonderment as they fall just shy of musing, on-air, “My gosh, who would live there?”

Yes, we talk about snow a lot during the winter months of November through March. The conversations go something like this: “Wow, that was quite the first snow–Waterford got 14 inches.” Or, “They say I-90 was closed from the Ohio line to Girard most of the day and I-79 was down to one lane south of McKean!” These morning coffee break discussions will go for the next five months! The Mount is situated right along the lakeshore, but just four miles south is a glacial ridge on which I-90 was built. The climates north of I-90 (along the lake) and south of I-90 (inland for 25 miles or so) are two different worlds. One gets snow and the other nearly nothing, and then in the next storm, vice versa. And so it begins again this month, on our way to an average of 90'' of snow a year. According to a Web site on such, Sharon only averages 17'', Oil City 53'' and Clearfield 42''–but Bradford is right up there with Erie at 88'' (at least wherever they calculate it near Bradford, it used to be on a mountain top).

I know this all sounds wild to many people, but remember, it doesn’t come all at once and usually melts considerably before the next few inches arrive. We just keep on going along right through it. As my dad, an Erie native, used to say, “When I watch the natural disasters that many people have to live with – fires, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes – I don’t think our snow is so bad. All we have to do is shovel it a little and then it always melts away.” Way to go, Dad–a true Great Lakes native and acclimated veteran!

On Friday our offices handed out candy to these Trick or Treaters from St. Benedict Child Development Center. Cute as can be!