Thursday, December 31, 2009

Schneider's Essay

Associates and oblates of religious communities are, obviously, dedicated to their own spiritual journey and, particularly, drawn to a group/a community to share that journey. Some are former members, if not of the community with whom they associate, with another community earlier in their life. Others often speak of their interest in religious life when they were young, and still others either admire the life and works of the religious group, know members personally, or through a particular event or experience, come to feel "at home" with a community's philosophy and charism and wish to be closer to them through an association.

These women (and men) will be especially interested, as we are, in a weeklong series that the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) is running January 4-8 on the life of women religious in this country, by one of the premier writers in the field: Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM. Their site already has a pre-interview with Sandra on why she took on this latest reflection and the positions she posits in it. I have read a lot by Sandra and find her thoughts and reflections compelling, encouraging and inspiring.

I think all of us that are in any way associated with religious life in the Catholic Church will benefit from her ideas. Here's a link to the NCR--use the Search in the upper right for "Schneiders" if it doesn't come right up.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Gift

Every Easter and Christmas we "pass the collection basket" at our liturgies and the money is given to a cause or a ministry we select. The sisters can make suggestions for the collection and then the prioress and council select one.

This Christmas we chose Gannondale as the recipient. Gannondale is a resident facility for teenage girls placed there by the courts. It was founded 75 years ago by a group of Sisters of Charity at the request of the then-archbishop of Erie, John Mark Gannon. (Gannon University, Gannondale, Archbishop Gannon Scholarship program, etc).

The provincial of this group of Srs. of Charity is a St. Benedict Academy grad and basketball teammate of many of our sisters who played for the Lassies in the late 50s. The current administrator is one of our oblates and a former high school student of mine--great gal: bright, funny, capable and a longtime Gannondale employee--totally dedicated to their mission.

The financial crisis has deeply affected non-profits such as Gannondale, as a large portion of their funding comes from private donations and the state of Pennsylvania--whose budget was held up for months--delayed way beyond the ability of many small state-funded groups to survive.

Around the altar.

The Dickens Village in the dining room.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas 2009

Of Love (by Mary Oliver)

I have been in love more times than one, thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting whether active or not. Sometimes it was all but ephemeral, maybe only an afternoon, but not less real for that. They stay in my mind, these beautiful people, or anyway people beautiful to me, of which there are so many. You, and you, and you, whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe missed. Love, love, love, it was the core of my life, from which, of course, comes the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned that some of them were men and some were women and some--now carry my revelation with you--were trees. Or places. Or music flying above the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun which was the first, and the best, the most loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into my eyes, every morning. So I imagine such love in the world--its fervency, its shining, its innocence and hunger to give of itself--I imagine this is how it began.

Blessings of Christmas to you, your family and friends and to all you love. Morning and Evening Praise for the Christmas Season here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday, Solstice and Surprises

Today is the Winter Solstice and our Morning Prayer celebrated it with this prayer: "In the heart of every person on this earth burns the spark of luminous goodness; in no heart is there total darkness. As we celebrate this winter solstice--the returning of the sun, may we call forth from one another the light and the love that is hidden in every heart by our lives and service, by our prayers and love."

The blizzard that swept up the east coast this weekend did not come far enough inland to affect us--our weekend was cold, but mild--perfect for an afternoon walk to the lake. Here are some scenes. The first two were taken right at the bend in Seven-Mile Creek, the first one is looking left, the second looking right.

Same thing with these two shots; we were standing at the top of the steps down at the lake. First one is looking left or west, then just pivot and look east.

Finally, on our way back we cut through the woods, passed the hermitages, and as we began to emerge out onto the back lawn look what we ran into--almost literally! They are easy to see these days as you can see right into the woods for yards, but it's so dark (4:50 pm till 7:25 am) most of our viewing is from bedroom windows in the morning or from cars returning home at the end of the work day.

December 13th was the one-year anniversary of the photo of the chapel windows and their reflections that you see on the right. As luck would have it, this year December 13 dawned sunny and bright. Another sister and I ran for our cameras right after prayer and tried to catch some photos of this unique time of the year for our south windows. I tried to catch all eight windows and their reflection on the ceramic tile. Here's one:

And from the poet Sally Dyck:

Winter sleeps heavily in the spirit;
Eyes are windows to the glacial land;
Fog curls into the valleys of decision;
No way forward: where is God
in the winter of the soul?

Faces smile and flash content
but like sparkling snow cover
the dirty slush of despair.
In silhouetted barren branches;
Nothing growing, nothing resting...emptiness.

Where is God in the winter of the soul?
Will ice-logged rivers of love flow again;
Will warmth burn away the cold?
Believing in things unseen:
hope is the winter name of God.

(Click any photo to enlarge.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

O and oh, wow!

As we've done every year, here is the link to listen to Sr. Mary David's O Antiphons, sung by a small group of our sisters. We will be singing them as the Magnificat Antiphon every day December 17 through the 23rd. Enjoy! (If you really like them, I think you could get them on a CD if you contact Benetvision and ask very nicely---tell them I sent you!)

17th O Wisdom; 18th O Adonai; 19th O Root of Jesse; 20th O Key of David; 21st O Radiant Dawn; 22nd O God of all the Earth; 23rd O Emmanuel.

The "oh, wow" is the reaction of a dozen of our sisters who, after spending five months in our guest wing, move into their newly renovated rooms today on 2nd floor south. The other dozen have one more month, or less, until they can move back to 1st floor south---and then, and then--- we will be back to "normal." (No comments, please!)

Two skinny little rooms from 1969 have become one larger one with more closet area, space for a comfortable chair, and still a little room left to maneuver around.

Through it all the stained-glass window at the end of the hall survived.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Week 3 brings s-n-o-w

Oh, no! After "stealing" 40 days from winter (November 1-December 10) we finally received that storm that had raged through the midwest last week as it made its way to the Great Lakes. On Thursday the 10th and Friday the 11th the "official" snow count was 8" at the airport. The city recorded about 6", and the little town just east of us, 19". It was very windy, so the drifts where huge, but I'd say we got about 10-12" here in Harborcreek.

It was beautiful--especially for these pre-Christmas days--but a shocking awareness of what our winters are really about: slower driving, cold and dry air, and snow and ice to contend with or to enjoy, depending on your frame of mind!

On the other hand, Advent week 3, Gaudete Sunday, brought lovely reflections by one of our sisters on this week's Gospel where the people continually ask John the Baptist, "And what should we do?" She answered that question beautifully.

Also, Evening Prayer on Saturday ended with this blessing, which I pass on for all of you: "This Advent may you seek opportunities to affirm one another, ever mindful that we ourselves have been touched by God's loving mercy; may we take seriously our mission to be precursors of Christ for one another; may we allow God to warm each of us with Christ's presence."

This is just plain wonderful: Advent Conspiracy 2009. Click on the two-minute video in the upper right corner, enjoy and share.

Isn't it nice to know that lots of others share the desire to live more simply, share more generously, and accept one and all?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December Displays

I had the opportunity to visit the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Erie this week and came upon their display of nativity sets from countries all over the world. It is quite a sight, especially this month. I ran into their PR director, who is also the editor of their community magazine and a former high school student of mine! I encouraged her to do a story of these unique nativities, along with how they were acquired. We'll see how "obedient" she is, now that she's not 16 anymore!

Our own nativity sets won't be out until December 20 or so. Look for them here right before Christmas. On the other hand, we do have one "Christmasy" look---the large magnolia bush in the inner courtyard is lit every night. No one has complained yet! (See end of this post.)

(click to enlarge)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent-Week Two

Three dozen of our oblates were here this past Saturday for an afternoon of reflection during the Advent season. They are a great group of people---all 250 of them. Glad they never all come together--there'd be two and a half of them for each one of us!

News about our oblates, requests for prayers, and spirituality reflections can all be found on our oblate director's website, here.

Advent vigils and Sunday liturgies continue to be wonderful. Our first snow of the season fell late Saturday afternoon (less than an inch) adding to the pre-Christmas feelings.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Memorable Weeks

If you like to keep up on the professional commitments of our Sr. Joan Chittister, this is a unique two weeks for her.

Last weekend she flew to Melbourne, Australia where she will take part in three major events. First, she gave a public lecture Tuesday night for the John Garrett Publishing Company that carries all of her books in Australia. Then Dec. 2-3 she is one of three keynote speakers for the Women, Faith and Development Summit to End Global Poverty. She will speak on poverty, especially as it affects women.

And finally, she is a speaker at the Parliament of the World's Religions, and, as such, is part of five panels on various topics of both religious and social issues. A sixth commitment there involves a session titled, "A Conversation with Joan Chittister." Sr. Joan is well-known down under as she had two lecture tours there in recent years.

This coming Sunday she "heads home"--via Copenhagen--where the group she has co-chaired for 10 years, The Global Peace Initiative of Women,(GPIW) is holding a conference simultaneously and in support of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP15, also in Copenhagen next week. The GPIW is a UN-sponsored organization of women religious leaders and their conference will present global climate and environmental concerns from a faith perspective.

Sr. Joan received an invitation to attend an Ecumenical Celebration Service on December 13 at Copenhagen's Lutheran Cathedral, the Church of Our Lady, with Rowan Williams as preacher. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sr. Joan are co-authors of the book, Uncommon Gratitude, which will be published by Liturgical Press next spring.

More information will be posted on Benetvision's home page.

Links are included here if you'd like to browse through any of the home pages--all of which include programs, participants, conference summaries and goals.

And, lest we not forget, December 2nd we commemorated the death of the four American women martyred in El Salvador nearly 30 years ago. Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean pray for us and our poor war-torn world.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Coming of Advent

Advent crept in over the Thanksgiving weekend, but our first vigil Saturday night and Eucharist of the First Sunday of Advent, Sunday morning, were as lovely as ever. The most commonly heard reaction from all community members was something along the lines of, "I just love those Advent hymns--prayers--readings--environment (fill in the blank!).

And I say, ditto, ditto, ditto and ditto.

This year's chapel wreath, with some late-day light from the south windows:

"Our God is coming and will not delay; every hidden thing will be brought to light and God will be revealed to every nation."

Morning and Evening Prayer for Advent, here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Mary Oliver has a lovely poem on things we are most grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day--the people in our lives who we love.

"What is the greatest gift?"

What is the greatest gift?
Could it be the world itself--the oceans, the meadowlark,
the patience of the trees in the wind?
Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?

Something else--something else entirely
holds me in thrall.
That you have a life that I wonder about
more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a life--courteous, intelligent--
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a soul--your own, no one else's--
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.

So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours
more than my own.

Mary Oliver

Our dining room before the guests arrive.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our own Macy's parade

Our halls continue to be packed full of visitors as the final weekend for the St. John's Bible exhibit overlapped with our annual Community of Life Sunday liturgy on Christ the King--and then, Sunday evening, we hosted an ecumenical Thanksgiving service of Harborcreek churches. Whew!

Here's the north alcove for Christ the King:

A nice spin-off of all the visitors is the interest they've shown in our new chapel and in Brother Thomas's works, which are displayed all over the house as usual. Here is the current look of the large glass case in the front parlor that carries a continual display of his works.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Benedictine Medal

Since we are hosting visiting monastic men and women this week perhaps it is a good time to share the medal of St. Benedict that many of us wear and that appears in many logos and through most Benedictine institutions--and the meanings behind all the symbolism on it.

One side of it has St. Benedict holding a cross in one hand and the Holy Rule in the other. On both sides of the statue are the words: Crux S Patris Benedicti: "The Cross of Holy Father Benedict." Under his feet are Ex S M Cassino, MDCCCLXXX: "From the Holy Mount of Cassino, 1880." Around the circumference is, Ejus in obitu nostro presentia muniamur: "May we be protected by his presence in the hour of our death."

The other side features the cross of St. Benedict with many letters.

The four letters around the center, CSPB, stand for "The Cross of Holy Father Benedict."

In the center cross are the letters CSSML-NDSMD: Crux Sacre Sit Mihi Lux-Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux: "May the sacred cross be my light--let not the devil be my guide."

Around the edge are VRSNSMV-SMQLIVB: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!: "Begone, Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! Evil is the cup you offer. Drink the poison yourself!"

And at the very top is the word, Pax, peace.

The best place to find them is at Liturgical Press. They are available in gold plating, silver, or these jubilee ones, with gold and blue and red. Their sizes are compared to coins. The most popular size I've seen is about one inch in diameter--a nickel!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Special Visitors

Busy weekend as the first of 22 monastic men and women from Europe and across the US arrive for the AIM International Council and AIM USA Board of Trustees joint meeting this Tuesday and Wednesday--first time it's been held in Erie.

Here's a preview article about it in our Mount Monthly--page 3 and a poem to help us all through our busy week--from Mary Oliver's new book, Evidence.

"Mysteries, Yes"

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Winter Warmth

Winter coats came to many of Erie's inner-city children this week through three of our ministries: Emmaus Ministries, St. Benedict Child Development Center and the Neighborhood Art House.

Operation Warm has provided 600,000 coats to needy kids across the country over the past 11 years but this is the first year the program has been in Erie. The Child Dev. Center and the Art House were two of eight local sites chosen to receive winter coats. Over 200 coats were delivered and given out to their children. A big thanks to our local PNC bank who sponsored the coats for these families.

Emmaus Ministries (soup kitchen, food pantry, women's advocacy, Kids Cafe) partners with a local Catholic parish each year that collects coats and other warm weather "gear"--sweaters, gloves, hats. Monday the parish delivered this year's donations which included over 300 coats for Emmaus families.

Operation Warm supplied colorful, hooded boys and girls winter jackets, sizes 4-18.

Monday, November 9, 2009


When I visited the Abbey of Montserrat outside of Barcelona, Spain a few years ago, I remember thinking, "What would it be like to live in a place that hosts hundreds and hundreds of visitors every week---to have the public walking around your monastery all the time?" Montserrat, as the center of the Catalonian culture, has a huge basilica, museum, famed boys choir, and retreat house and grounds which attract visitors 24-7. They stream up the mountain on tram cars and buses every day of the year---and the community of monks minister to them with constant patience and kindness.

We are getting a very small idea of what that might be like as the past three weeks have brought groups of visitors into our house every day to view the Saint John's Bible exhibit. I believe they are usually confined to afternoon and early evening hours, but on weekends it seems like they are here all day long!

Don't get me wrong, it's been absolutely great but it has also brought out our creativity to try to find new paths around the house to get from one place to the other without having to navigate the crowds! The best bet is to take the high road (2nd floor) or the low road (basement) that are generally reserved to just us!

Saturday morning there was a large group from down in the diocese and as we've been granted a surprise "gift from the weather gods" of three consecutive days of bright sun and 65+ degree temperatures, I thought that since they were going around the inside of our house, I'd take a trip around the outside! Here's how early November is looking in some of my favorite places:

Three shots from our Garden of Memories: I've photographed this little tree a couple of other times. Here it is with blossoms almost gone. Still beautiful.

I think these were hydrangea. Still such large balls of petals. Now tan.

Our large, broad swatches of Black-eyed Susans are now just black eyes!

Around the corner I peeked into the greenhouse and found some geraniums.

Notice what's different about this view of the back of our place? No dumpsters! Finally removed this week. Hopes are high that the great move-back will be in late December or mid-January at the latest. Guests will be welcomed back where they belong: in our guest rooms.

Coming around the west side, this large willow on the west lawn is the last tree to cling to its greenness. If you enlarge this you can see the bare trees across the street and some of the evergreens throughout the west lawn that now draw all the attention.

Don't know if I've ever shared this Pax cornerstone to commemorate the chapel revision. It's right in the front corner of the house. Highly visible.

And, finally, a walk in the inner courtyard found much the same as outside, except for this lone morning glory, right behind Mary.

My November-December "Light Through Stained-Glass Windows" column in our diocese's Faith magazine. See page 15.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mother Benedicta Riepp

In honor of Mother Benedicta Riepp, OSB, first US Benedictine prioress and one of the first Benedictine sisters to come to the United States from the Bavaria region of Germany, our community instituted the Benedicta Riepp program a decade ago.

This "temporary membership" type program enables women to come and live among us and work in our ministries with us for a year.

We have had about 10 women in this venture and it has truly been an enriching experience for us and, hopefully, for them.

This week we welcomed our latest member of the Benedicta Riepp program, Janice. Janice is an Erie native, an SBA grad, who now lives in New York City. She pronounced her intention to be with us for the next year and will participate in all non-canonical parts of our life.

Of course, there's is one catch to this: we never anticipated that we'd miss them so much when they left. But that's what happened. It's surely worth it, but we do miss them greatly when they return home!

Icon of Mother Benedicta Riepp, OSB by Sr. Mary Charles McGough, OSB.

Mother Benedicta, who died at age 37, is buried on the grounds of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph, MN.

FAQ on our Benedicta Riepp program.

New Morning and Evening Prayer for November (see sidebar).