Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti et al

Haiti is still primary in our prayers and in our hearts. Bishop Tom Gumbleton is leading a small medical group to Haiti this week. Here's a website that highlights not only this latest venture for this special priest, but contains a whole selection of his involvements, sermons, etc. Many of our sisters are friends of Tom's through his and their long association with Pax Christi USA in the 1970s and 80s.

The only Benedictine monastery in Haiti is a dependent monastery of an abbey in France. There is a running list of messages about their Haitian community on their website. It's in French, but if you have something like the google toolbar, it will translate the pages for you automatically. There is also a link to the monastery itself with photos of the place and the half dozen monks who live there. AIM USA is in contact with them and is sending a large donation to them that arrived unexpectedly at their offices this week.

Joan Chittister's NCR column this week is on her own trip to Haiti years ago. Both the column and the comments that follow it are excellent.

And now, to finish with a little beauty--from my Christmas gift poetry book, Evidence, by Mary Oliver:

The Trees

Do you think of them as decoration?
Think again.

Here are maples, flashing.
And here are the oaks, holding on all winter
to their dry leaves.
And here are the pines, that will never fail,
until death, the instruction to be green.
And here are the willows, the first
to pronounce a new year.

May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?
Oh, Lord, how we are all for invention and
But I think it would do us good
if we would think about these brothers and sisters,
quietly and deeply.

The trees, the trees, just holding on
to the old, holy ways.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiti and the Home Front

Last Monday our prioress put out a note to all sisters announcing a collection for Haiti that would go there through Catholic Charities. The offer also went to our lay employees and friends. She also stated that the community would match whatever is donated. As of Friday there was over $2,000 already in. Would be nice to get to a total of $5,000. We have been including Haiti in our prayer intentions almost every day at Morning or Evening Prayer.

On the home front there are also difficult things. In our Sunday paper yesterday there was a cover article on the homicides in the Erie area for 2009. There were four; all men---average age 32.

I was wondering about that because we knew that it had been a long time since we'd had a homicide and a Take Back the Site for Nonviolence vigil. Then in the last week of 2009 and the first week of 2010 don't we have two homicides close together.

The last one in 2009 was a "domestic dispute," one of the common reasons for violence. A 42-year old man was killed by his longtime girl friend.

The one pictured below was very sad. A 17-year old shot a 19-year old. Another common situation: disagreements and arguments that are brought to a head on the streets. A couple things made this one memorable. First, the girl friend of the slain boy, and mother of their baby, was a participant in two of our programs when she was in elementary school: the Art House and the Kids Cafe. And secondly, both of the boy's parents spoke at the vigil. The mother in particular has decided to start a local campaign of speaking in schools and to youth groups to share their experience and try in her own way to get guns off our streets.

You can also see from the second photo that it got a lot of media coverage, two TV mobile vans were set up there. There was also a very large crowd...75-100, with many sisters from the vigil sponsors (Our community, the Mercy sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph) and many others--individuals and local groups that are speaking out and making appearances at events such as these that call for an end to violence.

Our BFP committee (Benedictines For Peace), that helps coordinate these vigils, has recently renewed its website.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Monastic Venture

Trappist Michael Casey, OCSO, from Australia, gave our retreat a couple of years ago. He was are all his books on monastic life.

Here's a brand new site from him and his community...short audios on aspects of the RB. You can just listen or download. There seem to already be 4-5 "Episodes" available.

We have talented musicians!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sisters '66

In 1966, as a way of fund raising for their new monastery, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie turned to one of their strengths: their music, and formed a 50+ member choir: Sisters '66. Over the next year, these sisters traveled throughout the diocese performing and raising funds for what is today Mount Saint Benedict.

On one of these occasions a man connected to the Ed Sullivan Show caught their performance and, as one thing led to another, Sisters '66 were invited to appear on what was then the #1 nationwide Sunday night variety show.

On January 15, 1967, 52 sisters: singers, musicians and assistants, appeared on the show--along with singer Petula Clark, comedian Allan King and The Rolling Stones---yes, THE Rolling Stones.

Last Friday on the 43rd anniversary of "that fateful night," a local TV station asked to interview some of the sisters who had been part of that unique experience. At 6:00 am Friday morning a reporter and cameraman arrived at the Mount and for the next 1/2 hour interviewed five sisters who were in Sisters '66.

They were articulate, humorous, and had amazing memories of the whole experience. Only a 2-3 minute snippet of their interview made the local news that night, but it brought back wonderful memories for all.

Left to right, Sisters '66 members: Sisters Mary Daniel M, Mary Ellen C, Rose Ann K, Roberta L, and Irene S.

A three-minute YouTube video shows the most memorable piece from that night: Kum-ba-ya. Sr. Mary Ellen Cummings is the soloist.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Monastic Lexicon #12

For about a year (April 2008-May 2009) I had a little feature here called, Monastic Lexicon. Every month a term that is particular to us--not necessarily a term for all monastic life--was featured. Some were serious, others whimsical.

Somehow it faded out, but starting today I'd like to revive it.

4th Floor

At the site of the original motherhouse on East 9th Street in Erie, one large four-story (and a basement) section remains. The top floor is referred to as "4th Floor."

In the first years of St. Benedict Academy (1869+) the high school borders lived there. For many years it was composed of dormitory rooms for community members, although one big room was the sewing classroom for the high school. Then in the 1970s and 80s, when the Pax Center occupied the lower floors, it became individual bedrooms, storage and workrooms for the Center's projects.

Since 1990, when the whole complex got a makeover (new windows, kitchens, utilities, plumbing, etc.) it has held the offices of some of the ministries our sisters run. Today the staffs of Benetvision Publications, Emmaus Ministries, the AIM USA Secretariat, and Sr. Joan Chittister's ministry all work there. All total about eight or nine sisters and the same number of lay women (no men presently!) report there every morning.

The floor now holds an eclectic combination of modern appliances and technology right alongside some bookshelves with 19th c. books still in them, a 100 year old huge (4'x3') needlepoint of the Blessed Mother created by some anonymous sister, and lovely, large black and white Brownie-camera photos of Erie's four seasons from the 1940s or 50s by Sr. Marcella.

So when we say: "on 4th floor," that's what we mean!

Previous Monastic Lexicons:
#1 Clerestory 4-21-08
#2 Cenobite 6-2-08
#3 Glinodo 7-31-08
#4 Opus Dei 8-28-08
#5 Suscipe 9-29-08
#6 Bells 11-17-08
#7 Chapter 57 1-15-09
#8 Anselm's Attic 2-5-09
#9 Tenebrae 4-2-09
#10 Sr. Irene's Bread 4-27-09
#11 Out at Trinity 5-28-09

Monday, January 11, 2010

Extraordinary ordinariness

For the January-February issue of our Catholic diocesan magazine, Faith, I wrote this article. It seems appropriate for today:

Even though our consumerism-based culture begins its Christmas/holiday season in October and ends it abruptly December 26, those Christians who are aware of an "alternative year"--the liturgical year--try valiantly to first celebrate Advent and then the Christmas season, which begins December 25 and lasts, this year, through January 10--just about when valentines are being put out in Hallmark stores.

After that, the civic calendar marches toward spring and the liturgical one toward Easter. Sandwiched between Christmas and Easter is a little time period--37 days, beginning on Monday, January 11 and ending on Tuesday, February 16, called "Ordinary Time." Ordinary Time picks up again in June till the next Advent; so when both are added together, these ordinary weeks make up over half of the liturgical year.

One of our sisters, Joan Chittister, just wrote a book for Thomas Nelson Publishers, titled, The Liturgical Year. In it she writes about Ordinary Time:

Life is, by and large, more commonplace than exciting, more customary than electrifying, more usual than unusual. And so, not surprisingly, is the liturgical year. Because the liturgical year is a catalog of the dimensions of the spiritual life, it is not unlike life itself. It, too, is made up of the habitual and the common coordinates of what it means to live a spiritual life. What's more, it is precisely this routine of holiness-as-usual that is the ultimate measure of the quality of a soul. It is what we do routinely, not what we do rarely, that delineates the character of a person.

And it is true. If you were with us for breakfast on Monday, January 11, you'd hear unusual greetings being passed around: "Happy feria days." "Ah, we're back to ordinary time." "Wasn't' it nice to have 'nothing special' at morning prayer!" Yes, here they are--glorious ordinary days, a break from weeks and weeks of celebration, hoopla, and special events. Time to just "be," to get back to the everyday, the humdrum, the routine--which holds its own great holiness surely as much as the major feasts do.

When I first entered religious life we had a wonderful sister directing us. She was lots of fun and was not very strict with us at all. To this day I remember one special thought she shared in a rare moment of self-revelation. She confessed that she used to dream of going to far-off missionary lands and doing extraordinary things with her life, but after years of teaching kindergarten and working with young sisters, she had finally come to the acceptance that, as she said, "If I'm going to become a saint, it's going to have to happen right here, right here in these halls, right here with these people, right here every day."

And, I can tell you that, yes, she did become a saint: right there in those halls, right there every single day.

A little "ordinary," corner in our gathering space. That's one of Brother Thomas's larger pieces paired with some greenery.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Finally, the day is here

Finally, it has happened--all 62 of us who live at the Mount are in our own (renovated or brand new) rooms. The renovation that started 2-3 years ago with the chapel--then moved onto the infirmary and assisted-living hall, then onto north hall and finally, 1st and 2nd south is completed. Well, you know with construction there is always quite an "afterwards" time for the little things--but, yesterday and today the final 12 sisters moved into their rooms on the 1st floor of south hall.

This also means that the 15 rooms of our guest hall are available for guests again. Some of the rooms still need to be set up again, others are scheduled for a little sprucing up, but many have "benefited" from the sisters' long stays there and now have ceiling fans, brighter ceiling lights, more hooks and little niceties in the bathrooms, etc. The TV lounge in the guest hall has also had a comfortable overhaul.

Here's a little look at 1st south: a small common sitting room at the end of the hall, the sink area in the common bathrooms and the individual sink area that is in each room.

"...guests--and monasteries are never without them..." RB 53

Welcome Guests!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Epiphany Moments

As all media are doing nowadays, our Erie Times News is running lists of The Best of 2009. In a full page article on the Best of the Arts, reviewer Karen Merkle highlighted the best of the art exhibits in our area in '09. She ended her review with this paragraph: "Then there was the transcendent exhibit that was about more than art. Mount Saint Benedict had on display this fall 25 illuminations from the Saint John Bible, a decade-long project to write and illustrate the Bible by hand -- the first such effort since the 15th-century invention of the printing press. The images were stunning, but even more importantly, they were filled with purpose, inspiration, and hope. We wish the same for you and yours in the coming year."

We love Epiphany and the whole weekend of prayer, songs, etc. that come only once a year and yet are so special. One song particularly is sung with full voice by all: "Shepherds and Kings" from the former Weston Priory monk, Gregory Norbet.

Here, too, is a contemporary reading that we added to our Vigil of Sunday evening prayer Saturday night. It blew us away.

Who are the wandering shepherds today?
Who are the wise ones
making their way through the stranger's land
searching the sands for an unknown King?

Who hears the song
and travels long
over the night earth
to witness the sight of a common birth?

It is you, my friend,
you are the simple shepherd,
the humble sage.
You are the one who in this age of unbelief
are called to travel far and long
to share a faith and love
strong enough to become a gift.

Do you think they lifted rings
of incense and myrrh and simple gold
as stories of Kings have always told?

Their gifts were themselves
as ours must be
hope and joy freely placed
in one so small.

Christ revealed in all the little ways:
--the old one's lonesome smile
betraying empty days;
--the child's excited,
expectant gaze;
--the comforting hand in silent sharing
of another soul's torment;
--the other's need to pause awhile
and share a joyful moment.

Our presence to each other is gift enough for Him
let us lift our hearts as one
God's Son is here as never before
let us bring to life the wise one's lore.
Come, my friend, let us adore.

Jacqueline Schroeder, OSF

Our last two weeks have been so cold that Presque Isle Bay has frozen enough for the first appearance of ice fishing huts. Geesh, it looks like we live in the Arctic!