Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas at Bristow...

Midnight Mass...

...our subprioress reads the Christmas Proclamation by candlelight.

Our monastic schola is enhanced by the voices of children who bring their finest gift to the newborn king.

The altar is lovingly dressed for the feast.

When dawn comes we gather for the Christmas Day Eucharist. Msgr. Chester Michael was the presider for both Christmas liturgies. We have been blessed by the simplicity and power of his preaching.


Every gift, every instrument was used to proclaim the glad tidings.

Our Vigil began at 11:30 PM Christmas Eve. We invited our guests in for Sister Pat's AMAZING Christmas breads. By 2:30 most of us when asleep. Christmas comes early for us (about four hours later.) By 2:oo PM Christmas dinner is cleaned up and we all take a much-needed nap!
I am traveling now. Our Mary Clark will enter on February 8th. I have gone home with her to meet her family. More on the Midwest trek after the New Year. I'll be back on-line January 2nd. Enjoy the 12 days of Christmas. Hold fast to the peace and joy He brings. He is born again in those who love Him.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Already...but not yet.

It was the day before
the night before Christmas,
and all through GOD's house...

...there were sisters on ladders, and on top of the house.

The wreaths were all hung with the greatest of care,
and lights strung abundantly, their glory to share.

When what to my
wandering eyes should appear,
but a Monastery Coordinator on our roof without fear!

The tree was adorned by Sister Henry Marie,
the lower half left to our Sister M.P.

Tonight we will bless,
it's branches and bows.
We'll open our presents
as the fake fire glows.
We'll dress for the Babe
who is coming this night.
We'll light all the candles
and wait for His light.
We'll take up the the flute and together we'll sing
of God's most gracious gift - the small King of kings.
To those dear to this household - our oblates and friends -
may this night bring you peace and a joy without end.

Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Weekend that Wasn't...

Sometimes, GOD just has another plan. We were scheduled to welcome four wonderful women for a vocation retreat this weekend. All four, one by one, expressed regrets for a variety of good reasons I was coming up the driveway of the monastery Friday morning when I received word that the one remaining guest was held captive by bad weather four hours southwest of Bristow. “OK, Lord,” I said. “This just wasn’t meant to be.

I trust we will see all four of these lovely women down the road. Certainly, their presence among us would have been gift. But, there are always blessings – even in plans gone south. I found myself with a free Saturday. Me. Home at the monastery with no program to run or task to accomplish. What in the world would I do? Well…for starters, my Christmas cards will actually go out before the Nativity. Yup. Can’t believe it, myself. I have spent the last twenty-four hours simply being here with my sisters. I have lingered at table and in Chapel. I have slept long and deep. I have reclaimed my winter clothing from the bowels of the house and rejoiced at the prospect of soft, comfy warmth. I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast with the sisters who eat late (after Morning Prayer) – which can go on for an entire hour if the coffee is fresh and the conversation unrelenting. In short GOD’s plan has turned out rather nicely. Do you think the good Lord goes to such great lengths to slow me down? I think not. But, I know that when my plan gets the boot, GOD has a blessing in mind. So, to all the dear ones we missed this weekend, not to worry. Your Vocation Director has been gifted with rest and the comfort of just being in the place that always returns me to my best self. See you soon, we hope.
Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tis' the season...

I woke up feeling a bit down this morning. It occurred to me that it doesn’t really matter why or if it makes sense. It’s just a feeling. I don’t expect it to last long. Like weather patterns, my feelings usually move through rather easily. I tend to give them a wide berth – allow them to be in spite of what I’d rather be feeling. Most of the time my feelings give me important information – give me clues to what’s going on deep within. So much of our inner life is unconscious or put to the side for “more important things.” When we squash a feeling we don’t want to have, it just comes back to the surface with greater gusto. So, I’ve learned to reverence my feelings and give them space to bring their wisdom.

Many people have a hard time during the holidays. Remember that Elvis song, “Blue Christmas”? I know of some churches that actually have a blue Christmas tree for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or enduring a clinical or situational depression. I think it’s helpful when the Church can tangibly acknowledge pain and suffering – especially the kind that’s hard to see.

Oddly enough, I feel my unexplained mood is perfectly compatible with Christian hope and the joy of this holy season. Hope and real joy run deep in us. It’s the stuff we do that defies the circumstance of our days - a smile given because it’s needed, a kind word when we feel a bit empty, the food, clothing and toys we gather for the poor in spite of the pressures of the season. Christmas will come in our hearts if we accept that there is only one gift worth giving – our love. So, to all of you feeling a bit blue today, we can be blue together, you and I. And GOD, who so loved the world, will be with us as we await the Light who pierces every darkness.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's the little things...

This morning I learned how to open up a tin of black shoe polish. It was an absolute revelation! Have you ever tried to pry one of those things open? First, there are no helpful hints on the can. They give plenty of instruction on how to rub the stuff into your shoes, but no help, whatsoever, if you want to open the tin first. I probably should say that I have polished my shoes before – many times, in fact in the last 40 years. Our Catholic school uniforms included a pair of saddle shoes that had to be polished for Church on Friday morning. The polish we used back then came in a plastic bottle. It had a little sponge top. When you squeezed the bottle, the black or white would seep through the applicator. It was so easy and kind of fun, truth be told. I wasn’t exactly neat about it, but I got the job done. That said I feel better sharing my joy at this new discovery. I bought the good stuff in the tin because it looked serious. I go through a pair of black shoes every year or so. I try to make them last as best I can. So, in an effort to be a better steward of the things entrusted to me, I decided to by the KIWI can. Talk about frustrating… There’s this little metal thing on the edge. It looks like a miniature bottle opener (for ®Barbie & Ken.) I had no idea it could spin! When the lid shifted a fraction, I knew I had discovered the secret. A small triumph in design, the little metal thing creates leverage. How brilliant!

Why am I writing a blog about a tin of shoe polish? I guess it struck me that at 45 there are so many little mysteries I haven’t unraveled. (There are, as you might imagine, some not-so-little mysteries I’m working on, too.) I guess, at midlife, the moments of wonder have become increasingly particular and attached to rather mundane endeavors. As silly and small as these new learnings are, I seem to get such a charge from them. It’s as if the world has become more miraculous or my time in it has become more precious. Either way, I feel drawn to the mysteries – big and small. Maybe, it’s the small victories in life that make a day so sweet.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stream of Consciousness...

When I was a child, I was a total goof around “famous” people. Living right across the Hudson River, my family frequently drove into Manhattan for special events, and often, we’d spy some poor, unsuspecting celebrity. I chased Jane Pauley, then, anchor of the TODAY Show, around Tavern on the Green restaurant. I caught up with her easily because her leg was in a cast. A few years later, I shook hands with Placido Domingo during intermission at a Met gala - VERY cool. But the most fun was seeing Carly Simon at Kate’s Paperie in SoHo. I was in my twenties by then, but no less a fool. I didn’t speak to her directly. I just followed her around the store humming, “You’re So Vain” until her entourage gave me dirty looks. True story, I’m afraid. Carly came to mind this morning, as I was thinking about Advent. Remember the single, “Anticipation”? It was huge in the late 70’s. “Anticipa-a-tion is making me late. It’s keeping me waiting.” That was my leap to the four weeks of preparation for the coming of the Lord. (I know. My mind is frightening place!)

As we anticipate joyfully the coming of the Lord, there is so much cultural-Christmas everywhere, it’s difficult to stay in the graced place of waiting. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Gabriel settled that score in his visit to the poor maiden of Nazareth: “Nothing is impossible for GOD (Luke 1:30).” It’s much easier in the monastery where Advent is strictly observed. There are no Christmas carols sung until Christmas Eve. Our Chapel bears the colors of the season - purple pink and blue. The hymn texts themselves provide rich theology for our private lectio. But out “in the world,” Christmas came before the turkey was eaten.

What to do… Well, there is much to be done in these weeks for loved ones and for the poor among us. Perhaps, it’s how we do our holiday tasks that will make all the difference. Advent makes all waiting holy. So, the next long line you’re on in a department store? Pray the text of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to soothe your frustration and return your soul to a peaceful place. When someone stops you amid an important task, remind yourself that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John, Prologue.)” Try to see Him in that person who needs your time, attention and listening heart. Here’s one more. Lots of wrapping to do? As you wrap each gift, ask GOD to bless and heal the person it will go to. If these suggestions don’t help, ask GOD to help you hold the spirit of Advent in your heart – the hope, the joy, the promise. It’s been my experience that when I ask for help, I get it. May these two remaining weeks be a blessing…and may your Advent waiting yield abundant joy when Christmas REALLY comes.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sister's cooking show is live...

We filmed the one and only episode of "Nun Better: Cooking with Sister Vicki" on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It was more fun than I anticipated. I hope you enjoy the segments - five including the credits. At the very least, we've sent a wonderful recipe out into cyberspace. In my dreams, we find a chef who longs to be a nun. Oh...technical difficulties were many. Segment 2 was filmed on its side. Don't ask.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Come, Lord Jesus..."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What's new at the monastery?

Lots! Mary Clark, who was accepted to enter our community last summer, will become a postulant on February 8th. To all of you who joined us in prayer for the sale of Mary’s home – THANK YOU!
We have a new face in the house. Robin Duffy, who has lived and worked near Cincinnati for several years, began our “Live-In” Program on November 1st. Please welcome Robin when you see her on Sundays and keep both women in prayer as they continue to discern with us. We know that the prayers of our extended community and of our dear Oblates have brought many of us to God’s house. As we reflect on our blessings this Thanksgiving, know that we will be thanking our God for all of you.
Blessings and love,
- Sister Vicki

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's my feast day!

It was our tradition to take a new name when we entered the novitiate. It was a saint’s name – male or female, it did not matter. I’m told my sisters could request three names and then on the day they became “sisters,” the prioress would give them their new name. Even though they knew the three choices, it was still a surprise to see which name they would carry “in religion.” Then, from that day on, the community would celebrate the saint’s day as the sister’s feast day. On November 22nd, for example, – the feast of Saint Cecilia – we celebrated our prioress’ feast day.

This tradition changed after the Second Vatican Council when the Holy Father and his brother bishops urged religious to reclaim the spiritual roots of our founders/foundresses, and examine their commitment to the life in the light of their baptismal promises. Monastic Profession was thus viewed as the fulfillment of the promises made for us in the waters of baptism. Now, for many sisters, their feast day is the day of their baptism. Such good theology!

There are sisters who came to the Catholic faith as adults so their baptismal day in stored in the heart’s memory. For most of us – myself included – we have only the story of that day according to our parents and some curled-up black and white photos. Regardless of age, we believe that the grace of Christ is at work in us from that day forward. And, it is only by grace, that, as adult Christians, we give ourselves to the monastic life and persevere over a lifetime. I was baptized 45 years ago today at Our Lady of the Magnificat Chapel. My Aunt Winnie and Uncle Bud Hubner held me over the font and the immediate family prayed that the Christ-light would burn bright in my heart. I imagine it as a lovely moment until the reality of history nudges the sweetness aside. Forty-five years ago today, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, in full view of a grieving nation. Needless to say, my cuteness was probably not the main topic of conversation after the rite. Yet, in the face of such a brutal act, to bring a baby to the water of life was, in and of itself, an act of great faith.

So, today is my feast day…my sisters here in Richmond have already fussed over me and my sisters at the monastery held me in prayer this morning. It is a lovely tradition in religious life and an opportunity for gratitude for the gift of living water and fragrant oil – the earthy symbols of the Love that will never abandon me on the journey.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Challenging Feast...

It’s been over 230 years since we had a king in America. And, it’s been 45 years since “Camelot” – the closest we’ve come to a royal family in our second century. Yet, we are fascinated by the royals of Europe. OK, I’m a bit fascinated. There is something mysterious and fantastic about kings and queens – persons who attain power and greatness by bloodline and skillful matchmaking. I wouldn’t trade freedom and true democracy for anything, but when Charles and Dianna married, I was watching live in the wee hours of the morning with millions around the world.

That said, what are we American Catholics to make of the Feast of Christ the King? Yes, it’s the last Sunday in the season of Ordinary Time. Yes, it signals the coming of Advent and a new liturgical year. But the image of Christ as king must contain blessing. There must be something to this title that touches the heart. I think our scriptures for this day provide some wonderful texts for contemplation. The “king” we worship is a shepherd who “seeks out the lost” (Ezekiel 34.) We want for nothing in his care (Psalm 23). The enemy of this king is death itself (I Corinthians 15.) And, he will determine our fidelity by acts of compassion and mercy (Matthew 25.) This is a king who chose a throne of wood and iron - a king, who became servant of all beneath a crown of thorns, and who reigns now in glory because he loved us to death. This is a king I can give my heart to.

In The Rule of Benedict our Holy Father asks is we are ready to “take up the strong weapons of obedience and do battle for Christ our King” (Prologue.) Today, in every Church around the world, God’s people say, “YES.” Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ our King, we affirm the coming of his kingdom in our midst and pledge our hearts to the works of love that will transform our reality into Christ so that “GOD may be all in all.”

Happy feast! Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sister has a new toy...I mean TOOL.

I received an early birthday gift from Kim Schaff, Vice Principal of Great Salt Bay Elementary School in Maine, and a dear friend of this monastic community. When Sister Cecilia heard what this little gizmo could do, she had no hesitation is allowing me to keep this marvelous gift. Thanks to my friend, Kim, the blog now has video! It's called a "Flip." It's a most ingenious little video camera that feeds directly into the USB port of a laptop thereby, making "downloading" and "uploading" quite simple. God bless you, Kim, for your goodness to us. My first try is attached - a short tour of the Richmond office. (I promise the content will improve over time!)
Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Where in the world is..." Sister Vicki?

Dear Ones,
I know you’ve been “blog-less” for days. I can only say that when I’m not HERE, I’m out THERE doing the ministry I’ve been given. I frustrate myself sometimes with all that I want to do. The last two weeks have been extra full of good things, but things that required maximum energy, focus and attention - ( Oblate Retreat, followed closely by the Feast of Saint Gertrude celebration at our high school, and small catering “job” in the middle.) So, as you know, I need to disappear for a few days, here and there, or even a week, until I can resume the everyday things that bring me such joy.
I do love writing this blog. In some mysterious way, you who read it have become part of my life. I pray for you all and know that you pray for our community. I may never meet all of you, but that makes our connection no less real in my heart. These entries are simply short letters that carry the news of vocations in our community and some of the happening in our monastic life together. Sometimes, the blog becomes a place of prayerful exploration of my own spiritual journey and for your kind indulgence, on that front, I am truly grateful. I hope you will remain with “Monastics On A Journey” for as long as these words edify or connect you to the heart of our community.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday with our Oblates...

OK, I know it's been almost a week. But, sister has been hard at work preparing for an important retreat day (and a special celebration at our high school - news on this event to follow.) On Saturday 60 people gathered in our Chapel for the annual Oblate Retreat Day. Many of these good people are already oblates - persons who have made a profession to live the spirituality of Saint Benedict in the world, to the extent their state in life permits. In other words, they are single, married, male and female. Many are Catholic and many are of other Christian denominations. (Remember, Benedictine monasticism predates all the divisions in the Body of Christ. Benedict belongs to all Christians. There are, in fact, two ecumenical Benedictine monasteries for women in America: Madison, WI and Mount Tabor, KY.)

Oblation is to a particular monastic community and it is a way of life. Becoming an oblate requires a two-year commitment to formation which culminates in a public profession made before the monastic community and GOD. These wonderful people are our extended hands in the world. They take Benedict wherever they go and allow the wisdom of The Rule to guide their lives and relationships. We, as a monastic community, are so grateful to be blessed with the love, energy and gifts of our oblates. I will continue to pray for them as I know they pray for us. Many thanks to Sister Charlotte Lee, OSB and Kathy Frick, Obl. SB, for the invitation and a wonderful day.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'm more interested in tomorrow...

Today, many of us will exercise our right to a voice in government - record numbers, I here. Tonight, one of these two fine men will be elected our next president. No matter what happens, GOD is with us. No matter what happens, GOD will be with him. So today as we monitor the numbers and the most passionate among us continue to campaign, maybe we could stop for just a moment and say a prayer for our next president - even before we know his name. Maybe, we could pray for healing in our disappointments and a spirit of gratitude for a process that doesn't exist in most countries. We have a new day dawning in this nation and it's going to take each one of us to mend what has been rent and move forward as a people - regardless of red or blue. Tomorrow is what we will make of it. I'm praying for the president today because his is the awesome responsibility to bring glad tidings to the poor...liberty to captives...sight to the blind...and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19, paraphrased). May we become "one nation under GOD, indivisible, with justice for all."
Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I have been at the Monastery since Thursday. I came home for a series of meetings and a dentist appointment (Sister Andrea and I are trying to schedule them together now.) And, Saturday was Community Day. We meet together on the first Saturday of every month to work on things together. Sometimes we have a Chapter Meeting, too. But this Saturday was a full day of shared prayer and study. Sister Veronica and I had to prepare a presentation to share with the entire community on Saturday morning. (It went well, I think. We did some sharing from our study in Rome on RB 72.) And last night, our Novices, Postulant and “Live-In’s” threw a supper party for the whole community in the newly refurbished Formation Room. (It’s one of the spaces in the monastery you haven’t seen because it’s off a residential hallway.) So, it’s been a very full (but happy) four days at HOME!

It’s early Sunday morning…the sun is rising early because of the time change…I’m watching the cats wake up outside my office window and wondering how those creatures stay warm. It’s a frosty morning, I think. (I’m really ready for autumn to come and STAY!) I’m excited to be home for Sunday Eucharist – especially on this beautiful feast of ALL SOULS. It’s a good day to take a walk up the hill to our cemetery and pray a “hello” to our sisters in glory. It’s a good day to “visit” with my Mother and grandparents, as well. It’s a good day to thank GOD for the gift of JESUS and for life that never has to end.
Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where mercy matters...

Today, I am blogging from a park bench in Williamsburg, VA - that's "colonial" Williamsburg. I had the great pleasure of teaching two "Church History" classes as Walsingham Academy - a magnificent Catholic school founded by the Sisters of Mercy.

I love being in a classroom. Somehow, the old teacher in me returns and I get so excited about EVERYTHING. WA is a co-ed school that goes from grades 1-12, I think. I visited the "Upper School" and was welcomed over the PA system by the principal - talk about hospitality! I was amazed by the attentiveness of the students - after all, monasticism is kind of weird. And the quality of their questions was superb. I'm so grateful to Miss Bialkowski - "Miss B.", as some students lovingly call her - for inviting me to come. I love talking about our way of life - especially to young people. Special thanks to Jonathan, my tech support. (It's never dull trying to get a computer to talk kindly with a projector!) As I post this, I'll power-down and head back to SGHS. The Sisters of Mercy have done a brilliant thing in Walsingham Academy. I bet their patron, Mother McAuley, is bragging about this wonderful school all over heaven.

Blessings and love to you all..
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Hey, Jude..."

“Na, na, na, na-na-na, na…” Today the Church celebrates Simon and Jude, Apostles of the Lord. My Mother loved Saint Jude. In the late sixties – before her first cancer, I remember hearing the Beatles song on the radio in our wood-paneled station wagon. I thought it was about Saint Jude. How nice, I thought, that a Catholic saint made the real radio!

By 1973 my Mother’s journey into cancer had begun. Jude became important to me in a new way because Saint Jude was important to her. My Mother’s love for Jude was faithful – even as the cancer returned a second time. Cancer isn’t the only “impossible” situation and I can never know what she really asked Saint Jude to do. I have the idea, though, that Jude helped my family stay together some 15 years later when a third and final cancer took my Mother home. We were all so young, so angry and so filled with grief. There were times nearly 20 years ago, when I thought we’d never make it as a family – that our pain was too great and too particular to each of us. But time and grace transform grief into something new if we do our work.

We are a family – a circle of love and care. Three wonderful spouses have joined the circle and seven gorgeous grandchildren. And my Dad is our precious treasure – our touchstone of the past and our biggest cheerleader for our futures. Maybe, just maybe, my Mom asked Jude to take care of us – a broken circle of impossible people. I like that thought. I know she loved us more than anything in the world. And now, because of Christ, she loves us from glory – whole and radiant, free from every suffering – and gazes on GOD, face to face. Thanks, Mom. And thanks, Saint Jude. “Take a sad song, and make it better…”

Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Friday, October 24, 2008

TV...the new frontier!

Are you interested in the relationship between food and the soul? Do you think cooking is an act of love? Do you think we could all be better stewards of the bounty of the earth? Are the graced moments that happen around a table significant in your life? And, finally, would you watch a cooking show that incorporated Benedictine values into the recipes?

One day I’m going to tape a short segment in our monastery kitchen and attach it to the blog. I think my prioress came up with the name for this fictional program: “Nun Better… with Sister Vicki.” What do you think? Who knows… I think it will be fun to do and if anyone watches it, all the better. I’m clearly into FREE advertising for our way of life. Look for it in December. “Food Network,” look out!

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"the Moonpies and the Tang"...

Singer/songwriter, Kate Campbell, performed a benefit concert for the ministries of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia AND I MISSED IT! Yup. Kate came to our house and spent four days with our community. Her performance Saturday evening (October 11th) was a great success. There are now about 100 new Kate Campbell fans in Northern Virginia. If you hear Kate once, you’re never the same.

Why am I writing about this event several weeks after the fact? Someone who loves me bought me my very own copy of her new CD, “Save the Day.” It was waiting for me on my bed when I arrived back at the convent on Wednesday morning. I put the CD in as soon as I got to the office yesterday and got out the headphones so I could really crank it up (and not cause chaos in the classrooms nearby.)

I fall in love with every album (I still say “album” because I remember records). Each collection is particular – each reflects Kate’s inner life and the things that inspire her on her journey. “I’ve always written stories about people and everyday living,” Kate writes on her website. Maybe this focus on the everyday is what appeals so strongly to a monastic heart. I have used Kate’s music in pastoral settings. As a community we meditated on “In My Mother’s House” during a reconciliation service constructed around the parable of the Prodigal Son. Women in discernment with our community have listened to “The Prayer of Thomas Merton” – a word-for-word setting of Merton’s intimate conversation with GOD. They have been moved by both the timeless words and the beauty of Kate's music.

Most often, I have listened to Kate’s songs alone in the car - she's my traveling companion thanks to my iPod Mini. Some songs make me laugh out loud. "Back to the Moon" suggests that we left the moon "too soon." Musing on a potential journey back, Kate suggests packing "the Moonpies and the Tang." These wonderful references date me, to be sure, and make me smile. Other songs bring refreshing tears. This new collection is already becoming part of me. Favorites? It’s day-2 but I’m pretty sure that “More Than One More Day,” and “Sorrowfree” are engraved on my soul. Ask me next week and there will be others stuck in my bones. These songs are more than music – even more than poetry. They are lectio on life itself. And, if my timing's right, I’ll see Kate on November 6 at “Ashland Tea and Coffee” and thank her in person for the gift of her music in my life and ministry.

Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NOT the norm...

I've been out of reach for two days - off writing a retreat at our house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. No phone calls, e-mail or Internet there. The good news is, GOD blessed that effort to focus and I've come back to Richmond with most of the retreat program "in the can."

My monastic life is not the “norm.” I’m on the road a good deal of the time both for vocation ministry and community responsibilities. I travel to exotic places like Louisville, KY, Collegeville, MN and Fort Smith, AR for meetings. I say “yes” to anything and everything if it means an opportunity to talk to people about our way of life: high schools, spirituality groups in local parishes, CCD classes, RCIA cohorts in both dioceses, retreat days through our own Pastoral Center and for our Oblates. And, I am currently “on mission.” I live at our convent in Richmond with Sisters Andrea and Charlotte. So, on top of my regular state of “busy”, I find myself moving between two offices. The time I do spend at the monastery is often filled with things that have to be done there. I don’t often get to just “be” at home.

The truth is most monastic lives are much more “stable” than my own. This reality has challenged me to view our promise of stability in a new light. Are we simply promised to a place? A certain patch of Virginia clay that we’ve loved and protected for 140 years? Is it the monastery we live in? A cinder block construction that stands on the site of the original house? Or is it the people? The 32 women who have promised to love and guide me and the ones who haven’t arrived yet? If a natural disaster struck Bristow, VA (GOD forbid!) and all that we knew on those 120 acres was taken from us, how would our promise of stability shake out in the dust? Yes, I love the land and Chapel where all my promises have been made. More than these, though, I love the community who has shown me the face of Love. I love the women I call my “sisters” and I’m ready to love the ones I’ve never met. The promise of stability calls me to an identity. It doesn’t matter where I go or what I do. What matters is that I remember who I am – a Benedictine Sister of Virginia. My monastic heart is grounded in the precious relationships I have with my sisters – living and in glory. My life is part of something so much bigger than a house or a piece of land. It is grounded in Christ who dwells richly among us in Word and Rule. My monastic life looks a bit different right now, but my heart is where it’s always been – with my sisters. And I have become increasingly “at home” with this version of my monastic life. The trick is trying to be exactly where I am on any given day and never forgetting that wherever I go, my community goes with me. And, if I ever forget who I am and what I’ve promised to become, I know my sisters will call me back to my better self. The promise goes both ways and maybe that fact is the source of peace I feel in my heart today.

Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Divine "Economy"...

The First Reading today is taken from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians [1:11-14]. In this pericope Paul describes the gift of the Holy Spirit as, “the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption”. This economic language seems odd to me, but given the recent events on Wall Street, perhaps Saint Paul will help us to focus on our greatest treasure – salvation through Christ JESUS. The Spirit, Paul teaches us, is GOD present to us here and now – in the midst of all that is human. But, the gift of the Spirit is only the beginning of the blessings poured out on us through Christ. There is no debt to pay – no balance due. We owe nothing for the gift of eternal life except grateful love. In death – our own death - we will come to know the fullness of life – “our inheritance” by grace. Sometimes, this is all too much for me – too wonderful to comprehend. But, I know that when I contemplate my own redemption, it frees me to love more deeply. When I remember that death has no power, I am, for just a breath, eternal. Such is the depth of GOD’s love for us in Christ. We are…and we remain in Him by the Spirit’s power…until the last “installment” is made and He comes again in glory.
Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Commas change everything...

This morning I read about Saint Hedwig (1174-1243): “Born in Bavaria at age 12…” Huh? I missed a very important comma. “Born in Bavaria, at age 12 she married…” What a difference a little comma can make. Of course no one can be born at age 12. It did, however, start me thinking about old souls – people who are wise beyond their years. You know the kind of people I mean. Sometimes, they are born very serious. They seem to know things about life that change their capacity for childhood.
Sometimes, we come to adult wisdom early because of the events of our lives – a death of a parent when we were young, a serious illness in the family, or a trauma of some kind. Sometimes, this early wisdom is not the result of a painful event. Sometimes, it is just part of our personality – a necessary characteristic for our particular spiritual journey.

My seven-year-old niece, Molly is a serious soul – a grown-up self in a 2nd-grade body. She understands things about people. She absorbs every feeling in the environment and carries deep concern for everyone in her heart. Molly is VERY responsible. She wonders about things – things most 7-year-olds don’t consider. I used to worry about her serious nature and then decided that she is exactly who GOD made her to be. When I am in awe after we’ve had a very adult conversation, I smile and praise GOD who is so particular in our creation. Then, from time to time, Molly will be 7 – just 7. And, I enjoy those moments, too.

AUNT VICKI: Molly, how many babies do you think you’ll have when you’re a mommy?
MOLLY: Two or three, I think. The rest I’m going to leave at the hospital.

Am I an “old soul?” Who knows…I certainly have always taken MYSELF way too seriously. Maybe it does “take one to know one.” Let’s thank GOD for the people in our lives who know so much about life – sometimes way before the rest of us – and ask GOD to balance the privilege of wisdom with plenty of joy along the way.
Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"The harvest is great"...

“O, the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Let us go, let us go into the fields.” This powerful refrain, sung in the style of the African Spiritual, began our days together at the NRVC Convocation 2008. Nearly 500 Vocation Directors from as many congregations, met in Louisville for five days of workshops, keynote speakers and shared prayer. The refrain above was composed especially for our gathering by Janèt Sullivan Whitaker – one of OCP’s most talented liturgical musicians. Janet was our leader of song and cantor throughout. Somewhere between Thursday night and Friday morning, it came to me why her voice seemed so familiar. Janèt is a regular recording artist on OCP Sampler CD’s – the discs sent to liturgists with the new missal each year. We discovered a hymn on one of those CD’s for our Easter Vigil. It is a setting of Exodus 15 – the song of the Israelites as they passed through the Red Sea. It is a powerful, passionate piece to which several women recreate the dance of Miriam. One of the first things I want to do when I get home, is look that puppy up in the hymnal and see if Janèt is the composer as well as the voice that brought that sound to life.
This was, first and foremost, a prayerful gathering. One of the highlights (f0r me,) was the Solemn Vespers we celebrated on Friday evening. We walked in procession, two-by-two, from the hotel to the Cathedral of the Assumption. I wish you all could have seen it…and the faces of those stuck in traffic because of us. There was a wonder in the faces I saw and real curiosity. The local police were especially helpful at the intersections. The pilgrimage was only five blocks, but for 500 nuns, priests and brothers; it was a slow moving train! There, at the cathedral, we joined the Archbishop of Louisville who represented the local Church and prayed with us for GOD’s blessing on our ministry.
There are many learnings from this trip. Our first keynote, Rev. Donald Senior, CP, a biblical scholar recently appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, spent all of Friday on the theology of “call” in the writings of Saint Paul. Our Sunday keynote, Sister Maria Cimperman, an Ursuline sister and theologian, explored the meaning of “thresholds” in religious life – places of exceptional meaning and, usually, some sacrifice. It will take some time to unpack all of this wonderful material, and, some prayerful reflection.
I attended a FANTASTIC all-day workshop on marketing for vocation ministry. I learned at least six new things in the first two hours – we certainly got our money’s worth. Another half - day workshop on reaching the “You-Tube” generation was also illuminating on several levels. The impact of technology on vocations cannot be underestimated or used indiscriminately. (I am writing this blog entry at 30,000 feet – somewhere between Atlanta and Richmond. Let’s hear it for laptops!)
The pace of this convocation is unrelenting. Most religious (myself excluded) are introverts. Five days filled with dawn to dusk programming is usually too much for most. It’s even a bit too much for me. But I am always energized by reconnecting with Benedictine Vocation Directors who attend. And, I meet wonderful men and women of other congregations who love the ministry as I do. (OK, maybe most don’t love it quite as much as I do.) There is so much more to tell, but one of the nicest things about this gathering was having my friend, Sister Mary Catherine, of St. Ben’s Monastery in MN, as my roommate. We split the all the bills and spent our one, precious “free” afternoon together. It’s great when economics can justify a HUGE personal blessing.
Well, we’re going to land a bit early, I think. Time to power-down and watch the clouds open up to reveal the grand, old city of Richmond. I’ll be back at the convent by 7PM, I think. Do look for a new post on Thursday and Friday of this week. (Trying to make up for lost time with my cyber-friends!) My comings and goings are always blessed by your prayers. Thank you for your patience and your continued interest in our monastic life.
Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Off to Kentucky...

Tomorrow morning I leave for a week-long meeting in Louisville. The National Religious Vocation Conference sponsors a bi-annual convocation for vocations ministers from every religious order. It's an opportunity to learn, to network and to encourage one another in this challenging, grace-filled ministry. I will be taking a break from "Monastics On A Journey" to focus my energy on the work that awaits me at the convocation. I ask your prayers for safe travel and for GOD's special blessing on all who will attend the meeting. I return on 10/14 and expect to be back on-line the next morning. Until then...

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Don't worry, be happy"...

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared this the year of Saint Paul. Popes can do that, you know. (Actually, Sister Veronica and I were at the Church of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls, in Rome last winter, when Pope Benedict formally opened the Pauline year. It was wonderful to pray with the Pope and, even more, to pray at the tomb of Saint Paul, himself.)

This year is an opportunity to reflect on Saint Paul’s enormous contribution to the Christian faith. Paul’s insights, born in his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, help us to process the gospel from the perspective of the resurrection. In his letters to the early Christian community, Saint Paul tried to address their problems, struggles and uncertainties as they tried to make sense of this new faith. These letters are meant for us today. They remain full of truth and good wisdom. This letter to the people of Philippi is one of the most beautiful of Paul’s letters. But it begins with a nearly impossible suggestion: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all…”

Wow, no anxiety? This is 2008. This is America. We have raised anxiety to an art form. We need only watch a few TV commercials to see that we worry about everything: plaque on our teeth, gray hair, losing bone density and the healthy function of our digestive tract. Still, there are very serious things to worry about: crisis on Wall Street, good people being put out of their homes, finding a job or selling a house in this economy and who will be our next president.

Anxiety is normal – part of being fully human. So what is Saint Paul suggesting? I think Saint Paul is telling us that faith in Christ should make a substantial difference in our daily lives. “Make your requests known to GOD.” Paul writes. Say your prayers…tell GOD what’s bothering you just like you talk to your best friend. If we do that each day, “Then the peace of GOD that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Friday, October 3, 2008

A BIG "thank you"...

Gratitude is the posture of the Christian life. The gift of the Paschal Mystery continues to unfold in our lives – day, by day – and for the gift of life that never ends, we can only be grateful and live good lives in response to this enormous mystery.

Last night the Saint Gertrude family gathered to recognize friends who have supported our school so generously. We gathered to say, “thank you” and acknowledge the power of those gifts in the lives of our students. Our donors are faithful friends who believe in the blessing of a SGHS education. They understand that we are still becoming…still growing…still dreaming Saint Gertrude forward. May GOD bless all those who have been so good to our school. They have become partners is GOD’s continuing creative work at Saint Gertrude. The Benedictine Sisters are so very grateful.

Blessings and love to you all…

Sister Vicki

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Praying for our Congress...

Benedictines have been around over 1500 years. A benefit of such longevity is the “long view” of history. We are rarely rattled by theological debates or mandates of contemporary culture. We have witnessed nearly the whole of Christian history and have acclimated to its many graces and struggles.

As we stand before the tumult of our economic system and pray for all those who may be endangered by the poor choices of others, we believe that, ultimately, “this too shall pass.” Crisis comes with opportunity. There are changes to me made and work to be done. It behooves all of us to breathe deeply and remain as calm as possible given the unnerving situation. As hard as calm may seem, “with GOD all things are possible.”

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Monday, September 29, 2008

"In the presence of the angels, I will praise you, LORD"

Today the Church celebrates the archangels – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Michael – who gives Satan “the boot” from heaven – figures large in the Book of Revelation. Gabriel, of course, is the messenger sent to a maiden in Nazareth in the Infancy Narratives. And Raphael is the archangel of the Old Testament – a central “character” in the Book of Tobit. Although these three are rather well known to us, there are, of course, the multitudes whose only job is to sing the praises of GOD in glory. I am especially interested in these nameless, faceless voices who sing, “Hosanna in the highest!” before the Maker of all, the eternal Word and their Spirit. What a great job! Imagine…being in the presence of the triune GOD and filling heaven with your joyful song. If angels were not a wholly different creation, I’d want wings myself one day. (Actually, as monastics we have an "angelic charism". When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours three times a day, we believe that we are leaving time to join the unending hymn of praise in heaven. As we chant or recite the psalms, we add our voices to the heavenly host. I like thinking about it - remembering that we are always in the eternal now, always before GOD especially when we pray.)

When I was small – 2 or 3, perhaps – my big sister and I shared a bedroom. I remember having these strange metal bars that my Mom slid between the mattress and box spring to keep me from falling out of bed in the night. (Lizzie was a big girl by then so she was free to escape her rack if she so desired.) Anyway, over each of our beds was a heavy, ceramic angel. Every night we would say our bedtime prayers with my Mother and she would direct our attention to “our” angels who would protect us all night long. She called them our “guardian angels.”

Now, the guardian angels have their own feast day, but I can’t think about angels without remembering their comforting embrace. Some adults still talk their guardian angels. I’m afraid I’ve long since let go of that nightly practice. But, I am grateful for having been raised with the angels – taught from the very beginning that GOD loved me so much that there were actually special beings assigned to care for me and keep me out of trouble. I do remember being in my early twenties – a young high school teacher – and running a stop sign I didn’t see in town. I remember my heart racing as I slowed to a stop and realized what could have happened. And I remember feeling that “someone” had saved me – kept watch as I made a life-threatening mistake. It was one of those “goose bump” moments when you feel the divine in action on your behalf. I am twice that age now. But, I will say a prayer of gratitude tonight as I lay down in bed. I will remember the ceramic angels of my childhood and send some love to my “guardian” who, I am certain, goes before me still.
Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki