Saturday, February 23, 2008

Making Community: The Monastic Genome

I was 9 in the summer of 1973 when my dream of going to summer camp became a reality. "Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Camp for Girls" in the Catskill Mountains of New York- not exactly roughing it, but it passed my Mother's very strict requirements for my safety and spiritual well-being. The preparations for going were detailed and very exciting. We bought a small orange trunk for my belongings. My Mother and my aunts sewed my name into every article of clothing that was on "the list". My parents drove me and we stopped at Howard Johnson's for lunch on the way. Somewhere between lunch and the entrance to the camp, the reality of leaving my parents began to set in. "A whole month..." I thought, "...what if they forget to come back and get me?" "Long walk from New York to New Jersey..."

I lasted two weeks. My parents came for visiting day half-way through the program and the attack of cling-on, homesickness was so bad, my Mother couldn't leave me there. I actually even had a little list of things prepared to tell her about camp that I KNEW would get me sprung. It was a little embarrassing coming home early - a "big baby". But, the joy of being back home was greater than my humiliation. MUCH greater!

Sister Veronica and I have been in Rome for seven weeks. Now, I certainly think my capacity for enduring homesickness has improved drastically in 35 years - one would certainly hope! But, I'm thinking there is something deeper at work in this extended stay - our longest absence from the monastery in almost 6 years - something, that speaks about the monastic life itself. I think monastics make community wherever they go. I think there is something in us - the fruits of a good formation, a grace from GOD, a spiritual gene that wires us for the common life.

When we arrived here seven weeks ago, we were a motley crew. Among the initial difficulties were adjusting to the daily schedule of another house, learning to sing a new office with multiple psalm tones, even working the food line in the dining room was an source of stress in the beginning (more like monastic bumper-cars!) Add to these the challenge of worship in seven languages: English, Italian, German, Korean, Portuguese, Swahili and Latin. Yet, somehow, in the course of seven weeks, we have become a community - a healthy, happy, highly-functioning little monastery. We've learned how to run the dishwasher, wipe down the dining room and where to put all the utensils. We've made some wonderful friendships across cultures and languages, the fruits of which, will be mutual prayer until GOD brings us together again. And, we can sing! Our choir sounds pretty good now. It's rare that we stumble with an antiphon or mode. If GOD can do all this in seven weeks, imagine what GOD can do if we persevere in our home communities for the rest of our lives? That will be my prayer for these new friends...perseverance. Saint Benedict does not describe an easy life in The Rule. But, for those who have been called, it leads to the inexpressible delight of love (RB Prol. 49).

Anyone who has read this little travel-blog knows that I miss Saint Benedict Monastery in Bristow, VA. I miss home. But, it's good to know that the monastic heart is capable of making home wherever it goes - cultivating community for the love of Christ. Isn't GOD good? (And this time, no labels in my underwear!)

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki