Saturday, January 26, 2008

Praying with the Pope...

First, let me thank all of you for the prayers and good energy sent out to my family. Both my father and my brother had successful surgeries yesterday. Please keep them in your prayers as they continue to recover. I am so grateful for the network of love that grows and overflows into my life. It's been a difficult week, but now, I feel ready to begin again - to immerse myself in the great opportunity we've been given to study The Rule of Benedict and experience Rome.

I am having a quiet day at the Casa. Once again, the rest have gone on various adventures. I was up past midnight - a good hour and a half after the phone call came. I think when we get geared up emotionally, it's hard to turn it off. I had good rest this morning and have been enjoying a gentle day alone. I took my Saturday stroll to the market and had a calzone filled with prosciutto, ricotta and fresh mozzarella - E1.5 (totally cheap AND delicious!) - and picked up a few gifts and goodies to bring home. The sun is shining here...cold and clear. After days of worry, I feel as if the world is brand new - full of wonder and possibility.

Now, I must tell you all about our Evening Prayer with Pope Benedict XVII. We left the Casa at 2:30 PM and walked to the Aurelia Station. Three stops later, all 25 of us, walked from the train to the Metro. Several more stops and we were at San Paulo. We kept a close eye on each other - forming little groups in an effort to stay together. We arrived at the basilica at about 3:15 - just as two squads of Swiss Guard were entering the side of the massive church. It was very exciting. Then, we waited...and waited...and waited (you get the idea!) The line just kept getting bigger and bigger and people kept pushing forward. There were MANY opportunities to practice charity and patience - much like the parking lot after the 12:00 Mass!

At about 4:30, the gates were opened and we were able to pass through the security checkpoints. Our yellow tickets and the contents of our bags were sufficient for the Italian police. (The basilica is in Rome NOT Vatican City. So, the Holy Father was a guest in Italy for the evening. The carabinieri were out in full force!)
Once inside and seated, we waited some more. (Waiting is a very good thing for the American soul, I think. We're so unaccustomed to doing it at home. Our culture is all about speed - fast food, drive-thru's, express lanes and HOV. Here, things happen when they happen. And if a person wants to see the Pope, well, just pack a snack and say your Rosary because it's going to be a while!)

Vespers began promptly at 5:30. We knew the Holy Father was entering the basilica because of the rising applause at the back of the Church. After reverencing the huge altar, Pope Benedict took his place - a high, red-velvet throne which made His Holiness quite easy to see when we were seated. The whole office was in Latin. We did pretty well following along and even sang the psalms. An hour later, it was over and all the cardinals, bishops, abbots and assorted clergy of other Christian faiths, began the massive wave of human beings filling the streets.

This prayer was the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. One of the great moments for me was hearing Walter Cardinal Kasper - who heads the dicastry on ecumenical relations - welcome the Holy Father and the dignitaries of Eastern and Western churches. Kasper is a brilliant theologian - required reading at Saint John's.

We had time after to look around a bit. I was very moved by the color and warmth of the murals in this vast space. There are circular discs high above the floor of the basilica that honor each of the 265 popes. Beginning with the Fisherman and ending with the reigning pontiff, the circles wind their way around the periphery. I made a careful study of the popes of my lifetime: Paul VI, John Paul I (a brief pontificate of 33 days!) and of course, John Paul II. One knows the current pope by the light shining on his image. Neat... And, we made a visit to the tomb of St. Paul. There is a deep well in front of the altar in which the excavated grave can be seen. (After studying the letters of Paul with Sister Doris Nolte, OSB, this was like the ultimate field trip!)

The train ride home was a real adventure! I've never seen so many nuns and priests in my life. We had to be careful to follow the right ones in the Metro station. And, the cars were packed with us! The poor normal people on their way home from work - they were very glad to see us get out! Tired and hungry, we arrived back at the Casa six hours after we left. The good sisters had a hot meal waiting for us - at 8:30 at night! We dined late like the REAL Romans do.

Tomorrow, many of us will leave at 7am for the Vatican Museum. The last Sunday of the month is FREE. Long queues await us but so do great works of art and the Sistine Chapel! I'm very excited... We expect to celebrate Mass somewhere in the Vatican and be in the square for the noon Angelus with Pope Benedict. Maybe, he'll recognize me from last night. Nah...

Love to you all... - Sister Vicki

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Friday...

When I left on January 1st, I knew that both my Dad and my brother, Andrew, would be having surgery sometime in January. I didn't know they would be scheduled for the very same day. I ask your prayers for both of them on Friday, 1/25. Hopefully, all shall be well...

Our cohort has tickets to pray Vespers with the Holy Father tomorrow in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls - the site of the Apostle's tomb. It is significant as tomorrow is the celebration of the Conversion of St. Paul (A blinding light, thrown from his horse, "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" - sound familiar?) It is a wonderful illustration of the power of grace at work in even the most lost among us. The painting above is called, St. Paul - After Caravaggio, by Wayne Forte.

The thirty-five of us will leave at 2:30 PM and travel by train and Metro. We have to arrive early for security purposes. Father Gregory told us yesterday to bundle up. There is no heat in the basilica and worshipers sit on long, marble slabs. Layers and long-john's, I think. I won't be able to blog tomorrow because of this prayer-pilgrimage. Look for me on Saturday and, hopefully, I'll have good news to share and much to tell of our prayer with Pope Benedict. Until then, please hold my family in your prayers. And, know that I'm grateful for that gift. Love to you all... - Sister Vicki

"Ding, dong..."

...the germ is dead! Tra-la-la, the germ is dead. Ding, dong, the wicked germ is dead!"

I forgot to share the very good news that I passed the second culture. My throat will still hurt for a bit, but that's to be expected. GOD bless Dr. Zanninelli and Salvator Mundi Hospital - and GOD bless Sister Gabriella who brought me there when I was so sick. Stay well...and be peace.

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Basil the Great...

We had an absolutely WONDERFUL class with Father Gregory Collins, OSB. Father Gregory has studied the writings of Saint Basil - both "monastic" and theological - and can place Basil in his particular historical niche while making his spirituality accessible and vibrant for 21st century monastics. It felt like the systematic theology courses I had years ago - almost like being on retreat! And, the Irish can be so charming and animated. It was hard to take pictures as he was rarely standing still! We are the last RB class to have the pleasure of his lectures. He is returning to his abbey in Ireland at the end of the term. In a lighter moment, Fr. Gregory gave his best advice to formation personnel: "Don't bore the novices." He sees the role of the formator as akin to the Irish matchmaker. They introduce the novice to the tradition and step back, hoping they will fall in love for a lifetime. A lovely metaphor, I think.

Sky is blue...sun is shining...and a mighty wind blowing today - perfect opportunity to do laundry and hang it on the line on the roof of the Casa. I have much to read before study group.

Love to you all... - Sister Vicki

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Guest Lecturers...

We finished the "Correction Code" this morning. Sister Aquinata wished us an "intensive afternoon" of study. We've been urged to just keep going, plowing ahead with the plethora of study questions. Tomorrow, we have a special class on Basil. Father Gregory Collins, OSB, a monk of Glenstal Abbey in county Limerick, Ireland, will be our teacher. Friday, we will have a class on Cassian. Our teacher for the day will be the Most Rev. Mark Sheridan, OSB, Rector of Sant' Anselmo - the pontifical Benedictine University in Rome. Father Sheridan is a monk of St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, DC. He is one of the world's great scholars of early monastic tradition - a major contributer to the scholarship in RB80. For some strange reason, I feel the urge to study. More tomorrow... Love to you all... - Sister Vicki

Monday, January 21, 2008

RB 21-30: The Correction Code

It's another rainy day here. I'm wondering what 10 degrees feels like in Bristow. (I watch the weather in VA and MN, on the internet, just to see how my sisters and friends are doing.) Has there been snow? Maybe, later this week? Are the students at Linton Hall School wearing their pajamas inside out for good luck? Have we missed the first "snow day" of the school year? Maybe, Sister Patricia Anne will drop us an e-mail if that happy day comes. And if it really snows, I'll expect news of Sister Mary Patricia on her sled with Dosie on her lap. I'm missing home quite a bit today...even with the arctic temps!

I'm always cold here and it's a tropical 40 degrees. It just feels so raw...and this big building is often colder than the outside air. I just had a cup of tea to warm my hands and heart. Can you believe it is made from fennel? Tastes a little like licorice. I like it...

This morning, Sister Aquinata informed us that we are one third into The Rule. Wow! We're now into a section that deals with disciplinary matters in the community. Some scholars call it the "penal code" as it specifies punishments for various infractions. Other scholars like to call it the "healing code" to emphasis the medicinal images Saint Benedict often uses. The former sounds positively mercilous and the latter, far too generous. Sister Aquinata prefers the middle road - "correction." Semantic debate aside, I do like the term, "correction". If I think about a ship that's gone off course or a pilot receiving new coordinates to get around a storm, that term makes alot of sense to me. It's very easy to wander from the way that leads to GOD - so easy, in fact, that Benedict spends 9 chapters dealing with the sins against community. But if we look at the disciplina regularis as a necessary means of "safeguarding love" (Prol. 47), it's not an unwelcome burden but a kind of monastic MAPQUEST - a means of getting back on the right road when we find ourselves lost. We may be lost in community, but we are never alone. And, thanks to our Holy Father Benedict, the directions are always within our reach.

Love to you all...and stay warm! - Sister Vicki

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Guest Refectory...

Sunday is a quiet day here - literally. We are encouraged to use the Lord's Day for recollection. But, because it his His day, we have music at breakfast and lunch. And, there are special things on the table: pannetone at breakfast and cups of chocolate gelatto for dessert at lunch - (that's ICE CREAM!)

There are some things that monastics everywhere do the same. We have a big bulletin board that we're to check in the Refectory. It has group assignments for dish duty, directions for the Table Readers, announcements of various kinds and a meal count for our "free" day.

On feast days or birthdays, the sister's place is decorated with fresh flowers, china, candy, small gifts and some baked confection to share. (Actually, theses Benedictines only celebrate feast days, but they've made an exception for visiting monastics.) Sister Veronica's place remains beautiful throughout the day. Every house has a Sister Joan Ann!

Some things are quite different. Each week a stack of fresh, white linen napkins appears. We put the old one in a pile and place the new on our napkin folder. Or names are written in the top corner. The first thing you do as you enter the dining room, is scope out your napkin. When we first arrived, I used it and abused it. I didn't realize there were tiny paper napkins on the table for larger messes: fruit on the hands, spaghetti sauce around the mouth. By the end of the first week, I was ashamed to take my napkin out of its folder. From the stained linen, I would have thought me a barbarian.

I'm in love with the sugar bowl. OK...I never really use sugar at table, but if I did, this little contraption makes all the sense in the world. Last, but not least, is the method of garbage disposal. It's comforting to scrape my plate into a plastic bucket. Some things, thankfully, are universal. Love to you all... - Sister Vicki