Saturday, February 9, 2008

Out and about...

It's actually spring in Rome - birds are singing and the flowers are just blooming. Sister Veronica and I are going into the city in search of books and holy mementos of the journey to bring back with us. We're going to a new neighborhood - Piazza della Repubblica. We'll probably get a litttle lost, but that's part of the fun. There will be a meal somewhere. This time, we're searching for a real hamburger and an Italian beer. We're starting to long for American comfort food. Tomorrow, I'll catch you up on our adventure. Love and every blessing... - Sister Vicki

Friday, February 8, 2008

RB 53: On Receiving Guests

It's taken us two classes to cover one chapter. That, in and of itself, tells you how important the chapter on guests is to monastic spirituality (and to Sister Aquinata!) Christ, Benedict teaches, comes to the monastery in the stranger. We adore Christ in the guest when we make the stranger friend - when we welcome them into the community heart (RB 53:7).

I can't think about RB 53 without missing Sister Connie Ruth, our Guestmistress at Bristow. She manifests everything Benedict seeks in the one who is to take charge of the guest. The guest quarters are too be entrusted to a God-fearing sister (RB 53:21). Many of our visitors remark about her kindness and her attention to the details of hospitality. Sister Connie's real gift is the love of Christ that dwells in her heart. She can greet Christ in the stranger because she knows Him well. I think that's what Benedict was aiming at in his job description.

Twenty-five monastics have been guests in this house of God - Casa Santo Spiritu. Sister Pauline (Superior), Sister Gabriella and Sister Sophia (Guesthouse), have expansive and hospitable hearts. Hopefully, as the weeks wind down, we will find a way to be blessing to the Benedictine Missionary Sisters of Tutzing who have cared for us so lovingly.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"We interupt your regularly scheduled program..."

Happy LENT, dear ones! Yesterday, the Casa lost internet connection - yes, my worst fear realized! I missed this daily exercise of reflection and the chance to reach out to my sisters, friends, WIF's and WID's. (Women in Formation & Women in Discernment) There was some talk among the students that perhaps it was part of the sisters' Ash Wednesday observance. The grand cyber-silence was NOT an ascetic exercise, but, now that I think about it, it might be a wonderful thing to set aside next time the day comes round.

There were some difficulties (aside from being unable to blog), I couldn't send Sister Cecilia my Lenten resolutions (for her approval & blessing) or pick up her Lenten Exhortation which was delivered to the community at Morning Prayer (5:45 AM) on Wednesday. I called home and left a message on the prioress' private line and then, I was fine about the situation. There wasn't a thing I could do about it, so I entered into the quiet of the day - stuck my toe into the deep waters of silence. There are no accidents, I think. It must have been God's plan for my day.

Our topic in class yesterday was, by grace and some clever planning, RB:49, "On the Observance of Lent." It was wonderfult to have the coursework and the liturgical calendar converge. It really took the edge off the general atmosphere of homesickness here. (I was not alone. Most monastics long to be home on these very sacred days. We each can't help but think that OUR house really knows how to kick off the season right.) It was so good of Sister Cecilia to send her talk to the monastics on a journey (as well as to sisters on mission.) Her reflections on the season have really set the tone for my own observance. Sister has a way of encouraging us to keep becoming and, at the same time, affirms the goodness and holiness of our community. I will pray for all of you what Sister Cecilia hopes for the monastic community - that this LENT might be "a journey in to the heart."

Love to you all... - Sister Vicki
PS - I am grateful to all of you who have e-mailed this week. We're under a deadline with a class project. I'll be in touch this weekend. Thanks for your patience...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Two Jubilees...

Today, we celebrate the jubilees of Sister Therese (40 years) from Uganda and Sister Maximillian (25 years) from Korea. The day began with a festive Eucharist in which the sisters renewed their professions and sang the ancient suscipe - "Receive me, O God, as you have promised that I may live and do not disappoint me in my hope. (Psalm 119:116)" It was very moving - especially since the ink isn't dry on MY profession formula! The power of the ritual and the gravity of the promise came home to me again in their recommitment of their lives to God in faith.

I was permitted to take photographs for the blog as well as for the jubilarians. The Preparation of the Gifts was especially joyful. Four sisters danced the bread to the altar while intoning an African hymn. Sister Therese left her place of honor to play the drum. It made me mis Sister Gisella very much. Her dancing has been such a gift to our monastic liturgy... The Korean sisters sang a BEAUTIFUL hymn after Communion - the harmony was exquisite!

After class and Midday Prayer, we had a very festive luncheon: special egg & spinach fettucine, turkey with mushrooms and peas, Ricotta Cheesecake, Carrot Cake AND, be still my heart, chocloate GELATO!!!!! (I took a picture so you all can see the very cute cup it comes in.) Tonight, we sing and celebrate some more in the sisters' Community Room. Then Compline, a little later than usual, and bed. Not a bad way to end Ordinary Time and prepare for the fresh start of holy Lent. That reminds me of a letter I need to write to the prioress...hmmmmm...
Love to you all and HAPPY LENT!

- Sister Vicki

Monday, February 4, 2008

Daydreaming of Dairy...

At the Casa there are only two kinds of milk: cold and hot. The cold milk is for your cereal and the hot is for your coffee or tea. There is no "2%", "1%" or "skim." There are no Latte's with soy milk and an extra shot, either. It's just milk - real, old-fashioned, straight-from-the-cow, rich, creamy MILK. It's like the milk I grew up on - the glass bottles that would appear in the dark of early morning in the metal box at our kitchen door.

At supper nearly every night, (our main meal is at lunchtime,) we have soup, bread and cheese. Sometimes there are other items: an egg dish, left-over pasta from noon, braised fennel (out of this world!). But mostly, it's soup, bread and cheese. I LOVE cutting a substantial slab of what-ever-it-is on the cutting board. We're in silence so I forget to ask what kind of cheese it is. Sometimes, it's like mozzarella. Sometimes, it's smoked. Last night, it was a Brie-type. And, sometimes it tastes like provolone. I like the primal plate: bread, cheese and wine. I think I could live on it happily for the rest of my life.

Yesterday was the very first Sunday since we've been in Rome that we did NOT have gelato. Yup. No Italian ice cream. You can't hear the pathetic lament behind this sentence, but my sisters at home know well enough my love for the frozen dessert. We had a lovely fruit cup and exotic italian cookies. Still... I've decided to relive the memory of my first gelato in Rome to ease my withdrawal. It was the very first weekend we were here...I was just coming down with strep throat...we were soaked to the bone from walking in a downpour near the Piazza Navona...and as we neared the Vatican we saw it...a trattoria with colorful trays heaping with gelato. We got a table and ordered. It was pistachio - real, light green and SMOOOOOOTH! Ah...I feel better now. On Saturday Sister Veronica and I are going into the city together. I think, since Lent is upon us, I better buy a cup of gelato in Rome just in case it never returns to the table in the Guest Dining Room. I hope my sisters in Virginia are going to have a VERY "Fat Tuesday". I hope all the scoops come out and the big vats of Blue Bunny ice cream make a final appearance before the ashes are distributed. I'm not the only sister who could write a poem about an ice cream cone! Love to you all - Sister Vicki

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Sometimes, Mass is boring, Aunt Vicki."

My niece, Molly, (almost 7) offered this observation in the middle of the Sunday Eucharist at her home parish. I just smiled at her and whispered back, "Yes, sometimes it is boring. But when you're in Second Grade, you'll learn all about it." Fortunately, my sister had packed a "Blue's Clues" activity book into her purse (along with the $5 bill for the collection.) Molly turned around and knelt on the carpet and worked her puzzle book on the seat of the chair. And I started to think...

Of course, the child is bored. We're wedged into the very back row in a SRO liturgy (standing room only) in a parish that is bursting at the seams. She can't see the big book, the candles, the table, the beautiful cup and plate. She can't even see the priest. His voice is just floating out of nowhere and, for the most part, right over her head. I consoled myself with the thought that Molly will be preparing for her First Holy Communion next year and things will begin to make sense. Will they really?

This action we call, EUCHARIST, is what makes us who we are as church and at the same time confounds us. We wait for children to reach some magical "age of reason" before they can receive Christ present in bread and wine. I wonder sometimes just how much the Apostles really understood that last night in the upper room. I think if we REALLY understood the mystery - could perceive Christ REALLY present in the assembly, the WORD, the simple signs of bread and wine, the priest - we'd want to stay around that table forever.

This morning we celebrated the Eucharist together. I found myself struggling to stay connected to the movement of this great prayer. All the responses - the places where I get to add my voice to the praise of God - were in Latin. I could feel my soul glazing over and my thoughts wandering from the chant notation before me. And then, the words of my niece came back to me. "Sometimes, Mass is boring, Aunt Vicki." That memory made me smile and attune myself to the ritual happening before me. I stopped trying to sing and allowed my eyes to pray - to settle on the beautiful cup and plate, the candles, the big book. And something of the Mystery touched my heart.