Thursday, February 28, 2008

RB 73: "for beginners"

At the very end of The Rule is an epilogue - a last word, of sorts, perhaps added later in Saint Benedict's life. In it Saint Benedict refers the reader to other works that will lead them to perfection: Holy Scripture, the Holy Catholic Fathers, St. Basil, Cassian's Institutes and Conferences. Saint Benedict claims that his rule is "for beginners" in the spiritual life. Keeping it will give one the tools for the journey to Christ through community. But, if you want REAL holiness, there are others who can point the way. Saint Benedict's humility is obvious here.

RB 73 comforts me. We who follow Benedict accept the discipline of The Rule freely. We embrace its wisdom and believe that somehow, together, we will begin to resemble the Christ we seek. Somehow, with our sisters love, forgiveness and example, our life in community will point to something greater than ourselves - to the One who chas alled us to this beautiful life. And yet, even in a lifetime of keeping its precepts, (with reasonable success,) we are still just "beginners" - still in need of the merciful love of Christ whose love is ultimately our salvation.

Our class is over now...our bags are nearly packed. Even my Rule is sealed up in a box of books. It will take some time to "unpack" the wisdom we've been given here. Sister Aquinata has taught us her methodology. She has given us nearly every lecture she's ever written on the Rule of Benedict. Even copies of her handouts for duplicating have been freely offered to this class. In short we've been handed nearly forty years of scholarship. It is an awesome and humbling experience to be entrusted with so much. But what we have been given belongs to our communities now. Everything we have learned, every new insight or experience is to be shared. This course is just a "beginning"...of a lifetime of honoring The Rule - of sharing our love for Saint Benedict with a world in need of his practical compassion.

I have so enjoyed sharing these months of study, pilgrimage and adventure with all of you - near and far. Writing has helped me to process and own much of this experience and for that I am truly grateful. In just over 24 hours, Sister Veronica and I will be HOME! If you are interested in the very everyday stuff of our monastic life, this blog will continue from Bristow and Richmond, VA. It certainly won't be quite so exciting, but it's the real life we go home to that interests me most. Hopefully, some of that will interest you, too.

Yesterday, after "graduation," Sister Veronica and I asked Sister Aquinata to sign our copies of her book. She graciously agreed. What Sister wrote did not surprise me. Sister Aquinata turned our attention, yet again, back to Saint Benedict. RB 72:11-12. I smiled as I realized the verse. "Prefer nothing whatever to CHRIST and may he bring us all together to everlasting life."

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

PS - Look for a new blog on Monday, March 3rd.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Graduation Day...

Blogging late today, friends. It was the last day of classes here. I have lots to tell you but it's late. I will give you a peak at our graduation celebration for now and promise a heartier entry tomorrow. Sister Veronica and I have the day to do laundry and pack - the box with our books is nearly 80 pounds! We will leave the Casa early Friday morning for Da Vinci Airport - YIPPEE!!! So, here are a few choice photos of today's festivities. There will be more news after 9am EST on Thursday.

Blessings and love to you all....

- Sister Vicki

PS - We're coming HOME!!!!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Hermit's Heart: The Need for Silence & Solitude

I think there is a hermit in every monastic - a part of the heart that longs for solitude and silence. Some of us need more than others, but all of us need to go apart at some point to take stock of things, to pray as GOD allows and to do our inner work of healing and integration. After our visit to Subiaco - Benedict's cave - I remember thinking that I could stay there for a while. Not forever - not even for three years as he did - but for a while. Benedict went to Subiaco in search of the living GOD. He went there to fast and write the Word on his heart. I think the hermit in every monastic has a similar agenda.

My friend, Sister Mary Catherine - a Sister of the Order of Saint Benedict, in St. Joseph, MN - entered a hermitage this morning for five days of solitude and silence. Her community built two hermitages in honor of the 150th anniversary of their foundation. These small houses, constructed by Amish artisans, sit on their property way out near the woods. She has been looking forward to these days...eagerly awaiting the chance to stop, rest and listen.

We don't have a hermitage at Bristow. But, we have a small house in the mountains just an hour from the monastery. It's a place we can go to by ourselves or with other sisters. It's also the perfect size for small groups. Our women in formation make retreat there now. Different ministries - like the Vocation Team - can go there for a few days to plan and dream - inviting the Spirit to guide our future. We call our house, "The Ridge." (Sister Henry Marie won the contest to name the new house. It's very appropriate considering the house is on a ridge one mile above the main road.) It's a wonderful place and we are so grateful for the space, the silence and the holy leisure it provides.

I am a bit curious about my friend in the hermitage. The little cottage looks just right for one. I can't wait to hear what these days were like for her. I am praying for her everyday...that GOD will be especially present...that the WORD will be a banquet table...that the SPIRIT will strengthen and anoint.

During Lent our prioress asks each sister to make a "desert day" - to take a day apart for silence and solitude in preparation for the great Paschal Triduum. I'm certain many of my sisters went to "The Ridge". As a matter of fact, I think the prioress is taking her turn right now. This encouragement for silence and solitude is one of the great gifts of the monastic life. Right from the beginning of our journey, we are taught to take time for retreat and given that time so we can learn why it's so very important in the spiritual life of any Christian - not just monastics.
I hope that all of you who have been reading this little travel blog will find the time for a "desert day" before the holy season of Lent is over. Just one day...all to yourself...with nothing in "to do" list...and, no people. God knows, I love them but even a flaming extrovert like myself needs to be alone every now and then. So, dear friends, find YOUR cave, YOUR hermitage and just BE. GOD will do the rest, I promise!

Blessings and love to you,

- Sister Vicki
PS - Sister Mary Catherine's community website has information about the hermitage experience. You'll find a brochure and contact information.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Piazza di Spagna: Our Last BIG Adventure

Yesterday, Sister Veronica and I were invited to go into the city for brunch with three other Benedictine sisters. The restaurant we were to have brunch in, is in a hotel near the Spanish Steps - the major focal point of the Piaza di Spagna. This was my first visit to this lively neighborhood. (I missed a trip there when I was sick early on in our stay.))

The piazza is brimming with people on a Sunday afternoon - especially when the weather is pleasant. It was so warm yesterday that we elected to leave our jackets at home. Smart, because by the time we got from the bus to the Metro to the piazza, the temperature seemed to have risen ten degrees! We found half the city sunbathing on the steps and the other half window shopping (I assumed given the high-end designer shops in the vicinity.)

We had some time before the meal so we just walked to the Colonna dell'Immacolata - the statue of the Blessed Mother erected in 1857 - high above the piazza - in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Pius IX's proclamation continues to be celebrated by the universal Church on December 8. Each year on that day, the Holy Father comes to the piazza and, with assistance from the fire department, brings Mary a beautiful wreath for her head.

Next, we climbed the Spanish Steps (not quite the work-out we got ascending the Cupola of Saint Peter's, but given the heat of the day and the challenge of dodging those camped out on the steps, my heart rate was up by the time we reached the summit.) Next, Trinita dei Monti - a 16th-century church that rises high above the steps to the left. We entered and I immediately noted the silence of those who were visiting the church. Even the smell of incense from the morning masses still hung in the air. Beautiful...
Then, the meal... Sister Veronica and I were guests at the beautiful table overlooking the city of Rome. The five of us shared an unforgettable meal in an unforgettable setting all through the kindness of a stranger - for whom we shall pray in gratitude for such generosity. It was a perfect afternoon and a truly magical way to end our time together in Rome.
Blessings and love to you all,
- Sister Vicki

PS - T-4 days and counting...