Saturday, December 26, 2009

"And the Word became flesh..."

At 11:30 PM on Christmas Eve, the sisters' schola began to sing. Each hymn reflected something of the mystery of GOD becoming flesh in JESUS. The caroling is our last preparation for the birth of our Savior in time. At the stroke of midnight the Chapel bell began to ring. "In the silence of night the Word leaped from heaven (Isaiah)." Then, the Christmas Proclamation was read. The Proclamation is an ancient text that situates the birth of Christ in human history. This year, youngest member in rank was asked to read it - a great honor. Flanked by two candle bearers, Karen stood in the center of the darkness - her face aglow with candlelight. At its conclusion every light in the Chapel is turned on - a symbolic reminder that the Word is light in our darkness. So beautiful!
In keeping with this idea, our dear friends, the Guldens, placed a hunded luminaries up and down our driveway. They burned bright as we tucked ourselves in around 2:30 and were still aglow when I woke at 6:30. Christmas morning came and many friends joined us for the morning Mass. After dinner at noon, most of us went to bed for a bit. I think we're still suffering a liturgical "hangover," but the beauty and joy of these days are so worth it. If you'd like to hear the schola sing, visit me on Facebook [Sister Vicki]. There are several short video clips.
Merry Christmas, dear friends...peace and love!
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The "crank factor"...

It's Christmas Eve. We are nearly ready to greet the Savior. The monastery has been buzzing for the last 24 hours. Somehow, in that time, we manage to decorate the entire house. A few "key players" are at the heart of the beauty in our community room: Sisters Henry Marie, Joan Ann, Mary Patricia. The Chapel is transformed by Sisters Laurence, Patricia Anne, Mary, Postulant Karen and several lay friends who return faithfully each year to climb the ladders and hang the ribbons. Sister Pat is busy with last minute details of Christmas dinner. Sister Cecilia is practicing with Sister Veronica in Chapel. Joanna, who has been living with us since August, is a choir director by training, so this year, the sisters' schola will have a conductor. The best part is that we sing from the heart. When we begin the carols at 11:30 PM, it will be prayer.

So...I'll bet you're wondering about the title of this blog. It actually came from Sister Veronica - used with permission, of course. We were hanging ribbons and greens on the front porch yesterday. I was telling Sister that I had encountered so many grim, frustrated people in town. The line at the local Post Office was positively silent and brooding. People stood with their heavy packages and fumed at the length of the line. Some just drifted off in silent resignation. It made me sad. The parking lots in town were no better. The remnant of the blizzard had covered many parking places and made visibility at corners quite challenging. Again, more "in-a-hurry" people beeped at one another or raced for places to park. Again, more sullen faces on the check-out lines. I wonder how good-hearted people can get so down with Christmas so close? Why do the pressures of the season choke off the possibility of joy? What is it about our preparations for the holiday that bog us down? What could we do differently next year to keep the great gift of Christ's coming in focus? How can we reduce the "crank factor" in ourselves or soothe it in others?

I don't have the answer. All I know is that Christmas comes in the heart and not in a box or an envelope. It will come whether or not we've found the "perfect gift" or not. It is the baby in the stable who is the perfect gift - Emmanuel - God with us. And His peace will be gift enough for all of us.
Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Ice and snow; bless the Lord."

If you haven't already heard, the Mid-Atlantic states received anywhere from 12-24 inches of snow this weekend. That includes the Commonwealth of VA! It is an extraordinary happening for us...especially, we who live in Richmond. Snow in the south is always a small miracle. It was a beautiful storm. was beautiful AFTER I got out of the car!

I had the misfortune of being out in this blizzard Friday night. The storm began several hours earlier than predicted. I drove right into it going south on 95 at Fredricksburg. The drive from the monastery should have taken 2 hours. It took me 4 1/2! The last three miles of highway looks so deadly, I got off at an exit I didn't know and called the convent for help. [1-(800)-save-my-bacon!] Sister Charlotte knows the city better than anyone I know. She talked me home from Chamberlyne Avenue. When I pulled into the driveway at 9:30 PM, Sister Charlotte was standing in the snow, bundled up and ready to hug me. Sisters Denise and Connie Ruth were up, too. We had a little party to celebrate my survival. It was that bad!

So, today I am still feeling grateful...for having lived in MN where I learned to stay alive in a blizzard, for my Guardian Angel who must never get bored, and for the love of community which sustains me always - especially when I am lost and alone. How good this GOD blessed I am to have all this love in my life.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The peace of John...

In today’s gospel passage, Saint Luke recounts a conversation among the followers of John the Baptist. They tell Jesus that John has sent them to inquire if he is “the one” or if they should expect another. His answer is as clear as it is cryptic.
And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
Jesus could have said, “Yes, I am he.” Instead, the Lord pointed to the unmistakable signs that the reign of GOD had begun. I wonder how John must have felt when he heard the answer to his question. I suspect there was peace. John, who proclaimed his coming, faced his own death knowing that the promise had been fulfilled.

The peace of John is our peace. Though life is hard and the sufferings of the human condition plentiful, we, who believe, know that GOD has already saved us – predestined us for eternal glory by our baptism. The signs of the reign of GOD continue to abound, though they are less dramatic than the miracles Jesus performed. Strangers live the gospel together and bind themselves to the messy work of life-long loving. These same strangers share all things in common, and relinquish control of their lives in favor of a greater plan – a chance to help build the kingdom on earth. These flawed, hopeful sinners practice constant forgiveness of one another because love demands it. They pray and work, day in and day out. And at the end of the journey, they close their eyes among friends, certain, as John was, that the promised One has come and will make good on the promise because in the monastery, “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” These strangers, whom I now call my "sisters," are my sign that the reign of GOD has begun. They have given me hope. They have given me the peace of John.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Comfort food...

It must be the coming of winter that has inspired me to make "comfort food" the focus of the "Bristow Bistro." The last segment was pot roast and the new episode, up-loaded this morning, is my Mother's meatloaf. Homey, hearty and really, really simple. I hope you enjoy it... Click on the logo to the left to go our channel on YouTube.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts in the Airport...

Winter trees,
with barren arms stretching toward heaven,
silent witnesses to my grief,
gentle friends who say nothing,
but stand tall.

Christmas will come no matter what, they whisper,
though soldiers return home for the holidays wrapped in cedar,
and State Troopers bring news of an accident on the Interstate.
It will come as an elder dies alone,
an unpaid utility bill sitting on the kitchen table.
It will come as an ER doctor calls the “time of death,”
while carols are piped into the hospital cafeteria.
And, Christmas will come though someone I love
is dying a good “hospice death,”
blessing the world with each remaining breath,
creating still, a community,
from those who will rejoice for her as she flies free,
but will mourn for ourselves when she is gone.

I have never had such a Christmas,
never found myself in the company of the sorrowful,
for whom the possibility of a “Merry Christmas,” feels slim.
But we who grieve now are not alone.
We are connected by the thread of sadness,
by the sorrow that goes with the gift of loving well.

The One who will "wipe away every tear,"
needs no Advent invitation.
He has already come,
and is already, wherever we must go,
“God with us,”
Prince of peace,

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Poem...

There are moments when I fall in love with the world.
A patch of morning sunlight dancing across the floor,
the shadow of swaying branches,
stealing my attention from the beauty of the light,
as if seen for the first time,
I wonder how You made such a sight.
There are moments when I fall in love with the world.
And in those moments,
I know You are near.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A different kind of "New Year"...

Sunday began the holy season of Advent and the new liturgical year. ADVENT is a journey toward the stable. The manger scene is the source of our hope. It is evidence of the WORD’s unprecedented leap into human flesh in the stillness of one winter night.
ADVENT challenges us to contemplate His coming in new ways. The risen Christ is already among us and comes to us in the other – the poor, the children, the outcast, and the people who come into our lives each day.
ADVENT challenges us to contemplate His future coming when Christ will “draw all things to Himself.” I day we must not fear, but look forward to with joy.
ADVENT is my favorite liturgical season. I love everything about it – the wreath, the music, the colors, and yes – even the waiting. ADVENT makes waiting holy.
May GOD bless YOUR Advent waiting...with hope, joy and soul-cleansing prayer.

- Sister Vicki

Saturday, November 28, 2009

We give you thanks, O God...

Thanksgiving means late sleep and a long, leisurely breakfast!

Sister Henry Marie slices LOTS of turkey...and I get the pies!

Greg Evans, Obl.SB, is the official King of Brine.

Nearly a dozen of us are involved in preparing the feast. Sisters Denise, Heny Marie, Connie Ruth and Mary, smile for the camera. (photos: Sister Charlotte Lange, OSB)

The most beautiful moment is the Midday Prayer we have at table. Sister Cecilia always chooses beautiful readings and prayers for the day. And we sing!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New Kind of King...

This morning I had the immeasurable joy of sharing Sunday Eucharist with my Dad. His parish in Charleston, SC, is "Christ Our King," so what a wonder to be with him for their patronal feast!
A king...hmmm. Doesn't feel right, does it? The One who washed feet and opened his arms on the cross was clearly servant. King? Pilate asked him the same question long ago. And, as usual, JESUS managed to answer the question by NOT answering the question. "You say that I am." This title is in keeping with the paradoxical nature of our faith. For us, strength is found in weakness. Our GOD has wept and bled and died. And, death, itself, holds no fear for us who have already died with him in Baptism. Confusing? Yes. But that's OK. To the world the cross still seems humiliating - a sign of failure. But, today, and everyday, it is , for us, a symbol of victory. This "king" has won our freedom from fear. This "king" has been "victim" and now reigns in his glory, at the Father's right hand. This "king" demands no tax from weary peasants. This "king" has prepared a banquet to which we are all invited. Our home is not here. We are citizens of heaven, and in heaven, we will finally be with him who won our hearts with self-giving love. That's a king I can get behind. That's a kingdom I long to see.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Feast!

This is a first, friends. I am writing a blog at 30,000 feet! I can't believe there is Wi-Fi in the sky! (And, it's less expensive than the Wi-Fi in the airport. Amazing...) I am en route to Charleston, SC. Although I am from NJ, my entire immediate family has relocated to Charleston. (Long story, but the short of it is a one-stop family visit for the nun in the family. Sweet...) I don't know what it is about airplanes, but I seem to say my best prayers on the runway. So much to be grateful much love in my life. GOD is so good...

I decided at 5 AM this morning, that I couldn't leave town without blogging about yesterday - the Feast of Saint Gertrude. Gertrude the Great, of Helfta, was a Benedictine mystic who lived in the 13th century. She was brilliant, highly educated for a woman of her time and given great community responsibilities early in her life as a sister. At the age of 26 she experienced a period of profound inner darkness. (Today, we'd probably diagnosis it as a depression.) It was into that darkness that Christ came to her. Her visions were numerous and vivid. Gertrude is one of the first saints to tell us of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She saw it...and the wounds on his hands and brow. Saint Gertrude recorded these intense experiences of the glorified Savior. hey belong to the Church now - a sign of Christ's abiding love and compassion for us, a glimmer of what we shall be when we enter His glory.

Ok...I love Gertrude, can you tell? I also love her because she is the patroness of the finest Catholic girls' school in the Commonwealth - Saint Gertrude High School. Benedictines - female and male - generally name their institutions after a great monastic saint. For young women of faith pursuing knowledge, Saint Gertrude is the perfect model. To celebrate her feast day - the day Gertrude entered eternal life - the entire school community gathers for a special liturgy. Many sisters come down from the monastery for this great celebration. Each year a sister gives a reflection on the feast. This year Sister Charlotte Lange, OSB, talked to our students. She told a wonderful story about the mysterious abduction of a statue from SGHS - not so much a mystery when the boys school is just two blocks away. Sister Charlotte talked about the importance of giving of ourselves in community. Sister talked about the service projects undertaken by the students at SGHS and emphasized why the girls do them. "It's not about getting into college. It's about living the Gospel." Woven into her reflection were the suprising details of the statue's return - on November 16th - the Feast of Saint Gertrude! Whoa!
After our prayer we clear the chairs, and have a party. Ok... it's really more than a party. It's a total FEAST. Our girls consumed nearly a dozen HUGE homemade cakes - baked by the sisters with love. Pinatas were appropriately bludgeoned until they rendered the goodies. And, we dance. Yup. The students and teachers and sisters dance for joy. All this in 90 minutes!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kyrie Eleison...

Last night the Commonwealth of Virginia executed John Allen Muhammad. I remember how he frightened us seven years ago when the media called him, “the sniper.” What he and his young friend did changed lives forever – tore at the very fabric of the human heart. There was death and grief and terror. The pair took ten lives in VA, MD and DC. The closest shooting to our monastery - the crime for which Mr. Muhammad was executed - was 6 miles away in nearby Manassas. Those were terrible days… I remember some sisters would no longer go into town. We parked buses in front of our elementary school to shield the children from the dense woods that surround our property. They were kept inside all day until the madness stopped.

Now, seven years later, the man responsible for these horrors is dead. The local paper has given the front page to the details of the execution. Why do we care what the man was wearing? That his heart stopped at 9:11 PM? I don’t understand why we do it – execute people. There is an old folk song that asks: “Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?” That question has never left me. Our Church has spoken clearly against the death penalty - that it be used only if there is no other way to secure the safety of the people. This stance is a logical extension of the sacredness of all human life “from the womb to the tomb.” It would seem that “you shall not kill” applies to the innocent as well as the guilty. Two-thousand years ago an innocent man was executed by the government. He hung between two criminals – one hard as stone and the other ready to seek forgiveness. He died with them…and for them both. He died so that death would no longer hold us hostage. In the absence of that fear, we are capable of great love. Death is a natural doorway – not a punishment. May GOD forgive John Allen Muhammad for killing those ten precious people and may GOD forgive us for killing him.

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Living stones...

Today the Church celebrates the Dedication of St. John Lateran - the Holy Father's "parish" church in Rome. Though the feast seems to memorialize a specific place, the scriptures for the day are about GOD's dwelling. The prophet Ezekiel describes his vision of the "New Jerusalem" where GOD is enthroned. In the gospel JESUS cleanses the temple of thieves and shopkeepers looking to profit from religious practices. The responsorial psalm - the hinge that holds the whole feast together - returns our gaze to the kingdom in its fullness. "The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!"

As usual I am fixated on something in the Pauline letter. Saint Paul suggests that in addition to the temple - the one in Jerusalem and the one to be revealed in glory - there is another dwelling place for the Most High - GOD's people. "Brothers and sisters: you are GOD's building (1 Cor. 3)." GOD dwells in us - in Christ's church - in the people who, by baptism, have claimed the rights and responsibilities of embracing the Paschal Mystery. We are "living stones" - each one of us part of the foundation for the ones who come after us. This is a beautiful idea that feels true - especially in monastic life.

The monastery, Saint Benedict writes, is the domus Dei - literally, "GOD's house" (RB 31:19).We are guests during our lifetime and then past it along to the future generations. Because it belongs to GOD we take good care of EVERYTHING - we polish the chalice that is placed on the altar and are careful to leave a wet mop in the sun to dry. Everything is gift - everything belongs to GOD.

I've been thinking a lot about my sisters this weekend. If something happened to the monastery - a natural disaster or a destruction of human origin - the "monastery" would still exist. My sisters are "living stones." GOD dwells in each one and together we are a unique manifestation of the presence of the risen Christ in the world. Wherever they are, He is. So, if we ever had to start from scratch, it wouldn't matter. Yes, I love our land, our Chapel and the spaces I've called "home" (for quite some time now.) But these faithful women - living, in glory and the ones who have yet to knock on the door - constitute our "monastery." Together, we are "GOD's building" - together, we are made holy.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Off-line and just plain off...

Our web host is down today. Actually, it crashed early this am as I was just opening my e-mail. I have been unable to read my mail or answer it today. Normally, this would put me through the roof. I am proud to say that I have taken this bummer and turned it into an opportunity. I know. My sisters at home will hardly believe that my BP is 90/60 and my countenance bears a smile. I can hardly believe it myself. Grace abounds!

Instead of spending a good chunk of this day on e-mail, I made use of other technologies. I was able to declare my sorry state on my Facebook wall - hopefully, preventing folks from thinking me rude or uninterested. Then, I worked on the vocation account and organized receipts galore to take home tomorrow. I cleaned out the standing file on my desk and shredded a ream or two. I sent a letter - the old-fashioned way. And, I spent a little extra time in the Faculty Room at lunch.

It's nearly 2:30 PM and I'm still in a good mood. If I were my sisters I'd be thinking alien abduction by now. Still, this is me today. Who knows if I'll be as jolly tomorrow if the problem on their end isn't fixed. But today I'm in good shape by grace, no doubt. Maybe, I'll leave the office a little early and start baking cakes for the Feast of Saint Gertrude? Who am I?

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A convergence of blessings...

Have you ever felt incredibly blessed? Have you ever thought GOD was listening to your life and finding ways to make you feel loved? That's pretty much where I am today - mysteriously, outrageously, undeservedly blessed.

This past weekend three women braved the monastery for the first time. Each left the comfort zone of home for 48 hours with 35 Benedictine sisters. What courage! What a time of grace for our community!
These weekends remind me of how much I love this much I love this way of life.

There was a package waiting for me at the monastery. When I opened it I gasped. Several weeks ago the Flip Video recorder died. It's the amazing little device I use to film the "Bristow Bistro" cooking show. It just blew something when I connected it to the laptop. I even smelled smoke! In this brown AMAZON box was the 2nd generation Flip Video recorder. I'm serious. I didn't tell anyone that it had died. I was pricing them at Staples and Costco because I knew it had to be replace. A friend in New England - who gave me the first Flip - sent the newest model for my birthday next week. Shazam! The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

Then...on Monday, I got dressed and went to work. Tired from the weekend program, I planned my lesson for my 14 students at SGHS and packed my lunch in my bag - a Ziplock with the letters OSB in permanent marker on it. When I got to school there were many parking spaces. Immediately, I knew something was up. Then, I noticed the senior lot was empty, too. If Sister had read her "pink sheet" for the week, I would have known that there was no school - retreats for 9,10,11 and a college search day for the seniors. No school. I've had many snow days as a teacher, but never a "no day." Sister took the day OFF!!!!

These may seem like little things - or even coincidences. But I believe that all is gift and our providential GOD sees to our needs - one way or another. GOD uses good, generous people and throws us a few surprises to keep our joy real. The past few days have been filled with grace and goodness. I think GOD is blessing me all the time, but I often miss things or just plain forget to say, "thank you, GOD." Today, I am missing nothing. That, in itself, is a gift.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"...take a sad song and make it better"

My Mother loved Saint Jude. I remember her receiving letters from his Shrine in New Orleans. She had medals and prayer cards and novenas in her bedroom. It was interesting to me as a child of 10 or so, NOT that I made the connection - that is, understood WHY Jude was so important to her. My Mom was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer around 1973. My Dad was wonderful when he explained it to us - took down a volume from the World Book Encyclopedia and used these cool diagrams of the human body to explain where the disease was and what the doctors would do. After surgery and radiation, my Mom went into remission. Then, two or three years later, it was back. I was older and not as dense by then. I got how serious it was when people started bringing food to the house. I knew that was NOT normal.

I prayed for her to get well. We all did - the whole community was surrounding her with loving energy. This second cancer was defeated. My Mom had 15 years with us "cancer-free." I was busy growing up, making my own mistakes, finding love and meaningful work. It's easy to forget how blessed you are until the next "shoe drops." I was 26 when Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It took her in six months time. It's a terrible disease...

I'm almost 20 years older now. She and I have continued to nurture our relationship. In memory she comes close, I think, visits me. I no longer feel bereft of her, but connected to her goodness heart to heart. This is the power of our faith in the resurrection. She is and I am and somehow, we still share a mother-daughter love - a love that understands everything now, that allows for the other to be fully human. I treasure this love with all my heart. Today, for the first time in 20 years, I had the grace to thank Saint Jude. Perhaps, it was her prayer to him and his intercession that enabled her to raise us into young adulthood. Every time my Mom went to her oncologist for routine screening, the doctor would say she was a "miracle" patient. I hope my prayer of gratitude does not seem too little or too late to this Friend of GOD. For those precious years of life together, I say thank you, dear Jude, patron of impossible causes.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Your kingdom come..."

"Again JESUS said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?
It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened."

In today’s gospel passage, the Lord gives us a unique metaphor. The Kingdom of God is like “yeast.” Yeast! I have a fear of yeast – seriously. It’s alive. You can’t just dump it into the flour and expect it to work. You must be mindful of the temperature of the water and the time needed for the yeast to awaken. You can’t work the dough too hard or to little. If you manage to do all this right, then you still have to let it nap for a while before it goes into the oven. Yeast is complicated stuff. It makes me a nervous wreck.

Why, then, am I fixated on it this morning? I can’t stop thinking about the last verse: “until the whole batch was leavened.” There’s something wonderful here that I just can’t get my head around. My heart, though, feels the truth in this metaphor. GOD will never give up on us. The Kingdom will come in its fullness only when the leaven of peace, justice and compassion have permeated the world.

Have you ever felt the Kingdom coming? I have. I have felt the Kingdom coming when a young woman with Downs Syndrome proclaimed the Word at the Sunday Eucharist. I have felt it coming in a moment of true forgiveness…true reconciliation with my sister. I have felt it coming in the gift of hope when faced with a fearful, impossible reality. I think we get glimpses of the Kingdom so that we can continue kneading the dough, working the yeast of Christ’s love into the whole world.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Friday, October 23, 2009

When our "girls" come home...

Last night we had joy of welcoming our SGHS alumnae for “Vino on the Veranda.” This event enables our graduates of many generations to reconnect with one another and with their school community. GOD gave us a spectacular evening – warm and clear. Our new “veranda” now leads to a carefully planned garden paved with stone. For the first time our alumnae enjoyed its beauty. Many hunted the patio for stones of remembrance purchased to support our landscaping project and engraved with the names of friends and loved ones. Many toured the school and were thrilled with the third addition blessed in 2005 – gym, library, media center, work out room, and science labs. The newly renovated Chapel brought back happy memories to those who remembered the beautiful wood floor recently rediscovered and brought back to its original luster. I ran a Power Point depicting the school’s history and many of the Benedictine sisters who served here over the past 87 years. Many memories were shared around my laptop. I heard stories I’ve never heard before! It was a lovely evening… Every year I meet new friends and wonder at the faith and character of our “Gertie Girls” - gracious women who continue to bring honor to our beloved Saint Gertrude. Can’t wait for next year!

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Abbey Nights..."

Brother Nolte makes an awesome bonfire!

The Abbey has five stunning portraits based on the Shroud of Turin.
The band members prayed with the crowd before the concert began.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Let the prophet speak...

It was my honor to introduce Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, to the participants at the National Benedictine Vocation Directors Conference. Not exactly a person who needs one - DUH! But, a few gracious words were required so I listened to my prioress who advised me to "keep it short."

Her topic, "Monasticism as Radical Christianity," was the brain child of the planning team. What Joan did with that topic, though, was completely her own. I know I took notes but it wasn't a lecture in the traditional sense. It was an experience.

There are some among us who are instruments of the Spirit - faithful people who welcome the Word in their very being. We called them "prophets" in the Scriptures. They are among us still, I think, because GOD never gives up on us - never fails to be faithful Love. Prophets are human - frail, fallible and sometimes frightened - but they say "yes" to their part in the building of the kingdom. Often, it gets them into trouble. [Remember Jonah? Daniel? Ezekiel?] Yet, they seem compelled to speak the Word they have heard in the stillness of prayer. This alone is reason enough to listen. The truth is often hard to hear, though. When a voice calls us to authenticity in the Gospel life, to integrity in the pursuit of justice, to mercy instead of righteous anger, we would rather cover our ears and sing a happy tune. But this is precisely why we need them.

Joan said many profound things that morning. She spoke to the particular challenges of our ministry and the way in which Benedictine spirituality feeds the deepest longings of our post-modern world. Here are just a few of the sentences that touched me deeply:

On work: "The work we do is not as important as why we do it."

On stewardship: "How can we no build green"

On community:
"We exist to be miracle workers for one another."

On Vocation Ministry:

"Numbers were not Benedict's criteria for success."

"Build a future worthy of our past."

I am still so amazed that Joan said "yes" to our invitation - busy as she is in the global conversation about GOD. May this same GOD bless and protect Sister Joan...and all the prophets to come.
Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Wine...

Though I have been back in the Commonwealth since Tuesday night, the events of the last two weeks are still hovering in my head. When we experience something new it can seem like a dream – seem better than we’d hoped for. My weary body knows the work was real, but my soul is still doing lectio on the blessings of those days.

The time spent with the new vocation directors – seven Benedictines who are just beginning the ministry – was precious, indeed. I volunteered to work with the new directors because I wanted to share my own joys in the ministry – my confidence that GOD does, in fact, build the house (Psalm 127:1). It can seem an overwhelming job at times. There is certainly fear and trepidation at the beginning of any new work. But, it is easy for vocation directors to take too much on their shoulders – the burden of their community’s future. That future is up to GOD. We, who minister to those seeking, are charged with listening, affirming, guiding, testing the spirits…and helping candidates get where GOD wants them to be. Seen in this light vocation work is truly ministry.

When my workshop was over, I reminded these good monastics that they will do the job their way - not as it has been done in the past. They are "new wine" in "new skins" and in time we will taste the sweetness of their efforts. I will keep these seven in prayer this year…and trust that they will receive the grace required to “listen…with the ear of [their] hearts [RB Prol. 1].”
Next blog: Sister Joan Chittester, OSB, keynote speaker...
Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too busy to blog...

I am sitting in the airport waiting for a flight that will bring me from MN to VA. I am beyond tired, but happy as I think on the events of the past week. Nearly 40 Benedictine vocation directors met at St. John's Abbey. I arrived early and remained a day late as I am part of the planning committee - the "worker bees" who coordinate the event over a two-year period. This was my first time helping with such a big project. In the company of my friends, Brother Paul-Vincent and Sister Mary Catherine, I learned the ropes fast! We three worked non-stop in between sessions and behind the scenes. I have much to tell you all about these days, but it will take a few blogs, I think. For now, some of the beauty...

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No peace for some...

I’m on the second plane of the day en route from JFK to Minneapolis-St. Paul. The last flight was booked to overflowing. The airline rep. offered a $300 ticket to anyone willing to be “bumped”. I didn’t offer to stay as I am making a connection in MN. So, as we finally boarded there was an air of frustration – too many people, not enough seats. This grown-up version of “musical chairs,” does not bring out the best in people.

Once on board and seated, I witnessed a scene between two passengers. The woman was REALLY angry because her husband’s seat assignment was changed and the woman planning to sit in his seat was getting her wrath. The poor, unsuspecting passenger was, unfortunately, an employee of the airline. That was the “last straw.” It got worse before it got better. Her husband made his way forward and joined the fray. The airline employee was calm and respectful throughout. She immediately offered to change seats and, while that was what they wanted, they continued to spew and fester. It was an embarrassing scene for the young man seated with the irate couple – a son? I felt sorry for all of them – really, truly sorry.

How is it that we become so hard? So selfish and myopic? What is it about our culture that promotes “taking care of #1” regardless of others’ needs? Why is it that when we pay for something, we thing we are entitled to belittle and berate anyone associated with our disappointments?

Maybe, it has to do with poor self-esteem. When we know who we are before GOD – precious, unique and loved – we can see others in that same light. When we are unsure of our worth or gauge it by all the wrong measuring sticks, we interpret every frustration as a personal attack. I prayed for that angry couple as we took off. On the outside they would seem to “have it all” when, in fact, they are unaware of their poverty. If losing a seat can cause such distress, what will such persons do when real suffering enters their lives? How blessed we are that GOD never gives up on any one of us. The opportunities to grow in wisdom and compassion never end. Nothing is impossible for GOD – if we are willing to accept the gift of grace.

Blessings and love to you,
- Sister Vicki

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Now I lay me down to sleep..."

It’s no wonder I think about children when I think about Guardian Angels. In today’s gospel JESUS makes the connection for us:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven always
look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

I can close my eyes and see the two ceramic angels that hung over the beds in the room I shared with my big sister. They were beautiful though without unique facial features. They looked a bit like children themselves except for the wings. I remember my mother telling me that they would keep me safe throughout the night.

Now that I am grown I don’t think about my angel anymore. I do think about my seven nieces and nephews, though. I believe their angels are on duty – ready to protect and comfort. But I am troubled by something in this gospel passage. JESUS is urging us to love and care for the children. That means that we are free to do the opposite. The evening news can force us to face this human reality. So, what does it mean when something horrific happens to a child? Does it mean that the Guardian Angel has too many to protect? A “caseload” too heavy to manage? Does it mean that the angels go off duty or get distracted? Do horrors happen when angels are "texting" each other and take their eyes from their precious charges? I don’t think so.

The belief in these beings is part of our Catholic tradition. They are created by GOD and the Lord JESUS tells us, in this passage, that they are both present to GOD and attentive to the children. I believe this to be true. When we read a novel like “The Lovely Bones,” or “The Shack,” we detect a theological truth beneath the fiction. Perhaps, we are compelled to read these books because they point to a GOD who is truly with us in every moment of human life - and death.

Horrific things do happen. Because we are free we can choose love or hate, peace or violence, life or death. I believe that when human freedom disrupts GOD’s plan for our good, the Guardian Angels are there. They are there when natural disasters hit and planes fall out of the sky (or into skyscrapers). They are there when soldiers fall and the criminally insane person take a precious human life. We are never alone.

There is just so much we cannot know about the passage through death. But what we know, we know because of Christ. The angels brought him comfort in his suffering and revealed to the disciples his resurrection. In this gospel JESUS tells us that they are and they are for us. When you watch the news tonight…remember and believe.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"In the sight of the angels..."

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The existence of angels in without question in the Holy Scriptures. Raphael protects Tobit in that eponymous book. Michael defeats the rebellious angels in the book of Revelation. And Gabriel was VERY busy – appearing to Zechariah to foretell the birth of John and announcing, to a young maiden in Nazareth, her role in bearing the Son of God.

Though this day honors the “archs” I think about all the angels in Scripture. Angels came to comfort JESUS in the desert and in the garden of his sorrows. Angels appeared after the resurrection to testify that He lives. And in Revelation there are multitudes – heavenly hosts who remain in the Presence and sing praise eternally.

I am in awe of the GOD who created such beings. Protectors, comforters and messengers of GOD – the angels, by design, serve GOD by serving us. Most little children are told of their “guardian” angel. Today, I am most grateful for the angels who came for our Sister Rosalia yesterday. These angels, who help us to make the journey, lead us into Paradise – to the place where Love dwells eternally.

Sister Rosalia claimed GOD as the center of her life and gave her gifts and her love for the building of the kingdom. During the days ahead we will hold a Vigil, a Mass of Resurrection and a Christian Burial for our dear, Sister. It’s what we do when one among us has finished the race. As we pray her home I will think of those angels…embracing that fragile body and carrying her home... where she will walk again in the land of the living.

Blessings and love to you all…
- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Benedictine Vocation Directors to meet in MN...

I am shamelessly using the vocation blog to advertise a special gathering that happens only every two years. In two weeks Vocation Directors from monasteries across the US will gather at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Sister has been part of the planning team and will have the opportunity to work with new vocation directors and offer a workshop for all interestd participants. Brother Paul-Vincent has made wonderful arrangements for the directors at St. John's. There will be time for prayer, rest, and connecting informally with one another as well as major addresses around our theme. If you haven't registered yet, there is still room. Contact Brother Paul-Vincent to register ASAP.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The One who will be with us...

This morning Fr. Gregory Gresko, OSB, prior of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey, here in Richmond, celebrated the Eucharist with a small group of faculty and staff. Liturgical law mandates that Mass be celebrated once a month in a chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. After Mass I told the girls at Morning Gathering that “JESUS is back in the house!” I encouraged them to reverence the Lord when they enter and leave. I mentioned the sanctuary lamp which is the tell-tale sign that the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle. This wonderful mysery is hard to describe in words, but make a visit, I suggested, and you'll sense the change. The feeling of Presence is real.

The tabernacle that holds and secures the Blessed Sacrament has a long history. The people of Israel set up a tabernacle in the dessert as a “holy of holies” – a safe place for the tablets of the covenant. Our tabernacle holds the fulfillment of that covenant – the Lord JESUS - the long-awaited messiah who has promised to remain with us in a special way in the humble elements of bread and wine. Why? Good question. Here's a thought...
When Moses heard the voice of GOD in the burning bush, he asked in whose name he would be speaking. “Tell them, ‘I AM’ sent you.” This name given to Moses is too sacred to be uttered. It cannot even be written. Our Jewish brothers and sisters remove the vowels! And we, as Catholics, have finally embraced this practice. We no longer say or sing the tetragrammaton - the four letters.

‘YHWH’ can be translated several ways:
‘I AM’,
‘My favorite translation is: ‘I AM THE ONE WHO WILL BE WITH YOU.’

This is the GOD who brought Israel through the desert and sent the Son to open the gates of paradise. This is the GOD who remains in Word, in Spirit and in bread and wine. This GOD will be with us until the kingdom comes in its fullness. I think the Blessed Sacrament is evidence of this faithful love. Today, we receive the gift of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist - with gratitude and joy.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today the Church honors St. Matthew – the tax collector who became a disciple of the Lord and, in doing so, a friend of GOD. It’s been 7 years since I have filed a tax return, but I can still recall the dread that would precede April 15th. I worked for the Church for most of my adult life, so "Uncle Sam" always owed me. Still, the little boxes, mysterious formulas and W-2’s made me a wreck. I suspect taxes were just as pleasant two thousand years ago. Tax collectors? They were probably not the most popular guys in the Roman Empire. “Rendering unto Caesar” was a matter of life or death. No extensions. No audits to clear things up. Pay the man at the table or...suffer the consequences.

When JESUS called Matthew (aka “Levi”,) his enemies were ready to pounce. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”He [JESUS] heard this and said,“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.Go and learn the meaning of the words,I desire mercy, not sacrifice.I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mercy…not sacrifice. This divine preference was made known to Israel by the prophet Micah. A preference - it helps me to frame it this way. When faced with the easy choice between pious practices or the hard work of forgiving an old wound, most of us would choose the Novena. But, the LORD prefers that we choose mercy in our dealings with one another over Olympic acts of prayer or penitence.

This “preference” makes sense if you see Christianity as fundamentally incarnational – a religion which reveres the human person as image and likeness of GOD. When the Word became flesh, all flesh was made holy. It was St. Athanasius who wrote: “God became man so that man could become GOD (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54:3).” This idea that we are destined to become GOD is called, theosis or divinization. We believe this - check the Catechism!

Do I think Matthew knew what he was in for in following JESUS? Definitely not. But Matthew did follow. So much for the sinner-theory that made the Pharisees feel clean and pure. It would seem we are all "tax collectors" – hopeful sinners who one day decide to drop our coins and follow the voice of mercy. Many such sinners find their way to the monastery and follow Christ until their last breath. Not an easy road but for those who are called, it is a joyful journey. May St. Matthew intercede for those who are ready to begin again in Christ.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sister goes back to school...

Last night I met 15 young women at the University of Richmond. I was invited by Catholic Campus Ministry to speak a bit about Benedictine spirituality. I arrived early - good thing, as parking was a challenge. (I even had to call on the BVM for help. I only do that when it's important not to be late. "Hail Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking place.")

I was greeted by a warm, engaging senior who walked me to her apartment. In a space shared by 4 women, 16 of us ate delicious spaghetti, salad and homemade garlic bread. Then, Sister set up her show and got down to business. In spite of "technical difficulties beyond my control," my new friends were able to "visit" our house - catch a glimpse of how Benedictine monasticism is lived in the 21st century.

I really love my job. I love being witness to the vitality of monastic life and its place in the building of the Kingdom. Most of all, I love meeting faithful women who are searching out GOD's will in their lives. As I looked out at that sea of eager faces, I felt a deep peace knowing that the future of the Church is secure in their care. These good women remain in my thoughts and prayers today. And, I send grateful blessings to Deacon Tom Mullen for making this wonderful night happen.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Lift High the Cross"...

Today the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is a feast that highlights one of the great mysteries of our faith – a paradox that is beyond our understanding but at the very heart of our Tradition. Because nothing is impossible for GOD, the cross – a barbaric instrument of death – has become the symbol – for those who believe – of GOD’s ultimate victory over sin and death.

The sight of the cross may bring sadness or great joy. It can remind us of the death of the Lord, JESUS or it can be a symbol of the life that never ends in Christ. It is by his cross and resurrection that we have been set free. The tree on which Christ hung and breathed his last, is the standard under which we march forward in faith. It is because of that cross that we can live without the crippling fear of mortality. We are free to choose mercy, compassion and justice because the cross declares the love stronger than death. We can lay a loved one in the grave – cloaked in our grief - and still believe that death is not the end, but the beginning.

How wonderful to have a day to rest in this mystery. The next time you look at the cross – while driving past a church, or sitting in a chapel, or holding a Rosary - remember that you are already redeemed. Remember a truth that is too easy to forget – "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26)."

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Two sisters newly professed...

"When they are to be received, the come before the whole community in the oratory and promise stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience."

Sisters Karen Lynn and Kathleen make their profession before GOD, the prioress and the monastic community.

Our finest altar linen, embroidered by Sister Henry Marie, graces the table on which the promises are laid. May the lives of these sisters bring great glory to GOD who called them to obedience, stability and fidelity to the monastic way of life.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Four women enter the monastery...

The monastic community waits in the Gathering Space to receive the newcomers with prayer and song...

Dear ones and family surround the four as they prepare to knock on the Chapel door...

Pat Novak, Urszula Cegielnik, Karen Alexander and Robin Duffy...on their way to the door.

The prioress asks each woman, "What do you seek?"

Each postulant answers for herself in freedom and joy.

Like us, these four women are looking for GOD... the WORD and in the wheat... the Liturgy of the Hours and in private prayer... the guest, in the stranger, in her sisters... the elder and the young... humble work and holy leisure... the joys and sorrows of the common life.

Each sister remembers the day she entered then monastery...and prays for their perseverance. We pray, too, for Sister Doris Nolte who will guide their steps as Postulant Director.

"So that in all things, GOD may be glorified (RB 57:9)."